It’s Leafy Greens Time!

Shannon Sponagle
Shannon casts her expert eye over the produce at Lunenburg Farmer’s Market. Photo courtesy of
As the days get longer and warmer, we start looking forward to all of the fresh fruits and veggies that will soon be available locally. But you don’t have to wait until the height of summer to start enjoying local produce. Leafy greens, along with other treats like rhubarb, asparagus and strawberries, are available right now.

Green leafy vegetables, like lettuce, arugula, spinach, kale, chard and beet greens, are especially wonderful, in terms of nutrition. Low in calories, they offer a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. They’re also a great source of fibre, which helps to regulate the digestive system, aids in bowel health and helps with weight management. Because of their high content of antioxidants, green leafy vegetables may also be one of the best cancer-preventing foods around. Studies have shown that eating 2 to 3 servings of green leafy vegetables per week may lower the risk of certain cancers.

Beet greens
Beet Greens. You need’ em! Photo courtesy of

There is such a wide variety of leafy greens available that can be enjoyed as salad or added to wraps, sandwiches, soups, stir fries, smoothies or omelettes. If you want to venture beyond your usual lettuce or spinach, the most nutrient dense greens are, in order: Watercress, Chinese cabbage, Chard, Beet greens, Spinach, Chicory, Leaf lettuce, Parsley, Romaine lettuce, Collard greens, Turnip greens, Mustard greens, Endive, Chive, Kale, Dandelion greens, Arugula.

For tips on preparing and storing greens safely, please visit my blog!

Shannon Sponagle
Shannon Sponagle. Photo courtesy of

Six Ways to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” It’s also a good time for a little talk about holiday weight gain. I don’t think anyone would deny that sharing delicious food and festive drinks with friends and family is part of the fun of the season. And no one can deny that many of us gain a few pounds over the holidays. The good news is that the average holiday weight-gain (which people generally believe to be around 5 lbs) is exaggerated. Most people actually gain between 1 to 2 pounds over the holiday season. The bad news is that that weight is usually never lost again. Ever. So, while a pound or two might not feel like a big deal right now, year after year, that weight adds up! Studies now suggest that “holiday weight gain” may be an important contributor to the rising obesity epidemic.

I would never suggest that anyone deprive themselves completely of their favourite holiday treats, but I am suggesting that you don’t have to abandon all your healthy eating habits from now until January 1st.

So, what can you do to avoid falling into the Holiday Weight Gain Trap? Here are a few tips:

1. Drink plenty of water. Many people reach for food because they think they’re hungry, when actually they’re just thirsty. Try it and see if it helps.

2. Moderate alcohol intake. If you’re drinking alcohol, have a glass of regular or sparkling water between each drink. This will slow down your alcohol consumption, and you’ll thank me the next morning when you are not completely dehydrated.

3. Move your body. Try to get out for a walk, run, bike or swim most days or do whatever type of exercise you enjoy. Get your family active over the holidays by suggesting a group walk, hike or skate or have a tobogganing party.

4. Watch portion sizes. I know that seems obvious, but really start paying attention to how much you put on your plate. Try taking a little less than you normally would and then see if you’re still hungry. I bet you’re not.

5. Don’t arrive hungry. It might sound odd, but eating something healthy before heading out to a party or a meal will help you maintain control when you are presented with temptation.

6. Eat more vegetables. Look for ways of adding veggies to your day, for example instead of offering chips and dip to guests, offer them veggies and dip (try including raw turnip and mushrooms along with the usual carrots, broccoli and cauliflower).

Enjoy your holiday and take good care of yourselves. I wish you all a very happy holiday and a healthy New Year!

Shannon Sponagle is a Nutritional Consultant practising on the South Shore of Nova Scotia and online at She is also Ambassador for Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and a huge fan of her local farmer’s market.

Shannon Sponagle selecting produce

The Benefits of Buying Food Locally

Most of us understand the economic benefits of “buying local”. We like the idea of putting our money back into our own communities rather than into the hands of large, wealthy corporations. By buying local instead of buying food that has been trucked, shipped or flown from far off locations, we know that we are also helping the planet by reducing fuel emissions. But, when it comes to buying local food, did you know that there are also a number of real, significant health benefits for YOU?

Shannon Sponagle at the Lunenburg Farmer's Market
Shannon Sponagle, Nutritional Consultant, at the Lunenburg Farmer’s Market

Food that has to be shipped long distances is picked early, before it’s ripe, so it has a longer “shelf life”. I think we all know how much better food tastes when it’s at its prime (think of the difference between a fresh, local strawberry and a strawberry from the grocery store in the middle of winter). But just as there is a difference in flavour, there is also generally a difference in the nutritional value. Getting food that is local, ripe and fresh means its nutrients are also at their prime. Many vitamins start to degrade once food has been picked, especially in the artificial lights and environments of shipping containers and trucks.

Another health benefit of eating what’s available locally and in season is that it encourages us to eat a larger variety of foods than we might otherwise. In the spring there will be plenty of asparagus, then come strawberries, later string beans and corn. Our favourite farm stand might have chicken one week and pork the next. By buying what’s locally available and eating according to the season, we are taking in a larger variety of nutrients, which is extremely beneficial to our health.

Perhaps the most important advantage to buying locally is that we will inevitably be eating more whole, real foods and less processed, packaged foods. This is always the number one piece of advice I give to clients looking to improve their health. Eat real food. Food that has been highly processed (think of white, ready-in-a-minute rice, for example) has been stripped of most of its nutritional value to give it a longer shelf life and make it easier and quicker to prepare. Most food found on store shelves, in boxes and cans, also have a list of ingredients the length of your arm, many of which we’d likely be better off not consuming.

Hopefully, you’re convinced of the health benefits of choosing locally produced food. Better for you and tastes better – win, win.

Shannon Sponagle is a Nutritional Consultant practising on the South Shore of Nova Scotia and online at She is also Ambassador for Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and a huge fan of her local farmer’s market.

Shannon Sponagle selecting produce