Liz's Blog for a Healthier, Happier Life

Eating for Health & Happiness in 2023

The New Year is the perfect time to commit to a healthier, happier you.  To help you on this quest, I’ve summarized ten of the latest, greatest nutrition and health studies from the last year. 

Strong Evidence Links Gut Microbes With Depression

Research from the University of Amsterdam offers some of the strongest evidence to-date that the microbes living in your gut impact your risk of depression.  The HELIUS project, involving 3,000 participants from six different ethnic groups, found a consistent link between microbial diversity and depression across all ethnicities.  The more diverse an individual’s gut population (the greater the number of different species of bacteria living in the gut), the lower the likelihood of suffering from depression.  This relationship remained significant even after adjustment for other factors known to cause depression. 

Action Step:  A healthy diet, with a strong emphasis on fibre-rich plant foods, along with fermented foods, promotes a more diverse gut microbiome, which ultimately promotes better mental health and well-being.  Consume a wide variety of fruits and vegetables (with the skin on when possible), whole grains, nuts and seeds, and legumes.  Enjoy fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha daily.  Limit your intake of ultra-processed foods, especially those high in sugar. 

Reference:  Bosch, J., et al.  “The gut microbiota and depressive symptoms across ethnic groups.” Nat Commun. 2022 Dec 6;13(1):7129.


Even in Small Quantities, Alcohol May Harm Health

In August 2022, the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction released updated guidelines on “low-risk alcohol drinking” based on a review of 6,000 studies.  The final report was released in January 2023. The purpose of the guidelines is to help people make informed decisions about drinking, based on the evolving science.  These new guidelines are vastly different from their previous guidelines, recommending much lower limits for safe drinking.

Key guidelines:

  • Having 2 drinks or fewer per week should allow you to avoid negative alcohol consequences.
  • If you have 3 to 6 drinks per week, you are increasing your risk of developing certain cancers, including breast and colon cancer.
  • If you have 7 drinks or more per week, you are increasing your risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke.  With each additional drink, your risk of having these health problems and many other diseases and injuries exponentially increases.

Report conclusion:  All levels of alcohol consumption are associated with some risk, so drinking less is better for everyone.

Action Step:  These new guidelines are among the most restrictive in the world and not all researchers agree that limits need to be this low.  Most organizations currently, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, for example, state that women should consume no more than one alcoholic drink daily, and men no more than two.  Ongoing research will provide greater clarity. In the meantime, I suggest erring on the side of caution.  Either consider the latest, more restrictive guidelines or limit yourself to no more than about ½ to 1 drink daily and have it with a meal.  As the report says, drinking less alcohol is generally better for everyone.

P.S.  Each of the following is considered one standard drink:  355 mL/12 oz of beer, 150 mL/5 oz of wine, 45 mL/1.5 oz shot of spirits (like whiskey, gin, rum, etc.)

Reference:  Paradis, C., et al.  Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines Scientific Expert Panels. “Update of Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines: Final Report for Public Consultation.” Aug 2022. Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction. (


Optimal Diet for Adding Ten Years to Your Life

Based on data from the Global Burden of Disease study, researchers determined that rather than following a typical Western-type diet, those who consume substantially more of certain foods and less of others could add over a decade to their lifespan.  Here are the foods they recommend consuming more of (along with recommended daily amounts), and less of, to optimize lifespan: 

Consume more of these foods:

whole grains (7 servings daily)

legumes (1 cup daily)

fish (1 serving daily)

fruits and vegetables (5 servings of each daily)

nuts (a handful daily)

Consume less of these foods:

red and processed meats

sugar-sweetened beverages

refined grains

Action Step: Research supports that a diet rich in plant-based foods, along with some fish (including omega-3-rich fish, like salmon) promotes longevity.  Legumes especially are linked to a longer, healthier life, yet few people consume the recommended one cup daily.  Make 2023 the year you eat more beans (try some of the delicious bean recipes on my website).  When it comes to red and processed meats, there is far more research supporting the reduction of processed meat (bacon, cold cuts/luncheon meats, sausages, hot dogs, fast food hamburgers, etc.).  Lean red meat, in small amounts, can fit into a healthy diet (deck of cards serving size, no more than about 3 times per week).  If you are still eating refined grains, like white bread, this is the year to make whole grains your mantra.  Lastly, including some dairy or fortified milk alternatives in your diet helps ensure your needs for calcium are met.

Reference:  “Estimating impact of food choices on life expectancy: A modeling study.” PLoS Med. 2022 Feb; 19(2): e1003889.


Wait Four Minutes Before Drinking Tea

Tea – whether it’s green, black, or herbal – generally deserves a prominent place in any diet designed for good health and the prevention of disease.  The multitude of plant compounds contained in various types of tea protects health in a myriad of ways.  The temperature at which you drink your tea, however, can determine its healthfulness or potential harm.  Based on a comprehensive review of 23 studies, if you regularly drink your tea when it’s piping hot, your risk of developing esophageal cancer jumps by almost 80%.  Very hot beverages (consumed at a temperature above 65 °C or 149 °F) are identified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as “probably carcinogenic”, meaning they are likely to cause cancer.  Eating or drinking anything that’s too hot can cause a thermal injury in the lining of the throat or esophagus. These thermal injuries (especially if they happen repeatedly) can lead to chronic inflammation and the formation of cancer cells.

Action Step:  If you have a digital water thermometer, wait until your tea (or coffee) is less than 60 °C (140 °F) before drinking.  An easier option, based on previous research, is simply to wait four or more minutes after pouring your tea before drinking it.  Waiting less than two minutes after pouring is linked to a significantly higher cancer risk. 

P.S.  If you regularly drink tea – whether it’s green, black, or herbal – I recommend including hibiscus tea in the mix.  In a recent review of 17 studies, it was linked to better heart health, including significantly lower blood pressure and LDL-cholesterol. 


“Hot Tea Consumption and Esophageal Cancer Risk: A Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies.” Front Nutr. 2022 Apr 11;9:831567.

Ellis, L., et al.  “A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of Hibiscus sabdariffa on blood pressure and cardiometabolic markers.” Nutr Rev. 2022 May 9;80(6):1723-1737.


Regular Physical Activity Reduces COVID-19 Severity

There are a million reasons to make regular physical activity a top priority in your life.  Here is one more… Based on a review of 16 studies, involving over 1.8 million people, engaging in regular physical activity lowers your risk of adverse COVID-19 outcomes, including a lower risk of infection, hospitalization, disease severity, and death.  The greatest benefits are provided by getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week (for example, about 25 minutes of walking daily) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week (for example, about 20 minutes of jogging four times per week). 

Action Step:  While getting vaccinated and wearing masks continues to be important for protection against COVID-19, a healthy lifestyle, including regular physical activity can reduce the impact of this unrelenting, infectious disease.

Reference:  Ezzatvar, Y., et al.  “Physical activity and risk of infection, severity, and mortality of COVID-19: a systematic review and non-linear dose–response meta-analysis of data from 1 853 610 adults.”  Br J Sports Med. 2022 Aug 56:1188-1193.


Recipe for Depression: Ultra-Processed Foods

Just how bad are ultra-processed foods for mental health?  Based on a study involving 10,359 adults, age 18 and older, the more of these foods you eat, the higher your risk of suffering from depression, as well as anxiety.  This is consistent with other studies, including the French NutriNet-Santé Study, which linked every 10% increase in ultra-processed foods consumed to a 21% higher risk of depression.  The impact of ultra-processed foods on happiness and well-being is not surprising.  These foods are generally lacking in fibre (the most important food source for the good microbes in your gut), nutrient-poor, and high in unhealthy added ingredients, like sugar and salt.  They cause significant harm to the gut and brain, which ultimately, compromises mental health and happiness.  In the Western world, many people are getting 50 to 60% of their calories from these foods.  This needs to change.

Action Step:  The more we eat food in its least processed, whole, or natural state, the more we allow food to protect our health. Eating a whole apple with the skin on, for example, is far superior at protecting health compared to applesauce.  Most importantly, do your best to limit or avoid the following ultra-processed foods: sugary drinks, candy, refined grain products, fast food, processed meats, and many highly processed snack foods.  If you want to be happy, you need to eat healthy!

Reference:  Hecht, D., et al.  “Cross-sectional examination of ultra-processed food consumption and adverse mental health symptoms.” Public Health Nutr. 2022 Nov;25(11):3225-3234.


Attention All Chocolate Lovers

As a dietitian, I’ve always said, “leave room for chocolate.”  I follow my own advice.  I regularly add a heaping tablespoon of cocoa to my morning coffee and often enjoy a few squares of dark chocolate after lunch or dinner.  Chocolate is delicious, and the cocoa bean (from which cocoa and chocolate are made) is loaded with valuable plant compounds that are good for gut, heart, and brain health.  Based on a recent study by Consumers Reports, however, we may need to reconsider our chocolate-loving habits.  Certain brands of dark chocolate have been found to contain high levels of toxic metals, including lead and cadmium.   Even just one ounce (about 2 to 3 small squares of dark chocolate) can contain enough of these toxins to exceed safe levels.  Lead is particularly dangerous and can cause long-term damage to many organs in our body when consumed in excess.

Action Step:  Chocolate manufacturers, without question, need to take much greater responsibility for producing products that are safe for consumption.  The soil in which the cacao tree grows must be tested regularly for toxins and the way in which the cocoa bean is harvested also makes a difference.  What does this mean for you?  Choose brands such as Girardelli or Valrhona, found to contain much lower and safer levels of contaminants at this time.  Avoid brands, such as Godiva and Lindt dark chocolate, that appear to contain much higher levels.  When you do consume dark chocolate or cocoa, limit your intake (no more than about 2 to 3 small squares of dark chocolate or one tablespoon of cocoa daily).  Lastly, pregnant women and small children should probably avoid all dark chocolate and cocoa until further research proves that these products are safe for consumption.  Milk chocolate, because it contains significantly fewer cocoa solids, is generally much lower in toxins.  Milk chocolate, however, is also generally higher in sugar and doesn’t provide the potential health benefits found in good dark chocolate or cocoa.  Read the full Consumers Report in the link below. 

Reference:  Consumer Reports. “Lead and Cadmium Could Be in Your Dark Chocolate.” Dec 2022. (


Unhealthy Lifestyles in Young People Linked to Cancer Epidemic

Over the past few decades, the incidence of early-onset cancers (cancers diagnosed in adults less than 50 years of age) has been increasing dramatically around the world, with younger generations at the greatest risk.  This includes cancers of the breast, esophagus, kidney, liver, pancreas, and more.  Steep increases in rates of colon cancer have been especially alarming.  Cancer is a serious diagnosis at any age, but when it shows up in younger adults, the tumours are typically more aggressive and often go undetected longer because routine cancer screening doesn’t start until later in life.  Evidence suggests these cancers are caused, at least in part, by unhealthy lifestyles starting in early life and young adulthood.  Factors at play include unhealthy body weights, a high intake of ultra-processed foods, lack of sleep, and inactivity.

Action Step:  Healthy habits need to start early in life and be maintained throughout the lifespan to reduce cancer risk.  Advice for parents:  Role model healthy habits.  Keep the home environment healthy.  Don’t let unhealthy, highly processed foods crowd out healthier options.  Make regular physical activity a family affair.  Get phones out of the bedroom at night. 

Reference:  Ugai, T., et al.  “Is early-onset cancer an emerging global epidemic? Current evidence and future implications.”  Nat Rev Clin Oncol. 2022 Oct;19(10):656-673.


When It Comes to Blood Sugar… Standing is Good, Walking is Better

Keeping your blood sugar in the healthy range is important, especially if you want to reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.  Lots of sedentary time, however, including working from home and sitting at a computer all day, impairs your body’s ability to control blood sugar levels.  The good news is that short bursts of activity (also referred to as “exercise snacks”), can make a big difference.  Based on a review of seven studies, compared to prolonged sitting, taking intermittent short breaks of standing leads to significant reductions in postprandial blood sugar levels (the level of sugar in your blood after you eat or drink).  Significantly better than standing, however, (almost twice as effective) is light-intensity walking breaks.  The more you engage or contract your muscles, ultimately, the more efficiently you move sugar out of the blood, and the less insulin you need to keep blood sugar levels healthy. 

Action Step:  The three most important things you can do to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes are to eat healthy, maintain a healthy body weight, and make sure you are physically active, not just daily, but throughout the day.  Every 20 to 30 minutes break up prolonged sitting with a 2-to-5-minute activity break.  Walk around your house or workplace, walk around the block, walk up and down the stairs.  Lastly, when possible, taking a 10-to-15-minute walk shortly after main meals is also highly effective in keeping post-meal rises in blood sugar under control. 

Reference:  Buffey, A., et al.  “The Acute Effects of Interrupting Prolonged Sitting Time in Adults with Standing and Light-Intensity Walking on Biomarkers of Cardiometabolic Health in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.”  Sports Med.  2022 Aug;52(8):1765-1787.


TikTok Promotes an Unhealthy Relationship with Our Bodies & Food

Tiktok is a top-ranking, rapid-growth social media platform with over a billion users worldwide. Known for its short, entertaining, and sometimes quirky videos, it can also be detrimental to one’s body image and relationship with food. Researchers recently analyzed 1000 of the most popular food, nutrition, and weight loss TikTok videos, each with over 1 billion views.  Most videos glorified weight loss (put it on a pedestal, valued it above all else), talked about food only in terms of whether it can help you achieve thinness (not about how it impacts health), and implied that “losing weight is easy to do, if you just try hard enough” (it’s not easy!!).  In addition, and not surprisingly, researchers found that most of the advice came from female adolescents and young female adults, not from experts in the nutrition field.  Researchers concluded that nutrition-related content on TikTok can contribute to body dissatisfaction and disordered eating in young people – the people who use TikTok the most. 

Action Step:  Most social media platforms (TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.) make today’s youth feel bad about their bodies and develop unrealistic expectations about their appearance.  Females want to be thinner, while males generally want to be more muscular.  Unhappiness with one’s body leads to depression and unhealthy eating practices, including dieting, meal skipping, and taking weight loss or body-building supplements.  If you are the parent of a child, teen, or young adult, talk to them about the link between social media and body dissatisfaction.  Encourage them to change their social media feeds so that seeing harmful content regularly is not the norm.  Finally, all of us, including our kids, could benefit tremendously from learning to practice self-compassion (learning to be kind to ourselves, rather than self-critical, when life feels difficult or hard).

Reference:  Minadeo, M., and Pope, L.  “Weight-normative messaging predominates on TikTok—A qualitative content analysis.” PLoS One. 2022; 17(11): e0267997.


In Closing…

For optimal health and happiness, eat a diet rich in unprocessed plant foods and limit your intake of highly processed foods.  Engage in physical activity, not just daily, but throughout the day.  If you drink alcohol, moderation is key.  Lastly, leave room for chocolate (but only a little!).

Wishing you and your family a super healthy and super happy 2023 and beyond!!

P.S. Please share this article with friends, family, and co-workers. Thanks!



I’m a registered dietitian with a passion for peanut butter sandwiches and an undying love for chocolate. I’ve been researching, writing, and speaking about eating for optimal health for over 25 years. I have two wonderful daughters, love hiking year-round, and have a definite addiction to pickleball. Perhaps, most importantly, I never let a good dance song go to waste!

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