General - Aviva Allen's Blog


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Healthy Meals for Busy Families

b2ap3_thumbnail_Healthy-Meals-for-Busy-Familiies.jpgWith our busy schedules, getting a healthy meal on the table is not always an easy task. Lack of time, lack of inspiration and lack of energy can be major challenges but with proper planning, healthy meals are possible for your family!

1. Plan meals for the week: This is probably the single most important thing you can do so please don’t skip this step. Every weekend, take out a blank calendar for the week and plan your dinners. Some have success with theme nights, for example, Monday is Italian food, Tuesday is Mexican and Wednesday is Asian inspired. Over time, you can compile a list of recipes for each theme that your family enjoys and this will make it easy to reference when planning your menus. You can even schedule in some take-out or prepared meals to fill in the gaps at first.

2. Prepare a shopping list: Once your menu is complete, it is a good idea to create a shopping list. Shopping lists are helpful for staying on budget with your grocery shopping, but also important to insure you have all the essential ingredients on hand to prepare the recipes you have planned.

3. Prep in advance: It can be helpful to do some of the prep work in advance, particularly when you only have 30-45 to get dinner on the table. Leafy greens can be pre-washed and dried before storing them in the fridge. Peeling and chopping vegetables can be done the night before for a dish you plan to cook the next day. If you can’t find the time to do this, many grocery stores offer the convenience of packaged, chopped vegetables and pre-washed cooking greens. This convenience comes with an added cost, of course.

4. Batch cooking/Freezing meals: Spend an hour or two on the weekend preparing a few items for the week. You could cook a large pot of soup or a pot of rice, for example, to last throughout the week. 
If you are generally cooking for four people, try cooking for eight instead and freezing the leftovers for another week.

5. Crockpot: Slow cooking is a great way to ensure a hot meal is ready when you get home from work. It typically involves a small amount of prep work, which can be done the night before 
or in the morning. Then just throw all of your ingredients into the Crockpot, turn it on and walk away. Until you become fairly confident in your slow cooking abilities, be sure to look for recipes specifically designed for use in a Crockpot.

Check out the recipe section of my website for healthy recipes the whole family can enjoy!

The sun has finally started shining and it's time to get outside and enjoy it!  At the same time, we also need to think about protecting our skin from harmful UV rays.  Most of us know about the importance of sun protection, but many are now becoming concerned about vitamin D levels when sunscreen is applied at all times. 

How do we find the right balance of vitamin D absorption and UV protection?

Simply taking a vitamin D supplement is certainly an option, however, if you are interested in obtaining vitamin D naturally from the sun, here is some information that will help you do that safely.  

Maximizing vitamin D absorption from the sun

Season, time of day, cloud cover, smog, skin colour and the use of sunscreen are among some of the factors that affect vitamin D synthesis. The combination of these factors can make it difficult to determine the necessary length of sun exposure time for a particular individual to produce optimal levels of vitamin D.  It has been suggested by some vitamin D researchers that approximately 15-30 minutes of midday sun exposure, of at least 15% of the body,  at least twice a week without sunscreen, would usually lead to sufficient vitamin D synthesis. The more skin exposed, the shorter the length of time required.  A darker-skinned individual, however, can require up to six times the amount of exposure to produce the same amount of vitamin D as a fair-skinned person.

Your best source for vitamin D is daily exposure to the sun, without sunblock on your skin, ONLY until your skin turns the lightest shade of pink.  The production of vitamin D occurs in the skin within minutes and is fully maximized before your skin turns pink, so there is no benefit to staying in the sun longer.  Longer exposures will not produce any more vitamin D but WILL accelerate photo aging and increase your risk for skin cancer.  Cover up before your skin becomes tanned or burned as both are signs of sun damage.  As our vitamin D levels increase, more melanin (pigment) is made to protect us from getting too much of the vitamin (excessive amounts can be harmful to our bodies).  The more melanin our skin has, the less vitamin D we can make.  This is why darker-skinned individuals have a more difficult time maintaining optimal levels.

To use the sun to maximize your vitamin D production and minimize your risk of skin damage, the middle of the day (roughly between 10  and 2) when the sun is at its highest, is the best and safest time for short periods of unprotected exposure. During this UVB-intense period you will need the shortest sun exposure time to produce the most vitamin D.  While this isn't always possible due to the change of the seasons and your geographic location, this is ideal as it will optimize your vitamin D levels naturally with less exposure to damaging UVA rays. 

* Note that UVB radiation does not penetrate glass, so exposure to sunshine indoors through a window would not produce vitamin D.  Also note that wearing sunscreen will block vitamin D-producing UV rays.

Other Sources of Vitamin D

Individuals with limited sun exposure should include good sources of vitamin D in their diet and/or take a supplement to achieve recommended levels of intake.  Supplemental vitamin D should also be taken during the winter months (October-April) as we do not receive enough sun in this part of the world to obtain sufficient amounts naturally.  Vitamin D is naturally present in very few foods. The best sources would be cod liver oil or fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel.  Small amounts of vitamin D can also be found in beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks.

Tips for protecting your skin from sun damage

  • The use of indoor tanning beds may increase a person’s risk of developing skin cancer.  The CDA, along with Health Canada and the World Health Organization (WHO), strongly recommend that tanning beds not be used.
  • Avoid over-exposure to the sun during the midday hours of 11-4 as this is when UV rays are the strongest
  • Use a broad spectrum sunscreen formula with an SPF of 30 or higher when spending more than 30 minutes outdoors. (Note: SPF numbers only tell you the amount UVB protection that is offered.  UVB rays are what cause tanning and burning.  Using a sunscreen with a higher SPF that does not offer sufficient UVA protection, would allow you to stay out in the sun for longer periods of time without burning, while allowing more of the damaging UVA rays to penetrate your skin.)
  • Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before exposure, re-apply after every 2 hours of sun exposure and re-apply after swimming (even if using a water-resistant/waterproof formula).
  • Cover up with a wide brimmed hat, sunglasses.
  • Keep infants under 6 months away from direct sunlight.  Protect children over the age of 6 months with natural sunscreens, hats and UV protective clothing.


Aviva’s pick for sunscreen:

I recommend choosing a natural sunscreen that uses zinc oxide as the active ingredient.  Zinc oxide provides excellent UVB and UVA protection and is a safer alternative to chemical sunscreens.  I love Green Beaver SPF 30 sunscreen!  It's a Canadian company that is certified organic, Health Canada approved, non-whitening, waterproof, fragrance-free AND easy to apply, which is essential when you've got squirmy kids that won't stand still for very long.

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Help me reach 200 Facebook likes!

Like my facebook page, then share this giveaway with your friends, and you will have a chance to win a prize basket containing a variety of high quality omega 3 products from NutraSea (retail value of approx. $75).

Winner will be randomly selected once we reach 200 likes. Prize must be picked up from Pande Family Wellness Centre, located at Yonge & Eglinton.



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Virtually 100 percent of the almonds consumed in the United States and Canada come from California.  Did you know that there is a mandatory program in place requiring all California almonds to be sterilized? While there are three different treatment methods available, the method most commonly used to treat raw almonds involves fumigation; spraying the almonds with propylene oxide, a carcinogen recognized by the EPA. 

These regulations were put into effect in the last five years in response to two separate outbreaks of Salmonella poisoning, which caused over 130 people in Canada and the US to become ill between 2001 and 2004.  In 2004, one person died from Salmonella poisoning and a major almond processor was hit with a costly lawsuit. 

There are currently three approved pasteurization methods:

  1. Propylene Oxide (PPO) fumigation: A chemical treatment which reduces harmful bacteria, and according to the Almond Board, poses no risk to consumers. PPO was once used as a racing fuel, but that usage is now prohibited for safety reasons.
  2. Steam processing: Short bursts of steam are used to sterilize the surface of the almonds.  Organic almonds are processed using this method, however, they can no longer be considered raw.
  3. Oil roasting, dry roasting or blanching: These processes provide the necessary reduction in harmful bacteria.

There are no labelling requirements in place to specify which type of treatment was used.  If you want to avoid fumigated almonds, you have a three options available:

  1. Buy roasted or blanched almonds: Although there is no guarantee they were not pretreated with PPO.
  2. Buy organic almonds: Fumigation with PPO is not an approved treatment for organic almonds.
  3. Buy imported raw almonds: Raw almonds need to be imported from Europe where raw almonds do not require sterilization.

This popular Canadian brand of nut butter (Nuts to You),
lists 'Organic European Almonds' in its ingredients.





I recently had the unfortunate experience of tasting one of Tim Hortons new "Real Fruit Smoothies" while in labour with my second child. I needed some liquid energy, and being a holiday Monday in downtown Toronto, the Tim Hortons inside the hospital was my only option. My husband husband bought me one of each flavour, not being sure which I would prefer and thinking it would be a healthier choice as their marketing suggests. Both the Strawberry Banana and Mixed Berry flavour were so sweet that I could not drink either, despite my depleted state!
I later investigated the ingredients for these smoothies and to no surprise, the super sweetness did not come from any actual fresh fruit, but instead came from high-fructose corn syrup.

These so-called "Real" Fruit Smoothies contain fruit purees and juices only - which are blended with ice and a mixture of three different forms of sugars: high fructose corn syrup, glucose and molasses along with salt, added colour and preservatives.

Tim Hortons announced that their "New Real Fruit Smoothies are bursting with a full serving of fruit". One serving of fruit is only half a cup. Imagine making a yourself a smoothie at home using only half a cup of fruit and large cup of ice. It would taste pretty weak. That is why they need add all of that highly-processed liquid sugar.

Tim Hortons should be ashamed of themselves trying to pass-off this sugary beverage as a component of a healthy diet.

Here's a recipe for a REAL fruit smoothie you can make at home. Enjoy!

Fresh Fruit Smoothie

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Oatmeal is the hottest new menu item, popping up at a numerous coffee shops and fast food joints around the city.

Even McDonald's is selling it at its US restaurants. But is it really a healthy choice?

Below you will find a comparison of the oatmeal available at three different food chains; Starbuck's, Tim Hortons and Timothy's. While none of these options are as healthy as making your own oatmeal at home, I've provided some tips to help you make the best choices out of what is available.




Tim Hortons






Cooking Method

Instant - cooked with hot water

Slow cooked

Instant - cooked in steamed milk

Type of Oats

Rolled oats + oat bran

Rolled oats

Quaker quick oats

What's Added

Guar gum and caramel colour in the oatmeal and sulphites, sugar and sunflower oil in the dried fruit mix

Sugar, salt and
sunflower oil

Just the steamed milk (hot water can be used instead by request)


Brown sugar

Mixed berry and brown sugar or Maple and brown sugar flavour options

Honey or brown sugar


Nut mix (almonds, walnuts, pecans) and dried fruit mix

See above

Granola or raisins




Ask for it without the dried fruit mix or brown sugar and add nut mix and honey instead

Ask for the plain oatmeal and request the mixed berries without the brown sugar

Ask for it to be cooked in hot water instead of milk and skip the sweetened granola and brown sugar

Hits: 15550

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Vitamin D, often referred to as the “sunshine” vitamin, as our bodies produce it in our skin by exposure to the sun, has lately been recognized for its wide range of health protective qualities from preventing heart disease to reducing risks of cancer and other chronic diseases. Why then, as of December 1 of this year, does Ontario feel it not necessary to pay for testing our vitamin D levels?*

According to Health Canada, “vitamin D testing in healthy adults and children is not medically necessary...people should follow Health Canada’s recommendations on diet and vitamin D supplementation.” Canada states that following Canada’s Food Guide should be sufficient for adequate intake of this vitamin, and that if necessary, supplementation of 200IUs a day for people 2-50 years old and 400IUs for individuals above fifty is enough for good health.

A recent survey, however, found that two-thirds of the population has vitamin D levels below the amounts associated with reduced risk of chronic diseases, and 1 in 10 have deficiencies so low they are not even at the level for proper bone health. This indicates that the majority of Canadians do not have vitamin D levels needed for optimum health.

One explanation for this widespread deficiency is the low recommendations provided by Health Canada. Recent research has shown that these levels should be much higher in order to get the many preventative health benefits vitamin D has to offer. This is particularly the case during the winter months when we have very little sun to skin exposure. More importantly, because these guidelines are generalized, individual variations and requirements are not taken into account. Colour of skin, time spent outside each day, dietary choices and proper absorption are all factors that influence individual vitamin D levels and need to be considered when making these recommendations.

Working with a nutritionist can help you with a plan that is tailored to you and your individual needs this winter. An adequate amount of vitamin D is essential for a strong immune system and for optimum health and disease prevention.

* OHIP will continue to cover the cost of vitamin D testing for people with the following conditions: Osteoporosis/Osteopenia, Rickets, Malabsorption Syndromes, Renal Disease and patients on medications that affect vitamin metabolism.

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How your body responds to stress plays an important role in your overall health. Often people feel the effects of stress as fatigue, headaches, sleep disturbances, anxiety or aches and pains. Stress affects others by causing digestive disorders such as ulcers, abdominal cramps and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). People under stress may also experience more colds and infections due to lowered immune responses.
While you may not have control over the causes of stress in your life, you can control how you deal with it.

Here are 5 ways to minimize the effects of stress on your body:

  1. Eat more vitamin B rich foods: B vitamins are essential for the nervous system and assist your body in managing stress. Vitamin B rich foods include whole grains, legumes, liver, egg yolks and leafy green vegetables .
  2. Take a quality probiotic supplement: Stress depletes the beneficial bacteria in your gut which can affect your digestion as well as your immune system.
  3. Exercise regularly: Exercise can decrease the stress hormone cortisol in the body and increase endorphins, giving your mood a boost.
  4. Spend time outside: Sunlight lifts your mood and the vitamin D produced in the skin will boost your immune system. Aim for 10-15 minutes of sunlight per day.
  5. Get enough rest: We need 7-8 hours of sleep each night for our bodies to function optimally.

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Guest Post

Posted by: Wai-Ke Kim, Certified Financial Planner

Food ShoppingThe recent economic downturn forced many families to rethink their spending habits. One item on the family budget that was commonly the first to be slashed was eating out. Now that cash flow has started to become steadier for many Canadians, some are still on a tight budget these days, whether by choice or necessity.

Will you sacrifice nutrition to save money? Make a commitment to some creative planning and you CAN eat healthy while sticking to a budget!

Here are some tips to get you started:

1. Plan ahead: Each week, set aside some time to plan your meals, make a grocery list and go shopping. Planning in advance will keep you from buying on impulse!

2. Buy in bulk/Limit Packaged Foods: Some food items such as dried goods and grains are cheapest when bought in bulk because less marketing/packaging reduces the cost. If you shop at stores such as Costco, remember - quantity does not always equal quality, so be choosy about what you buy in bulk.

3. Buy in Season/Locally Grown: Find out what produce is in season when you plan your meals. If food is in season, it tends to be cheaper. Locally grown food can also be more affordable, particularly at Farmer's Markets (when you cut out the middle man). Not only is this more cost efficient, but it is fresher too!

4. Eat Less Meat: Fruits, veggies, grains, beans and nuts are less expensive than meats and you get more volume for your dollar. Reducing animal products such as beef and chicken will also help lower costs.

A final note: If you want to reduce overall costs to your family, do not skimp on nutrition! If your family is unhealthy, you may end up spending more money in the long run.

Wai-Ke Kim is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) and Certified Senior Advisor (CSA) who helps families put together budgets, save for retirement, reduce taxes and much more!

Contact her and mention this article for a free 1 hour Personal Consultation:
O: (416) 491-7400 ext. 524
M: (416) 727-6538

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The human body is made up of more than seventy percent water. It is beyond question that the benefits of drinking sufficient water each day go far beyond simply quenching thirst.Water

Water is critical to almost every aspect of a person’s health including regulating body temperature, bringing oxygen to the cells and removing waste from the body. Not drinking enough water on a daily basis can cause headaches, fatigue, dry skin and constipation. Dehydration can also negatively affect blood pressure, circulation, digestion and kidney function.

Here are five tips to help you drink more water:

1. If you are on the go, carry a full water bottle with you at all times.

2. If you are sitting at work, keep a glass of water at your desk and drink throughout the day. Refill often.

3. If you tend to forget to drink water, set an alarm on your watch, computer or hand-held device to remind you to take a drink every half hour.

4. If you don't like the taste of tap water, try adding lemon/lime or drink filtered water. If you enjoy the taste of your water, you will be more likely to drink it.

5. Avoid caffeinated beverages as they will dehydrate you.

Note: Drink the majority of your water between meals - drinking too much liquid with meals will impair your digestion, particularly cold liquids (Sipping room temperature water with meals is okay).