FIT Talk With Tania  

Do you know what are you really eating?

Bioengineered foods

In the realm of modern agriculture, knowing where your food comes from, and what’s in it, is not as straightforward as it used to be.

The growing number of bioengineered (BE) “foods” on the market today has sparked concern as questions come up about the health implications and potential dangers of consumption.

To understand what these are what's happening, let's dive into exactly what bioengineered foods are, how they differ from traditional genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and what potential health risks they pose.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), BE foods are defined as, “food that contains genetic material that has been modified through certain laboratory techniques and for which the modification could not be obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature.”

In other words, it is something created and/or manipulated in a lab that isn't the same as anything you would find in nature. I don't know about you, but that sends up a huge red flag for me.

Bioengineered foods are created using advanced genetic engineering techniques that allow scientists to introduce, remove, or alter specific genes within an organism’s DNA. This process aims to enhance desirable traits such as increased yield, pest resistance, or nutritional value. Unlike conventional breeding, which mixes large sets of genes over generations, (like the time I planted two different types of corn too close together and they ended up combining to create a new type), bioengineering allows for precise, targeted modifications.

The health implications of bioengineered foods are a subject of vigorous debate and research. While for some, bioengineering holds the promise of addressing food security and nutritional deficiencies, it also raises several health concerns that warrant careful consideration and scruitiny. What can happen after years of putting unnatural foods “not found in nature” into your body?

1. Allergenicity: One of the primary health concerns associated with bioengineered foods is the potential introduction of new allergens. When genes from one organism are inserted into another, there is a risk that the new protein produced could trigger allergic reactions in susceptible individuals. For example, if a gene from a nut, which is a common allergen, is inserted into a tomato, it could cause allergic reactions in people who are allergic to nuts.

2. Gene transfer: Another concern is the potential for gene transfer from bioengineered foods to cells of the human body or to bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. This could have unintended consequences, such as the transfer of antibiotic resistance markers used in some bioengineered crops.

3. Toxicity: There is also the possibility that bioengineering could introduce toxic substances into the food supply. Genetic modifications might lead to the production of new toxins or increase the levels of naturally occurring toxins. Thorough safety assessments are crucial to ensure that bioengineered foods do not pose toxicological risks to consumers.

4. Nutritional changes: While one of the goals of bioengineering is to enhance the nutritional content of foods, there is a concern that genetic modifications could inadvertently reduce the levels of essential nutrients. For instance, a bioengineered crop designed to be pest-resistant might have lower levels of certain vitamins or minerals compared to its non-modified counterpart.

It’s important to differentiate between bioengineered foods and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs encompass any organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques, including older methods where genes from one species are inserted into another. BE foods, however, specifically refer to those with detectable genetic modifications introduced through modern invitro techniques.

While we are told both GMOs and BE foods undergo rigorous safety assessments, we are not told what sort of testing is being done, for how long and what the specific outcomes are and are left to go sifting through government website and documents in an effort to find answers.

Several bioengineered foods are already on the market, and their safety has been the subject of scrutiny and concern, for obvious reasons. Common bioengineered foods include:

Corn: Modified to be pest-resistant and herbicide-tolerant. It is widely used in processed foods and animal feed.

Soybeans: Primarily engineered for herbicide resistance and found in products like soy oil and soy protein.

Cotton: Engineered for pest resistance, with cottonseed oil being a byproduct used in food.

Potatoes: Modified to resist bruising and reduce acrylamide formation during cooking.

Papaya: Engineered to resist the ringspot virus, in Hawaii's papaya industry.

Regulatory agencies like the USDA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the World Health Organization (WHO) have currently deemed these bioengineered foods safe based on current evidence. However, as there is very little, if any, long-term safety data on long-term health outcomes from ongoing consumption.

They tell us BE foods represent a significant leap forward in agricultural science, promising solutions to some of the world's most pressing food security challenges. However, the potential health risks associated with these foods should not be overlooked and therefore the public, you, have a right to know which products contain BE so that you can make an informed choice about what you are putting into your body.

As always, read your labels, especially if you notice a change in packaging on something you regularly purchase. Know where in the world your food is coming from. The USA isn't the only one using BE foods, China for example has been producing them for well over a decade. Stay informed and ask questions. After all, it's your body and you have to live with it.

For more FIT food tips, check out Tania's website.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


The hidden cost of ultra-processed foods

Rethink your plate

In our fast-paced world, convenience often dictates our food choices.

The ease of ready-made meals and snacks is undeniable, especially for those juggling busy schedules. Yet, a recent landmark study underscores a stark warning—the convenience of ultra-processed foods comes at a significant cost to our health.

Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) are not just processed foods, which can include relatively benign items like canned vegetables or cheese. In fact any food changed from its original state in any way is in fact a type of processing. UPFs go a step further however. UPFs are formulations made from substances extracted from foods or synthesized in laboratories. These include items like soft drinks, packaged snacks, reconstituted meat products, and pre-prepared frozen meals.

Marketed as food, but nutritionally, they are more of a food-like substance at best. They are high in additives, preservatives, artificial colors, and flavors, and the real concern lies in their ubiquitous presence in our daily diets.

A comprehensive study involving more than 197,000 U.K. participants, as reported by the European Heart Journal, found high consumption of UPFs could increase the risk of dying from heart disease and other illnesses by up to 30%. The research highlights a troubling association between these foods and serious health implications, including a 28% increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

The findings are a wake-up call for all of us to take a good look at our current food choices. While the convenience of UPFs can be tempting, their long-term impact on our health can no longer be ignored.

The study points out that participants with the highest intake of UPFs consumed more than a fifth of their daily calories from these products. This is concerning, given that these foods are not only linked to poor health outcomes but are also low in essential nutrients.

Eating foods as close to their natural state as possible is obviously the best choice for your health but realistically, we know that no one is doing this 100% of the time. Most people who take a good look at how frequently they are consuming UPFs, often get a rude awakening.

Foods that come in packages, boxes, bags, cans or wrappers with a long list of ingredients—ingredients that are often difficult to pronounce and understand—are the ones to steer clear of.

Preservatives do not preserve your health. Fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, nuts and seeds, legumes are not only nutrient-dense but also free of the artificial substances that fill so many processed items. And choosing organic and non-GMO up-level that quality and nutrient value another notch.

Understanding the problem is only half the battle. The bigger challenge is implementing change in our daily lives. Here are some strategies to reduce reliance on ultra-processed foods:

1. Plan and prepare: One of the main reasons we reach for UPFs is convenience. Planning meals ahead of time can mitigate the need for last-minute food choices. Cooking in bulk and freezing leftovers or take for lunch for the week are a much healthier alternative to frozen dinners loaded with preservatives.

2. Read labels: Become savvy about what you're putting into your body. The longer the ingredient list, the more likely a product is ultra-processed. Look for foods with simple, whole ingredients and without added sugars and artificial substances. And if you can't pronounce it, or don't know what it is, put it back.

3. Shop smart: Focus your grocery shopping on the perimeter of the store—where fresh foods are typically located. Avoid the inner aisles where the shelves are stocked with processed foods.

4. Cook at home: Rediscover the joy of cooking. Making meals from scratch is one of the best ways to control what goes into your food. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Simple, fresh meals are often the tastiest.

5. Educate yourself and your family: Share your knowledge about the impacts of UPFs with friends and family. Educated choices can lead to healthier eating habits across your community.

As we become more informed about the effects of our food choices, both on our bodies and the environment, it becomes clear that the benefits of cutting back on ultra-processed foods outweigh the convenience they offer. The journey to better health is not about perfection but about making better choices, one meal at a time. Let’s prioritize our health and well-being by choosing foods that nourish rather than just fill us.

Changing lifelong eating habits can be daunting, but it’s not impossible. It’s about making incremental changes that can lead to lasting health benefits. Small things done consistently over time yield huge results.

You are literally choosing to add life to your years, not just years to your life, by opting for unprocessed, life-giving foods.

This movement away from ultra-processed foods towards more wholesome choices isn't just a dietary change—it's a lifestyle change and it's one that promises not only a longer life but a healthier and more vibrant life at that.

Food is your foundation and what you put into your body determines how strong that foundation is and how long it will last.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Rethinking your morning routine

Coffee's effect on the body

For many of us, the day doesn't start until we've had that first sip of coffee.

It's more than just a beverage, it's a ritual—a moment of peace before the day's chaos unfolds. For some it's that energy boost needed to jumpstart the day.

Recent insights into the relationship between coffee consumption, particularly on an empty stomach, and metabolic health are prompting us to reconsider this morning habit. While coffee in moderation does offers some health benefits, its role in blood sugar management and, consequently, fat storage, cannot be ignored.

Drinking coffee first thing in the morning, especially on an empty stomach, can lead to significant spikes in blood sugar levels. The caffeine in coffee stimulates the adrenal glands, releasing cortisol (the stress hormone) into the bloodstream. Cortisol's natural function is to increase blood sugar levels, providing energy for the body to use. However, when this process is triggered by coffee on an empty stomach, it can lead to higher and more volatile blood sugar spikes than normal.

This effect is compounded by the body's natural morning cortisol surge, part of our circadian rhythm that helps wake us up. Adding caffeine into the mix can overstimulate this process, leading to increased insulin production. Insulin is the hormone responsible for ushering glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream into the body's cells.

When there's too much insulin in response to these sugar spikes, it can lead to increased fat storage, particularly around the midsection.

Starting your day with breakfast within the first hour of waking is crucial for stabilizing blood sugar levels and setting a positive tone for your metabolism throughout the day. Skipping breakfast can prolong the fasting state from the night, causing blood sugar to plummet and the body to burn muscle to provide the necessary fuel for the brain. Combining that with coffee only exacerbates fat storage from the blood sugar spikes and insulin secretion that follows.

A balanced breakfast, rich in protein, healthy fats, and fibre-rich, unprocessed carbohydrates, can mitigate the impact of caffeine on blood sugar levels.

Protein, in particular, plays a significant role in this balancing act. It slows down the absorption of carbohydrates, leading to a more gradual rise in blood sugar and insulin levels. Foods such as eggs, Greek yogurt, protein shakes (read your labels) paired with fruits and/or veggies, nuts, seeds, are excellent choices for incorporating protein into your first meal. They provide the necessary nutrients to fuel your body and help in managing hunger and cravings throughout the day.

Incorporating protein in small meals frequently throughout the day, not just in the morning, supports sustained energy levels and metabolism. Each meal and snack is an opportunity to balance your blood sugar levels and prevent the insulin spikes that can lead to fat storage. Lean meats, fish, legumes, eggs, and dairy products are all protein-rich foods that can help in maintaining this balance.

Pairing these proteins with fibre-rich fruits and vegetables and healthy fats can enhance their blood sugar-stabilizing effects. This combination slows digestion and the release of sugar into the bloodstream, providing a steady source of energy, allowing the body to naturally release fat, rather than storing it.

This isn't to say coffee should be entirely off the table. Coffee, when consumed in moderation, has been linked to various health benefits, including reduced risk of certain diseases. The key is timing and moderation.

Consider having your coffee with or after breakfast, rather than before, to minimize its impact on your blood sugar levels. If eating first thing in the morning isn't something you're used to, try adding your coffee to a high quality protein shake, iced or blended for a balanced latte or frappe alternative.

Additionally, paying attention to what you add to your coffee is important. Sugar and flavoured creamers are toxins and not only exacerbate blood sugar spikes, it's one more thing your liver has to deal with, further contributing to the problem.

Understanding the relationship between our dietary habits and metabolic health is essential. While the focus here has been on coffee, there are many things we do or don't do daily that impact our health and our body's ability to function optimally.

While your morning coffee ritual may seem like a non-negotiable start to the day, recognizing its potential impact on blood sugar, subsequent fat storage and how that relates to metabolic disease is worth changing things up. By adjusting your habits, such as prioritizing a balanced breakfast and reconsidering the timing of your coffee intake, you can support your metabolic health, increase energy, maintain healthy weight, and navigate towards an overall healthier lifestyle.

For more information, watch Tania's free 15 mins video on blood sugar stabilization.

The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute medical advice. All information and content are for general information purposes only.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Small consistent efforts to improve your health can result in big benefits

The power of 1% progress

In a world that never pauses, many of us wait for the perfect moment, free from distractions or unforeseen events before taking on anything new.

This is especially true when it comes to getting started on anything to do with health. Now, this may not be you. If not, congratulations but just take a look at how many New Year's resolutions are never even started.

The idea of having the “ideal” time isn't a thing. The truth is, life doesn’t stop happening and the longer you push it off, the less likely you are to even start, leaving you spending even more time persisting in habits that are not serving your body. So, here’s a revolutionary thought—you don't need to commit 100% in order to achieve significant, meaningful, long-lasting results.

It's true, the reality is that it's not those massive, one-time actions that make a lasting impact. Instead, it's those small things done consistently over time that make a big difference and allow you to hit those goals you have.

Think about your car for a moment. If you only had one car for the rest of your life, how would you take care of it? Would you wait for a major breakdown before taking it to a mechanic or would you attend to those small details like regularly checking the oil, maintaining the fluids, washing and vacuuming it frequently, covering it or parking it in a garage? Of course you would do those things because you know the small things will make a difference to the longevity of your car.

Just like the car in your driveway drives you around town, your body is the vehicle that drives you through life. And you only get one. There are no trade-ins, lease agreements or upgrades.

It's understandable if you can’t dive in and be 100% committed all the time. Nobody can. Humans are not perfect, nor were we meant to be, and it's unreasonable and unproductive to believe we should be. We don’t expect perfection from our children, spouses, friends, or coworkers. We recognize their imperfections and offer grace, something we need to extend to ourselves.

The solution lies in accepting life events—good, bad or indifferent—are not going to stop happening, and start adopting the mindset of being all-in, at 1%. Everyone can do something 1% better for their health today than they did yesterday. It's like how you eat the elephant—one bite at a time.

If you’re not a water drinker and today you add a glass of water to your meals, awesome, that's 1%. Finding it hard to fit in that workout or daily movement, so today you parked at the back of the lot and walked up to the grocery store, another 1%. If you typically skip breakfast but today you took two minutes to grab a protein shake as you left the house rather than the drive-thru double double or caramel macchiato, another 1%. You get the idea.

Starting small and committing to be all-in at 1% makes doing those things that you know are good for your health manageable and as you keep showing up for yourself, doing your one percent daily, those small changes have a compound effect. Just like your investments compound and grow over time, investing in your health also compounds and the return on investment is definitely worth more than what you put in to get there.

As you keep showing up for yourself, doing your 1% each day, habits start to emerge. Habits morph into patterns and patterns develop brain grooves that keep us going and pointed in the right direction.

Like pushing a wheelbarrow back and forth over soft ground, eventually a groove is formed making it easier for the wheelbarrow to stay in the groove. The more times the barrow passes over, the deeper the groove, the more difficult for it to come out of that track.

Health is a journey and like any journey, it begins with the first small step. So stop thinking you're going to start when you're less busy, work slows down, work speeds up, the kids are on holiday or back to school, your company leaves, you get back from vacation, etc., and just do it.

There will never be a perfect time to start, so start anyway. Commit to doing 1% better for your health today than you did yesterday, and be all-in—at 1%.

For more ways to improve your health, watch Tania's free video.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More FIT Talk With Tania articles

About the Author

Nutritionist Tania Gustafson, owner of FIT Nutrition, has been active in the health and fitness industry since 1986 when she entered as a fitness instructor and trainer.

In 2011, Tania partnered with internationally renowned nutrition and fitness expert Mark Macdonald, and in 2017 officially earned the title of Master Nutrition Coach in conjunction with Venice Nutrition and the International Board of Nutrition and Fitness Coaches (IBNFC).

Tania is one of only five health professionals licensed and certified in Canada to deliver this proven, three-phase program of blood sugar stabilization, not dieting.Tania is committed to ending the dieting madness both locally and globally and educates her clients on how to increase health with age.

Tania is able to work with clients across Canada, the U.S. and U.K. to restore health and achieve their weight loss goals.Tania is a wife, mother of three adult children, global entrepreneur, speaker, workshop facilitator, writer, blogger, podcast host, travel junkie and self-proclaimed gym rat.

For more information and to book your complimentary health assessment go to www.fuelignitethrive.com. Check https://www.facebook.com/fuelignitethrive/  and https://www.facebook.com/groups/8weeksisallittakes/

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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