September, the month that marks the end of summer and the beginning of fall. Vacations wrap up, house guests return home and most of us generally tend to fall back into those old routines that had been disrupted and changed by all things summer in the Okanagan.

But what if some of those routines we had been following day in and day out, especially around food choices, weren't exactly serving us? What if some of the foods we've been eating on a daily basis were actually detrimental to our physical and mental health?

Yes, people are creatures of habit. We have our favourites and look forward to the foods we are used to, it's comforting. I get that. But as science is uncovering more and more information directly linking what we eat, as being the cause of many chronic diseases, it's crystal clear that changes in the way most North Americans eat needs to happen soon.

According to a 2015 Statistics Canada report, just over 20 percent of all Canadians are obese, up another five percent from 2003. Being obese markedly increases your risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar, along with sleep apnea, joint pain and osteoarthritis. A knee joint for example feels the force of 1 1/2 times a person's body weight when walking on a fl at surface. Add an incline and that force increases to twice the body weight. Clearly, carrying around extra weight is damaging to our physical health. But did you know those extra pounds, and the foods that put them there, also affect the brain, putting a large chunk of the population unknowingly at risk for both mental illness and decline in cognitive function?

From conditions like depression, ADHD, poor focus and concentration, clear on up to Parkinson's dementia and even Alzheimers, all have a direct correlation to girth - how we measure up around the middle.

Now that we're all in agreement about what's at stake here, let's go back to those habitual food choices that make up our SAD (standard American diet) in North America and see which ones have us waist-ing away our health. We all like to think we're eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, but the numbers tell us otherwise. The study showed that, on average, almost 1000 calories from added sugars and unhealthy fats are consumed daily. Hello blended coffee drinks with whipped topping. Add to that, grain intake has increased by 45 percent. And with 30 percent less nutritional value than what our grandparents harvested, combined with todays GMOs and pesticides, it's not surprising we're seeing issues.

Sugars, gluten, and unhealthy fats all play a role in the weight-gain/brain-drain game.

Sugar – including honey, maple syrup, agave, corn syrup, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, glucose and artifi cial sweeteners - enters the blood stream quickly, causing an immediate spike in blood sugar, and fat storage. Repeated spikes and ongoing elevated blood sugar levels puts stress on the pancreas to continuously produce insulin. Over time, the pancreas becomes unable to keep up, resulting in type 2 diabetes. Gluten, found in most grains (especially wheat) and almost all packaged/processed food, is now an issue for many people. Not only do the foods it's found in, spike blood sugar and promote fat storage, gluten itself causes bloating, digestive issues, headaches, brain fog and moodiness. More alarming however are the links to Parkinson's, dementia and Alzheimers, experts are now linking gluten to. And then there's fat.

Unfortunately, the good fats our bodies need like avocado, olive and coconut oils, eggs, nuts, seeds and nut butters that contain healthy omegas and DHA, have taken a back seat. Due to the “low fat” era we're emerging from and the almighty dollar, vegetable oils, margarines and shortening are used in packaged, processed and fast-food, a huge part of the population's food intake. These fats lose their nutritional value during processing then oxidize and become rancid under the heat and moisture when cooking. Mmm toxic.

As if these things individually weren't enough, put them together and you have the perfect storm for creating chronic, internal inflammation. In addition to being the root cause of all disease, it also creates an environment perfect for plaque to form in and around the arteries of the heart and brain. Clearly something we should be avoiding at all costs.

The good news is that no matter where you are in your health, wellness and weight loss journey, positive changes will make a difference. And taking initiative to make those choices sooner rather than having them made for you later is worth its weight in golden years.

So, this year, instead of just falling back into your usual, I invite you to take a look at your everyday food choices, compare them to what the experts are saying and make a few adjustments. Because in all reality, if making just a few changes today puts you on track to losing some weight and allows you to live longer, stronger, healthier and keep your head in the game while you age, it really is a no-brainer.

TANIA GUSTAFSON Nutritionist & Fitness Coach (IBNFC)

Tania, owner/founder of FIT Nutrition, is a global nutritionist and fitness coach, fitness instructor, workshop facilitator, educator, speaker, writer and success creator.

Tania is currently one of only five health professionals licensed and certified in Canada to coach a proven, three-phase program providing education on the importance of blood sugar stabilization, not dieting. For more information go to

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