It might seem more than a little ironic to get nutrition advice from someone who doesn't enjoy cooking. However, wellness expert Julia Aimers dishes out exactly the kind of information most people want, particularly when it comes to how to make healthy eating a snap.
A life-long sports buff and founder of Personal Best Fitness & Lifestyle Consulting, Julia works both as a personal trainer and triathlete coach.
How long have you had a passion for fitness? I was very sporty as a kid and knew at age five exactly what I wanted to do. Badminton was one of my biggest sports.
I won a gold medal at the 1979 Pan American Games, which really drives home the lesson I like to impart to others about striving to achieve one's personal best.
Has healthy eating always been important to you? I grew up eating bland, overcooked meat and potatoes, as well such delicacies as oxtail soup and tongue. Then I went off to college and discovered poutine. 15 pounds later, I graduated and it was time for a change. At first it was a shift towards comfort foods which were tasty but overly salty. I've since become a pescatarian (fish-eating vegetarian), but I never really learned how to cook so everything I eat has to be really simple to prepare.
What's your daily dining strategy? For breakfast, I'll have some Dorset Cereal which is very low in salt and sugar, with sugar-free soy milk. Mid-morning, I'll reach for a banana along with some raw nuts and seeds, along with plenty of water. Lunch might be a spinach/feta wrap with chai tea and some chopped fruit. If I need an energy boost in the afternoon, I'll mix some low-sugar Nestle Quik with soy milk and have a handful of nuts. Supper is vegetarian, with fish three times a week, often grilled salmon.
How do you eat so well without cooking? I've learned to grab healthy prepared foods like Metro's edamame salad. I'll also buy containers of vegetables and fruits which last for days. Another favourite trick is to cook up a big batch of quinoa, then top it with lots of different things, like grilled Portobellos or fish, throughout the week. I stay away from all high-sodium packaged and processed foods.
What are some common food mistakes people make when embarking on a new fitness program? Consuming sports drinks - water plus some avocado or a banana is all you need to keep your potassium up. Powerbars are also a no-no; they are full of sugar and salt. Another big mistake is that people up their caloric intake as they become more active, but typically it's only more carbohydrates. You have to increase carbs and protein equally.
Do you have any food weaknesses? I do occasionally treat myself to a small hot fudge sundae at Dairy Queen, which I sprinkle with peanuts. When I go out for a meal, I usually try to make it Thai. My healthy treat is a big bowl of mixed berries and yogurt.
What advice do you give clients who are trying to improve their eating habits? I suggest keeping chopped fruits and vegetables in the fridge. Add a little yogurt to the fruit, or have some hummus for the veggies, and you've got a quick, easy meal. If you want to have treats like cookies in the house for other family members, store them out of grabbing range.
What can people who don't cook do? There are a lot of simple ways to steer yourself towards healthy eating. Check the labels and eat whole foods; don't buy anything with more than five ingredients, added sugar or more than 200 mg of sodium per serving. Try to avoid eating anything that Great Grandma wouldn't recognize!
Grilled Portobello Mushrooms ?with Pesto and Goat Cheese
Meaty and full of flavour, grilled Portobellos have many uses, including being sandwiched between whole grain buns as a healthy burger alternative. Julia likes to grill and stuff them, then layer them over cooked quinoa (a delicious, nutritious ancient grain-like seed) and asparagus salad.
1 Portobello mushroom cap per person
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp basil pesto
1 tbsp crumbled goat cheese
1 small, ripe tomato, diced
With a soft brush or dry cloth, gently wipe any dirt off mushroom; trim the stem end. Drizzle olive oil on both sides of mushroom; spread evenly. Heat barbeque to medium heat and grill the mushroom for about 10 minutes per side, until tender and slightly browned. (Note: you can also do this under the broiler.) When finished grilling, spread pesto in the hollow of the cap and crumble goat cheese over top. Sprinkle with diced tomato. Serve warm.
15 Super Foods for Super Health - eat these often:
- Brazil Nuts
- Butternut Squash
- Flax seed
- Kiwi Fruit
Grocery Shopping Tips:
- Always check the labels to ensure sodium is less than 200 mg per serving.
- Watch out for transfats.
- Added sugar is not good; it comes in many forms: white, brown, raw, invert, cane, corn syrup, fructose, malt syrup, molasses, agave nectar.
- Acceptable natural sugars include lactose in milk and fructose in fruit.
Foods you want in your pantry:
- Eden Organic Garbanzo Beans (no salt added)
- Healthy Valley Organic Soups (no salt added)
- President's Choice No Salt Added Wild Pacific Salmon
- Cloverleaf Low Sodium Tuna
- Green Tea with Ginger and Lemon
- Snacks: Raw Nuts and Seeds (unsalted): almonds, pumpkin, sunflower; President's Choice Organic Raisins, Organic Unsweetened Apple Snax
- Rice and Whole Wheat Pastas, Dorset Cereal, Eden Organic Quinoa
Good Reads for Nutritional Awareness:
- Food Rules: An Eater's Manual by Michael Pollan