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Here’s why it’s only going to get harder to put down your phone

Diana Duong | posted Monday, Apr 24th, 2017

When was the last time you checked your phone? Five minutes ago? Three? Less? How much time do you figure you spend looking at your phone each day? The answer might surprise you. Because even though it only takes a couple seconds to check an unread message or the outside temperature or the score of the baseball game, each of those checks add up. On average, we’re spending three hours a day on our phones, and picking them up about 100 times a day.

That’s what marketing and psychology professor Adam Alter discovered about himself when he downloaded Moment, an app that measures smartphone use. In his new book, Irresistible, he investigates the rise of our behavioural addiction to screens and how tech companies are continually tweaking their products, with every new update, to make it harder and harder for us to put them down. Here, Alter discusses what’s behind that nagging instinct to reach for our phones at all times.

What prompted you to start looking into how technology is keeping us hooked?

I noticed I was playing certain games over and over again, and I found it very hard to stop. I wondered if it was something about my personality so I started speaking to some other people and they said the same thing. I found interviews with people like Steve Jobs and other tech giants, who said things like, “I don’t allow my kids to use the tech devices at home that I’ve produced at work.” That inspired me to try to work out the extent to which the tech industry was aware of these issues.

Which games started all this?

I played 2048 over and over again for months, and before that I played Angry Birds forever. I also started playing this game called Flappy Bird.

The one made by a Vietnamese developer who deleted it soon after?

Exactly, his name is Dong Nguyen, and it’s so interesting what he did. He was doing so well; the ad revenue was overwhelming. But he had read so many reviews from people who said they couldn’t stop playing it, and it was affecting their lives adversely. He felt bad and deleted it completely. That doesn’t happen at all in the tech industry.

Adam Alter on smartphone addiction

Author of Irresistible, Adam Alter. Photo, John Fitzgerald.

What was the most surprising thing you found during your research?

The magnitude of some of these effects. One research paper found that 41 percent of us has had at least one behavioural addiction [an addiction that doesn’t involve eating, drinking, injecting or smoking] in the past 12 months. And the fact that, on average, we spend about three hours a day on phones.

That seems very high to me because we don’t have that much time in the day where we’re not working or eating or sleeping. This is time we could be spending exercising, having conversations, playing with our children, interacting with other people or animals, but we’re spending a lot of it interacting instead with a screen, which I think is very isolating, at least socially. Even if you are interacting with someone through a screen, the depth of that is much shallower than if you were interacting face-to-face.

You said that children are most likely to develop addictive behaviour with screens because they lack the self-control most adults have. Who else is vulnerable?

It’s really anybody. There are certainly some people who are more willing to take risks and who tend to develop addictions more readily than others. But there’s something very democratic about behavioural addictions, they affect such a large proportion of the population by some estimates, which suggests it’s not about individual factors, it’s really about the experiences themselves.

So it’s not entirely our fault then — these devices are designed to be addictive?

Exactly. These devices are designed to make it really easy for us to learn how to use them and become familiar with them. Once, when my son was four months old, he leaned over and swiped my phone screen and smiled at me. I found it so fascinating that this device was one of the first experiences where he could act in a purposeful way. The swiping gesture is just so fundamental, it’s so easy for everyone to master.

But it’s hard to imagine a future without screens. Where do we go from here? How do we break that cycle? I can’t imagine going back to phones without apps and Internet browsers.

I don’t think we should go backwards. I’m not suggesting we eschew our smartphones. I think that’s an extreme position. The reason we’re having these conversations in the first place is because these experiences are so positive. If phones and technology never gave us something positive, we wouldn’t develop these addictions in the first place.

What I would suggest instead is we find time in the day, maybe two or three hours, where we go tech-free. Spend time having face-to-face conversations, or spend time in nature. Go out and look at an ocean or a lake, spend time in a park or even forest. Basically, spend part of your day where, based on what you see alone, you shouldn’t be able to tell what year it is.

This is especially important as virtual reality tech becomes more mainstream and takes a real hold on our culture. That hasn’t happened yet, but experts, say within two to five years, it will take over.

What else do we need to keep ourselves in check? Are we looking at government regulation, or even ethicists at tech companies? Or are gadget curfews enough?

I don’t think it should all be on the consumer. That would be like if we went back in time, looked at the tobacco industry and said, “They should keep doing what they’re doing and we should all learn a bit more self-control.” That only treats the smaller part of the problem.

I know the idea of legislation is unpopular with consumers. But if this overuse of devices ends up becoming a burden on the health-care system, if it changes how generations interact and how our society functions at large, then I think there’s good reason to suggest maybe we do need regulation.

Given that tech companies are producing so many of these irresistible experiences, they should be encouraged with soft rules like a Hippocratic oath, much like doctors have. That you should “do no harm” with whatever tech you’re creating. The Hippocratic oath is never enforceable and it’s not a regulation, but it’s a nice guiding principle and I think it would encourage tech experts to answer a different set of questions that I think a lot of them aren’t even asking themselves right now.

Why Canada needs more female judges

Gillian Hnatiw | posted Tuesday, Mar 14th, 2017

She was discovered by the police after 1 a.m. in the back of a taxi. Legs propped up against the back seat, passed out and naked from her breasts down. The taxi’s driver, who was unknown to her until she hailed his cab moments before, had his pants undone and his seat reclined in a manner that gave him access to her naked bottom. He was frantically trying to hide her urine-soaked underwear.

At the sexual assault trial that followed in Halifax last year, the woman testified that she had blacked out and had no memory of what happened in the back of that cab. Her blood alcohol level had been three times the legal limit. The driver — the accused — did not testify. As the only person who could presumably remember the encounter, he offered no explanation at all.

Astonishingly, earlier this month, the judge concluded that he was left with reasonable doubt about whether the driver had sexually assaulted the unconscious, half-naked women in the backseat of his cab. It was possible, he determined, that she had climbed into the cab and consented to sexual activity with the driver, a stranger, mere moments before passing out.

Possible? Yes, in the way it is possible that my daughter did not consume the chocolate that was once encased in the wrappers I found under her bed. I did not see her eat the chocolate, and thus it is “possible” those chocolates met a different fate.

But reasonable? Not in my eyes. Not in the eyes of most women, many of whom have protested the decision. For something to be reasonable, it must have more than a passing whiff of reality. The idea that the young woman got into that cab and propositioned the driver in a fit of uninhibited lust is the stuff of pure, pornographic, male fantasy.

In recent years, issues of sexual assault have been in the headlines constantly, often highlighting the various ways the justice system is failing victims. As a lawyer who regularly represents these victims, I am asked (a lot) about what needs to change. There have been numerous suggestions and initiatives for reform, many of which strike me as worthy of further study: mandatory sexual assault education for judges, providing meaningful legal assistance to victims before the testify, empowering judges to make “restitution orders” (by which the accused would be ordered to reimburse the victim for the cost of therapy, legal fees, and other out of pocket expenses related to the trial), and the creation of specialized sexual assault courts.

Ultimately, however, change for sexual assault survivors seeking justice must come through the police, the lawyers and the judges who make the system run. That is why, for my money, one of the most effective solution may also be one of the simplest: appoint more women to the bench.

Currently, only 37 percent of federally-appointed judges are women (and that is with the recent influx of female appointments under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau). The numbers are often low at the provincial court level, too, where the majority of sexual assault trials are heard, including that of the cab driver discussed above. In Ontario, just over 30 percent of sitting Judges are women.

The law is in love with the concept of “reasonableness.” The mythical “reasonable person” — the detached average citizen who, until the late 1980s, was most commonly referred to as the “reasonable man” — stands at the centre of many of the decisions judges make. In criminal law, “reasonableness” is the essential qualifier to the concept of doubt. Often, all that stands between a conviction and acquittal is the judge’s lingering uncertainty that the accused, who is presumed innocent, may not have done the thing alleged. Even if the judge believes that the accused is probably guilty, it is not enough. As long as the judge harbours some “reasonable” doubt, an acquittal must follow.

The arbiter of reasonableness is the judge. Despite their robes and their power, judges are just human beings like you and me. And, despite best efforts and training, they cannot help but bring their lived experience into the courtroom with them. Consequently, reasonableness is an imperfect and inherently subjective standard. Whether or not a judge finds an explanation to be reasonable will always depend, at least to some extent, on whether something resonates with his or her sense of reality.

Sexual assault is a highly gendered crime. Victims are overwhelming female. Perpetrators are overwhelmingly male. Consequently, when it comes to the intuitive framework judges use to evaluate reasonableness in these cases, gender matters.

There are some excellent, progressive men on the bench who are sensitive to these issues and committed to reform. However, it is difficult for male judges, particularly white ones, to understand at a cellular level what it means to be vulnerable to the threats of physical and sexual violence. Women, typically, cannot rely on their physicality to protect them. This difference in experience is how we get to a place where Justice Robin Camp, a 64-year old white man who stands more than 6 feet tall, openly wonders why a 110-pound indigenous teenager could not just “keep her knees together” in order to ward off an attack. The Canadian Judicial Council recently recommended that Camp be removed from the bench; he resigned before Parliament could act on the recommendation.

Unless you have demurred in the face of unwanted attention, hoping to normalize a situation until you think up an escape plan, a victim’s behaviour may seem inherently odd to you. Unless you have brushed off unwanted touching, hoping to avoid escalating a situation until a friend returns, a victim’s behaviour may seem inherently confusing to you. If you have never “made nice” with someone slightly menacing, in the hopes of keeping the situation in check until you can get to a place of safety, a victim’s conduct may seem inherently unreasonable to you. Women intuit on a different level the things that other women do when threatened. There are some experiences that training and education simply cannot replicate.

Powerful men, in a well-meaning attempt to empathize with crimes of violence against women, often reference their daughters or granddaughters. The judge in the Halifax case, for example, wrote in his decision that the cab driver is “not somebody I would want my daughter driving with, nor any other young woman.” Powerful women have been these daughters and granddaughters; they have been the woman in the back of the cab. They have navigated the world in different skin, and they bring that experience with them everywhere they go.

Diversity on the bench is about more than just tokenism. It’s about more than just facilitating opportunities for women to advance (though that is important), or ensuring that those who come before the courts see themselves reflected in those who sit in judgement of them (though that is important too). Gender diversity on the bench is essential to reshaping accepted, male-centric concepts of reasonableness, which are at the heart of the legal system and the decisions judges make.

If governments are serious about improving outcomes for sexual assault survivors, they should start by getting more women on the bench. That way, the next time a cab driver is found with an unconscious, half-naked woman in the back of his cab, the accused’s conduct might be measured by a sense of “reasonableness” that is more in line with women’s reality.

Gillian Hnatiw is a Toronto-based lawyer specializing in sexual assault, harassment and abuse.  She can be reached at ghnatiw@lerners.ca or on twitter @gillianhnatiw.

14 ways to make the most of your slow cooker this season

Kristen Eppich | posted Monday, Oct 24th, 2016

Related: Simplify your weeknight dinners by letting your slow cooker do the work for you!

Slow cookers are very divisive appliances; you’ll find just as many people who claim to never use them, as you will those who rely on them for the bulk of their cooking. I believe the reason for this is that while there are tons of delicious slow cooker recipes, there are just as many bland and mushy ones. This situation can be remedied with a few basic tips that will make every dish come out a winner.

1. Read your manual.
Sorry to start with such an irritating reminder, but it will help. All slow cookers or ‘crock pots’ are similar in principle but have different settings. The manual is your first shot at getting it right. In particular, your manual will indicate the optimal level that you should fill the basin or liner to for even cooking.

2. Don’t splurge, cheaper cuts of meat work better.
Tougher cuts of meat are derived from parts of the animal that are exercised more often, so they tend to be lower in fat and richer in taste. These two attributes make them the perfect candidate for your slow cooker. Extended cooking time at a low heat will result in very tender meat with a wonderful depth of flavour.

3. Trim the fat.
Remove as much fat as you can before adding meat to your slow cooker. Residual fat will be rendered as it cooks and excess fat will sit in a layer at the top of your food and result in a greasy texture.

Related: Slow-cooker recipes to get you through fall and winter

4. Brown your meat.
Browning your meat before adding it isn’t a must, it’s highly recommended.  This step is often avoided — because we all want to just toss the ingredients in — but browned meat will add a richer flavour to your finished product.

5. Use less liquid.
Because there is no evaporation in slow cooking, the recipes require less liquid. If you are adapting a recipe to suit your slow cooker, keep this in mind and reduce the amount of liquid you add.

6. Spray the liner.
Before you add anything, lightly spray the liner with cooking spray. It will help with the clean-up later on.

7. Layer properly.
If cooking with hard, raw vegetables that you know require a longer cooking time, layer them at the bottom of the pot where they will have the most exposure to heat and liquid.

Related: Slow-cooker French onion soup

8. Keep it low and slow. 
Slow cookers have different settings. When it comes to cooking meat, opt for the low setting whenever possible, especially when using tougher cuts of meat, which allows for tenderizing. Beans also prefer the low-slow method, but vegetable-based dishes can handle the higher setting with a reduced cook time.

9. Avoid adding frozen food . . . for the most part.
Frozen meat should never be added to a slow cooker. Because of the nature of the “slow-cook” the internal temperature of the meat rises at a slower rate. As much as possible you want to avoid having meat sit between temperatures of 40F-140F, as frozen meat can’t heat up fast enough. Frozen vegetables can be added if they are small or chopped, but will also increase the cook time. Whenever possible, use fresh food.

10. Keep the lid on.
They say that every time you lift the lid of of your slow cooker you release enough heat to increase the cook time by 30 minutes. Resist the temptation. If you must check on the status of your dish, wait until you have at least reached the minimum cook time. Just relax and let it do its thing.

11. Add very tender vegetables toward the end of the cooking time.
If you have very tender vegetables that you want to have hold their shape, add them closer to the end of the cook time. How-to: quickly lift the lid and slip them in for the last 30 to 45 minutes.

Related: How to choose (and use) a pressure cooker

12. Salt lightly.
A small amount of liquid and a long cooking time mean that flavours will be deep, rich and highly concentrated. You can’t correct over-salting, so salt lightly and add more seasoning as needed toward the end of cooking.

13. Avoid the “too much liquid” dilemma.
If you end up with too much or too thin a liquid within your cooked dish, there is a fix for this. Remove the lid and continue cooking uncovered on high to help reduce the liquid level. If you have a large cut of meat, remove it to a platter to allow more surface area so your liquid can cook down.

14. Use it a day ahead.
And the hits just keep on coming! Slow-cooked meals are often better the next day — when all the flavours have had a chance to marry. Transfer your meal to a large dish (don’t store in the slow cooker liner because it retains heat for too long) and refrigerate overnight. Reheat the next day.

Originally published January, 2014.

Read more:
11 best tips for big-batch cooking
Moroccan vegetable stew in the slow cooker
Make glazed ginger-garlic ribs in the slow cooker

Toronto for fitness lovers: 6 fun ways to get active

Danielle Groen | posted Thursday, Jun 16th, 2016

A city that boasts four major sports teams, no fewer than 200 tennis courts and, once the snow melts, a race practically every weekend is bound to be a major destination for fitness enthusiasts. But even if you tend to skew less “gym rat” and more “gym curious,” there’s a Toronto activity to get you moving. Here are a few of our favourites.

Paddleboarding on the islands

Rihanna, Jennifer Garner and (this should really come as no surprise) Matthew McConaughey are all fans of stand-up paddleboarding, and now you can hop a quick ferry and try it out on the islands. Toronto Island Stand Up Paddleboarding operates every day of the week and usually pushes off from Ward’s Beach. They have rentals, lessons and a Sunday morning eco tours, which takes you through the nooks and crannies of the archipelago’s 15 islands. Afterward, get lost in the William Meany Maze, a crazy labyrinth made up of 1,200 black cedar trees, or get brave on Hanlan’s Point, the city’s only clothing-optional beach. torontoislandsup.com.

Yoga at the AGO

Every Monday and Thursday, while the museum is closed to the public, drop-in yoga classes are held in the Galleria Italia, a light-filled, Frank Gehry–designed gallery of curving wood and glass that stretches almost a full city block. All skill levels are welcome, experienced instructors fine-tune your alignment and you can encourage an even deeper triangle pose by imagining you’re reaching to snatch a Lawren Harris off the wall in the room next door. (But don’t actually do that, no matter how flexible you are.) ago.net/drop-in-yoga.

Photo, Arthur Mola.

Running through High Park

It’s hard to find fault with the Parkdale Road Runners’ motto: “Rain or shine. On time. No one left behind.” And since this free-to-join running club is based in Toronto’s west end, it’s hard to find fault with their routes, too — they often include a jog past High Park, or along the boardwalk next to Lake Ontario, or underneath the highly photogenic pedestrian Humber Bay Arch Bridge. There’s a short (roughly 5k) and a longer (around 10K) run each week, and the Saturday morning run is reserved just for women. The pace is brisk enough for a workout but not so gruelling that you can’t chat with the runner next to you. parkdaleroadrunners.com.

Lawn bowling in north Toronto

This one’s more for the “fitness” lover (because anything popularized by British gentry on their ninth G&T doesn’t really count as fitness). The Lawrence Park Lawn Bowling Club in north Toronto is over 100 years old, but members say it’s a bit rowdier than the dozen other bowls clubs in the city. White clothes aren’t mandatory, and every Wednesday, they open up the lawns so non-members can try them for free (though the club says people are welcome to drop by anytime). If you’re after a slightly more satisfying sound, croquet balls can also be whacked on an adjacent lawn.lawrenceparklawnbowling.com.

Photo, Arthur Mola.

Dance classes at the National Ballet of Canada

We may have long ago abandoned our childhood dream of playing the lead in Swan Lake, but thanks to the National Ballet of Canada’s public drop-in classes, we can at least sweat like a prima ballerina. Sidle up to the barre for a Dance Fit class or work your core with pilates — the workshops are open to all levels and, reassuringly, no previous dance experience is needed, though you may spy principal dancer Heather Odgen teaching a master class. There’s also intro to ballet available if you want another kick at the Swan Lake can. national.ballet.ca/explore/in-studio.

Keep moving in the cold by skating in the east end

If you’re prepared to get active during the winter months, pay a visit to Greenwood Park, which perfected the art of cold-winter compromise with the city’s first covered outdoor skating rink. Strap on your skates and do a couple laps, or, since the owners of the Toronto Maple Leafs threw in a bunch of hockey nets, opt for a game of shinny to prove you have vastly more skill that those last-place Leafs. Over at the Evergreen Brickworks, the open-air trail under old industrial beams happens to be very smart. A cooling system underneath the ice keeps everything frozen, even when it’s above zero out, while the excess heat is used to warm up the market next door — which is a lovely spot for a post-skate hot chocolate. The rink is open from November to March. cityrinks.ca.

Irradiated beef could be in stores soon—but what exactly is it?

Heather MacMullin | posted Friday, Jun 3rd, 2016

This week, Health Canada proposed a change to Food and Drug Regulations that will allow for the sale of irradiated beef in Canada. If the amendment goes through, it will allow beef producers to treat all fresh and frozen ground beef with ionizing radiation, and make it available for purchase as early as the end of the summer. While that sounds scary, there are benefits to the process.

What is irradiation?

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency cites it as “the process of exposing food to a controlled amount of energy called ‘ionizing radiation.’” The three types of radiation approved for use are: Gamma rays, X-rays and electron beam radiation. The rays penetrate the food on a seek and destroy mission, targeting microorganisms that can cause spoilage, food poisoning or a significant reduction in an item’s shelf life.

Does it pose any health risks?

No. And it doesn’t make the food radioactive — the food never comes into contact with the radioactive source, and no radioactive waves remain in the food after treatment. According to Health Canada, 1 to 3 kilograys (kGy) of energy are all that’s required to kill bacteria, while slightly more is required to kill parasites and insects. And, according to a study on high-dose food irradiation (above 10 kGy) for the FAO, WHO and IAEA, the process is toxicologically safe.


Radura symbol

Will it be labelled?

Yes. All irradiated food must either carry the statement “treated with radiation”, “treated by irradiation”, or “irradiated” in addition to displaying the Radura, the international symbol identifying irritated foods, on the main display label.

Are other foods irradiated in Canada?

Yes. Currently, potatoes and onions are approved for irradiation to inhibit sprouting, while wheat, flour and whole-wheat flour go through the process to control insect infestation during storage, and whole/ground spices and seasonings receive it to reduce the presence of bacteria and fungi.

Does it affect the taste of the food?

Health Canada asserts “most consumers cannot detect any difference in the appearance, odour or taste of the food,” so the odds are against it.

Whether or not you’re buying Radura-marked packages, it’s important to note that safe food-handling and storage still applies; the irradiation process does not actually sterilize food.

What to expect from the Jian Ghomeshi trial

Sarah Boesveld, Chatelaine | posted Friday, Jan 29th, 2016

Former CBC Radio star Jian Ghomeshi has spent more than a year on trial in the court of public opinion. On Monday, his trial in the court of law will begin in downtown Toronto, blocks from where he helped make Q CBC Radio’s flagship show. The 48-year-old, out on $100,000 bail and living with his motheras a condition of his release, pleaded not-guilty to four sexual assault charges and one count of overcoming resistance by choking. He will appear in court again in June for a second trial, dealing with one more count of sexual assault.

The Court, presided over by Justice William Horkins (there will be no jury), will hear from three female complainants, including Trailer Park Boys actress Lucy DeCoutere, who opted out of a publication ban on her name. Between the public’s interest in Ghomeshi and defence lawyer Marie Henein’s famous take-no-prisoners style of litigation, the trial is sure to generate high courtroom drama and wall-to-wall media coverage.

But these proceedings will also provide a case study in how a high-profile sexual assault trial plays out in Canada in the era of social media and how sexual-assault complainantsnavigate a system in which they often feel as if they’re the ones on trial.

Related: A guide to who’s who at the Jian Ghomeshi trial

Chatelaine will be in court to report on the proceedings. (Bookmark this page to follow our ongoing coverage.) To begin with, we asked legal experts what they think will be the big issues and questions expected to arise during the trial.

Was there consent?

Consent — and whether it was given — will be a major theme of the trial, particularly because of Ghomeshi’s Oct. 26, 2014Facebook post, crafted with the help of public relations firm Navigator, in which he claimed the rough sex he engaged in with his partners was consensual.

Why didn’t the complainants go to the police sooner?

At least two of the complainants — DeCoutere and another whose name is protected by a publication ban — shared their stories with the media before filing a complaint with the Toronto Police. DeCoutere said Ghomeshi choked and slapped her at his apartment at the end of a date in 2003 — 11 years prior. The question will be: What took her so long? The passage of time could help the defence plant doubt as to whether an assault took place and whether the complainant is remembering the events accurately.

Are the witnesses credible?

“In a case like this, credibility is the central issue,” says Joseph A. Neuberger, a criminal defence lawyer in Toronto. Expect a lot of time spent on whether the complainants were drinking, thus raising doubt about the reliability of their memory. There will likely be close scrutiny as to why DeCoutere continued talking with Ghomeshi after the alleged assault.

Are the complainants doing this for attention?

Enter the myth of the fame whore — the notion that complainants make accusations against prominent people for attention. DeCoutere is particularly susceptible to this kind of criticism from the defence, says former Crown prosecutor Sandy Garossino, because she went public with her name and identity. “The defence will have to really haul out the big guns and basically say, ‘You’re here looking for attention, you saw your chance, none of these things happened’ and really attack, openly attack the complainant. That’s a risky tactic.”

Was there collusion?

DeCoutere has said publicly that she and the other complainants have spoken with one another — a detail that doesn’t bode well for the Crown. “[DeCoutere] became a point person for others who wanted to tell their story but couldn’t bring themselves to do it publicly,” Leah McLaren wrote in a Toronto Life cover story about Ghomeshi. “The way she described it to me, she co-ordinated a covert network of women who have spent the last seven months sharing their assault stories with each other.” That passage will undoubtedly come up in trial. “I think the defence is going to really make hay about this,” Garossino says.

Can the Crown prove there was a pattern of violence?

To convince the judge that Ghomeshi serially abused women he dated, the prosecution may call witnesses who have not filed charges against him, Garossino says. The defence would likely argue against the use of this kind of evidence.

Will Ghomeshi testify?

It’s unlikely: Most accused decide against it. But if there is a chance the judge finds the witnesses credible and the prosecution convincing, the defence may see a benefit in bringing Ghomeshi up on the stand, Garossino says.

7 healthy ingredients to try this month

Louisa Clements | posted Thursday, Jan 21st, 2016

Woman grocery shopping in store

Looking to add a few new healthy ingredients to your pantry or fridge? There are plenty of unique items in your local health food stores and grocery aisles, but if you’re not sure what they are or what to do with them, it can be intimidating. Here are seven ingredients that add a nutritional boost to everyday meals.

1. Flaxseeds
Loaded with omega-3 fatty acids and fibre, flaxseeds are a simple ingredient to add a nutritional punch to oatmeal, smoothies or baked goods. Available in both brown and golden varieties, flax has a slightly sweet taste and a crunchy texture that becomes gritty when ground, start by trying golden flax as it has a milder flavour.

Did you know? When mixed with liquid, flaxseed meal can work as an egg replacer in muffins, cookies and pancakes. Use a 1:3 ratio, 1 tbsp of ground flaxseed to 3 tbsp of water.

Try it: Chocolate-walnut banana bread

Flax (Photo, iStock.)

2. Miso paste
Miso is a fermented-soy bean paste rich in B vitamins, manganese and zinc. Slightly salty in flavour, with a thick consistency, it is often used to add umami to soups, sauces, marinades and salad dressings. Note: Miso paste is high in sodium so use it sparingly.

Did you know? Miso paste is available in white, yellow and red varieties – lighter coloured miso has been fermented for a shorter amount of time meaning its milder in flavour.

Try it: Chicken miso noodle soup

1 tbsp Miso paste + 1 cup boiling water.

3. Kefir
Similar to yogurt, kefir is a fermented, cultured milk product that originates from Eastern Europe. With a tart and slightly sour taste, this drink can come either plain or flavoured. Packed with probiotic cultures and calcium, kefir can be enjoyed on its own or added to smoothies.

Did you know? Kefir contains tryptophan, the same amino acid that makes you drowsy after a big turkey dinner.

Try it: Making your own kefir at home.

4. Matcha powder
Matcha is a stone-ground powdered green tea rich in antioxidants. With a vibrant green colour, matcha adds earthy notes to dishes and has a slightly bitter taste. Matcha is often brewed as a tea or added to smoothies, but it’s also delicious in baked goods and desserts.

Did you know? Because matcha is ground tea leaves, it contains more caffeine than a cup of steeped tea.

Try it: Matcha ice cream

5. Turmeric
This bright yellow spice has a warm, bitter taste, and is often used in curries. Known for its anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric is a great addition to soups, stews and rice dishes. Note: because of its deep colour, turmeric has the ability to easily stain — wash any utensils, pots, pans or cutting boards immediately when cooking with turmeric.

Did you know? Turmeric is a plant related to ginger, but its ground spice form is typically found in stores.

Try it: Moroccan chicken stew


6. Tahini
Tahini is a creamy paste made from sesame seeds, which are high in antioxidants, protein and calcium. It has a nutty flavour and creamy, smooth texture — similar to natural peanut butter. Tahini is one of the main components of hummus, but is also makes delicious creamy salad dressings and sauces.

Did you know? Tahini is high in unsaturated fats and contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Try it: Spiced tahini chicken with cucumber salad


7. Nori
Nori is paper-like edible seaweed that is typically used in Japanese cuisine — especially to wrap sushi. It is high in vitamins A and C and has a crispy, light texture. Slightly sweet, it’s a great addition to Asian-style dishes or for an afternoon snack.

Did you know? While nori is high in protein (100g has about 57g of protein), the average sheet of nori is only about 3g.

Try it: Bibimbap

Sliced nori

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