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Nutrition trends are forever coming and going. To help you learn which are really beneficial, we investigate five of the most popular.

A healthy gut microbiome

The urge to maintain a healthy gut microbiome has led many people to consume more probiotic supplements and foods such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut. Fermenting or pickling various vegetables has become a popular hobby. But people often don’t know what probiotics are or what a healthy gut microbiome is — its benefits and the various influences.

Our gut microbiome consists of trillions of healthy microorganisms including bacteria and yeast, mostly living in our digestive tract. Each species has its own function. Nutrition, genes, environment, stress, antibiotic use and illness can all influence them.

Probiotics play a role in digestion of certain nutrients, boost immune systems, and reduce harmful bacteria. They are promoted and researched for their digestive benefits including managing constipation and diarrhea. They may also be helpful in conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis, but we need more research. Recent and evolving research has shown the gut microbiome may benefit beyond digestion, in playing a preventative role in diseases such as cardiovascular disease, autoimmune conditions, allergies, diabetes, and even in improving mental health.

Taking probiotics can promote a healthy gut microbiome but if you’re already healthy, it’s likely unnecessary to buy them. There are several factors to consider beyond just taking a pill or foods. Stick to a daily regimen and ensure you’re using correct strains for the condition you’re targeting. Check the label to ensure the products has “live” and/or “active” cultures, or a list of bacteria added after processing. Food and supplement claims aren’t well regulated, so there’s no guarantee you’re getting what the products promises. Contact the company for any research performed on their product.

Prebiotic foods feed the gut microbes to promote quantity and variety of healthy microbes. Many prebiotic foods are high-fibre but not all high-fibre foods are prebiotic (but all fibre has health benefits). Focus on a variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and prebiotic-rich foods such as chicory root, garlic, onion, apples, asparagus, bananas, and barley, to name a few.

Probiotics and prebiotics are generally safe but may be risky for some people, such as those who are immune compromised. If you are considering a supplement, consult a health-care professional.

Canned fish and shellfish

Once a food that many would scorn, canned fish and shellfish are now trending on social media. Beyond tuna, a variety of options include canned mussels, smoked oysters, sardines, salmon, anchovies, and herring. The little tins are packed with the benefits of convenience, affordability, and good nutrition. They’re as nutritious as fresh fish, containing protein, beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, and iron. Researchers have linked regular consumption of omega-3 rich fatty fish to many health benefits, including decreased inflammation and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and diabetes. Most canned options contain sodium, so look for the label with the lowest option. If it’s excessive, drain and rinse. 

Mercury content in fish can be a concern. Larger fish can contain high levels of mercury such as shark, swordfish and fresh tuna so consumption should be limited. General population should limit to 150 grams a week. Pregnant and breastfeeding people should limit to 150 grams a month. Kids up to age four shouldn’t exceed 75 grams per month, and the limit for those aged five to 12 is 125 grams. Canned light tuna is low in mercury and doesn’t pose a concern. An exception is albacore (white) canned tuna; limit kids’ comsumption to 75 grams a week for 1-4 year olds, and 150 grams a week for kids age five-11 years. People who are pregnant or breastfeeding should limit consumption to 300 grams a week.

Visit Health Canada’s website for more information. 


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Non-alcoholic beverages growing in popularity

The new Canadian alcohol guidelines (ccsa.ca/canadas-guidance-alcohol-and-health) recommend drinking a maximum of two servings per week. Research shows higher consumption boosts your risk of cancer and heart disease.

Producers say demand for non-alcoholic beverages is growing. According to American research, sales of non-alcoholic beverages last year increased by 21 per cent. Options have expanded beyond the grape juice-tasting wine or watered-down light beer to a variety of beer, cider, and wine. They provide a refreshing taste, have the appearance of an alcoholic beverage, and deter people from questioning why you’re not drinking.

If limiting to two a week isn’t in the cards for you, there are benefits to just reducing your intake. Adding non-alcoholic beverages will help.

Milk and milk alternative beverages

The options for milk-alternative beverages have expanded beyond rice and soy to various nuts and grains, including cashew, peas, macadamias, and oats. As popularity increases, many are switching to milk alternatives. For some, it’s due to taste, health issues, or personal preference, such as the desire to reduce one’s environmental footprint or animal-welfare concerns. The dairy and meat industry has one of the largest negative environmental imprints, producing 60 per cent of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Nutritionally, plant-based alternatives are typically fortified with vitamins and minerals but it’s important to check the labels. They all have approximately similar calcium levels, with 23 to 30 per cent daily value (DV). Vitamin D is 10 per cent DV in milk alternatives, compared to 45 per cent in cow’s milk. High-fat cow’s milk and coconut milk are high in saturated fat, which can negatively impact cholesterol levels, but other options are low fat. Protein is where many of the milk alternatives fall short. One cup (250 millilitres) of cow’s milk contains 8 grams protein. Unless you choose soy milk or a protein fortified beverage, the protein content is low. 

Plant-based and cow’s milk provide easy options packed with lots of good nutrition. For adults, follow your preference. For children, whole cow’s milk is recommended by the Canadian Pediatric Association, Dietitians of Canada and Health Canada, up until age two — and between ages two to eight years, cow’s or soy milk.

Eat intuitively

There’s a new movement toward body positivity and self care while moving away from weight loss focused diets. This has brought about an increased interest in Intuitive Eating (IE), a program that two dietitians, Elyse Resche and Evelyn Tribole developed in the 1990s. It focuses on getting in touch with our innate sense of hunger, fullness, and satisfaction and avoiding labelling foods as good or bad.

IE is not weight-loss focused, and moves away from the dieting mentality of  being told how and what to eat. Dieting can lead to cycles of restriction, bingeing, and shame. IE doesn’t mean you eat whatever and whenever you want. It promotes an intuitive approach including physical and mental health. There are 10 key principles, which include respect, rejecting dieting, tuning into your hunger and fullness cues, coping with emotional eating, gentle nutrition, and movement.

Research shows strict dieting doesn’t result in sustained weight loss or improved psychological well-being. While more research is needed on IE, studies have shown positive affects on cholesterol, diabetes, and blood pressure. More importantly, benefits include improved psychological well-being related to body image and self-esteem.

IE is a good approach for anyone looking to move away from rigid dieting and have an improved relationship with their body and food. Work with a dietitian if you’re considering this path. Learn more at intuitiveeating.org 

 


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