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At MommyMoves™ our mission is to provide top-quality Pre & PostNatal fitness programming to new & expectant mothers.

Our programs have been developed by Leah Esplen, a Registered Kinesiologist, Fitness Instructor and certified Pre & PostNatal Instructor

All postnatal classes focus on interaction between mother and child, while providing a fun and safe fitness experience. The goals of our prenatal classes are to maintain and possibly gently increase fitness levels in preparation for labour & delivery and the demands of motherhood.

Supporting Healthy Eating and Weight Loss – The Most Important Thing to Read on Your Food Label

January 27, 2015 @ 11:45 am
posted by admin

This is where you’ll get the real lowdown on what you’re eating. You can eat all the ‘diet’ food you want but if you can’t understand this information then you may be sabotaging yourself.

I remember having this conversation in 2009 with a holistic nutritionist. This was before the ‘whole food movement’ became popular. She was saying that if we just ate whole & natural foods we wouldn’t have cravings. Because whole foods contain natural levels of fat, protein, carbohydrates, water and micronutrients, our bodies would be satisfied and we wouldn’t get the physiological symptoms that signal that we are hungry.

My argument was that, as North Americans, we have learned to ignore those signals. We have also learned to ignore the signals that indicate that we are full. We continue to eat, based on taste, which means that we end up over-consuming calories and this leads to us storing these extra calories as fat.

That stopped her in her tracks. We both knew that what she was saying was true. But how do we stop people from over-eating, even the good food? If a food is low in calories, we eat more of it because ‘we can’. But if we know that a food is good for us, we eat more of it because ‘we should.’ When we try to lose weight, we cut out foods that we think are bad for us because we don’t have the will-power to just decrease the portion sizes. Cutting out entire food groups can actually lead to malnutrition because we lose important sources of vitamins and minerals.

In the first post of this series, Supporting Healthy Eating and Weight Loss Goals – The First 5 Things You Should Look At On Your Food Labels, we looked at the energy portion of the label. Then we looked at the nutritional value of The Next 5 Things You Should Understand on Your Food Labels. Now we go even deeper and take a look at what these two previous topics are based on – the ingredients.

Times have changed and people are caring about where their food is coming from, how it is grown or raised and how it is kept safe for human consumption. That awareness starts with the ingredients list on food labels.

So, let’s look at the ingredients in this breakfast cereal. If it is something as simple as a cereal, why are all these other things in there? What purpose do they serve? Here are some things you should know:

Ingredients list - Oatmeal Crisp cereal

  1. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. Here, the first ingredients are whole grain oat and whole grain wheat. Those are good. You want to avoid ‘enriched’ grains so ‘whole’ is better than ‘enriched.’

The next ingredient is sugar and/or golden sugar. To have a sweetener as the third ingredient is not unusual in this type of food (unfortunately). However, if you continue on down the list, you’ll see that there are other sweeteners: sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, honey, golden syrup and stevia leaf extract. So, to have sugar as the third ingredients PLUS have all these other sources of added sugar is not that great.

  1. When you see ingredients in brackets, they are the constituents of the food immediately to the left of the brackets. For example: Honey clusters contain rolled oats, sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, oat flour, rice flour, honey, salt, calcium carbonate, cinnamon, baking soda, artificial flavour, monoglycerides and BHT. (Phew!)

The food within the brackets is also listed in descending order by relative weight, which means there are more rolled oats by weight than there is BHT. (Good to know)

  1. Most of the stuff that you can’t pronounce are food additives. Food additives are not necessarily bad for you. Citric acid is found naturally in citrus fruits and can be used as a buffer, emulsifier and flavouring agent. Let’s look at some of the additives found in this cereal:
  • Calcium carbonate: Used in the body as a buffer (acidity regulator), it may also be used as a stabilizer or colour. In moderate doses, such as found in processed food, it is not harmful.
  • BHT: You may have heard about this as a food supplement. Its uses in processed food are similar to the reasons for its use as a food supplement – BHT is a weak antioxidant and since oxidation is a major reason for food going bad, it is used as a preservative.
  • Gum acacia: This is actually a source of soluble fibre! For all that it sounds kind of nasty, it’s actually not a negative thing to have in this food.
  • Annatto: This is a natural food colourant BUT some people are allergic to it.
  1. Potential major allergens must be listed. Since August, 2012, a list of major allergens contained in the food has been added to the bottom of the label. On this label, we can see that it contains almond, wheat and oat ingredients. Notice that annatto is not included in this list. That is because the incidence of allergic reactions to annatto are so rare that it is not considered to be a major allergen.

So, what do you think of this breakfast cereal? Is it that bad? Well, it really depends upon how ‘whole food’ you want to eat. Yes, there are good reasons for most of the additives in the food, but do you really want to be constantly consuming those?

Also, and I think this is a big factor, there is the issue of all that added sugar. Remember that first label that I showed you? It said that, in one serving, there were 47 g of carbohydrate and 13 of those grams were added sugars. This means that only 34 g were naturally occurring. Approximately 25% of the carbohydrates came from added sugars. That’s a lot.

When you eat candy or other sweets you expect there to be sugar, right? So you aren’t surprised when you find out how much you consumed.

Do you feel the same level of guilt when you eat breakfast cereal? How about when you eat one that has ‘Oatmeal’ in the name?

The problem today is not in over-consumption of foods that we know are bad for us. It is in the over-consumption of foods that we are told are GOOD for us, or that we are led to believe are good for us. We need to be smarter consumers.

Remember that oatmeal that I described in the first label post? Here it is again.

Nutrition Facts panel for Steel Cut Oats

Check out the ingredients: Organic whole grain oats. Now, here are the ingredients for the other components that I added to the oatmeal:

1 tsp of brown sugar: cane sugar, molasses

2 tsp golden raisins: golden seedless raisins, sunflower oil

2 tsp coconut flakes: coconut, salt, sugar, coconut milk, coconut juice

Keep in mind that these are all things that form ingredients in pre-packaged food. They are also not fresh foods, i.e. they will not decompose if left on the shelf for prolonged periods of time. Yet, there are no preservatives or things that you can’t pronounce in the ingredients. You are fully aware of what is adding sweetness to the food; nothing is being hidden from you.

That is what food should look like. When you look back to the early part of the last century and beyond, this is what their food was made of. This is what our bodies were designed to process, in moderate amounts.

Learning about labels and what to look for and avoid is an integral part of wise consumerism. If you are going to eat processed foods, make sure you know what’s in it.

I’ll leave you with one last thought…

My darling husband, who is normally right on board with all of this, accidentally came home with the wrong peanut butter. Which one do you think it was?

Kraft peanut butter ingredients Kirkland peanut butter ingredients








Leah Esplen, MSc (Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology) enjoys moving and eating well but is aware of the challenges that people (including her) face to do so. Her mission is to take the b.s. out of nutrition and fitness information to make it more ‘palatable.’ She believes anyone can make changes to improve their health, as long as they know the right changes to make. When not teaching in the BPK department at SFU, Leah can usually be found presenting at fitness conferences, teaching fitness instructors or teaching MommyMoves® PreNatal and Mom & Baby fitness classes. Amazingly, Leah is not perfect. She wrestles with chronic injury and finding the right combination of nutrition and physical activity to maintain her own health.

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Supporting Healthy Eating and Weight Loss – The Next 5 Things on Your Food Label That You Need to Understand

January 19, 2015 @ 11:09 am
posted by admin

Nutrition Facts Panel for Oatmeal Crisp cereal

I just finished teaching a one-day course on Nutrition and Weight Loss and it really got people thinking about the labels on their foods and how much information they actually contain.

Most of us know about The First 5 Things You Need to Read on Your Food Labels, but that’s as far as we go. If weight loss or maintenance is our concern, most of us aren’t interested in much more beyond the calories that we are taking in. However, if you read last week’s blog post you found out that calories weren’t the most important piece of information on the labels. You need to look at where your calories (energy) are coming from.

Today’s blog post is a continuation of last week’s. We are going to look a little deeper at what those numbers in the Nutrition Facts box on the food labels mean and what sources we should be getting them from.

  1. Types of fat:
    1. Saturated – The reason these fats are called ‘saturated’ is because the carbon backbone of the fatty acid is ‘saturated’ with hydrogen. These molecules get packed together pretty tightly so they are solid at room temperature (usually animal-based fats).

Diets with a high level of saturated fats increase the LDL (bad) cholesterol in the body and contribute to cardiovascular disease.

2. Trans – These fats are usually man-made. The original fat is an unsaturated (vegetable-based) fat that has been bombarded by hydrogen atoms. This changes their shape so that they, too, are able to get packed tightly together and are solid at room temperature. As with saturated fats, trans fats also increase LDL cholesterol and the risk for cardiovascular disease. However, because industrial trans fats (hydrogenated fats) are not found in nature, they are not processed well by the body.

There are naturally-occurring trans fats that the body tolerates well. These can be found in grass-fed ruminants (animals who chew their cud) such as cows, sheep and goats.

3. Monounsaturated – These fats have one double bond in their carbon backbone. This changes the shape of the fat so that not as many of them can fit in a small space and so they are generally liquid at room temperature. Oleic acid is a well-known monounsaturated fat, as it is the main fat in olive oil.

Substituting saturated or trans fats for monounsaturated fats can lead to a decreased risk of breast cancer and cardiovascular disease and reduced cholesterol levels.

4. Polyunsaturated – These fats have two double bonds in their carbon backbone. Again, this means that they are liquid at room temperature.

Like monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats lower cholesterol levels and are heart healthy, however, there are two types of polyunsaturated fats that do so much more! These are the essential fatty acids: omega-3 and omega-6.

5. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) – These fats are considered to be essential because our bodies can’t produce them so it is essential that we get them from our diet. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are both EFAs. Omega-6 fatty acids are pretty commonplace because they are found in lots of grain products and vegetable oils. Omega-3 fatty acids, however, are a little harder to obtain – especially if you don’t eat fish or are allergic to walnuts! They can be found in pretty high amounts in flax and chia seeds.

 An intake ratio of 1:3 omega-3:omega-6 is considered ideal.

In general, you want to minimize the saturated and trans fats in your foods and maximize the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, paying close attention to the omega-3 and omega-6 sources.

Unfortunately, only the total fat, trans fat and saturated fat are required to be on the label so you might not know the specific amounts of the healthy fats. That’s okay. If you subtract the amounts of trans and saturated fats from the total fat, the remainder is the amount of healthy fats in a serving of that product.

  1. Cholesterol: We all know that cholesterol will kill you, right? Wrong! Our bodies actually make their own cholesterol, just as all animal bodies do. That’s the problem – we make our own cholesterol and then, if we ingest animal products, we add to that cholesterol. It’s not a problem for most of us if we go slightly over the 300 mg RDA every now and then because our bodies can ‘clear’ the cholesterol quite well. Remember when it was recommended that we only eat two eggs a week? They have since changed that recommendation to say that you can eat an egg a day if you don’t have a cholesterol clearance issue. Yay!

We actually need cholesterol for things like hormones and cell membranes (rather important stuff). However, we don’t need to get it from animal products. Plants create their own sterols called phytosterols. What is so great about these is that these can actually take the place of cholesterol in the body without all the harmful effects and they decrease our own production of cholesterol. This gives us another great reason to eat more of a plant-based diet.

  1. Sodium: According to popular science, sodium is another substance that will kill you. And it will, if your body has a problem getting rid of it. Again, sodium is definitely something you need. It’s really hard to use your 5 senses without the sodium in your nerves, maintain water balance (osmotic pressure) without the sodium in your cells and even to uptake glucose without sodium in the gut. Most of us go over the 1500 mg of sodium that we should be taking in each day, but we wouldn’t if we ate less processed food and more fruits and vegetables. Not only do they contain less sodium, but they contain more potassium.
  1. Potassium: This mineral works with sodium in the nervous system and helps maintain blood pressure. As a matter of fact, a high potassium diet (usually found in a primarily plant-based diet) has been linked to lower blood pressure and thus, decreased risk of stroke. The ideal food intake would be low in sodium and high in potassium. Unfortunately, processed foods are high in sodium and low in potassium. A very good reason to avoid processed foods!
  1. Other micronutrients: A micronutrient is something that we need in small amounts. We still need them, though, and they are something that we don’t get much of in processed foods.

You may have heard of foods being ‘enriched’ or ‘fortified’. A food that has been enriched has been processed so much that the nutrients (vitamins and minerals) have been stripped from it and then re-added. The problem with the re-adding is that they are not added in the same amounts as what the original food contained so that may change the relative amounts in the body and the body’s ability to use them. A food that has been fortified never contained that nutrient to begin with. You know, like those boney oranges they grow in California. The ones with calcium in them? Just kidding! The fear of osteoporosis combined with the fear of hormones in dairy products have made some manufacturers turn to adding calcium to orange juice (fortifying it) because most people will drink orange juice (so far) and it is a great marketing ploy!

To find out the amount of each micronutrient you need for your sex and age, check this out:

As you can see, there is a lot more information in a Nutrition Facts box on your food label than you originally thought! And we haven’t even gotten to the ingredients yet…

What is the Nutrition Facts box of your favourite food saying to you?

*Throughout this post, I kept saying the word ‘processed.’ There are varying degrees of processing that food goes through. If it has been picked and washed or slaughtered and cleaned then the processing is minimal. The more steps that the food goes through to get to your table, the more processed the food is. Frozen foods are less processed than canned foods, which are less processed than boxed foods. To get the most out of your food, you want to be eating as little processed food as possible.

Leah Esplen, MSc (Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology) enjoys moving and eating well but is aware of the challenges that people (including her) face to do so. Her mission is to take the b.s. out of nutrition and fitness information to make it more ‘palatable.’ She believes anyone can make changes to improve their health, as long as they know the right changes to make. When not teaching in the BPK department at SFU, Leah can usually be found presenting at fitness conferences, teaching fitness instructors or teaching MommyMoves® PreNatal and Mom & Baby fitness classes. Amazingly, Leah is not perfect. She wrestles with chronic injury and finding the right combination of nutrition and physical activity to maintain her own health.

Head shot

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