Food Thickeners, Here’s What You Need to Know

We’re all aware that packaged foods have additional ingredients. Some are more harmful for our health than others. While best practice for fueling your body for long-term health is to stick to eating whole foods, your busy lifestyle might have you leaning on packaged products to save time.

Packaged foods are a fact of life for most people in North America. No matter how busy your schedule is, I recommend to aim for a minimum of 80% whole foods to 20% packaged foods in your diet. For the packaged items you choose, it’s important to read your labels and understand what’s in the food your buying.

Thickeners like the ones I reference in this post can be found in all kinds of different canned, jarred or packed products. Each type of thickener has a different upside (why it’s used in the product) and downside for your health. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the list below so that you can limit the amount of thickeners in your diet.

Pay special attention to eliminate the thickeners below if you have an inflammatory bowel condition, or suspect leaky gut. This may mean making more foods from scratch, but this time investment is small compared to the time out required from aggravating one of these conditions.

Read your labels and know what you’re taking in!

Thickeners are one of many ingredients added to processed foods. And they do just that: thicken. They absorb water and form a gel-like consistency. They’re often used to make foods thick and creamy, without having to add a lot of fat.

Thickeners also tend to emulsify and stabilize foods they're added to. Emulsification allows fats and water to mix better and prevents them from separating (i.e., oil/vinegar salad dressing versus a thicker or creamier emulsified dressing). And "stabilizing" helps the product have a longer shelf-life before the "best before" date.

Thickeners are often found in canned dairy-free milk and any milk that comes in a carton, baked goods, soups/sauces/gravies, puddings/ice cream, etc. Some are even added to dietary supplements!

These thickeners are polysaccharides, which means they're long chains of many (poly) saccharides (sugars). They're typically difficult to digest, which makes them similar to dietary fiber. And this also means they can help you feel fuller longer without providing many calories or any nutrients.

They're naturally-derived but are heavily processed to extract the compound. (Did I say "heavily?")

Good to know: food additives are considered anti-nutrients because they reduce the absorption of dietary minerals like calcium.

Overall, for the general healthy population, in small doses, these thickeners don't seem to create massive health concerns. But, even though they're extracted from whole foods, they're far from it. Plus, there are lots of reasons to avoid them altogether.

Let’s briefly dive into five of the common ones.

Xanthan Gum

Xanthan gum is made by a bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris. This bacteria can cause diseases in plants (e.g., leaf spot). The xanthan gum is created when the bacteria ferment sugar. Xanthan gum is extracted from the liquid, dried, and ground.

Because it's like dietary fibre, xanthan gum has been shown to help reduce blood sugar spikes. Its thickening properties can help slow the absorption of sugar, therefore slowing the speed sugar can get into the bloodstream.

In high doses, xanthan gum can act as a laxative and can cause bloating, gas, and diarrhea. It also may act as a prebiotic (food for our friendly gut microbes), but more research is needed.

Xanthan gum should be avoided by infants and people with severe wheat, corn, soy, or dairy allergies.

Guar Gum

Guar gum is made from legumes called guar beans. These beans are split, and the endosperm is ground to get the guar gum.

Like xanthan gum, guar gum may reduce blood sugar spikes, act as a laxative, and possibly a prebiotic.

In rodents, guar gum has been shown to increase intestinal permeability (i.e., leaky gut).

Cellulose Gum

Cellulose gum is made from wood pulp and cotton. To extract the cellulose gum, the pulp is processed with several chemicals, which are then removed.

Cellulose gum can cause bacterial overgrowth and inflammation in animals who eat large amounts of it. It’s been suspected to be linked with IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease).

Carrageenan

Carrageenan is made from red seaweed that's dried, ground, chemically treated, filtered, and dehydrated.

Carrageenan can increase intestinal permeability (i.e., leaky gut). It has been linked to gastrointestinal inflammation, ulcers, and colitis-like conditions in animals. It has also been used in high doses to cause tumors in animals for cancer research.

Unlike other thickeners, some rodent studies have shown that carrageenan can worsen blood sugar control issues.

Lecithin

Lecithin most often comes from soybeans, but can also come from eggs, canola, or sunflower seeds. It's heavily processed with chemicals and then purified.

Lecithin also contains phospholipids, triglycerides, sterols, free fatty acids, and carotenoids.

One of lecithin's metabolites (what your body metabolizes lecithin into once it's absorbed) is linked to heart disease. On the other hand, it does lower serum cholesterol. Overall, the jury seems to be out on its heart health effects.

Conclusion

Thickeners are highly processed food additives derived from nature. They are found in many processed foods because they thicken, reducing the amount of fat needed.

In the body, they can act as a dietary fibre, and may have some of the health benefits of that. But, they can also contribute to gastrointestinal issues, especially in higher doses. They can also be allergenic in small doses.

Do you read your labels to see which thickeners are in your foods? Are you going to look out for these additives? Let me know in the comments below.

Recipe (Thickener-free): Creamy Salad Dressing

Serves 8-12

1 avocado, ripe
½ cup coconut milk - use one without added thickeners or make your own (you may need more to thin)
2 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp dill, dried
1 tsp chives, dried
1 tsp parsley, dried
½ tsp basil, dried
4 dashes salt
4 dashes pepper

Instructions

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend until creamy.

Add more coconut milk or herbs/spices to reach desired consistency and flavour.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Add cilantro for additional flavour.

References:

https://www.thepaleomom.com/is-it-paleo-guar-gum-xanthan-gum-and-lecithin-oh-my/

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/xanthan-gum

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/guar-gum

https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/cellulose-gum

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/carrageenan

Intermittent fasting: Is it the key to losing weight?

It can be tempting to jump on the latest diet trend, especially if you need to lose weight. It’s not very often that I’ll recommend a diet to one of my coaching clients. My philosophy is usually to stick to whole foods and nutrient-dense meals that keep you full and satisfy your cravings.

In this post I share about intermittent fasting and some research to suggest that it helps with weight loss, particularly belly fat. It’s important to note that there are other ways to lose belly fat (which tends to have a lot to do with stress, hormones and lifestyle) than by fasting. The intermittent fasting approaches outlined below may be helpful for someone who is obese and needs to change their lifestyle.

Intermittent fasting is also recommended during a healing period for those with gastrointestinal irritation and inflammation because it provides the GI tract with a break from food.

For the majority of you reading this, my suggestion is rather than intermittent fasting, stick with whole foods, make nutritious choices and stop eating for the day 3 hours before you go to bed. 🙂

In a nutshell, intermittent fasting is just that: fasting intermittently.

It's limiting calorie intake during certain hours/day or days/week. It's more of an eating pattern than a diet. It limits when to eat, and not so much what to eat. And that’s part of it’s appeal to people who don’t want to count calories or use a food log to track what they eat.

Some would say that it's a more natural way to eat because humans evolved without refrigerators, drive-throughs, or 24-hour convenience stores. We now have access to food (including junk food) all day long, so eating several meals per day plus snacks may be less natural than fasting from time to time.

There are lots of variations on this theme. They include:

  • 16/8 which is 16 hours of fasting, and eating only within the other 8 hours (often 1:00 pm. - 9:00 p.m.);
  • 5:2 days of fasting, where you eat regularly for five days of the week, then take in a low number of calories/day for the other two (non-consecutive) days.

Is intermittent fasting effective for weight loss?

Intermittent fasting can help to lose weight because it can help you to eat fewer calories, and burn more calories too.

Lots of people say they have success with it. But what do the studies say?

According to one review study, intermittent fasting helped people to lose 3-8% of their weight over 3-24 weeks.  In this study, people also lost 4-7% of their waist circumference (i.e., belly fat).

Another study of 100 people with obesity showed that after a year, the people who fasted on alternate days lost more weight than people who didn’t change their eating pattern. But, (and here’s where it’s interesting) they didn’t lose any more weight than those on a calorie restricted diet. Out of the people who were to follow the intermittent fasting protocol, 38% of them dropped out.

Sticking with a plan is one of the keys to weight loss success. So, if you can’t stick to a weight-loss plan, you’re less likely to lose the weight and keep it off.

Before you consider intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting is not for everyone. I want to make that very clear. Often times I have clients who are busy professionals ask me about intermittent fasting because they’re looking to get out of preparing breakfast in the morning. Intermittent fasting is a strategy that can help you lose weight if you need to, or it can be helpful for those who have digestive irritation and need to give their bodies a break from food. I don’t recommend using it as a way to encourage laziness—as in not preparing breakfast before you leave for work in the morning.

With that said, people who are underweight, or have eating disorders, also shouldn’t fast. Neither should women who are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or are breastfeeding.

Certain medical conditions can be worsened with longer periods of fasting. Also, people taking certain medications can be prone to side effects with intermittent fasting as well.

One of the reasons people drop out of the intermittent fasting eating pattern is that it’s hard to stick with the fasting part, especially when you’re doing fasting days. They eat more than the allowed (low-level of) calories when they’re supposed to be fasting. And when they finish fasting, they may overindulge due to the reaction of the appetite hormones and hunger drive while fasting. This sets up a restrict-binge cycle that’s not healthy for your body or your hormones, nor will it help with weight loss. If you have the tendency to restrict your eating as a means to control your calorie intake, intermittent fasting is not recommended for you.

Also, the hours and days of fasting can be very difficult. So having strong social support will be key to those intermittent periods of fasting. Sticking to a (healthy, nutrient-dense) diet designed for weight loss is the key to success, and intermittent fasting can be difficult for many people to stick with.

Conclusion

Intermittent fasting is a weight loss diet that may work for some people. It can help you to lose weight and reduce belly fat. But, it isn't safe for everyone. Many people should not try intermittent fasting because it can be risky. It can also be difficult to stick with.

For the best chance of long-term weight loss success, finding a diet, you can stick with is key.

What about you - Have you or someone you know tried intermittent fasting? What were the results? Let me know in the comments below.

Recipe (Whole food): Almond Butter Energy Bites

Makes about 12 energy bites

1 cup oats
⅔ cup almond butter
½ cup sunflower seeds
½ cup flax seeds, ground
2 Tbsp. honey
1 pinch finely ground sea salt

Instructions

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and stir.

Using a tablespoon to measure, roll into about 12 energy bites.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: You can roll the bites to coat them in cocoa powder for a bit of extra flavour and to prevent them from being too sticky.

References:

https://authoritynutrition.com/intermittent-fasting-guide/

https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/not-so-fast-pros-and-cons-of-the-newest-diet-trend

Creating a Mindset for Health

As a holistic practitioner I look at the WHOLE person, not just your parts. Thinking holistically just makes sense to me. Why would we pretend that your thoughts have nothing to do with how your body responds? If you’ve ever cried before, you’ve proven there’s a connection between your physiology (how your body reacts) and your thoughts and emotions.

We don’t often make this connection when it comes to larger issues in our health. Looking at your mindset is a hidden key to creating a well-rounded picture of your health. Sooner or later the way you think about and talk to yourself will catch up with you because your body is always listening.

This post talks about how to create a mindset for your health and I reference a pretty cool study that gives a great example. If you thought your mindset had nothing to do with your physical body, think again.

So much of health is all about habits and actions, but where do these all stem from? What if we don’t have to make as many changes as we think we do? What if there was one powerful thing that makes a lot of difference?

That thing is mindset.

Mindset is sometimes called “the story we tell ourselves.” It’s our attitude toward things in our life. And we have control over our mindset.

And research is showing that it may be far more powerful than we thought.

Very interesting health mindset study

Here’s a quick story about a fascinating study.

Researchers at Stanford University looked at a bunch of people's health and wellness lifestyle habits, as well as health markers.

What they found was that the people who thought they were a lot less active than they actually were, had a higher risk of death than the general public. And, they also had up to 71% higher risk of death than people who thought they were more active. Even if the story they told themselves about being “not very active” wasn’t true!

How is this even possible that people who simply thought they were less active had higher risks, even if it wasn’t true?

There are a couple of ideas why. One is that maybe if we feel like we're less active, it may make us feel more stressed. And stress isn't good for our mental or physical health. Second, there may be a bit of a mind-body connection where the body embodies what the mind visualizes.

Researchers don't know why, but what matters is that there is a good mindset.

This means that our mindset, the way we think about ourselves and our habits is extremely important…just as important as actually having good habits.

So, let me give you a couple of strategies to boost your mindset for health.

Health mindset strategy 1 - Aim for good enough.

Almost no one eats perfectly seven days a week (not even me, and I’ll be the first to admit it). It's inevitable that obsessing over the quality and quantity of everything we eat or drink isn't necessarily a great mindset to have.

It can bring on binging, shame, and guilt - none of these are great ways to get healthy. We want to get healthier by making better choices and building better habits. And these are usually best done incrementally - one step at a time.

So, instead of having a black and white approach where everything is good or bad, why not try aiming for good enough to empower ourselves to make better choices, instead of perfect choices.

If it helps, tell yourself that you’re doing an experiment. Allow yourself to try out a new habit or way of eating and give yourself permission to experiment with it, instead of aiming for perfection. Sometimes you need to use this mind trick to get yourself over the hump of getting started and sticking to it.

Health mindset strategy 2 - Stop making tradeoffs

When you try to “earn” a gluttonous weekend by eating clean during the week, you're making a tradeoff. You're telling yourself that, as long as you're good most of the week, you can go wild on the weekend.

And that's not awesome because the mindset is jumping from one extreme to the other. You're controlling what you do all week, and possibly thinking about how to indulge over the weekend. A better mindset is to live as though you're trying to do well every single day. Like you care about your health and wellness. Caring about your health can still include the occasional treat. When you're consistently doing your best, that's good enough.

Conclusion

Mindset for health can be a powerful tool for better physical health. There’s a proven mind-body connection that research can measure.

Thinking positively, and dropping the black/white and good/bad labels, can help you reach your health goals.

How is your mindset for health? Which of these tips resonate with you the most? How are you going to implement them in your life? Let me know in the comments below.

Recipe (Hydrating mindset refresher): Chia Berry Water

Serves 1

1 Tbsp. chia seeds
¼ cup raspberries
¼ tsp mint
2.5 cups water

Instructions

Add the water, mint & raspberries to your blender and blend until combined (add ice, if desired). Fill your favourite water bottle with the mixture and add chia seeds. Shake before drinking.

Serve & enjoy! This is a great source of fiber and a refreshing tasty drink to have during the day.

References:

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mind-over-matter-how-fit-you-think-you-are-versus-actual-fitness-2017081412282

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/making-health-decisions-mindsets-numbers-and-stories-201112123946

https://www.precisionnutrition.com/weekend-overeating

Vitamin K: The Amazing Nutrient You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Vitamin what? K?

Yup!

Why’d they skip vitamins F, G, H, I & J?

Great question!

It’s because the "K" stands for "koagulation" which is the Danish spelling for "coagulation." Vitamin K is the vitamin that helps the blood to clot or coagulate. But that’s not all this amazing, underappreciated vitamin does for our bodies.

It’s one of the four fat-soluble vitamins: Vitamins A, D, E & K.

I’ll explain the functions of this little powerhouse vitamin, and also list some vitamin-K rich foods. Then you’ll be in the know about this little-known vitamin.

Vitamin K’s amazing functions

As I mentioned earlier, the “K” stands for the vitamin’s ability to help clot our blood. And this is a critical life-saving measure to prevent blood loss from cuts and scrapes.

Vitamin K also works hand-in-hand with calcium in the blood. It helps to shuttle the calcium to our bones and teeth where we need it. This reduces our risk of fractures and cavities. Having too much calcium in our blood can lead to kidney stones and hardened arteries (atherosclerosis), so vitamin K helps to reduce our risks of those too.

It also helps with insulin. Not only is vitamin K critical for making insulin, but also to keep your cells sensitive to it. This means that vitamin K can help you better regulate your blood sugar levels.

Vitamin K has a few other functions too. It can help to regulate your sex hormones. In men, it helps to maintain healthy levels of testosterone. In women with PCOS, it helps to reduce certain hormones that produce symptoms.

Finally, vitamin K can help protect against cancer by switching off cancer genes.

This versatile vitamin has some key functions in the body.

What to eat to get vitamin K

There are two main types of vitamin K: K1 and K2.

The type depends on which foods you eat. Vitamin K1 is found in plants; while vitamin K2 is found in animal foods and fermented plants.

Vitamin K1 supports blood clotting (remember "koagulation?"). Vitamin K1 is found mostly in cruciferous vegetables (e.g., as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts), dark leafy greens (e.g., spinach, collard greens, parsley, and Swiss chard), as well as asparagus.

Vitamin K2 also supports blood clotting and had additional health benefits. Bone mineralization and effects on cancer genes and sex hormones are primarily from the K2 version. Vitamin K2 is found in egg yolk, cheese, butter, meat, and fermented foods like sauerkraut. Two of the best sources of vitamin K2 are natto (fermented soy) and goose liver.

Since vitamin K is one of the four fat-soluble vitamins, it needs to be ingested with some fat for proper absorption. Nature takes care of this by packaging vitamin K in foods like egg yolk and cheese that contain fat to increase absorption from the food into your body.

The best way to get vitamin K is through food. Make sure you have a well-rounded diet that includes foods that are rich in vitamin K. If you do want to supplement, make sure you follow the label directions. Some of the cautions include the fact that Vitamin K can interact with several types of medications, so make sure it’s right for you before taking it.

Conclusion

Vitamins K1 and K2 are essential fat-soluble vitamins. They help our blood to clot, our bones to get strong, and regulate our sex hormones, just to name a few.

Vitamin K1 is found in green veggies, like cruciferous and leaves. K2 is found in egg yolks, meat, cheeses, and fermented foods.

I hope you now feel like you're in the know about this amazing (but not-so-well-known) vitamin. Did you learn something new?

Let me know in the comments below.

References:

https://chrismasterjohnphd.com/2016/12/09/the-ultimate-vitamin-k2-resource/

https://chriskresser.com/vitamin-k2-the-missing-nutrient/

https://www.thepaleomom.com/wiki/vitamin-k/

What to Eat for Healthy Skin

There are so many things that can go wrong with your skin: dryness, redness, blemishes, etc.

Healthy skin is a reflection of internal health (and has a lot to do with gut health and hormonal balance). There are many creams and cosmetics to put on top of your skin. But, there are also lots of things you can do to nurture and nourish your skin to better health from the inside.

That’s where food comes in.

Your skin needs many nutrients: water, essential fats, vitamins, and amino acids. Here are five foods (and drinks and lifestyle tips) I highly recommend if your goal is healthier-looking skin. As a bonus, I have included a short list of some key foods to consider avoiding.

Let’s dive in.

Skin Food #1 - Water

No doubt hydration is key for healthy-looking skin! Water and other hydrating fluids are great to help your skin stay moist and supple.

And for a bit of an extra anti-inflammatory hydrating boost, try boosting your water with anti-inflammatory green tea. Cold or hot green tea will work, though skip adding in any sugar.

Skin Food #2 - Fish

Fish contains many nutrients important for skin health - omega-3s, and vitamins A and D to name a few.

Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory to help cool the flames of inflammation. Vitamin A can help with blemishes and dryness, while vitamin D helps with skin tone.

Skin Food #3 - Bell peppers, citrus, and broccoli

Collagen is one of the most abundant proteins in our body. It’s also known to help our skin stay firm and supple.

Vitamin C is necessary for your body to make collagen. Foods rich in vitamin C are great for producing healthy skin. Cue: bell peppers, citrus, and broccoli.

Did you know? Overcooking vitamin C-rich foods can destroy some of the skin-supporting vitamins. So, try having these lightly steamed or raw for maximum vitamin C levels.

Skin Food #4 - Bone broth

Homemade bone broth contains a lot of the amino acid glycine. Glycine is another essential component of the skin protein collagen.

Glycine helps speed the healing of the skin and the gut. Win-win.

Skin “Food” #5 - Sleep more & stress less

I know these aren’t exactly foods, but they’re an important part of naturally great skin. When we don’t sleep enough, or stress too much our body turns on hormones and systems that affect our whole body… including our skin.

Stress hormones can increase inflammation and lead to not-so-healthy looking skin. Prioritize sleep and stress management, and you can see results in your life, and in your skin.

Watch out for these foods

Some foods are allergenic or inflammatory. These can cause all sorts of issues in your body, including affecting your skin.

It's hard to come up with one list of inflammatory or allergenic foods for everyone. Each person is biochemically unique, so you may have to go through this and see what applies to you. There are a few common allergens that may be a good bet to eliminate from your diet.

The first is processed foods. These are unhealthy for everyone (though, there are various degrees of processing). Processed foods can affect your health in so many ways, including how your skin looks & feels. Try ditching pre-packaged and fast foods in favour of whole foods as much as possible. Not just for your skin, for your whole body (and mind).

The second is gluten. While only a small number of people have serious reactions to gluten (i.e., celiac disease), many more people are intolerant to it. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and a few other grains. Many people have had several health concerns, including skin issues, clear up after eliminating gluten from their diets.

Third in line is dairy. It could be a hormonal response or even an insulin response. We don't quite know why, but many people who cut out dairy report better skin…so if you’re eating dairy and you’d like to improve your skin, this could be a good place to start.

Conclusion

Skin health is not just about what you put on your skin, but what your skin gets from the inside too. There are lots of important nutrients and foods to help support healthy skin. Which also means, that there are lots of foods that can affect your skin in negative ways as well.

Staying hydrated, eating nutrient dense whole foods, and avoiding common allergenic and inflammatory foods might make all the difference for you.

Do you have an awesome recipe or tips for people to eat more of these “skin-helping” foods? Let me know in the comments below.

Recipe (Omega-3 vitamin C rich): Not Your Typical Salmon Salad

Serves 2

4 cups baby spinach (or mixed greens)
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes
½ large cucumber, chopped
8 oz smoked salmon, or 1 can salmon, roughly chopped
Drizzle of your favourite (gluten-free, dairy-free) dressing

Instructions

Place 2 cups of greens into each of 2 bowls.

Top with veggies and salmon.

Drizzle with dressing.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Serve with a large mug of green tea for an extra skin-supporting bonus.

References:

https://www.thepaleomom.com/beautiful-skin/

https://www.thepaleomom.com/overcoming-medical-dogma-eczema/

https://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-acne-nutrition

https://www.healthline.com/health/4-best-vitamins-for-skin#VitaminD2

https://chriskresser.com/nutrition-for-healthy-skin-part-1/

https://www.healthline.com/health/ways-to-boost-collagen

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/collagen