Healthy Living in the North

Foodie Friday: Pulses, lycopene, and the black bean salsa that ties them all together!

Salsa ingredients on a cutting board

With fibre from black beans and lycopene from tomatoes, this black bean salsa is easy to make and packs a nutritional punch!

Have you ever tried black bean salsa? Don’t be scared away! It’s just like normal salsa, but it has black beans in it! It’s a deliciously sneaky way to add more fibre, protein and pulses to your diet!

You may have read a lot from my fellow dietitians about pulses during Foodie Fridays this year. Why’s that? Because the United Nations declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses! The goal is to increase awareness of the nutritional benefits and how pulses are an important part of a sustainable food system. Learn more from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.

What is a “pulse” anyway? Are they good for you?

Pulses are a family of plants including:

  • Dried peas (think split pea soup)
  • Dry beans (think pork and beans – like the ones you take camping)
  • Lentils (small disc shapes you might see in soups or stews)
  • Chickpeas (think hummus)

Things you may know:

  • Pulses are high in fibre! This helps with regularity, keeping you feeling full longer. Many Canadians are not getting the recommended amounts of fibre in each day. The recommended daily intake of fibre is 38 g/day of total fibre for men and 25 g/day of total fibre for women.
  • Pulses are a good source of protein! This makes them a great plant-based alternative to meat or animal products.

Things you may not know:

  • Pulses have a low glycemic index, meaning that they are digested and absorbed slowly in the body and help to keep blood sugar levels more stable.
  • Pulses can help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in the body because they contain soluble fibre.
  • Pulses use half the non-renewable energy inputs of other crops and have a low carbon footprint! Pulse Canada has more information about pulses and sustainability.

Information above based off of Pulse Canada.

Tomatoes and lycopene

Let’s also talk tomatoes. Garden tomatoes in season taste fantastic (like they should taste), but store-bought ones out of season often taste and look bland. The key to any recipe is fresh ingredients! In the winter and spring, I prefer to use canned tomato products because they are harvested and preserved at the peak of ripeness. Also, did you know that the heating process involved in canning tomatoes increases the amount of lycopene in tomatoes by about 7 times?

Lycopene is an antioxidant that is strongly linked to preventing cancer! Lycopene is particularly well known for the protective effects it has against prostate cancer. Tomatoes are by far the winner when it comes to lycopene content of food so consider canned tomato products a nutritious option.

Information above based off of the Canadian Nutrient Files.

Bowl of salsa

Black bean salsa is a great way to sneak some pulses into your menu!

Black Bean Salsa

Recipe sourced from: Dietitians of Canada Cookbook, Simply Great Food, by Patricia Chuey, Eileen Campbell and Mary Sue Waisman.

Makes enough to feed a crowd.

Salsa recipe ideas:

  • Serve this salsa with lettuce and veggies, avocado, chopped cooked chicken, and corn for a simple Mexican salad.
  • Top your favourite burrito or taco filling with this salsa for a high fibre punch.
  • Add salsa to scrambled or poached eggs and serve on toast for a quick breakfast, lunch or dinner.
  • Spoon salsa over white fish or chicken before baking in the oven.


  • 3 cups tomatoes, diced (if in season) or 750 mL can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 small red onion, finely minced
  • 1 jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, minced (optional)
  • 1 can of black beans, rinsed
  • ½ cup chopped cilantro (optional if you aren’t a cilantro fan)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Juice of 2 limes


  1. Chop tomatoes, if using, or empty canned tomatoes into a large bowl. You can drain the extra juice if you like your salsa more chunky than wet.
  2. Mince onion, jalapeno and cilantro and add to the tomatoes.
  3. Rinse black beans and add to the salsa.
  4. Add olive oil, salt and freshly squeezed lime juice. Stir well to combine.
  5. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. Enjoy!
Amy Horrock

About Amy Horrock

Born and raised in Winnipeg Manitoba, Amy Horrock is a registered dietitian and member of the Regional Dysphagia Management Team. She loves cooking, blogging, and spreading the joy of healthy eating to others! Outside of the kitchen, this prairie girl can be found crocheting, reading, or exploring the natural splendor and soaring heights of British Columbia with her husband!


Foodie Friday: Make small changes to your portion sizes

It’s Nutrition Month and this year’s theme is “Take a 100 Meal Journey: Make Small Changes, One Meal at a Time”. It’s a great chance to reflect on what small, healthy changes we can all make in our food choices and habits, including portion sizes.

Consider the following:

How many times do we overeat when we are presented with a large, delicious-looking plate of food? Do we know when to stop eating because we are full and not because we’ve eaten every last bite? Just think about how easy it is to sit down with a bag of chips or popcorn and eat more than our share’s worth.

I know I’m guilty of these things at times.

Over the past few decades, larger portions have become normal. The size of dinner plates has increased, packaged goods come in larger quantities, and restaurants serve meals so large that they skew our perceptions of what a “normal” portion size actually looks like. Undoubtedly, larger portions play a role in how much we eat and can contribute to excess weight gain. When larger portions, especially larger portions of less nutritious foods, become part of our daily norm, they can impact our health and well-being in the long run.

If portion sizes are an area you struggle with, now is a great time to start making small changes! Consider the following tips to help you begin:

  • Become familiar with the recommendations for total daily servings for your age and gender and what a serving size looks like, according to Canada’s Food Guide. Take a look at this handout on estimating portion sizes using your hands.
  • Fill half your plate with vegetables at mealtimes. Increasing the amount of vegetables you put on your plate will help moderate the portions of other foods.
  • When eating out, ask for a to-go container with your meal and place some of your meal in it before taking your first bite. Or split the meal with a friend.
  • Instead of taking the whole bag, place a couple handfuls of chips or popcorn into a small bowl to prevent mindless munching.
  • Check out your plate size. Consider choosing a smaller plate to help avoid dishing up too much food.

It’s also important to remember to enjoy the food we eat; paying attention to when we’re hungry and when we’re full. Small, conscious changes to what we eat and how much we eat can lead to long-term benefits.

Bowl of curry over rice

Tamara’s small, nourishing change for Nutrition Month is to switch out some of her portions of meat and poultry for protein alternatives like beans, lentils and chickpeas. Her favourite sweet potato chickpea curry recipe is a great way to get started!

What changes will you make for Nutrition Month?

I’m pledging to switch out some of my portions of meat and poultry for protein alternatives like beans, lentils and chickpeas. I already started by digging out one of my favourite vegetarian recipes, which I’m sharing with you below. I hope you enjoy!

Sweet Potato Chickpea Curry

From Chef Michael Smith

Yield: Serves 6 to 8


  • Splash of vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • Small knob of frozen ginger (*see tip below)
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) Thai curry paste
  • 2 sweet potatoes (or yams), peeled and cut into 1″ cubes
  • 19 oz (540 ml) can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 14 oz (398 ml) can of coconut milk
  • 1 cup (250 ml) orange juice
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) peanut butter (or other nut butter)
  • Sprinkle of sea salt
  • 1 cup (250 ml) frozen green peas
  • Several handfuls baby spinach
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) chopped cilantro (optional)


  1. Add a splash or two of vegetable oil to a stockpot over medium-high heat. Toss in the onion and garlic and sauté them until they’re lightly browned, about 5 minutes or so.
  2. Grate the frozen ginger into the pan and add the Thai curry paste. Continue cooking until the spices are heated through and fragrant, another few minutes.
  3. Add the sweet potatoes, chickpeas, coconut milk, orange juice, peanut butter, and salt. Bring to a simmer, lower the heat and continue simmering until the sweet potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes. Stir in the peas, spinach and cilantro.
  4. Serve over rice.

*Tip: I like to store whole, unpeeled ginger in the freezer and grate it as needed. If sealed in a bag or container, it’ll keep for many months so I always have some on hand.

Tamara Grafton

About Tamara Grafton

Tamara is a registered dietitian currently working with the clinical nutrition team at UHNBC and in long term care facilities in Prince George. Originally from a small city in Saskatchewan, she now lives the rural life on a ranch with her husband and young son. She has a passion for nutrition education, healthy eating and cooking. In her downtime, she enjoys reading food blogs, keeping active, and trying out new recipes on her family and friends


Foodie Friday: Make small changes each meal to nourish your body and mind

Bowl of soup with bread and salad.

Erin’s small, nourishing change for this meal was to include beans in her soup. What changes will you make on your 100 meal journey this month?

As the season changes, are you looking to eat better? When the snow starts melting and the sun starts shining, I get inspired to make fresh and nourishing meals to recharge my body and brain.

Getting excited about eating well is what this year’s Nutrition Month is all about. This year’s theme – take a 100 meal journey – is focused on making small and lasting changes that will stick. There are about 100 meals in a month, and you can make small, nourishing changes in each meal to help you eat and feel better all year long.

Sometimes, I get too excited and want to take on the world! But too many changes at once can be overwhelming and hard to keep up. Choosing one change at a time and sticking with it will lead to lifelong positive changes.

One change that I made for a recent meal was to include more beans on my plate (or, rather, in my bowl!). Beans are packed full of plant-based protein and fibre, which are both great for keeping my heart healthy and nourishing my active body. 2016 is the International Year of Pulses, so the recipe I’m sharing this week features hearty Great Northern beans, but any other bean would work just as well.

Green Great Northern Soup

Serves 4-6


  • 2 cups Great Northern Beans, dried (4 cups low sodium canned beans would work too)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1.5 L chicken stock, low sodium
  • 1 chorizo sausage
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme (1 tsp dried thyme would work, too)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 bunch kale, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper, to taste


Note: If using canned beans, skip to #3.

  1. In a large bowl, cover the beans with 2 inches of cold water. Soak at room temperature overnight.
  2. Rinse the beans and place in a large pot and cover with water. Bring water to a boil and cook for 45 minutes or until the beans are soft inside, but not falling apart.
  3. In a separate pot, on medium heat, sauté garlic in olive oil until fragrant.
  4. Add chicken stock, the whole chorizo sausage, thyme and bay leaf. Simmer, covered, for as long as the beans take to cook to develop a rich flavour.
  5. Once the beans are cooked, take out the chorizo, sprigs of thyme and bay leaf. Slice the chorizo. Add the beans to the soup pot along with sliced chorizo, Parmesan cheese, and kale.
  6. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve this soup with fresh crusty bread and your favourite salad to round out your meal.

My small change this meal was to include protein and nutrient-rich beans in my soup to feed my body and mind. What will your next small, nourishing change be?

To make your pledge to a take a 100 meal journey, visit the Dietitians of Canada website to receive tips and strategies to stay on track.

Erin Branco

About Erin Branco

Erin is a dietitian with Northern Health's clinical nutrition team at UHNBC. Erin has a passion for growing and cooking food as well as teaching patients, clients and families about incorporating a balanced, wholesome diet into a healthy lifestyle. In her spare time, you can find her cooking up a storm, writing about food and nutrition, and growing vegetables at her community garden. During her dietetics internship, Erin explored the north from Fort St. John to Haida Gwaii, learning about clinical and public health dietetics with many adventures along the way.


Foodie Friday: Show your love this Valentine’s Day … with a pulse!

Brownies on a plate with pear and milk.

Add a little pulse to your diet this year! Toss chickpeas into a salad, add lentils to your soup, or try pureeing black beans into your new favourite brownie recipe!

The United Nations has declared 2016 as the International Year of the Pulse!

What is a pulse you ask?

A pulse is the edible seed of a plant in the legume family. The most common pulses are dried peas, beans, lentils and chick peas. Why should you eat them this Valentine’s Day (and on a regular basis)? Because they’re good for you! Now you are probably thinking that dietitians say that all the time, right?

Well, it’s true! They are good for you and you should also eat them because they taste great, they’re inexpensive, easy to use and they are jam-packed with fibre, protein and iron, among other lesser-known nutrients such as zinc, magnesium, potassium, vitamin B6, folate, and phosphorous.

The big deal about fibre these days (in this world of ultra-processed foods) is that most Canadians aren’t eating enough of it! Pulses have two types of fibre – the one that promotes healthy digestion and regularity and the other type that helps to lower cholesterol levels and keep blood sugars in check. All of this in a measly, little old bean!

Here are a few ideas that might help you to put a little pulse into your diet:

  • Toss chickpeas into a salad of greens and grains for a quick standalone meal.
  • Add lentils to your soup or casserole to amp up the protein.
  • Mash up some navy beans to use a dip for veggies for a fun snack.
  • Puree black beans or kidney beans into your favorite cake or brownie for a low fat, high fibre alternative.

For more recipes and ideas visit Pulse Canada.

Looking for an idea for your loved ones this Valentine’s Day? Try my recipe for Beany Brownies that will be sure to capture their hearts with its gentle sweetness and rich chocolate taste and, of course, the added pulse!

Beany Brownies


  • 1 cup unsalted black beans, thoroughly rinsed and drained
  • 2 tbsp of water
  • 2/3 cup flour (I use a combination of whole wheat, whole grain and white flours)
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • ¾ cup of sugar
  • 1 tsp of vanilla
  • ½ cup of your favorite fat (canola oil or melted butter, margarine, or coconut oil)
  • ¼ cup semisweet chocolate chips


  1. Preheat oven to 350 F and lightly grease a 9″ x 9″ square baking pan.
  2. Puree the black beans with 2 tbsp of water.
  3. In a separate bowl, stir together the dry ingredients.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar.
  5. Mix the vanilla and black beans into the egg mixture.
  6. Add your fat.
  7. Mix in the dry ingredients until blended.
  8. Pour mixture into prepared pan, sprinkle with chocolate chips.
  9. Bake for 20-25 minutes.
Beth Evans

About Beth Evans

As a registered dietitian, Beth is dedicated to helping individuals, families and communities make the healthiest choices available to them, and enjoy eating well based on their unique realities and nutrition needs. Juggling work and a very busy family life, Beth is grateful for the time she spends with her family enjoying family meals, long walks and bike rides. She also loves the quiet times exploring in her garden, experimenting in the kitchen, and practicing yoga and meditation.