Healthy Living Magazine


In part two of her four-part series, Shawn Nisbet examines the basics of good nutrition and its essential contribution to our long-term wellbeing.

Nutrition is often defined as the process of eating the right kind of food so we can grow properly and be healthy. Such a simple definition for what has become a very complicated topic! Unfortunately, the old adage ‘you are what you eat’ is not exactly correct either. ‘You are what you eat, swallow, digest, absorb and assimilate’ would be more appropriate. All vertebrates, including man, require a minimum of 16 vitamins, carbon-based essential nutrients that can prevent and cure hundreds of diseases.

What is a Nutrient?

A nutrient is a substance in food that provides energy to allow lungs to breathe, hearts to pump, brains to work and bodies to move. The six essential nutrients our bodies need daily are: carbohydrates; proteins; fats; vitamins; minerals; and water. Macronutrients, necessary in large amounts to fuel our bodies, include carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Micronutrients are necessary in smaller amounts, typically milligrams daily.

The best way to get these nutrients is by following a varied, healthy diet including plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds, lean proteins, organic dairy products, healthy fats and clean water.

The positive effects of a properly nourished body range from more energy, fewer aches and pains, better sleep, less overeating and a more positive attitude to more persistence, greater focus, decreased cravings, increased activity, and healthier hair, skin and nails.

Making Nutrition Simple: Some Common Questions

How much sugar is allowed in a healthy diet? The World Health Organization recommends a daily maximum of 10% of calories from free sugars.  On average, in 2004, Canadians consumed 110.0 grams of sugar a day, the equivalent of 26 teaspoons or 21.4% of their total daily calorie intake. This amounts to 6 to 8 teaspoons of sugar over and above naturally occurring sugar in milk products, fruits and vegetables.

Read food labels carefully to calculate how much sugar you are eating daily (4 gm of sugar = 1 teaspoon). For example, a 12-ounce can of regular Coke contains 39 grams of total sugar: that’s about 9 1/3 teaspoons.

Should I be worried about diabetes? If incidence and mortality rates remain at 2008/9 levels, the number of Canadians aged one year and older living with diagnosed diabetes will reach 3.7 million (1.7 million females and 1.9 million males) by 2018/19. This will pose a major challenge for health services because diabetes can lead to heart disease and stroke, kidney disease and failure, nerve damage, amputations and sight loss.

An estimated one million Canadians live with undiagnosed type 2 diabetes, underlining the importance of raising awareness of its risk factors. Become aware of how much sugar you eat daily and eat less processed, refined, bagged and boxed foods. (

“People are fed by the Food Industry, which pays no attention to health, and are treated by the Health Industry, which pays no attention to food.”  – Wendell Berry

Do I need to drink cow’s milk for strong bones? This is a controversial topic, but I believe the answer is no. Bone-thinning osteoporosis can lead to small and not-so-small fractures. Although many people regard calcium as good protection for their bones, this is not the whole story.

In a 12-year Harvard study of 78,000 women, those who drank cow’s milk three times a day actually broke more bones than women who rarely drank milk. Similarly, a 1994 study of elderly men and women in Sydney, Australia showed that higher dairy product consumption was associated with increased fracture risk. Those with the highest dairy product consumption had approximately double the risk of hip fracture compared to those with the lowest consumption.

The most healthful calcium sources are green leafy vegetables and legumes, or ‘greens and beans’ for short. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards, kale, mustard greens, Swiss chard, and other greens are loaded with highly absorbable calcium and a host of other healthful nutrients.  (

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” – Hippocrates

Should I avoid gluten? Gluten-free grains are amaranth, buckwheat, corn, millet, oats, quinoa, rice, sorghum, teff and wild rice. The estimated 1 to 2% of the population who suffer with celiac disease – an autoimmune form of gluten intolerance – must eat a gluten-free diet for life. Other people may experience digestive issues when they eat gluten products.

Know your own body, make sure you eat a wide variety of whole foods and don’t concentrate on breads, rolls, muffins, cereal and pasta to make up a large part of your diet. Start eating more vegetables with all of your meals to aid digestion.

Why are fresh vegetables and fruits so important? Cooking foods, let alone processing and refining them, depletes enzymes. When food is heated above 118 degrees F, virtually all enzymes naturally occurring in food are destroyed, along with up to 85% of the original nutrients. Enzymes found in fresh food or produced by our bodies allow us to break down and absorb nutrients. Eating too many foods depleted of naturally occurring enzymes (heated, processed, refined and packaged foods) can have a negative effect on our immune system, digestion and overall health.

I am eating a healthy diet, but I still don’t feel ‘good.’  There may be medical reasons for not feeling good, but when you experience issues such as gas after meals, bloating, flatulence, loose stools, constipation, skin problems, recurring headaches, muscle aches, pains, muscle wasting, anemia or depression, these could be signs of poor digestion.

You may be eating healthy food, but if your body is not digesting the food properly it will not absorb the nutrients. Eating more fresh or minimally cooked vegetables and fruits can help digestion because they are full of digestive enzymes. Also, did you know that stress has a negative effect on digestion?

Why should I chew my food? Chewing food correctly begins the digestion process. Enzymes in our saliva activate enzymes in our stomach. We also have digestive enzymes in our small intestine and pancreas, and they all work together to break food down into particles small enough to be absorbed through our intestines and utilized by our bodies.

“Sit up straight, chew your food and don’t talk with your mouth full.” Yes, Grandmother was right. And she still is!  

Shawn M. Nisbet, RHN, Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Yoga Teacher & Nordic Pole Walking Master Instructor. 416.804.0938;;


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