Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Consider your eating habits during COVID-19 pandemic: Prince George-area nutritionist

This informational column was submitted to PrinceGeorgeMatters from Claire Nielsen, Founder of Aunty Claire's Elixir for Life Ltd.

This informational column was submitted to PrinceGeorgeMatters from Claire Nielsen, Founder of Aunty Claire's Elixir for Life Ltd.

Four years ago, I was living in Vancouver, living a healthy lifestyle, bike riding 15km several times a week and going to the gym in my building daily.

I developed severe body pain, which I believe was is connected with my entering menopause. At 49, I was bike riding 15-30km per day, and a month after turning 50, I could barely lift my leg over my bike. I kept pushing my body, but it got worse and worse. When I couldn’t roll over in bed without help or get off the toilet without help I knew I was in trouble.

I'm not a big fan of going to the doctors as I have chosen alternative therapies my whole life but things were getting progressively worse at an alarming rate. So off I went to get some tests done. I was diagnosed with severe osteoporosis (my bone density scan was -4.7) and osteoarthritis in my back, neck, shoulder, wrist, hip and knee (all on my left side). This was devastating news and I did what any shell-shocked patient would do – I took the advice of my Vancouver doctor and went on anti-inflammatory medications.  

A few months later, I ended up with an ulcer, 30 pounds of weight gain, and numerous other symptoms caused by the various medications I was now dependent on. To make matters worse, I was told I also most likely had fibromyalgia based on my overall inflammatory symptoms. 

I don’t know how many of you are on a plethora of medications – some to treat the symptoms of your original disorder and others to treat the symptoms of the medication side effects. It is very disempowering to feel so out of control of your own health and so dependent on an institution that doesn’t teach prevention or alternative therapies, but just pumps you full of medications. Don’t get me wrong though – I have gratitude to Big Pharma. Without the medications for heart disease and type 1 diabetes, I have a husband and son who wouldn’t be alive.  I just made a decision for myself to do what I could do to make myself healthier and try to cut down or get off the four medications I was on.

When I went back to the doctor to discuss this and ask about other more natural options, he told me that folk remedies didn’t work and that I would be on these meds (particularly prednisone) for the rest of my life. I was despondent and started to cry, so he took out his prescription pad and wrote me a prescription for anti-depressants.

Now I can’t remember if I swore out loud or just in my head but I left that office very angry and realized that I wasn’t going to get the help I needed there. Later I realized this was the push out of the proverbial nest that I needed. I knew in my heart that I needed to get off the meds as I didn’t even feel myself anymore. I went home and started researching everything I could about eating for inflammation. I have always believed that ‘We are what we eat’, and that ‘Food should be our pharmacy’ first. This started my passion for knowledge about inflammation and reclaiming our health.  It took a lot of research (which is always ongoing) but I have compiled some “Why’s, Do’s & Don’ts” when it comes to eating an anti-inflammatory diet.

The first part of my research led me to search for foods that fight inflammation. I found that turmeric and ginger were mentioned over and over as two of the top anti-inflammatory foods. I started cooking with copious amounts of turmeric powder – I put it in everything. I think I started feeling better - not enough to get off the meds but I certainly felt a shift. When my family complained that everything tasted like curry (even our morning smoothies) I realized I needed to find a better way to ingest it. I filled empty jell caps with the cooking powder and ended up with permanent orange hands. It is messy, and I needed about 25 capsules a day. Then I succumbed to spending a fortune on the pills from the Health Food store. What I soon found out was that there are additives in many of those pills that cause stomach upset and the turmeric, once it has reached the powdered stage has been heavily processed and may be 10 years old since being picked. I decided raw organic was better so I started buying it from the grocery store and then the health food store.

Why organic? After learning about the fungicide that may be used on the picked non-organic turmeric (not to mention the pesticides & herbicides) I decided that the last thing I want to put in my sick body was a bunch of harsh chemicals. Over the next few months, I sourced out the freshest organic turmeric and ginger root, bypassing the usual distribution channels. I believe the turmeric and ginger I use is some of the freshest available in Canada.

I also sourced out other quality organic ingredients and started making a drink (a strong tea) that was a “hold your nose and down it goes” concoction - but it worked. I was able to get off all my pharma meds and got my mobility back. After a year of tweaking my recipe, my product now actually tastes delicious. It comes in Lemon-Honey, Tart Cherry and Blueberry.

I would like to share with you the other dietary changes I made in my life. I have always thought I had a good diet but I didn’t really realize how many of the foods I regularly consumed were affecting me negatively. This brief list of my Do’s and Don’t regarding diet and nutrition has really helped my health and many other’s who have started following it.

When we are young we can eat anything, right? The reason for this is that most youth are resilient. Our bodies may not like the food we are putting in but they don’t complain too much because they are young and strong.

But we aren’t young and strong anymore and our bodies are complaining. The fact that we are reacting to foods now at our age doesn’t necessarily mean we have just developed an intolerance. It may have been there for many years but we didn’t notice. Our bodies have finally said enough, as our symptoms of intolerance emerge after years of onslaught in the form of weight gain, arthritis & other pain inflammation, diabetes, cancer, digestive issues, heart disease...  There are so many illnesses that have their roots in poor nutrition. All of these diseases are inflammatory.

There are better, more mindful ways of eating. We just have to find the ones that don’t offend the most important organ – our tongues. Why does the tongue have so much power and yet it is so small? It often acts as a dictator - dictating to us what we put in our body.

Here are some more things to consider:

Hydration: Our bodies crave water – no other fluid than water. In fact, the health of every cell in our body depends on being hydrated.  People think they are getting equally hydrated with teas, sport drinks, juice, etc… but our bodies have to extract the water out of the various drinks we consume and filter out everything else.

Blood Types: As we all belong to a certain blood type, doesn’t it make sense to eat foods that align with that blood type? I believe eating for our blood type is important for optimal health.  Find out what blood type you are (a $20 test at any lab) and research on the internet the best foods for that blood type.

Alkaline Foods are healthier than Acidic Foods. From your blood type foods, choose foods that are alkaline or low acid. This is the ph factor of foods. Acidic foods cause inflammation. You can find lists of alkaline foods (higher ph) on the internet or in any book on eating for health.

Low Glycemic Foods: From your alkaline blood type choices now look for foods that are low on the Glycemic Index (also readily available on the internet). Low glycemic foods have low glucose levels (sugar) and require less insulin to digest. I will talk more about insulin later.

Non-processed Foods (processing kills the vital enzymes that our body needs). Not to mention that processed foods are full of salt and sugar (white death). Eating processed food is like filling your body with sawdust. You get full but there is no nutrition and sooner or later inflammation is going to occur.

Organic Foods should be sourced out whenever possible to avoid pesticide, herbicide and fungicides. These poisons don’t leave our system and eventually lead to diseased organs.

Enzymes – Many food allergies are due to a lack of natural enzymes present in the particular food (over-processed) or a lack of digestive enzymes in our body. This translates into reactions to foods that don’t agree with our individual digestion systems. Digestive enzymes are important to prevent or control allergies but also to help digest the food and get the most nutrition out of it.

Essential Fatty Acids often referred to as Omegas. We don’t need extra Omega 6 and 9 because we get an abundance of that in our diet but good fats are crucial to our digestion and to keep the joints lubricated. My favourite healthy fats are Nuts, Seeds, Flax, Fish, Olives and Avocados. These healthy fats help with digestion, inflammation and keep our skin soft, and our bones healthy. You can find them in their natural state or use the oil. If you use the oils, make sure it is cold-pressed and organic. 

Now, I want to talk about our very important guts!

Our health starts in our gut, and it is believed that the gut is our second brain. As crazy as this sounds, the gastro-intestinal system has its own independent nervous system that controls digestion, has hundreds of millions of neurons and the same number of neurotransmitters as the brain in our heads. I cannot express enough, how vitally important to take care of gut health.   

How do we do this? We avoid some foods and make sure to consume others. We have all heard of pre and probiotic foods. These are important to consume.

Prebiotic foods are types of food that have a special dietary fibre inulin which acts as a fertilizer for the good bacteria in your gut. Some examples of prebiotic foods are Raw Garlic, Onions, Leeks, Asparagus, Green Bananas, Dandelion Greens, Bran, Apples, Whole Oats, Legumes…  look up to find more.

Probiotics are the living fermented foods that create good bacteria in your gut which is vitally important for our digestion, immunity and overall health. They include all fermented foods such as kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut and kefir.  The store-bought probiotic foods are usually pasteurized so it is best to get them from a Farmers Market, Health Food Store or better yet – learn how to make them yourself.  There are many Y-tube instructional videos out there.

A good multi-vitamin with all the minerals that we don’t get from our food anymore.

Antibiotics kill the good bacteria in our guts.  Our generation is one that has extremely overused antibiotics, rushing to the doctor for the magic pill instead of choosing natural antibiotics like garlic, oregano oil or Golenseal root (for non-life-threatening issues). This onslaught on our essential gut flora often started an imbalance and could be the root cause behind many life-long digestive and inflammatory issues. So it is especially important to eat probiotic foods to maintain a healthy gut flora. They include anything fermented and not pasteurized (that is why probiotic foods from the store are inferior to home made).  

What is inflammation? We all think of Arthritis and Pain. But did you know inflammation causes Weight Gain, Heart Disease, Alzheimers, Cancer, IBS, Diabetes and many more common illnesses? Most diseases are caused by inflammation which is why doctors prescribe more anti-inflammatory meds than any other medication. What causes this inflammation? Genetics play a role but the biggest factors are Food and Exposure to toxins. What we eat has long-term effects on us and we need to know this when we make decisions of what to put in our bodies.

It is up to us to educate ourselves about the connection between eating and health. If we put bad gas in our cars, they don’t run well and will shorten the life of the motor. It is the same with our bodies. Doctors are not trained in nutrition (and prevention) but have a lot of training in treating illness and what pharma-meds may help. And then what pharma-meds will help with the additional symptoms caused by the first meds… and it goes on and on.

I am not anti-pharma. I just think that many diseases and issues in the body can be avoided with better nutrition and knowledge about food, and a basic understanding of how our bodies work.

Most of the foods that cause inflammation in our bodies are very addictive and I think that acknowledging our addiction to these foods is the first step in making different choices. I think it is also one of the first steps in the 12 Step Addiction healing process.

You won’t like this but here are the most common culprits.


We crave it because it is more addictive than cocaine. But is one of the hardest things for our bodies to metabolize – so our bodies get stressed and inflamed. There is so much sugar in processed foods and even in pizza. This is why they are so enjoyable to our taste buds (I read recently that pizza is as addictive as crack). Too much sugar in our blood (high blood sugar) causes our pancreas to work harder and harder to produce insulin to process and convert the sugar into something the body can use. This overwork of the pancreas causes it to slows down or quit altogether. This causes a disease called Type 2 Diabetes and can be avoided if we work on our addiction to carbs and sugars. Did you know that an abundance of insulin in our system causes the inflammatory weight gain? That is why weight gain and diabetes tend to go hand in hand. Exercise burns blood sugar so if you are diabetic, getting adequate exercise should be a crucial part of your health regime.


Never forget that there is enough sugar in a can of pop to suppress the immune system for six hours – not to mention the inflammatory effect of the sugar itself. Most people in North America suffering from obesity have a strong addiction to their favourite pop (or soda).  And diet sodas do not help at all but contribute to more obesity. Sorry to say this, but pop (soda) should be eliminated from our diet. There is no healthy way to have it except making your own with fizzy water and juice.

Fake Sugars!

Please don’t substitute sugar with artificial sweeteners. Most are neurotoxins that never leave our system. The diet generation has more percentage of Alzheimer’s patients than ever before and I am convinced it is greatly due to the artificial sweeteners in the Diet-Pop generation. Choose healthier plant-based sugars like organic stevia, maple syrup, sugar cane or honey. Never forget that there is enough sugar in a can of pop to supress the immune system for six hours – not to mention the inflammatory effect of the sugar itself.


This is another addictive substance that we all know has long-term health consequences such as blood pressure issues among others. It is present in high amounts in all processed and canned foods. The more salt we use, the more we need to taste our foods as it kills our taste buds. Any of us have parents or partners who pour on the salt as we watch in horror know that this silent killer is very addictive. Enjoying the taste of food is incredibly important to us and remember the power of the tongue.


This is particularly present in white bread, baking, pasta, bagels, baking… The white flour is converted to sugar which is why we love it so much – remember sugar is addictive. Then our pancreas has to work hard to create insulin which continues us on the inflammation epidemic.

Fried Food!

It is not new news that fried food is bad for us and makes us gain weight, in addition to being artery-clogging and full of saturated and trans-fats.  The best thing to do is avoid fried food in the first place as it is highly addictive. See it as a poison so try not to feed the addiction in the first place. If you have to consume fried food, I wonder about those air fryers that only use a tsp of oil. I have never tried one but interested in hearing about them.

Night Shade Veggies!

These don’t necessarily cause inflammation for everyone, but if you have arthritis or eczema or psoriasis you need to cut down or eliminate your nightshades. These include potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. I can live without eggplants but these other veggies were a staple in my diet so it was VERY hard to cut them out.  Tomatoes are the exception – I still eat them, but try to eat only fresh. I have cut down on the concentrated forms like ketchup, pasta sauce and pizza sauce. 


This is something I have just heard about. Oxalates are found in some vegetables and can cause arthritis in joints and back pain, as well as contributing to kidney stones. Certain plants produce microscopic spurs as a defense mechanism against animals eating them before they can seed. Much to my horror, spinach is one of the worst, followed by almonds and kiwis. There is a more comprehensive list of high oxalate foods online. If you’re prone to kidney stones, please avoid them.


I know that this is not good news for many or most of us, but our dependence on coffee causes many health concerns.  It is also a highly addictive food and we need to be very mindful of our consumption.  I love coffee but I have cut down to one cup in the morning and one cup in the mid-afternoon. The best coffee is freshly roasted single-source coffee. There are many local roasters popping up and their coffees do have health benefits if they have been roasted within a week of using. Alternatively, if we can replace our coffee with green tea, we make a very healthy decision. Green tea has many health benefits and will give us a pick-me-up. If you don’t like the flavour, mix in a little organic juice or add honey and lemon. Rooibos is even better as it is one of the very best anti-oxidants.


We have all heard that alcohol has some benefits (the antioxidants in wine or the fermentation benefits of beer, the blood-thinning effects), but all alcohol affects the liver and has a long-term cumulative effect. I never drink without having my turmeric elixir at the same time. If I am going to enjoy alcohol, I want to counter the effects of the acetaldehyde (the hangover) and any damage to my liver. Turmeric is a known as a good liver detox. 

Even though I know all of these foods cause issues for my body, I myself am often a slave to my dictator tongue. I will take enzymes and sometimes just suffer the irritation. But I am aware of my choices as I have spent my adult life learning about health and wellness. There is such a connection between food and Mental Health also, not only a physical connection but an emotional one. Food is our first comfort as human beings, and sometimes it remains where we find comfort for the rest of our lives. The term “comfort food” refers to this connection. Eating feels good in the present moment, and eating certain addictive foods feels even better… but the long-term cost is that the results make us feel bad (body image, self-esteem, lack of self-discipline).

I urge you to make better choices around what you put in your body from now on.  Everything has benefit or consequence. I encourage you to pause before you eat something and ask ourselves “Does this feed my body or my addiction?  And, will this have negative long-term effects in my body such as addiction, weight gain, inflammation, toxicity…?”

Once we start cutting out certain foods that have negative effects and choosing healthy options for our particular body chemistry, finding ones that are tasty (got to take care of the taste buds), gut flora friendly, and anti-inflammatory – we will start feeling better. 

As we get our body moving more (move it or lose it) with exercises that we are capable of and gentle so we don’t hurt ourselves – we will start feeling better and sleep better.

As we pay attention to our minds and what we are thinking: noticing our addictions, reactions and feelings - we become empowered to choose our thoughts.  There is such an important connection between the body and mind. Thoughts create chemicals. Chemicals in our body either hurt us or help us. 

I have been teaching the Art of Being Present through my workshop “Drive Your Own Train,” which empowers people to take control of where they allow their mind to go, and get on top of their mental addictions. 

It is possible to be healthier next year than you are today if you choose certain actions and mindsets.

All the best to you and your health.