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According to the Canadian Council of Food and Nutrition, six out of 10 Canadians say they've made an effort in the past year to adopt a healthier diet. Many are trying to eat more vegetables, whole grains and fibre while attempting to consume less fat and sugar and fewer calories.
So far, so good. But let's face it, knowing what's good for you can be confusing in this age of information overload and conflicting news stories.
To hone your healthy eating skills for the upcoming new year - and to pack more nutrients into your diet - take a few minutes to complete my nutrition IQ quiz. It will help you pinpoint areas you need to study up on. And be honest - don't look ahead at the answers.
PART ONE: VITAMINS
You know your body relies on a steady intake of vitamins and minerals. But can you pick foods that deliver the most?
Vitamin D is important for strong bones and helps prevent cancer. What's the best food source?
a) 1 cup of skim milk
b) 3 ounces of cheese
c) ½ cup of broccoli
d) 3.5 ounces of salmon
d) Oily fish packs the most vitamin D - 3.5 ounces of salmon provides 360 international units of vitamin D. The skim milk adds 100 IU of vitamin D to your diet. You won't find any in cheese or broccoli.
The fact that we don't produce enough vitamin D from sunlight in the winter - and that very few foods contain the nutrient - means you need to take a supplement. The Canadian Cancer Society advises supplementing your diet with 1,000 IU of vitamin D in the fall and winter, and all year round if you're over 50 or don't get outside much.
It's a mineral that helps lower blood pressure, guard against heart attack and prevent Type 2 diabetes - magnesium. Which food packs the most?
a) ½ cup of cooked spinach
b) ¾ cup of black beans
c) 2 tablespoons of wheat bran
d) ¼ cup of peanuts
b) The winner here is black beans, serving up 90 milligrams a serving. The runners up: spinach (81 milligrams), peanuts (51) and wheat bran (46).
But if you're like most Canadians, you don't consume enough of this important mineral. Women need 320 milligrams a day and men require 420 milligrams. Top foods for magnesium include whole grains, nuts, legumes, leafy green vegetables and dried fruit.
If you're low on energy, you could be lacking iron. Which food will add the most to your diet?
a) 1 tablespoon of molasses
b) 3 ounces of trout
c) ½ cup of cooked spinach
d) ½ cup of prune juice
d) Prune juice takes the prize for packing 5.5 milligrams of iron in a half-cup serving. But keep in mind that plant-based foods contain non-heme iron, a form that's difficult for your body to absorb. If you rely on vegetarian foods for iron, eat them with a source of vitamin C to enhance iron absorption - citrus fruit, kiwi, red pepper or tomato sauce.
The trout comes in second at 4.7 milligrams of iron per three-ounce serving. What's more, the form of iron in trout, heme iron, is easily absorbed by your body.
PART TWO: PHYTOCHEMICALS
For good health you need more than vitamins and minerals. Natural compounds in foods - phytochemicals - are also important disease fighters. Do you know how to get enough?
To help preserve your vision as you age, you need at least six milligrams of lutein each day. Which food provides the most?
a) 1 cup of spinach salad
b) ½ cup of cooked kale
c) 1 cup of romaine lettuce
d) 1 egg yolk
b) You can't beat leafy greens for lutein, and kale is at the top if the list, serving up 12 milligrams per half-cup serving. Spinach scores high, too, but only if you eat it cooked. One cup of raw spinach provides 1.8 milligrams; eat one half cup cooked and you'll get 15 milligrams.
Besides leafy greens, you'll also get lutein from green peas, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, nectarines and oranges.
Lycopene is a phytochemical thought to ward off prostate cancer. Which food is the best source?
a) tomato juice
b) pink grapefruit
c) fresh tomatoes
a) Tomatoes rule when it comes to lycopene content, but not all types of tomatoes. To boost your lycopene intake, reach for heat-processed tomato products such as tomato juice, the clear winner. One cup delivers 22 milligrams of lycopene compared to 3.1 milligrams in one raw tomato. (Lycopene is tightly bound to fibre in foods; heat processing breaks down the fibre, releasing lycopene.)
Pink grapefruit and guava also contain lycopene, but they're no match for tomato juice.
Berries contain potent antioxidants called anthocyanins, which help prevent urinary-tract infections and may ward off heart disease and dementia. Which berries offer the most?
c) Cranberries are the top source of anthocyanins (blueberries also contain a hefty amount). But don't discount raspberries, strawberries and blackberries. These berries are excellent sources of ellagic acid, a phytochemical linked to cancer prevention.
PART THREE: SODIUM
You know that too much sodium wreaks havoc on your arteries and you try to be careful when eating out. Which meals provide the least sodium?
Which breakfast contains the least sodium?
a) Tim Hortons' Hot Breakfast Sandwich with sausage, egg and cheese
b) Denny's Fabulous French Toast Platter
c) The Great Canadian Bagel's spinach bagel
a) The lower-sodium meal is, surprisingly, the Tim Hortons breakfast sandwich at 950 milligrams. It's hardly low sodium, however, since it provides almost two-thirds of a day's worth. Adults up to age 50 need no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day; older adults require no more than 1,300 milligrams.
Who would have thought that a spinach bagel had 1,550 milligrams of sodium, or Denny's French toast served up 2,550 milligrams? Thanks to super-sized portions, even bread can send your blood pressure soaring.
Which lunch contains the least sodium?
a) Burger King's Original Chicken Sandwich
b) Wendy's Grilled Chicken Go Wrap
c) McDonald's Garden Entrée Salad with Warm Grilled Chicken and Newman's Own Low-Fat Sesame Thai Dressing
b) If you're looking for a lower-sodium fast-food lunch, think grilled and think small. Wendy's chicken wrap is the lowest-sodium menu item at 760 milligrams. The highest-sodium meal is the McDonald's salad at 1,930 milligrams. (You'll save 565 milligrams if you use only half the dressing.) Burger King's chicken sandwich has a whopping 1,430 milligrams of sodium.
Which dinner contains the least sodium?
a) The Keg Classic Dinner (10-ounce steak, baked potato, Caesar salad)
b) Boston Pizza's Tuscan Linguini
c) Kelsey's Sizzling Chicken Fajitas
a) It's not easy to avoid salt mines on restaurant menus. Despite delivering a day's worth of sodium, the lower-sodium meal is the Keg Classic Dinner at 1,664 milligrams. The Boston Pizza pasta contains 2,610 milligrams of sodium and the Kelsey's fajitas have 4,450 milligrams. Ouch.
To reduce sodium when dining out, stay clear of menu items described as marinated, smoked, barbecued, cheesy or teriyaki. Order salad dressings, gravies and condiments on the side.
PART FOUR: CALORIES
If you're trying to lose weight, you need to cut your caloric intake. Which snacks and beverages have the least calories?
Which treat contains the least calories?
a) Tim Hortons' Wheat Carrot Muffin
b) Starbucks' Oatmeal Raisin Cookie
c) 1 Kit Kat chocolate bar (45 grams)
c) The muffin and cookie might sound healthy, but low-cal they are not. The lower caloric indulgence is the Kit Kat at 230 calories - just over half the calories found in the Starbucks cookie (410) and the Tim Hortons muffin (400).
Which snack contains the least calories?
a) SunChips (50 grams)
b) potato chips (50 grams)
c) Smartfood popcorn
a) The lower-calorie snack is a handful of SunChips, but not by much.
A 50-gram serving has 260 calories, compared with 280 calories found in a similar portion of plain potato chips or Smartfood popcorn. The reason: SunChips have one-third less fat than the other two snacks.
Which drink contains the least calories?
a) Coca-Cola (591 millilitres)
b) Fruitopia (591 millilitres)
c) Starbucks' Peppermint Mocha Twist Frappuccino (Grande/473 millilitres)
a) It's important to consider how many calories you sip because we don't compensate for them by eating less food. All of these sugary drinks pack calories, but the Coca-Cola contains the least with 227; Fruitopia has 283 and the Frappuccino - well, consider it a liquid dessert at 470 calories.
PART FIVE: TRUE OR FALSE?
Healthy eating also encompasses safe food handling to prevent a nasty bout of food poisoning. How safe is your kitchen?
Which one of these statements about bacteria is true?
a) All types of bacteria cause food poisoning.
b) Freezing makes food last longer by killing bacteria.
c) Bacteria grow fastest when warm.
c) Bacteria flourish between 4 C and 60 C, the so-called danger zone. Don't let food sit at room temperature for more than two hours (no more than one hour in hot temperatures).
Use a digital meat thermometer to cook foods to safe temperatures. When entertaining, serve hot dishes in chafing dishes, crock pots and warming trays. Cold foods should be stored at 4 C or colder.
True or false? Symptoms of food poisoning occur within minutes of eating contaminated food.
False. Common symptoms of food poisoning, such as stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chills and fever, can appear within a few hours of eating a contaminated food, or as long as several days or weeks later, when they can no longer be clearly linked to a particular food. Severe cases of listeria poisoning can take one month or more to show up.
True or false? Holiday leftovers should be cooled before refrigerating.
False. You don't need to cool hot food before you put it in the fridge, but very hot food, such as simmering soup, can be left out for 30 minutes before refrigerating.
Cool hot food quickly to prevent bacterial growth. Food should be cooled to 4 C or lower as quickly as possible by storing food in shallow pans.
Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based dietitian at the Medcan Clinic, is on CTV's Canada AM every Wednesday. http://www.lesliebeck.com.
How many questions did you get right?
13 to 15
Excellent work. Go to the head of the class.
10 to 12
Not bad at all. You're pretty knowledgeable, but it's worth reviewing your answers to see what you can brush up on.
9 or less
Uh-oh. Trouble brewing. Consider consulting a nutritionist in 2009.