Making minor, yet meaningful changes to your lifestyle can help you become a significantly healthier and happier person. Our health expert shares five tips on sleep, nutrition and fitness to help you achieve these goals.
"Why does she look and feel so good? I think I want what she's having!" If you find yourself thinking like this it might be time to adopt some new habits.
Your body needs some sugar to function, but Canadians, who consume the equivalent of 26 teaspoons of the sweet stuff every day, are probably overdoing it. We break down what too much sugar does to your body, and how you can cut back.
Good news for those with sweet tooths: Glucose is our main source of fuel, so, yes, we actually do need sugar in our diets. But don't get too excited— they're not all alike.
"All carbohydrate-containing foods, whether candy, pop, fruit, vegetables or grain products, break down into glucose in our bloodstream," says Patricia Chuey, a Vancouver-based registered dietitian. "But our bodies respond differently when we get sugar from nutrient-dense, fibre-rich foods, eaten as part of a balanced meal that contains protein, compared to 'empty' calories from zero-nutrient, fibre-less foods."
Those carb-heavy, low-nutrient foods cause our blood-sugar, or glucose, levels to spike, triggering the release of insulin in response. One of insulin's jobs is to move glucose from the blood to our liver, muscle and fat cells for storage, and when there's more in our bloodstream than what our bodies need for energy, it can end up as stored fat—"even though fat, per se, wasn't consumed," says Chuey. That's partially why excess sugar consumption is linked to fatty liver disease, as well as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Fibre-rich, nutrient-dense foods, on the other hand, break down more slowly, so they don't cause as much of a blood-sugar spike, or the resulting weight gain.
That doesn't mean you have to skip your favourite sweet indulgences entirely. What we know today is that moderation is key—a little sugar won't hurt you.
But, for the most part, Canadians are not consuming a little sugar. According to Statistics Canada, on average, 22 to 26 percent of our total daily caloric intake consists of sugar. Put another way, that's an average of 110 grams, or 26 teaspoons, per day. And it's not just how much; experts are also concerned about where it comes from.
"Whole foods that are sweet, like fruit, can be good sources of vitamins, minerals and fibre, which can contribute to overall health," says Gita Singh, a research assistant professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Boston's Tufts University.
It's added sugar, regardless of the source, that's the problem. You'll find it in processed foods, such as many breads, soups, salad dressings and pasta sauces. And then there's pop, sports drinks and fruit drinks, which experts collectively refer to as sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs). These drinks are among the top causes of obesity and its attendant ailments, which include heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer and other chronic diseases. In fact, Singh coauthored a report published in the medical journal Circulation that estimates SSB consumption is partially responsible for the diabetes-, cancer- and cardiovascular disease–related deaths of 1,600 Canadians each year.
The fact that SSBs are a leading source of excess sugar in our diets is galling but encouraging. That's because the solution is straightforward: Stop, or at least cut back on, drinking them.
Chuey says you can further reduce the added sugar in your diet by avoiding convenience foods that list sugar (or maltose, corn syrup, cane sugar or honey) among the first three ingredients; swap your caramel macchiato for a latte; and top plain yogurt with fresh fruit. The less sugar you consume, the less you'll end up craving.
But when you do indulge, go all in. "Apply the pleasure maximization principle," says Chuey. "Make it really worth it! Not in terms of quantity, but the kind of quality that will really satisfy." So skip the soda fountain. But those homemade cookies? Enjoy!
YOUR BODY ON SUGAR
There are lots of table sugar subs on the market, but how do they stack up, health-wise?
Stevia: Zero calories per teaspoon
Stevia is a zero-calorie, fructosefree option.
Date sugar: 11 calories per teaspoon
Date sugar contains all the fibre and nutrients found in the dried fruit.
Coconut sugar: 15 calories per teaspoon
Made from the sap of coconut-tree flowers, coconut sugar has the same calorie count as table sugar, but it's lower on the glycemic index.
Agave nectar: 15 calories per teaspoon
Agave nectar is about 1 1/2 times sweeter than refined sugar, so you can use less. But it's high in fructose (hello, blood-sugar spikes!).
Ginger may not be the first spice you think of to incorporate in your snacks, salads and dinners but it's one of the healthiest on the planet! Here's why:
1. It's healthy for your heart.
Research has shown that ginger may lower cholesterol and help prevent blood clotting, which could, in turn, help prevent blood vessel blockages that can lead to heart attacks or strokes.
A recent study out of Pennsylvania State University found that a meal made with a spice blend that included ginger (along with garlic, rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, cloves, paprika, turmeric and black pepper) reduced levels of triglycerides by 30 percent when compared to an identical non-spiced meal.
2. It helps your tummy!
Ginger has long been associated with relieving nausea and morning sickness, motion sickness, and even menstrual pain, as it's original use was for pain relief. A 2012 study shored up that wisdom, showing that ginger can reduce nausea after chemotherapy when taken as a supplement.
3. It can help you breathe easy.
Ginger tea is a classic remedy purported to ease cough and cold symptoms. And it turns out, there’s some science to its soothing powers when you’re sick. In 2013, research out of Columbia University found that ginger might help asthma patients breathe more easily.
4. It has anti-inflammatory effects.
Osteoarthritis causes joint pain and stiffness, but the anti-inflammatory effects of ginger can help that. In a trial done by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, participants who took ginger extract had less pain and needed less pain medication than those who didn't.
*Although rare, too much ginger can cause heartburn, diarrhea and irritation of the mouth, according to the University of Maryland. There can also be interactions with medications, such as acetylsalicylic acid.
But most of us can indulge in ginger for its flavour and health benefits. Try it in:
Apple Cran-Curry Salsa
Apricot Almond Energy Bars
Asparagus and Orange Salad With Ginger Dressing
Broiled Tofu With No-Cook Peanut Sauce
Made up holidays get a lot of flack, but this is one we can get behind. February 13th, Galentine's Day, is all about your most important platonic relationships—your BFFs.
Back in 2010, Parks and Recreation delivered unto us the greatest holiday in modern history: Galentine's Day, a celebration of female friendship (and frittatas) that preceded the dreaded February 14. Ultimately, it was Valentine's Day but for best pals, and therefore trumped the traditional Hallmark celebrations, tenfold.
A few years later, one of my best friends and I decided to embrace Galentine's Day for ourselves. We went out for dinner, drank too many martinis (this was before I stopped drinking), and broke down the many reasons why the guys we had crushes on at the time were clearly the wrong choices. Then, the next year we added another pal. And while some of us (hi!) were getting over a wicked stomach flu, the three of us still opted to spend the night snacking and bowling and making jokes about Drake. Valentine's Day proper would be reserved for Netflix and chips, as all reasonable winter nights should be. February 14 was officially Just Another Evening™. Bless.
Of course, there's been a lot of emphasis on the merits of female friendships lately, especially in pop culture. Through 2015 and 2016, Taylor Swift used her commercialized brand of feminism to prioritize sisterhood over female-centric competition, but her redefinition of #SquadGoals—via social media and red carpet appearances—became increasingly demonstrative. Especially as the likes of her July 4 parties became a who's who of trending names on Twitter, she cast every famous woman alive in her "Bad Blood" video (a song allegedly written about her feud with Katy Perry) and used her message of unity when it was convenient. (Like when she thought Nicki Minaj was starting something with her … which wasn't the case. Yikes.)
But the thing is, picture-perfect friendships aren't realistic. Friendships in real life are as flawed and messy as they are nurturing and unifying, but that's what makes them so wonderful. A 2011 study by Concordia University proved that those with a wide network of friends have lower stress levels, boast stronger immune systems, and tend to live longer, while a Wilfrid Laurier graduate co-authored a paper on how friendships improve if you recognize and respect your pal's introversion, social irritants, or even triggers. (In short: if you understand and celebrate that your friends aren't like you/are actual people, your friendships will be fulfilling.)
Which obviously makes sense. Because even though pop culture has scaled back the woman-on-woman hate, the superficiality behind seemingly perfect female friendships is just as damaging. Real friends argue, disagree, and aren't an exercise in twinning, thank whatever-higher-power-you-believe-in. Instead, they reflect the values we saw with Ann and Leslie in Parks and Recreation, or the dynamic between Rosa and Amy on Brooklyn Nine-Nine right now, or the dysfunction between Selina and Amy on Veep. Real female friendship isn't painted with the Valencia filter or measured by height in formalwear at an industry event. Real female friendship is bowling in a snowstorm and making jokes about Aubrey Graham, or doing the opposite and sitting in someone's apartment in silence.
Late last year, my uncle died and I spent the day I found out about it debating whether or not I wanted to keep plans with a pal that night. But after I warned her that I looked terrible and felt nauseous and wasn't sure if I'd be super fun to hang out with and was for sure wearing too much fleece, she reminded me that nobody cares about the bags under my eyes, and roaming the mall might be an exercise in distraction. Which it was. It wasn't Instagrammable, but that's the point: the realest moments in friendship are the ones that simply exist.
Which is something I think we're starting to understand more and more, especially as we see the social currency of celebrity supergroups begin to plummet. So now under the umbrella of Galentine's Day, we've begun to expand our scope to celebrate the complexities of female friendship and the imperfections that make each of them so special. Whether it's hanging out on February 13 and talking about everything that's gone terribly wrong, or making jokes in the mall on an otherwise very sad day.