Learn more about Nutrition and it’s effect on living a healthy lifestyle. Nutrition is a factor in stress and weight gain.

Spring Cleaning For Your Body

It’s not just your home that can use some spring cleaning. There are some paths to health that use the natural rhythms of the seasons to assist the body’s own natural cleansing systems. For instance, in traditional Chinese medicine, each season is associated with a different organ, and spring is the season of the liver.  Other health systems teach that certain foods or plants assist in this process of cleansing the body.

For example, good liver cleansing foods are beets, dandelion greens, springtime greens and asparagus (which are in season in spring). Reducing fatty foods, meats, alcohol and coffee also support liver cleansing. Springtime is considered a transition season; our bodies wish to shed the weight we naturally accumulate over the winter. Eating fresh greens and reducing heavier foods is good advice at any time, and if it’s good for the liver, that’s even better!

Calorie Counting – why it’s so inaccurate

Joanne Holden of the USDA’s Nutrient Data Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., reported to the Chicago Tribune that the USDA has the world’s largest database with information on 100 nutrients for over 7500 foods.  The lab’s main purpose is to manage databases, including the USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, the “gold standard” for nutritionists and the food industry.   The USDA database of 100 nutrients is remarkably small compared to the thousands of nutrients, like antioxidants and phytochemicals, that we now know exist.

The sources of calorie counting

The caloric value of a food or a food component may be determined by measuring the heat of combustion of the food in a bomb calorimeter and then multiplying the heat of combustion by correction factors for incomplete digestion and incomplete oxidation of the food in the body. In about 1900, Wilbur Olin Atwater and his associates at the Connecticut (Storrs) Agriculture Experiment Station, used this approach to determine the caloric values of a number of food components (i.e., the protein, fat, and carbohydrate isolated from various foods). They determined factors appropriate for individual foods or groups of foods, and they proposed the general caloric values of 4, 9 and 4 kcal per gram of dietary protein, fat, and carbohydrate respectively for application to the mixed American diet.

The conversion factors determined by Atwater and his associates (from 1900) remain in use today, and caloric values of foods are calculated using these factors. The caloric values reported in food composition tables are commonly estimated by first determining the approximate composition of each food (i.e., the water, protein, fat, carbohydrate, and ash contents) and then by multiplication of the amount of each energy-yielding component by the appropriate conversion factor.

The correction factors for caloric values do not account for variation of individual absorption, for the influences of an individuals intestinal bacteria on absorption (these change depending on history of travel, antibiotics and present diet), for variation in nutrient density of today’s foods compared to foods from those used in the Atwater research of 1900, for the exclusion of the several thousand nutrients that were unknown in 1900 but that were inadvertently included in the absorbable calories formula and really should not have been.

Consider that the formula for determining calories in food was determined in 1900. Nutrition density of foods was higher in 1900, when food was certainly less processed, more organic and more local (the USDA itself reported in 1999 that the nutrient densities of foods in America was half that of the 1950’s).  The number of known nutrients to science in 1900 was fewer than 16 (current science accepts several thousand nutrients and the USDA lab in Maryland is slowly increasing its nutrient database to just over 100).  Recent metabolic studies and observations, largely supported by and stimulated by blood sugar measurements within the world’s diabetic population, show great variation in how humans absorb food energy, or calories.  These combined factors lead to questioning how accurate, or more appropriately, how inaccurate the common calorie counts of food are.

Moreover, both meal timing and meal composition are steadily gaining in acceptance and validity in helping determine how efficiently (or inefficiently) calories are used by the body.  Ultimately, the validity and usefulness of calorie counts is questionable and certainly individual when compared to other lifestyle factors.

Know Your Vices: Caffeine

loving coffeeEveryone’s favorite breakfast beverage is suspect.Whether it’s coffee or tea, most North Americans are drinking a caffeinated bevy in the morning and that could make trouble for people who have a hard time losing weight. This is a continuation in a blog series on vices where we talked about alcohol last month.

The caffeine link to weight gain was first identified in the late 1990’s when Diabetes Education Centers reported seeing clients having unexplained and irregular blood sugars. 30% of people were more susceptible to weight gain than the rest of the population by the effects of caffeine consumption. It is unclear whether or not the reported effects of caffeine are due solely to the caffeine, or to a combination of other compounds that are ALWAYS found with caffeine. This means, for some people, even taking a decaffeinated beverage still results in weight-gain because although the caffeine is removed, other compounds are not. A third of the population more sensitive to caffeine consumption and weight gain, suffer one or more of the following: hypoglycemia, food cravings, sweet cravings, insulin resistance and depression. These all potentially set up several feedback loops that are detrimental to weight loss.

Love lots of coffee Hypoglycemia from the initial cortisol (aging hormone) release creates food cravings to combat low blood sugar. Many people who start the day with coffee consume more food in the afternoon as a rebound effect. This creates a dis-proportionate consumption of calories and a concomitant insulin response that moves energy into fat storage. Regardless of when you consume your caffeine, however, if you are susceptible to hypoglycemia you may find yourself consuming a disproportionate amount of your calories at odd time as opposed to spreading your food out across the day in order to level your blood sugars and your insulin responses. If consuming a caffeinated beverage in the morning results in feelings of satiety and results in you not having an adequate breakfast, then you are enforcing a stress response making your next meal absorbed and stored as fat at a more efficient level (known as Sumo Syndrome).

Studies show that caffeine contributes to insulin resistance thus making it ineffective at moving sugars from your blood into your cells; this resistance is a precursor to diabetes. There is a link to increased fat storage as a result of your cells not receiving timely sugars from the blood. Your built-in defense mechanism is to store whatever energy your cells can instead of burning the energy. Insulin resistance has multiple undesirable effects related to metabolism like weight gain and poor health. Insulin resistance is quite common in adults who are overweight. Since caffeine consumption will exacerbate this metabolic disorder further, if you are trying to lose weight you should monitor yourself for your reaction to caffeine.

If consuming caffeine throughout your days is a consistent pattern then you are constantly running your body on an elevated level of cortisol. For some people, this leads to another level of food cravings, particularly for carbohydrates and sweets. As well, constant elevations of cortisol cause your body to destroy serotonin, thereby destroying dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter that allows you to feel good. Not only does this move more people into depressed moods, it also sets up the second level of food cravings; the cravings for serotonin-producing foods. Serotonin-producing foods are carbohydrates and sweets. So if you’re wondering why you snacked on cookies in the afternoon, it could have something to do with that coffee you drank with breakfast. Usually the more caffeine consumed, the more your body urges you to eat.

About one third of human beings have one or more of the above listed mechanisms as part of our genetics and lifestyle. And like anything, repeated exposure for those who are more susceptible means it is hard to lose any belly fat created by these mechanisms. The best advice is to enjoy your cup or two of caffeine daily and get your healthy eating patterns in place. If after that you still aren’t reaching your goals, then perhaps it’s time to remove the caffeine and see if you are one of the more sensitive beings to caffeine (like me).

Know Your Vices: Alcohol

beerWe’re not saying not to indulge, but we are recommending that you get to know your vices a bit better in order to make good decisions about when you do decide to have a drink. How alcohol affects weight gain or weight loss depends on genetics, diet, gender, potential ‘sensitivity’ to it and your habits.  No single food item affects humans in so many varying and differing ways.

All alcoholic beverages contain calories, most of which come from the alcohol, regardless of whether the beverage is wine, spirits or beer. Your body processes alcohol first, before fat, protein, or carbs. Alcohol is not a carbohydrate but it does contribute to weight gain by slowing down the burning of fat. When you drink alcohol, it’s broken down into acetate (basically vinegar), which the body will burn before any other calorie you’ve consumed or stored, including fat or even sugar.  Drinking alcohol raises acetate levels 2.5 times, and this sharp rise is what appears to stop fat metabolism.

Fat metabolism is called lipid oxidation and alcohol temporarily inhibits lipid oxidation making it harder for your body to burn fat that’s already there. Consuming higher fat foods like cheese or other high-calorie snacks while drinking, exacerbates the storage of fat. They become the last thing to be metabolized by the liver after the acetate and carbohydrates.

red wine tasting manFacts About Alcohol:

Hard liquor is distilled and thus contains no carbohydrates. The current “Zero Carb” campaign for vodka and whiskey is a gimmick.

When grapes are made into wine, most of the fruit sugars (carbs) convert to alcohol.  A 5-ounce glass of wine supplies roughly the same amount of alcohol and number of calories as a 12-ounce light beer or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits.

Low-carb beers are simply the old light beers with a new label and ad campaign. The old Miller Lite has 96 calories and 3.2 grams of carbs in 12 ounces. The “low-carb” Michelob Ultra has 96 calories and 2.6 grams of carbs. Coors Lite has 102 calories and 5 grams of carbs. The differences are tiny—hardly worth mentioning. In contrast, a regular beer has 13 grams of carbs and 150 calories.

The Bottom Line

Beer, wine, and liquor have calories because alcohol has calories—not because of carbs. The alcohol is used to produce acetate for energy and thus interferes with burning fat.  This changes in intensity for many reasons, including genetics, age, and what foods are being eaten with the alcohol.  Because the beverage affects body weight from deeper metabolic processes, the low-carb beers and wine or carb-free spirits are simply marketing gimmicks.

Bottoms Up!

Kirk’s Detox Tips: Spring Clean Your Body

Detoxing is the body’s way of spring cleaning. With winter well behind us, the sun warming our bodies and fresh food growing, the planet and our bodies are in line for renewal. The following are tips for supporting toxin release and making the most of a cleanse or just a great way to invigorate your body.

Spring & Summer Packing List for Mountain Trek

Deep Breathing

This helps release built up CO2 and waste products. A simple and effective way to practice deep breathing is through cardio focused exercise like hiking or biking and doing yoga.

Liver Cleanse

Liver Cleansing

Cleansing is all about detoxifying our bodies with special focus on the liver and fat soluble toxic chemicals. By upping our intake of bitter green leafy veggies like mustard greens, collard greens and kale. Cleansing is also supported by taking Vitamin E supplements and minimizing or eliminating alcohol.

Kidney Support

Kidney Support

Fluids are tremendously important for detox. Offering the kidney support for cleansing water soluble chemicals can easily be done by consuming 10×8 oz. glasses of filtered water per day (minimum) as well as organic unsweetened cranberry juice which helps emulsify fats and is a powerful antioxidant.

Lymphatic Drainage

Lymphatic Drainage

We can do things to help boost our immunity and shuttle fluids and fats through the lymphatic system. Remove bio waste products and support weight loss through massage, yoga, and dry brushing the skin.



Sweating is a natural way to release toxins through the skin and can be accomplished by intense exercise, infra red sauna and relaxing soaks in mineral rich hot springs like Ainsworth Hot Springs located down the road from our main lodge!

Healthy Bowel Movements

Healthy Bowel Movements

Releasing waste is essential. Support this process by drinking lots of water, digesting fiber rich foods, and maintaining intestinal flora with probiotics.

By employing these simple practices on a regular basis you’ll quickly discover a shift in your overall health and feel your energy and vitality return.


Kick Your Cravings to the Curb

Cravings for TreatsCravings. We all get them. Those insidious little visits from our brains to our stomachs that beg for… chips!  Or chocolate! Or cheese and some of those tasty crackers that I know are in the cupboard. And those cravings can be responsible for a lot of the sugar and empty calories we consume throughout the day. They’re persistent when they come sneaking around demanding to be satisfied, but they can be beaten!
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Trim & Slim

Sugar has been directly linked to weight gain for both men and women. It is also the hidden culprit behind cravings. As we consciously change our diets and lessen the amount of sugars we consume, cravings too will subside.


One of the often overlooked causes of anxiety, panic attacks, and mood problems is imbalanced blood sugar. As sugar levels swing high and low, the body blasts out adrenaline (epinephrine) and cortisol to balance blood sugar levels so the brain doesn’t starve of glucose. By balancing sugars levels, in this case by limiting the amount we consume, adrenal hormones adrenalin and cortisol levels don’t bounce us all over the map. This also allows the adrenals to rest and lessens anxiety due to high levels of adrenaline circulating the body.

Panic attacks and anxiety are very common especially when blood glucose (sugar) levels are low, since it’s the adrenaline and cortisol that raise levels to safe levels. As we eliminate sugar from our diets, we eliminate the spikes of adrenaline and cortisol that counter the sugar crash.


Sugar comes in the obvious form of refined sugar and hidden as fructose in many prepared foods and as starch in carbs like potatoes, pasta and bread. Even high carb grains and legumes possess starches that break down to sugar. Sugar is present in everything from ketchup (each tbsp packs about 1 tsp of sugar or 2 cubes worth) to tomato soup (the whole can contains the equivalent of 7.5 tsp or 15 cubes worth)  and of course muffins (which pack on average, 10 tsp or 20 cubes worth). It’s important to read labels and educate yourself about where you’re getting your sugar. Maybe you’re not a junk food person, but maybe you’re picking up sugar from other sources you didn’t realize contained it.

You can find out more about sugar consumption and nutritional advice from Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD in her article Nutrition Guidelines: Are You Eating Too Much Sugar?

Mountain Trek SaladIt takes a little bit of commitment and some preparedness to do battle with sugar and your cravings but they can be beaten. So here are a few tips to keep you on the road to healthy eating and kick those cravings to the curb once and for all.

Replace your cravings with healthier food. Gotta have a snack? Grab some baby carrots or an apple, maybe some strawberries. Fruits and veggies are low in fat and generally lower in calories than meat and junk food.

When you feel a craving coming on between meals, wait 10 minutes. Most cravings last only a few minutes and then fade.

Replace your craving with an activity to occupy your mind. We of course recommend a hike but take the dog for a walk, dig in the garden or just get out of the house and run some errands.

Just don’t buy that stuff! Don’t bring junk food or other sugary foods into your home. If you don’t have quick access to it, it’s likely you won’t eat it.

Read the label. Educate yourself about the food you’re consuming and what it contains. You’ll be surprised what you find!

Use alternative sweeteners. When cooking, baking or making coffee, replace refined sugar with natural sweeteners like agave syrup, maple syrup or honey.

Reducing dairy = better weight loss

This morning was my last guiding day of the season here in British Columbia.  As we close up shop for the winter, we are already preparing for the Turkey Burner (our winter program) and the upcoming 2011 season. 🙂

It has been great to see the evolution of our program over ten years to where it is now – offering ever-better and always great weight loss.  One of the things we will continue to pursue to achieve the best weight loss possible, is to reduce our dairy intakes.  While the federal and regional dairy foundations have supported research esposing the greatness of dairy in weight loss, we’ve witnessed that reducing dairy here at Mountian Trek in fact reduces many people’s food sensitivities and hence their body weights.  Today, our kitchen manager Laurie and myself have brainstormed more ideas to provide the 5 star spa cuisine you’ve all come to expect with even less dairy than ever…

(Let me just say that fresh, wild, smoked salmon prepared by the local First Nations peoples is going to be part of one of our fantastic trail snacks….:)

There are only TWO BAD FOODS

Sodas (pop) and artificial sweeteners (Aspartame and Splenda, or Sucralose). 

Whoa, did I, as a registered Dietitian just write that??   The position statement of both the Dietitians of Canada and of the American Dietetic Association are that Aspartame and Splenda are safe, acceptable sweeteners useful for weight loss.  Hmmmn.   When we graph the pop/soda consumption in the USA and Canada from 1970 till now, the increases in consumption are a mirror reflection to the increases in body weight and obesity observed in North America’s population.

No other food, product or habit shows as precise a correlation to our society’s weight gain as soda consumption. 

Interestingly, diet sodas are the populations’ leading source of aspartame, high fructose corn syrup and now Splenda, or Sucralose.   Regardless of whether diet or regular soft drinks  are consumed, the result has been the same – predictable weight gain in the 400 million Americans and Canadians in direct relation to soda consumption.   In research, correlation does not mean cause, however, 400 million people over 40 years of empirical measurements showing this matched, direct relationship is very, very convincing.

Why is this?  It appears that the chemical salts that make up sodas are the main culprit – they inhibit the ‘detox effect.’ 

Detox is the successful excretion of various heavy metals, chemicals and the like from fat cells. If we are unable to unload and excrete these things, we maintain a higher fat mass in our bodies.  Thus, soda and artificial sweetener consumption means you maintain more fat mass since you are prevented from excreting the things that help create and maintain the fat cell in the first place. So, regardless of whether or not the soda has calories, the mechanisms of fat storage from sodas are also the result of chemical interference in our fat storage system.

Our advice: avoid sodas of any kind as much as possible:) 

Burn more fat: Skip Breakfast before workout (WRONG)

Saw an article on Yahoo! news describing a study in the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.   Whilst the catchy headline told me to skip breakfast, the research data did nothing to persuade me to give up breakfast before doing activity.  The study looked at only 7 healthy and fit youths, with only 4 of the youths showing only a marginal increase in fat loss but ALL the youths measuring poorer athletic performance compared to their established athletic norms.