Get that Shrimp on the Barbie! Why shrimp can be part of a heart-smart diet

This blog post is the fourth in a series I wrote for Skipper Otto's Community Supported Fishery  on the high nutritional value of local fish and seafood here in BC. The original blog was posted September 13, 2017 and can be found here.

Grilled, garlic, buttered  or in tacos, shrimp is a crowd-pleaser and hard to resist. But many of us grew up being told to limit our intake of cholesterol-rich foods like eggs and shrimp for fear that it would raise our cholesterol levels and increase our risk of heart disease. This idea is deeply ingrained in our cultural psyche but is it really true?


In the 1960s, the thesis that dietary cholesterol contributes to blood cholesterol and increased risk for heart disease was a rational conclusion based on the available science at that time. Fifty years later, the evidence no longer supports this hypothesis yet changing the dietary recommendation to limit dietary cholesterol has been a slow and at times contentious process.

Cholesterol is vital to our health and well-being. It’s needed to insulate neurons, make vitamin D, build and maintain cell membranes, produce bile to help break down fats, helps regulate blood sugar and is the precursor to hormones like estrogen and testosterone. And that’s only a few of its jobs!

On any given day, we have between 1,100-1,700 mg of cholesterol in our body. About 25% comes from diet while the remaining 75% is made by our body, specifically the liver. In other words, the body makes sure cellular cholesterol levels are within a pretty narrow range to support our body functions while not resulting in elevated levels. Generally speaking, if someone increases their consumption of cholesterol rich foods, the liver produces less, and vice versa.

In recent years, dietary cholesterol has been proven to have minimal impact on blood cholesterol for most individuals. Recent research consistently shows that dietary cholesterol intake does not correlate well with blood cholesterol(references 1, 2) – in other words, eating foods rich in cholesterol does not necessarily increase blood cholesterol or risk of cardiac disease.

There is, however, a small percentage of the population that doesn’t regulate blood cholesterol well. But in these individuals, blood cholesterol can be high regardless of dietary intake. So if blood cholesterol is a concern, the best way to address it is to talk to your healthcare practitioner(s) about various proven approaches to balance cholesterol levels such as increasing physical activity (3) and fiber intake (4).

But for most of us, cholesterol-rich foods are incredibly nutritious. Shrimp, for example, are also a rich source of selenium, iron, and a potent antioxidant pigment called astaxanthin, with strong anticancer and anti-inflammatory properties. One study actually found that astaxanthin was useful in lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol (5) while other studies found it protect against inflammation providing cardiovascular benefits (6).

Bottom Line: Skipper Otto members are lucky to have the bounty of Oceanwise shrimp to choose from and should feel good about including spot prawns and sidestripe, humpback, or pink shrimp in your favourite recipe as part of a heart-healthy diet.


© Melissa Evanson 2017.  For permission to reproduce or repost this post, email




Tuna Tales - Why you don't need to worry about mercury in BC albacore tuna

This blog post is the third in a series I wrote for Skipper Otto's Community Supported Fishery  on the high nutritional value of local fish and seafood here in BC. The original blog was posted August 28, 2017 and can be found here.

The health benefits of eating tuna have been widely touted; it’s a high-protein fish with an abundance of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D and selenium – a key trace mineral essential in supporting the immune system, brain function and reproductive health (1). More on selenium in a bit; but we’ve all also heard that tuna contains mercury, a heavy metal with neurotoxic properties. Does that mean it’s best to avoid Skipper Otto’s delicious rosemary tuna loin and tuna loin with coconut glaze recipes? Absolutely not!


Mercury levels in the environment have increased since the industrial revolution, mainly due to waste burning and coal combustion. Fish can accumulate mercury in their muscle through absorption from surrounding water and from other fish they eat. As a fish gets larger and older, more toxins can accumulate. Because of concerns over mercury in fish, B.C.’s Ministry of Health recommends daily limits for large, predatory fish species such as tuna, shark, marlin and swordfish (2). But they also note that Albacore tuna products from Canada have no serving limits (3). That’s right. No serving limits, even for pregnant and breastfeeding women, babies and children. Extensive and ongoing testing for mercury by the Canadian Inspection Food Agency has deemed Canadian North Pacific Albacore tuna (fresh, frozen and canned) “safe to eat” as mercury levels in these fish collected in Canadian waters are lower than in other species and stocks of tuna and, therefore, do not pose a health risk.

There are a few likely reasons why B.C. Albacore tuna have lower concentrations of mercury. One is that B.C. Albacore are caught at a relatively young age (3-4 years) compared to the other listed species, like sharks and other tuna like Bluefin, that have longer lifespans during which toxins can accumulate. Habitat is another factor. A study comparing mercury levels in Albacore tuna from the North Pacific vs the Mediterranean showed a 10-fold increase in Mediterranean tuna (4). This could be explained, in part, by the fact that the Mediterranean Sea is located over one of the richest natural reserves of mercury in the world and is also a semi-enclosed body of water where toxic compounds can concentrate.

Selecting local, B.C. Albacore tuna has significant advantages but low mercury levels aren’t even the whole story! Let’s circle back to selenium…

Mercury is only harmful when its concentrations are high enough to bind to selenium, preventing selenium from performing its vital role in the brain. As long as you are eating selenium-rich foods like fish, the amount of selenium in the body will always be in excess of mercury. Luckily for us Skipper Otto’s members, the BC fish we consume has significantly more selenium than mercury which means you get all the benefits of selenium, unlike some international species/stocks of tuna, shark, swordfish, marlin, escolar and orange roughy.

The bottom line: There is no need to limit your Skipper Otto tuna orders due to mercury concerns. Your biggest concern when picking up your Skipper Otto tuna loins shouldn’t be about toxicity, but about whether to sear it plain or sesame crusted!


© Melissa Evanson 2017.  For permission to reproduce or repost this post, email

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Poop Diaries: Avoiding the Runs on your Run


My name is Melissa and I love talking about poop. That's right. Why you ask? Because, we all do it, we all have issues with it at some time or another and we can learn a lot from it if only we would be a little more open to talking about it. So for those a little squeamish, you may want to skip this blog post. For the rest of you please read on!

The human body is basically a donut. This is because the digestive system starts at the mouth and follows a continuous route through the stomach, small and large intestines and finally ends at, well, the 'exit', your anus. The inside of your gastrointestinal tract is therefore outside your body. Whoa!


You can test this statement with a thought experiment designed by Pete Smif from the University of Liverpool :

  • Touch your cheek.
  • Move your finger inside your mouth
  • Imagine moving your finger down your esophagus...
  • ... and through your stomach, small and large intestines and emerging from your anus....
  • Now wave to yourself

So cool! But let's get back to runners trots. 

The sudden-onset of needing to poop is common among runners, particularly for those of us who run long and hard. The main reason for runners’ "distress" (cramping, diarrhea) is that the gut simply shuts down after a lot of exertion. There are a few things that seem to contribute to this:

  • Running can speed up your metabolism and stimulate contractions of your bowels, this can move food through your digestive system more quickly.
  • Your internal organs are being jostled about from the physical movement of running, this can add to the urgency.
  • Over 80% of blood is shunted away from the GI tract to the working muscles when running. This leads to a physiological stress response and simply put, the gut urgency to 'release' its contents is a reflection of the stress intensity.  
  • Hydration plays a role here too. If you drink lots of fluids, your stool may be softer finding its way to the rectum faster. 
  • Lastly, on race morning, your pre-race jitters can increase stress hormones which can also have a "stool-loosening" effect.

Good times! So what can you do about it...

Avoid Common Food Triggers
There are a few foods that are known irritants to the gut. These include caffeine, spicy foods, nuts and insoluble fiber like dark leafy greens (think kale, spinach, chard - especially when raw). In the few days before your race, limit these foods unless you know that you tolerate them well.  


Pre-run foods
If you regularly eat eggs and bacon before a long run or load up your morning smoothie with 2 cups of raw may want to reconsider your pre-run breakfast options. This is because fat, protein and fiber take longer to digest and so will still be jostling about in your stomach as you start your run. Generally, the safer foods to eat before running are higher in simple carbohydrates and lower in the proteins, fats and fiber. Personally I love me a smoothie with coconut water/tart cherry juice, frozen fruit, banana, 1/2 scoop whey protein, and greens powder. Oatmeal with fresh fruit or a yam/potato hash is also great. But we're all different so experiment with what works best and stick with it. 

Experiment with Fuel Type
Concentrated sugars like maltodextrin or even glucose in gels and chews can be really irritating to the gut and may cause immediate discomfort. The only way around this is to experiment with different running nutrition options. Personally, I try to avoid high sugar gels and gummies as much as possible and rely mostly on whole food carb sources like dried fruit (dates, apricots, mango, ginger, raisins etc), homemade energy balls, homemade energy gel (e.g., maple syrup, powdered ginger, salt), chocodates etc. I do, however, know which gummies work for me and have those on reserve for races. 


Slow Down
I realize telling runners to slow down is the kiss of death and that you likely won't do it. That's fine. But just so you know, slowing down to a walk can really help alleviate GI symptoms fast. Once blood is able to return to the gut, normal digestive functions can begin again. If you've just left the aid station and gobbled down a bacon sandwich...maybe walk it off for a few kilometers. The rest of the race will be so much more enjoyable!  

Reduce Stress
I know i know. Easier said than done. But stress reduction is essential, both on and before race day, to support your overall digestion and health. The stress of race day can cause temporary changes to digestive enzymes which can limit the nutrient absorption and use by the body. This means on the day you most need it, you are probably more depleted in nutrients than on 'regular' days. So try to carve out a little time in your life (especially right before race day) for some restorative yoga, meditation or anything quiet and calming.  

As a last note, the occasional runners trots is pretty normal. But if you are experiencing chronic issues there is likely something else going on like food sensitivities/allergies or chronic gut microbiome imbalances. Addressing this requires a more rigorous and thorough approach so feel free to contact me or your health care practitioner for more information. I'd obviously love to talk about it!


© Melissa Evanson 2017.  For permission to reproduce or repost this post, email

T minus 6 Days - What to do with yourself the week before race day

It's one week to race day and now that you aren't running (you shouldn't be running! stop running!!) what do you do with all your time!? 

Most of us spend the last week before a big race tweaking our outfit, prepping our dropbag, and compulsively checking the weather. But what we really should be focused on is resting and fueling our  bodies.  Here are a few  things to consider: 


Rule #1: Stop reading this blog post
Yup. You read it right (so why are you still reading??). This is when I tell you that "you've got this". You have spent however many months training, practicing your fueling strategies, figuring out what works and what doesn't, dealing (and hopefully addressing) any gastro issues (not speaking of the pub variety here), and tweaking your recovery foods. So really, you know YOU way better than I do. The key thing is to stick with what works and not deviate too much at this point. Having said that, there are a few simple approaches that could enhance your race day. 


Rule #2: Hydrate
Pretty simple concept but so hard to do! This can be because of busy days, not liking the taste of plain water or simply forgetting. But pre-race hydration is key, and you really don't want to be showing up at the start line dehydrated. Here are a few simple tips to follow:

  • Aim for 2L/day of liquids  like water or herbal teas.   
  • Carry a water bottle with you at all times.
  • Put reminders in your phone to remind you to drink. 
  • If you don't like plain water, add a squeeze of lemon, slice of fruit or herbs like mint for flavouring or drink herbal teas.  Note I didn't say beer. 
  • Consider whipping up some bone broth! Homemade bone broth is an excellent source of minerals (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium) not to mention amino acids, collagen and anti-inflammatory compounds, like chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine that support healthy joints.  
  • Top up your liquids with hydrating foods like cucumber, celery, apples, watermelon, melon, and strawberries.
  • Ease off the booze for a few days. Plenty of time to celebrate post race! 

Rule #3: Don't just eat...FUEL your body
As an ultra runner, you should be following a nutrient dense diet. This is because  running long distances, on top of burning lots of calories,  will also deplete nutrients like iron, magnesium and zinc.  The need to support the body with anti-inflammatory foods is also essential to speed up recovery time and reduce the effects of chronic inflammation.  Without getting into too much detail, here are some principles to abide by:

  • Eat whole foods. Think "things that don't come in a bag" like whole fresh proteins from animals (e.g., wild fish, game meats, grassfed beef, pastured chicken, pastured eggs) or vegetables (e.g., tempeh, firm tofu, lentils), unlimited vegetables of all colours, carbohydrates from whole grains, root vegetables and fruit and  healthy fats (e.g., avocado, olive oil, eggs, coconut oil).
  • Limit refined sugar. The more you can minimize inflammation, the better a race you'll have.  For now avoid the packaged treats and sports drinks. Stick with whole foods snacks like fruit, dried fruit, honey on plain yogurt or homemade energy balls to satisfy sugar cravings. 

Rule #4:  Carb it up
I'm sure you've heard this before but there's a reason for that. The more you can increase the glycogen stores pre-race, the longer it will take for them to get depleted and the easier they will be to replenish. The longer the event, the more important it becomes that your glycogen stores are full at the start. So ultrarunners...get your carbs on! But no this doesn't mean just pasta for 3 days...quality and variety are important:

  • Eat 3 meals and at least 2 if not 3 or more snacks per day. This will make sure you are getting your carbs in at a steady rate.
  • Drink some carbs. This is one of the few times I recommend getting calories from liquids (also during and post- race). Now is the time to indulge in some coconut water, beet juice or other fresh pressed vegetable juices, tart cherry juice or kombucha (still no beer here, and definitely no Coke).
  • Eat more carbs than you're used to. Also decrease fat and moderate protein a little. Here are some ideas:
    • Breakfast: Smoothie  (frozen blueberries/berries/peaches, banana,  1/2 scoop high quality protein powder, handful spinach, hemp seeds, coconut water, scoop wheatgrass)  or organic steel cut oats with fruit and pumpkin seeds.
    • Lunch: sweet potato, carrot and fennel salad with vinaigrette, quinoa taboulleh, wild rice salad, sprouted grain wrap with hummus, spinach, red peppers, avocado and mashed sweet potato. 
    • Dinner: broiled wild salmon (chum is a great option!) or chicken, baked yams and beets, steamed beans with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. 
    • Snacks: apples, melons, tropical fruits (banana, pineapple, mango, papaya), seed crackers, carrots and celery dipped in nut butter or hummus, fruit smoothies (make extra in the morning), Ezekiel or sprouted grain bread with nut butter and honey . If you are in a bind try Larabars, Nakd or ProBars.  

Rule #5: Go the f*ck to sleep
Do I really need to explain this? You know it, I know and the research is clear.  Try to squeeze in an extra hour or two every night over the week before race day. We all know you likely won't sleep  well the night before and 'banking' some sleep can help stave of exhaustion on race day. 



© Melissa Evanson 2017.  For permission to reproduce or repost this post, email

Not for the dogs: Why you should be adding chum salmon to your dinner plate

This blog post is the second in a series I wrote for Skipper Otto's Community Supported Fishery  on the high nutritional value of local fish and seafood here in BC. The original post can be found here.

Chum salmon, also called keta, dog or silverbrite, tends to be the least known of the five Pacific salmon species and receives little love – this may be because of its “dog” moniker, based on sled dogs being fed chum in the north and the sharp dog-like teeth of spawning males. But don’t be fooled, fresh or flash-frozen chum caught during the silverbrite phase (see below) should be on your salmon rotation despite misconceptions that it isn’t a “good” salmon. It’s high time we shed chum’s pet food image!

  This silverbright chum (top) was still a long way from the spawning grounds while the dark, striped chum (bottom) was in it’s spawning phase ready to spawn and die within the week.

This silverbright chum (top) was still a long way from the spawning grounds while the dark, striped chum (bottom) was in it’s spawning phase ready to spawn and die within the week.

The backbone of the chum salmon industry has been focused on its highly prized roe (salmon caviar), as well as canned and smoked products. To maximize roe quality and quantity, chum are are often caught later in their life cycle, during their spawning phase, when flesh is softer and less flavourful. This is the chum that’s sometimes fed to the dogs. But when chum salmon is caught in the open-ocean, far from their spawning location (the ‘silverbrite’ phase), the flesh is of high a quality and its outward appearance is often indistinguishable from its better known sibling, sockeye.

Nutritionally, chum has a lower fat content than sockeye and chinook, giving it a milder, more delicate flavour while still providing comparable sources of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as essential micronutrients like selenium, niacin and B121. Its lower fat content and milder flavour means chum is well suited for those who may not like the intense flavour of sockeye and for recipes that retain moisture such as curries and chowders. Chum can also make a mean burger and is fantastic grilled or broiled, especially when marinated.

So, how does it really taste?

Well, feel free to ask one of Skipper Otto’s staff members who participated in the 2016 side-by-side blind taste test! Chum was often chosen as staff’s favourite or second favourite out of all five salmon species and some even went as far as calling it “the perfect salmon!”

Bottom line: Given bountiful returns of chum salmon on the central coast, its affordable price point, and highly versatile nature, chum salmon is most definitely not “for the dogs” and should be a staple in your Skipper Otto’s checkout basket.

Here are a few more recipes using chum if you need some inspiration:

© Melissa Evanson 2017.  For permission to reproduce or repost this post, email

meditate on this

A key component to my healing protocol is meditation.  But I will be the first person to admit that I am not very good at it. When I do meditate though, i ALWAYS feel amazing after. So this time, armed with a new iphone , I decided to try a few apps to see if they would help me develop a daily practice. 

One of the first ones I tried was Headspace. There is a 10 day free trial (admittedly i thought the app was free even after 10 days otherwise I likely wouldn't have bothered but I'll get back to that) and so I was on my way. 


When you start with Headspace, you can opt for 3, 5 or 10 minute sessions. I think it defaults to 3 minutes but personally, that's way too short for me so I swapped over to 10 minutes. The app is narrated by one of the founders Andy Puddicombe, a UK-born former Buddhist monk who clearly knows what he's talking about. I found his voice and tone soothing without being too "woo-woo" and after only 3 sessions I sat on my couch thinking "Is it time to meditate yet??" (admittedly as I was watching Game of Thrones). No joke. But everyone needs some deep breaths after GOT right? 

Ten days passed and lo and behold,  I had meditated almost every day! This is a new record in consistency for me. Not duration, but consistency. And in meditation, consistency is key. 

So what does meditation have to do with healing from an Irritable Bowel Disease?

Well, you've probably heard about the benefits of meditation for stress management, mental health, sleep, blood pressure and more. But evidence on the benefits of meditation for chronic pain and disease is also rigorous. Research specifically on IBD found meditation provided significant long-lasting benefits from the psychological (e.g., anxiety, depression) and physiological (e.g., inflammation) symptoms, the latter of which were measured through numerous biomarkers.

But do we even really need empirical evidence to confirm how beneficial it can be to  take a break from all our "busyness", breathe and take a little quiet time for ourselves? Not really. But it definitely helps for some of us.

For me the most important part was finding a tool and method that worked. We've all resorted to "oh i just can't meditate" or "i just don't have time" but that is kind of like saying "i just can't exercise" or "i just can't eat well". Sure you can! You just need to figure out a way that works for you. And start slow. We don't expect  new runner to attempt a marathon. Same rules apply for meditation or any new habit.
After my free 10 days I searched around for a truly free app but honestly, just didn't like any of them. Then I spent a good 3 days humming and hawing about spending money on  what is basically a 'non-activity' (because i'm cheap and inherently feel like I shouldn't have to pay to meditate). But this app was  getting me excited about meditation! So I sucked it up, paid for one month and discovered so many more tools and guided sessions from stress and relaxation to performance and focus to injury recovery. Both singles and '10-day packs'  that build on each other over time. Totally absolutely worth it. It also led me to question why I have no problem going out for dinner or spending $20 on a bottle of wine, but had to convince myself that it was worthwhile to spend the cash on a tool that would truly be foundational in helping me heal. Hmmm. I'll meditate on that and get back to you.  


© Melissa Evanson 2017.  For permission to reproduce or repost this post, email

Chen, K. W., Berger, C. C., Manheimer, E., Forde, D., Magidson, J., Dachman, L., & Lejuez, C. W. (2012). Meditative therapies for reducing anxiety: A systematic review and meta‐analysis of randomized controlled trials. Depression and Anxiety, 29(7), 545-562.

Gerbarg PL, Jacob VE, Stevens L, Bosworth BP, Chabouni F, de Filippis EM, Warren R, Trivellas M, Patel PV, Webb CD, Harbus MD, Christos PJ, Brown RP, Scherl EJ. 2015. The Effect of Breathing, Movement, and Meditation on Psychological and Physical Symptoms and Inflammatory Biomarkers in Inflammatory Bowel Disease: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 21(12):2886-96.  

Kuo B, Bhasin M, Jacquart J, Scult MA, Slipp L, Riklin EIK, et al. (2015) Genomic and Clinical Effects Associated with a Relaxation Response Mind-Body Intervention in Patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Inflammatory Bowel Disease. PLoS ONE 10(4): e0123861. 

Sharma, M., & Rush, S. E. (2014). Mindfulness-based stress reduction as a stress management intervention for healthy individuals a systematic review. Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 19(4), 271-286.

Veehof, M. M., Trompetter, H. R., Bohlmeijer, E. T., & Schreurs, K. M. G. (2016). Acceptance-and mindfulness-based interventions for the treatment of chronic pain: a meta-analytic review. COGNITIVE BEHAVIOUR THERAPY, 45(1), 5-31.


Nutrition Showdown: Farmed vs Wild salmon

This is the first in a series of guest blog posts I wrote for Skipper Otto's Community Supported Fishery. The original post can be found here and was published June 21, 2017.

We’ve all seen the headlines and heard about what a nutritional powerhouse salmon is:

“Salmon the everyday superfood!”
“Top 10 reasons to eat more salmon!”
“Why you aren’t eating enough salmon!”

Salmon is credited for everything from decreasing inflammation(1), lowering blood pressure(2), and reducing cancer risk(3). But is all salmon created equal or does farmed salmon differ nutritionally from wild-caught salmon? Let’s take a closer look.

There are a few key differences between farmed and wild salmon.

Farmed salmon have a higher fat content than their wild counterparts which means it has more calories and less protein per serving, and a higher omega-3 essential fatty acid (EFA) content.  You’d think higher omega-3s would be a good thing and mean more omega-3 per serving. Not exactly.

You can’t get one without the other
Nutritional assessments have found more omega-3s per gram in farmed compared to wild salmon, but farmed salmon also comes with a substantial serving of omega-6s. We then need to factor in that omega-6s and omega-3s compete for the same receptors in our bodies(4). So looking to the ratio of omega-3:6 as opposed to total omega-3 is essential when assessing health and nutritional benefits. When we do that, we can see that wild salmon have a significant nutritional advantage with a 14:1 ratio vs the 3:1 ratio of farmed salmon (see table).

You may ask “What’s so bad about omega-6? Aren’t they also an ‘essential fatty acid’?”
Yes, but…

Omega-6 and omega-3 are both EFAs, which means they are essential for the body and need to be consumed via the diet. Throughout history, humans ate a diet where EFAs were balanced. But over the past century, dietary shifts have resulted in significant increases in our consumption of omega-6s and decreases in our consumption of omega-3s. This has resulted in increased prevalence of weight gain, obesity(5), and chronic inflammation(6) due to the difference in response that omega-6 EFAs elicit in the body compared to omega-3s.

With great fat, comes great responsibility
Increased fat in farmed salmon brings other things with it. Farmed salmon have been found to have significantly higher concentrations of “fat-loving” contaminants as PCBs, dioxins, and pesticides(7), most likely due to their feed. While it has been argued that the benefits of consuming omega-3s from farmed salmon outweigh the health risks of contaminants, why risk it if you can eat wild salmon instead of farmed?

Bottom line: wild salmon wins over farm salmon from a nutritional standpoint, whether it be based on contaminant levels, healthy fats, or overall micronutrient density.


© Melissa Evanson 2017.  For permission to reproduce or repost this post, email

Originally published on Skipper Otto Community Supported Fishery Blog: