This month's Q&A comes from my sister Megan Barker from Coaching By Megan, she wanted to interview me about my thoughts on the meal replacement Soylent.
Megan: As a entrepreneur and a business coach, my time and energy are very valuable. I was recently chatting with a friend about this and how some people struggle with maintaining a healthy, balanced diet when they are super busy. My friend then went on to tell me how she started using Soylent as a meal replacement. I had never heard of it before so I had a quick look at the ingredients but didn't think this would be a product you would recommend. What are your thoughts on using Soylent as a meal replacement?
Shawna: This is a very timely topic. Although this product has been out for a few years, there was a recent article in the Globe and Mail about a chef's perspective on the product and the ingredients he would change to improve the flavour. However, for this article we are going to look at the ingredients in terms of nutrition and health. Since I looked into the ingredients when the product first came out, I have been very vocal to my clients and students about why it is important to avoid this product, and then teaching them about healthier alternatives.
Megan: Okay that's what I thought. So what is it about the ingredients that aren't good for us?
Shawna: The main ingredient is soy protein isolate which is very hard to digest (soy should always be sprouted or fermented first in order to fully digest) and because it isn't organic soy that means it is genetically modified and highly contaminated with the herbicide glyphosate - which is classified as a 'probable carcinogen' by the World Health Organization.
Megan: This is very concerning, especially since on the Soylent website they mention that it was formulated by a medical doctor. Why do you think they would be okay with these ingredients?
Shawna: Well many medical doctors, and even dieticians, do not look at the benefits of the whole food or take into account how different foods are digested and what happens after digestion. Throughout my entire 5 years of studying nutrition at UBC this is what I experienced, basically the focus is on the numbers of a handful of nutrients and not the whole food, or how the food is grown and prepared, or digested and absorbed. With food we know for a fact that 'the whole is greater than the sum of its parts'.
Megan: Okay so we covered the first ingredient but there is a whole paragraph of ingredients. What else should we be aware of?
Shawna: The next ingredient is maltodextrin from GMO corn, this ingredient is used as a thickening agent. Basically it is just shorter pieces of starch, which then breaks down into glucose once it is digested. Here the concern is due to the quality of the starting material, that it quickly turns into sugar in the body, and can negatively effect the good gut bacteria.
Megan: So far I am just really confused about how this even got approved as a healthy drink, especially as a meal replacement! Do the other ingredients at least supply some nutrition?
Shawna: Well it's really just more starches, gums, thickeners, and fillers; basically what I call 'non-foods'. Plus canola oil (another GMO ingredient), which promotes inflammation, is contaminated with glyphosate, and contains high levels of damaging free radicals.
Megan: So how did it meet the nutrient requirements to be able to be called a meal replacement?
Shawna: With the addition of synthetic, isolated vitamins and minerals. These cheap forms of vitamins and minerals are not recognized or absorbed by the body very well. In other words they have low bioavailability. A couple years ago I wrote about the importance of food-based nutrients and the negative health effects of certain synthetic, isolated vitamins and minerals used in the supplement industry. Nobody should rely on these synthetic vitamins and minerals for their nutrition. This product contains 26 synthetic vitamins and minerals. This is just a handful of the nutrients we are supposed to get from food and it will never be able to replace the 100's of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and antioxidants that exist in real, whole foods.
Megan: What about the sweeteners and flavours?
Shawna: The flavours are coming from 'natural and artificial flavours' and it contains the artificial sweetener sucralose. Sucralose has been linked to decreased levels of good bacteria in the large intestine. This may not sound like much but it is actually very important because our health is dependant on the health of our gut microbiome.
Megan: So what is your final take-home message.
Shawna: Soylent and other similar 'meal replacement' drinks actually do more harm than good and should be avoided. They promote inflammation, contain GMOs (glyphosate), are hard to digest, cause havoc to the gut microbiome, contain rancid oils, and the synthetic vitamins and minerals are not bioavailable.
Megan: What would be a good alternative for busy entrepreneurs to maintain their health while saving time?
Shawna: Smoothies from whole foods like fruits, vegetables, dark leafy greens, nuts, and seeds are actually really easy to make and taste delicious! If you would like to ensure they contain a full range of vitamins and minerals you can add a whole-food supplement powder like Pranin A-Z. Or for those looking for the same convenience as having an all-in-one product a great option is Garden of Life Raw Meal.
Interested in learning more? Book a complimentary 15 Min Discovery Call with Shawna.
Mint Moringa Smoothie
3 ripe banana
1 tbsp Organic Traditions Moringa Powder
1/4 cup fresh mint (loosely packed)
1 cup spinach
1-3 dates or other sweetener of choice
2 cups water
Add all ingredients to blender and blend until smooth. Garnish with strawberry and mint.
Moringa is a very nutrient-dense leafy green from a tree that grows in tropical and sub-tropical areas such a Africa, India, and Latin America. The leaf contains many antioxidants in addition to the vitamins, minerals, and amino acids and has been researched for many of its health benefits.
I use the powder at home but when I am in Mexico I always enjoy green juices with fresh moringa!
The new documentary 'Food Choices' was released on September 2nd 2016 and you can bet I rented it that very same day! I am always so excited when new food documentaries come out because I know they can have such a positive impact in people's lives. I was especially intrigued by this one in particular because not only does it look at the effects of food choices on our individual health but also the health of the environment and the other living species on this planet.
"Join award-winning filmmaker Michal Siewierski on his three-year journey to expose the truth about our food choices. This ground-breaking documentary explores the impact that food choices have on people’s health, the health of our planet and on the lives of other living species. And also discusses several misconceptions about food and diet, offering a unique new perspective on these issues. Featuring interviews with 28 world-renowned experts, including Dr. T Colin Campbell, Joe Cross, Dr. John McDougall, Capitan Paul Watson, Dr. Pam Popper, Dr. Michael Greger, Rich Roll, Dr. Richard Oppenlander, Dr. Toni Bark and several others. This film will certainly change the way you look at the food on your plate."
I hope you enjoy the trailer and get a chance to watch the entire movie.
If you live in North America then you know our food does not have to be labelled if it contains GMOs.
However, I have some good news for you!
Once you learn what foods are possible GMOs and all of the names they can be listed as in the ingredient label it is actually really easy to avoid products containing GMOs while grocery shopping.
If you are not sure why you might want to avoid GMOs please refer to some of my previous articles on Featured Documentaries: GMO OMG, Genetic Roulette, King Corn, and The Future of Food.
In addition to the health effects there are also social, political, environmental, and economic outcomes of GMOs, the documentaries listed above are great resources to understand these issues.
So when it comes down to how GMOs affect our health it really comes down to two main issues:
1. The herbicide-resistant GMO crops are heavily sprayed with glyphosate, which is now classified as 'probably carcinogenic to humans' and damages our digestive lining and microbiome. This is also an issue for some non-GMO grains since they can often be sprayed with the same pesticides and herbicides, including glyphosate. I always look for certified organic and non-GMO.
2. Bt-insecticide producing GMO crops are engineered to produce an insecticide from inside of their cells so that when insects bite into the plant the insect dies. GMO advocates state that this insecticidal protein is safe for human ingestion because we have a much more acidic stomach than insects do, rendering the insecticide inactive. However, what is not taken into account is that the pH of our stomach it not always as strongly acidic as it should be. Many people have low stomach acid production, or are taking acid-blocking medications or antacids, and when we eat our stomach becomes a lot less acidic due to the presence of food and liquids.
I feel this is such an important topic, and really is easy to follow once you learn the main ingredients to watch out for.
If you want to learn how you too can avoid
GMOs while grocery shopping check out my new online self-study program:
It is a series of videos that explains the tips and strategies for how to easily
avoid GMOs and includes a 3-Day Whole-Food Vegan Meal Plan
with recipes and a shopping list.
As consumers, our collective purchasing power has a lot of influence over our food system. We can inspire substantial change by voting with our dollars for sustainable, organic agriculture and safe food.
Lemon Berry Avocado Pudding
2 medium avocados
2 tbsp coconut oil
1/4 cup yacon syrup or maple syrup
1 tsp Simply Organic Lemon Extract
1/4 cup Organic Traditions Antioxidant Berry Blast Powder
2-4 tbsp water or almond milk
Add all ingredients to a food processor, NutriBullet, or Vitamix and blend until smooth.
Adjust the amount of sweetener to your preference. Adjust amount of liquid to desired consistency. Garnish with strawberries and coconut chips.
Gut microbiome research is a fascinating area of nutritional science and has even been called the "future of medicine".
The bacteria that live on our skin and in our digestive system outnumber our cells by 10 to 1, so it makes sense that the health of our microbiome is so essential for our overall wellbeing.
This is an excellent presentation introducing the many reasons why this research is extremely important and how we can support the health of our microbiome.
There are many steps we can take to maintain the health of our microbiome, including:
1. Eat unpasteurized fermented foods on a regular basis. I try to include a serving of fermented vegetables in either my lunch or dinner or sometimes both! Examples of unpasteurized fermented foods are: sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, water kefir, and home-made coconut yogurt. *Avoid fermented foods if you have histamine intolerance. Please email me if you would like to learn more.
2. Use a water filter for your drinking water and shower. Chlorine kills bacteria so consuming too much chlorinated water could negatively alter our microbiome. I use the Santevia water pitcher and shower filter.
3. Eat organic and Non-GMO to avoid pesticide residue. Learn How to Shop GMO-Free.
4. Eat plant-based whole-foods. Many types of fibre contained in these foods are prebiotics that help build and maintain proper microbiome balance.
5. Limit your consumption of refined sugar and refined carbohydrates since these are the preferred food for non-beneficial yeasts and bacteria - the kind we don't want.
6. Avoid antibiotics unless absolutely necessary. If you must use antibiotics, be sure to follow up after with a high quality probiotic supplement to help rebuild the population of good bacteria in the intestines.
7. Live dirty! Spend time in nature, play in the soil, and garden. Try not to over-sanitize your indoor environment with antibacterial sprays and cleansers. Of course this is best if done from an early age in order to strengthen and train the immune system, but if you are healthy and do not have a compromised immune system then it is never to late to start. Training of the immune system from a young age is an important factor for the prevention of autoimmune conditions, where the immune system confuses our own cells with something that needs to be attacked.
I hope you enjoy the video!
Feel free to book a complimentary 15-min Discovery Call if you would like one-on-one support for 'growing your inner garden' and improving your digestion, mental clarity, and energy levels.
I recently asked some friends what juicer they recommended, a couple friends recommended a Vitamix instead.
What is the difference between blending and juicing? I am so confused because I often hear about the benefits of juicing.
Another friend also mentioned that juice has too much sugar and I know sugar is directly linked to excess belly fat. So what's the deal? Should I get a juicer or a blender?
You are right, there is so much confusion and misinformation surrounding this topic. Juicing is incredibly beneficial if you focus on non-sweet vegetable juices. Please note when we are talking about the benefits of juice we are referring to unpasteurized fresh juices.
When we juice we are removing the fibre. Of course fibre is very important and we need to be eating enough every day, however, the benefit of juice is that there is no fibre getting in the way of absorbing the nutrients in the vegetables, so you get an instant infusion of nutrition that you just can't get from smoothies.
Digestion uses up a lot of energy, this is the reason we can often feel so tired after eating a big heavy meal. So another benefit of non-sweet vegetable juice is that it requires minimal digestion - minimal digestion means minimal energy expenditure. Less energy spent on digestion means more is left over for other bodily functions like healing and repair.
Here are some key points to consider:
Sweeter fruit juices - limit to occasional treat or avoid completely if you are trying to lose belly fat, are inactive, already consume too much sugar, or have diabetes.
There is a place for both smoothies and juices in a healthy diet, each with their own unique benefits.
Smoothies require a little bit more digestion and a slower absorption of nutrients, but you have the freedom to add in some fruit. While juices allow for instant absorption and a much needed break for your digestive system.
If you still have more questions or would like to learn how to best utilize blending and juicing for your specific health goals please feel free to book a complimentary 15min Discovery Call to find out more.
Coconut Macaccino Smoothie
2 cups coconut water (approx. one coconut)
1/2 cup coconut meat (fresh or frozen)
3 tbsp Organic Traditions Macaccino Powder (blend of cacao, maca, vanilla, coconut sugar)
2-4 dates, pitted and soaked for at least 20mins (can add soak water to smoothie) - adjust depending on the sweetness you prefer
Open young coconut, pour water into blender, and then scoop out and rinse the coconut meat. Add rinsed coconut meat to blender and add remaining ingredients. Blend until smooth. Garnish with strawberry or orange slice.
Last week I was the guest speaker for the screening of 'That Sugar Film' for the White Rock Social Justice Film Society.
We had a great turn-out and it was amazing getting to answer everyone's questions after the movie. It is quite inspiring to know that this type of movie can cause such a ripple-effect of positive change. Each and every person that was at the screening will now inspire and educate their friends and family about the consequences of too much sugar in the diet and hopefully that message will keep spreading!
As a nutritionist, the negative health effects of sugar is not new information, however, there is something so powerful about seeing the effects instead of just hearing about them, which is why I think this documentary is so essential for bringing this message to the general public in such an effective and entertaining way.
This film documents the mental, emotional, and physical consequences of consuming the average daily intake of sugar - coming from hidden sources like sauces and cereal and 'healthy' snack bars and drinks.
"THAT SUGAR FILM is one man’s journey to discover the bitter truth about sugar. Damon Gameau embarks on a unique experiment to document the effects of a high sugar diet on a healthy body, consuming only foods that are commonly perceived as ‘healthy’. Through this entertaining and informative journey, Damon highlights some of the issues that plague the sugar industry, and where sugar lurks on supermarket shelves. THAT SUGAR FILM will forever change the way you think about ‘healthy’ food."
If you want to find out how you can benefit from eating less sugar and refined carbohydrates book your complimentary 15-min Discovery Call and we can discuss the best way for you to transition to less sugar, what healthy swaps are available, and what type of service will provide you with the most support.
Everyone, regardless of whether or not they are vegan, needs to be aware of any nutrient deficiencies they may experience due to an unbalanced diet and/or poor digestive function - you are not what you eat, you are what you absorb!
The need for supplements is definitely not limited to vegans, however, for the purpose of this article we will focus on some of the deficiencies that may develop if a vegan diet is not properly balanced.
The discussion of supplements for vegans is not an argument for vegan diets being unnatural, because many omnivores also have deficiencies. Personally, I would rather take a couple supplements and be super healthy and full of energy than to avoid supplements in order to try and prove that vegan diets are our natural diet (since doing extensive research for teaching the Evolution of Cultural Diets this may be a topic for a future post!). It is interesting to note that the animals people consume are fed a supplemented diet and dairy is also fortified with many nutrients, so an omnivorous diet relies on supplementation as well.
Please note, not all supplements are created equal and are never meant to replace a healthy balanced whole-food diet. Read more here about how to choose the best supplements.
Here Are The Top Nutrients To Be Aware Of And The Best Ways To Meet Your Needs:
Vitamin B12 - if you eat packaged foods that are fortified with B12 you will be getting trace amounts, however, I still recommend a sublingual methylcobalamin supplement, especially if you eat lots of seaweed and algae - these foods are great and there is no reason not to eat them but they do contain B12 analogues which can bind to and block B12 absorption.
Vitamin D3 - there are now lichen-sourced vegan D3 supplements available. If you live in the Northern Hemisphere it is best to supplement 2000-4000IU from October - March (or even a higher dose if you have low levels), and perhaps continuing with a lower dose in the summer if you do not spend enough time outside.
DHA/EPA - these are the long-chain active forms of omega-3. Chia, flax, hemp, and walnuts do contain ALA omega-3 but the body has to convert this form into DHA and EPA and the conversion rate is very low. Definitely try to eat lots of omega-3 rich foods but I also recommend an algae-sourced DHA/EPA supplement as well. They are available in capsule or liquid form. There are also some flax oils that have added algae DHA.
Iron - if you are eating a wide variety of plant-foods and don't have any digestive issues it shouldn't be difficult to get enough iron. However, if you know you are low or have low energy then I recommend a whole-food source iron supplement (Pranin, Garden of Life, Megafood, and Botanica make whole-food sourced iron supplements).
Calcium - again, if the diet lacks variety (especially dark leafy greens) or there are issues with digestion (both iron and calcium require sufficient stomach acid in order to be absorbed) then you may need to look into supplementation. Similar to iron, it is beneficial to find a whole-food based supplement. Otherwise, a vegan diet with lots of leafy greens, nuts, and seeds should supply enough calcium.
Iodine - seaweeds and unrefined sea salt contain iodine, however, if you do not consume much of these foods it might be worth it to add in a kelp supplement in order to prevent a deficiency.
Cholesterol - we need cholesterol, it is so important in fact that our liver produces it. Plant-foods do not contain cholesterol, however, when a vegan diet includes enough healthy fats and our liver is functioning properly then we will be able to produce all the cholesterol we need. Deficiencies can develop on extremely low-fat vegan diets.
Vitamin K2 - we can get lots of K1 from leafy greens and fruit but K2 is a bit harder to come by (Natto - a super fermented soy product contains K2). However, when we have a healthy balance of beneficial intestinal bacteria then these bacteria can produce enough K2. To support a healthy intestinal microbiome it is important to eat fermented foods and take a high quality dairy-free probiotic (except for issues with histamine intolerance), as well as eat enough fibre-rich foods. Certain types of fibre are the food for intestinal bacteria, they are known as prebiotics. If dysbiosis (unbalanced or low beneficial intestinal bacteria) is present or if there are issues with bone density it may be advisable to take a K2 supplement.
If you have any questions feel free to book a Complimentary 15min Discovery Call.
Shawna Barker BSc., RHN is a nutritionist, college instructor, and raw food educator.