Earth-friendly diets

NUTRISPEAK
by Vesanto Melina

Some people are saying, “Take extinction off your plate.” What? I already take shorter showers. Every week, I deposit my recycling into the right bins. I walk whenever I can. I ride my bike a lot, when it’s not so icy I’ll kill myself. I car-share. Isn’t that enough?It seems not. Agriculture is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions – greater than all transport put together – and our current dietary choices are propelling us toward extinction.

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The carnitine controversy

NUTRISPEAK
by Vesanto Melina

• Carnitine is an amino acid, important for our body’s transportation of fatty acids to the area in the cells where the fatty acids can be burned for energy production. For this reason, carnitine has been marketed as a fat-burning support. A very small number of people – about one in 40,000 – have a genetic condition in which they cannot move carnitine to the areas where it is needed. One resulting symptom is muscle weakness, which may have led to the idea that carnitine can improve athletic performance, as carnitine has been marketed as a sports supplement. So far, research has not established its effectiveness.

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Core beliefs about a plant-based diet

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina

•  I recently took out – from our wonderful public library system – a set of CDs entitled This I Believe. They are based on a popular NPR (National Public Radio) series that invited people to write a 500-word essay on a core belief that guided their daily life and to then read their essay on the air. (See website at the end of the article). After listening to a selection and wondering, “What is a core belief for me?” I recognized that mine centres on a shift towards a plant-based diet.

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Plentiful plant protein

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina, Grace Yeh and Sharon Voong

•  Why does protein matter? As a component of muscle, bone and all body tissues, proteins are essential for structure and movement. They protect, coordinate body functions, help replace and maintain cells, and as enzymes facilitate biological reactions. People following plant-based diets need to be careful they get enough protein from the right sources to satisfy their body’s needs.
Whether you are an omnivore, vegan, vegetarian or are considering a more plant-based diet, you might ask, “Where can I get adequate protein, if not from meat?” Many North American diets rely on animal products such as eggs, meat, seafood and cheese for protein. Yet all plants – vegetables, legumes, seeds, nuts and grains – contain good amounts of protein. Fruit is an exception, with less protein. Plant based diets can offer quality proteins while also providing a plethora of other beneficial nutrients.
Protein requirements: The recommended dietary allowances vary with age: 0.8g protein per kg body weight per day is generally recommended for a healthy adult. Nutrition experts sometimes advise those on plant-based diets to consume slightly more – 0.9g/kg/d – because fibre in plant products decreases the digestibility of proteins. Overall, fibre has beneficial effects on blood sugar and cholesterol levels and intestinal health. Therefore, high-fibre foods should not be avoided due to their small impact on protein digestibility. It is not difficult to meet and exceed protein intakes on plant-based diets. Typically, a mixed diet that includes legumes, seeds, grains and vegetables within a 24-hour period easily provides adequate amounts of all essential amino acids.

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Dairy-free dilemmas

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina

• It is the oddest thing that, until fairly recently, the fluid that cows produce to grow their calves to 450 pounds or more in a year was recommended in our national food guides as the basis of an essential food group. It was an assumption on the part of Health Canada and nutritional scientists that humans of all ages require these bovine secretions on a daily basis.

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The food fairy: explaining healthy food choices for children

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina MS, RD, and Claudia Lemay


• I know a little girl who is obsessed with candy; it is ironic, given her mother is a dietitian. “What have I done to deserve such a fussy daughter?” she would lament, confiding that Amelie would ask for candy for snacks and for breakfast, lunch and supper. At 3-½, Amelie wrote a grocery list for her mother, listing only a single item: candy. In contrast, her brother would eat anything and everything.

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Healthy snacks offer benefits

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina MS, RD

• Can snacking be a key ingredient in a healthy lifestyle? If your first response was “No!” here’s a chance to update your perceptions. Some of us were raised with the advice to “never eat between meals,” which makes sense in protecting our teeth from sweets. Yet there can be significant advantages to snacking on healthy foods. Researchers have found that eating frequent mini-meals offers health benefits. Dr. David Jenkins and colleagues at the University of Toronto have reported some remarkable advantages with grazing.

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