In the early months of 2020, as COVID-19 barrelled across the world, experts began to understand that this particular crisis was going to look a little lopsided. It was clear from the start that women would be the ones on the front lines of the pandemic. Here in Canada, women make up the vast majority of nurses (90 percent), respiratory therapists (75 percent) and personal support workers in long-term care and nursing homes (90 percent). They’re also far, far more likely to be behind the cash at a grocery store or cleaning hospitals, offices and schools. But as COVID’s economic impact came into focus, something else did, too: Women would be levelled by the financial fallout. And economists suspect the impact of this blow will be felt for years to come.
Typically, recessions hammer industries like manufacturing, construction and natural resources — sectors dominated by men. That’s what happened in 2008; it’s what happened back in the 1980s. When COVID arrived, though, it shut down all the industries that involve social contact: restaurants, retail, tourism, education, personal services, child care. Women disproportionately fill these workplaces, and they “were all effectively laid off in a single week,” says Katherine Scott, senior researcher with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Over March and April 2020, more than 1.5 million women became unemployed. Among workers ages 25 to 54 — which is to say, most workers — twice as many women as men lost their jobs. In fact, after just several weeks of the pandemic, there were fewer women working in Canada than at any time over the past 30 years.
But women didn’t lose only their jobs. With schools and child-care centres shuttered by COVID — plus babysitters, friends, neighbours and grandparents all off limits for fear of transmission — women lost their support systems as well. And, global pandemic or no, it’s abundantly clear who runs the unpaid economy. “Women still take on the majority of care work, whether that’s for children, elders or people with disabilities,” says Carmina Ravanera, a research associate at the University of Toronto Rotman School of Management’s Institute for Gender and the Economy. How much care work are we talking about? One study found Canadian women had upped their caregiving from 68 hours a week pre-pandemic to 95 hours during COVID — the equivalent of nearly two-and-a-half full-time jobs. Men averaged half that. So it’s no surprise who ends up leaving their employment to look after their families: In the first year of the pandemic, 12 times as many mothers as fathers quit their jobs to take care of toddlers or school-age children. Single mothers were even more likely to stop working.
All told, in Canada, women have been 10 times as likely as men to fall out of the labour force, which means they’re no longer looking for employment. It’s hardly a choice. After months — now more than a year — of home-schooling and caretaking and meal planning and Zoom meetings and working and cooking and cleaning and lockdown, something had to give. “I am gobsmacked by the number of women I know who are just at their end and can’t do it anymore,” Scott says. “That kind of churn is really damaging. But the expectation continues that women will drop out, absorb all this unpaid work and alone bear the long-term economic consequences of walking away.”
(Related: How Are Canadian Caregivers Handling COVID?)
At the start of the pandemic, as the world locked down and celebrities were crooning “Imagine” into their iPhones, we heard a lot about how COVID-19 was “the great equalizer.” The virus didn’t care about socio-economic status, the reasoning went, and besides, every one of us has been undone by all this upheaval and isolation. Even Ellen joked that being stuck inside — stuck inside her five-bedroom, 12-bathroom, pool-and-tennis-court-equipped California mansion — is just like being in jail!
Of course, COVID didn’t do away with inequality. It accelerated the inequality that already existed. Plenty of workers didn’t skip a paycheque or mortgage payment when the pandemic hit. “Not only that, they sat at home and watched as they racked up savings and their assets appreciated, because it’s been one of those crazy years in the housing market,” Scott says. Men are overrepresented in the scientific, professional and technical industries, which fairly seamlessly shifted to remote work. And as e-commerce boomed, these same sectors actually added 55,000 new jobs between February and October 2020 — three-quarters of which went to men. “For some people, this hasn’t really been a recession at all,” Scott says. “It’s quite a K-shaped recovery.” That’s the term economists use for a wildly uneven economic trajectory: Those at the top grow wealthier, while those on the bottom sink further into debt. But here, too, inequality persists; not all women are struggling the same way. “The pandemic has really affected those who are already marginalized in society,” Ravanera says. “So, broadly, women are leaving the labour force in large numbers, but we’ve seen that racialized and low-income women have been even more affected.”
Since February 2020, employment losses have been largest for people who earn the least — a group that’s overwhelmingly made up of racialized women. Nearly 60 percent of women making $14 or less (that’s the lowest 10 percent of earners) were laid off or had the majority of their hours cut between February and April of last year. Even among all female earners, racialized women were hit harder: Nine months into the pandemic, the unemployment rate for minority women stood at 10.5 percent, compared to 6.2 percent for white women. For Black women, it was higher: 13.4 percent. For Indigenous women, higher still, averaging 16.8 percent from June to August 2020. “Racialized and low-income women are disproportionately concentrated in roles that are not well-protected, that don’t have paid sick leave,” Ravanera says. “So they’re more likely to contract the virus, they’re more likely to have to choose between their health and their work, and they’re facing higher rates of unemployment.”
And the implications of that loss will stretch long past the end of this pandemic. “The rent wasn’t cancelled — it was deferred,” Scott says. “We’re looking at large debts coming out of COVID, and it’ll take people years, if not decades, to climb out of that hole. That impacts not only their security but the security of their family and kids, and whether these young people are going to be able to go to post-secondary school.” In Canada, women are more likely to carry student debt than men are; they’re more likely to owe more money than men do; and they’re much more likely to file for insolvency based on that debt. “It just reinforces disadvantage,” Scott says. “It really drives the wedge.”
No wonder, then, that this pandemic is wreaking havoc on women’s health as well as their wallets. “Financial strain — not being able to put food on the table, not being able to pay your monthly bills — contributes to ongoing stress and has a negative effect on people’s mental health,” says Dr. Samantha Wells, senior director at the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). A report released at the start of 2021 from Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies found that over 40 percent of unemployed women surveyed described the state of their mental health during COVID as “bad or very bad.” (Just over a quarter of unemployed men said the same.) And during the pandemic, CAMH found women in general more likely than men to suffer increased anxiety and depressive symptoms.
It’s one more way COVID has compounded inequality that already exists. “We know that women experience higher levels of anxiety and depression than men do,” Wells says. We knew that before the pandemic — in fact, those levels are twice as high. “So of course women were hit terribly hard. You see that in the numbers.” But you also hear it — really, really hear it — when you talk to your friends and family and colleagues and neighbours and, very likely, when you stop for a nanosecond to check in with yourself. Adds Wells, “You hear it when women tell the story of how overwhelmed they are.”
As the pandemic barrelled toward its first anniversary, an RBC report offered grim news: Nearly half a million Canadian women who’d lost their jobs still hadn’t returned to work as of January 2021, and 349,000 hadn’t returned as of February. There’s always a concern that people who step away from the labour force will have a more difficult time getting back in; we’ve seen that with the so-called mommy penalty, where women experience a significant drop in their earnings for five full years after the birth of a child. But COVID’s sheer unpredictability complicates matters further. “There’s so much that is unknowable, including how quickly the economy will get back into full gear and our appetite to return to the way things were,” says Dawn Desjardins, deputy chief economist at RBC and one of the authors of the report. Will people want to eat in restaurants? Browse the shelves of tiny shops? Drop their kids off at daycare or put their parents in long-term care homes? “I don’t know whether that bounces straight back,” she says.
Nor does Desjardins know what the demand for labour will look like once this pandemic actually ends. Even before COVID, women’s jobs faced a higher risk from automation, as AI made inroads into the services sector. Back in March 2019, another RBC report determined that women held 54 percent of the positions that were highly likely to be automated. That shakes out to 3.4 million jobs. And now? “The pandemic has accelerated the digitization of business and e-commerce,” Desjardins says. “Will we need fewer people for that face-to-face contact? People have certainly become more accustomed to ordering their groceries or their clothes online.”
So what needs to happen here? In his September Throne Speech, Justin Trudeau acknowledged that women, particularly low-income women, had been hit hardest by the pandemic, and in March of this year — just in time for International Women’s Day — Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced the creation of a female-led economic task force. A long-promised national child-care program seems closer to becoming a reality, which pretty much every economic expert will tell you is table stakes. “The old approach to recovery, which is throwing money at guys in hard hats, is really not going to cut it this time,” Katherine Scott says. “Child care is absolutely critical.”
Beyond that, mandatory paid sick leave for all workers — including part-time, low-wage and hourly workers — is a no-brainer. (How are we still debating this in the middle of a pandemic?) So is setting a higher minimum wage. And so is understanding that these issues won’t magically disappear once we all manage to get our COVID vaccines. For all the talk of these unprecedented times, there’s lots of evidence to suggest women’s labour, both paid and unpaid, has been deeply undervalued. And there’s plenty of data to show racialized workers aren’t given the protection they’re due.
That’s why any recovery plan needs to have equity at its centre, and why the people hit hardest by COVID’s fallout need to have the most say in the response. “The cracks in our society’s foundation have made us even more vulnerable to crises like this, and if we don’t focus on who is most impacted, then those circumstances are going to continue,” Carmina Ravanera says. “Structural changes need to be put in place so that the recovery we have is long-lasting — and so marginalized groups don’t face the brunt of a downturn like this one again.”
Next, read about a death doula’s experience working during COVID.
This form of vitamin B3 (niacin) also goes by the name nicotinamide, and you can get it from foods like meat, poultry, and brown rice. But you’ll also reap rewards by slathering the vitamin onto your skin.
One reason dermatologists recommend niacinamide is that it benefits a wide range of skin conditions, says Annie Gonzalez, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology in Miami. It repairs skin barriers damaged by sunlight and pollution. “This works to decrease inflammation and irritation of the skin,” she says.
But that’s just one benefit. There are a host of others that make niacinamide an all-star add-on to your skin care regimen. Here’s what dermatologists want you to know about the trendy ingredient.
(Related: What to Know About Peptides in Skin Care)
Niacinamide helps the skin naturally produce more ceramides, or fat molecules, which helps keep the skin moist and plump, says Dr. Gonzalez. Since the skin becomes drier and less plump as we get older, niacinamide can be a boon to aging skin.
The ingredient can also:
- Tighten pores
- Smooth lines or wrinkles
- Brighten pigmentation
- Fight acne
- Support the skin barrier
- Reduce inflammation
- Improve texture and tone
“Niacinamide helps create NAD+, which can help fight free radicals and repair skin damage,” says board-certified dermatologist Zain Husain, MD, founder of NJ Dermatology and Aesthetics Center.
For a small study in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, researchers asked 50 white women between the ages of 40 and 60 to use a 5 percent niacinamide moisturizer on half of their face. They applied it twice a day, using a placebo moisturizer on the other half. (This is what’s known as a “split-face” study.)
After eight weeks, researchers observed a reduction in the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles on the side of the women’s faces that used niacinamide compared with the other side. It reduced the yellowing of the skin, too.
Research in the British Journal of Dermatology found that applying a 5 percent niacinamide moisturizer twice a day for four weeks improved hyperpigmentation. It lightened the skin compared with a regular moisturizer in a small trial involving Japanese women.
In another split-face study, this one published in 2011 in Dermatology Research and Practice, researchers asked 27 women with melasma (darker pigmentation) to test two ingredients for lightening the skin. For eight weeks, participants used 4 percent niacinamide on one side of their faces and 4 percent hydroquinone on the other.
Topical niacinamide wasn’t quite as effective as hydroquinone, but it did pretty well. For comparison, 44 percent saw a good to excellent improvement in their melasma with niacinamide versus 55 percent who saw the same with hydroquinone. On the plus side, only 18 percent of users experienced side effects with niacinamide, compared with 29 percent who had hydroquinone side effects like burning.
While it may not be the gold standard skin-lightening treatment, niacinamide is still a promising option, especially for people with dark spots who want to limit unwanted side effects that may come with hydroquinone.
Niacinamide may be a good acne-fighting ingredient because it may reduce the production or excretion of sebum, an oily, waxy substance that may clog pores.
A study of 100 Japanese women and 50 white women, published in the Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy, looked at a 2 percent niacinamide moisturizer on sebum excretion and production. Half of the women applied the niacinamide product, while the other used a placebo moisturizer for four weeks. Researchers found that sebum excretion was lower in Japanese women after two and four weeks of application. For the white women, only the sebum production reduced after six weeks.
Two other double-blind, randomized controlled trials back up the acne-fighting claims. Researchers publishing in the International Journal of Dermatology found that using a 4 percent niacinamide gel twice daily decreased moderate acne in eight weeks just well as 1 percent clindamycin (a standard topical antibiotic prescription for acne). And a study in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences found that using a 5 percent niacinamide gel worked as well as a 2 percent clindamycin gel when it came to treating mild to moderate acne.
This skin care ingredient may increase the production of ceramides in the skin, preventing water loss and helping skin hydration, per the British Journal of Dermatology. These ceramides could help repair the protective outer layer of skin and act as anti-inflammatory agents.
How to add niacinamide to your skin care routine
Opt for a niacinamide serum
When used properly, both niacinamide serums and creams will benefit the skin, according to Dr. Gonzalez.
“However, niacinamide can penetrate further into the pores and is more easily absorbed into the skin when it is applied as a water-soluble serum,” she says. “Serums are also more easily mixed with other products than creams, which allows for more ingredients to be included in a skin care regimen.”
Most niacinamide products have 2 to 10 percent niacinamide, according to board-certified dermatologist Morgan Rabach, MD, of LMMedical in New York City. She recommends starting with a 5 percent formula. If your skin tolerates it, you can advance to a higher-concentration formula, like a 10 percent niacinamide serum.
People with sensitive skin should always start with a lower concentration.
Make sure the product is water-based
Although Dr. Gonzalez prefers niacinamide serums, Dr. Rabach says it doesn’t matter if it’s in cream or serum form. It’s a personal preference, and your choice may depend on what other products you are using at the time.
What does matter, however, is that the product is water-based. This ensures it’s not based in oil, which isn’t good for acne-prone skin types.
Use it twice a day
Niacinamide is an ingredient that is gentle enough to be used twice a day, seven days a week, Dr. Gonzalez and Dr. Rabach say. To apply niacinamide, first wash your face and, if you use one, apply a toner. Add niacinamide next, before any moisturizers or skin oils.
“Niacinamide is an active ingredient, and you want to put active ingredients on the skin first and then moisturizer to seal it all in,” Dr. Rabach says.
Pair niacinamide with other topicals
One of the great things about niacinamide is that it’s a very stable molecule, according to Dr. Rabach. “It’s non-irritating and has a neutral pH,” she says. “It doesn’t interact with other active ingredients.”
In short: It plays well with others, including retinol.
Niacinamide and vitamin C
If your goal is to brighten the skin, look no further than niacinamide and vitamin C. Both are powerful antioxidants that work to repair skin cell damage, Dr. Rabach says.
“Niacinamide can help reduce hyperpigmentation by protecting the skin from free radicals,” Dr. Gonzalez says. “Vitamin C actually reduces any dark marks on the skin by blocking the melanin pigment.”
Still, there is some debate in the skin care world about applying niacinamide and vitamin C simultaneously. Some claim that mixing them together makes vitamin C less potent and could cause facial flushing or redness. Dr. Rabach and Dr. Husain advise against mixing them together or using at the same time.
Instead, use vitamin C in the morning and niacinamide at night. Or simply space out the application: Apply vitamin C serum, wait 10 minutes, then apply niacinamide serum.
Note that sometimes vitamin C can cause itchiness and redness of the skin. Niacinamide can help balance these side effects by decreasing inflammation and keeping the skin barrier healthy and hydrated. This is just another perk of using both niacinamide and vitamin C in your skin care routine.
Niacinamide and retinol
Niacinamide and retinol are a great combination because niacinamide balances the dryness and irritation that retinol causes. (Dr. Rabach says to apply niacinamide after your retinol.)
“When used frequently, retinol can cause the skin to become red, itchy, and even to burn,” Dr. Gonzalez says. “Niacinamide helps the skin produce ceramides, which retain moisture in the skin and act as anti-inflammatory agents.”
In a 2016 study in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, researchers had 25 people with mild to moderate hyperpigmentation and other signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles, use a cream containing 0.5 percent retinol, 4 percent niacinamide, resveratrol, and hexylresorcinol (a skin brightener) every night for 10 weeks. They all also used the same cleanser, hydrating serum, moisturizer, and SPF 30 sunscreen every day.
Fine lines improved as early as week two, and by week four, hyperpigmentation and overall skin tone improved, too. Although mild redness and flaking occurred at first, by week 10, people reported no stinging, itching, dryness, or tingling.
What results can you expect from niacinamide?
How long niacinamide takes to work can vary per person. The strength of niacinamide you use, the other items in your regimen, and the issues you hope to treat with niacinamide all play a role in how fast you’ll see improvement.
Dr. Rabach says it may take one to two months to see results. In general, the research found it may take anywhere from four to 12 weeks to see the benefits of niacinamide in the skin.
Risks and side effects of topical niacinamide
The good news about niacinamide continues: Usually, it’s a very safe ingredient for people with all types of skin conditions. Dr. Husain says it’s especially beneficial for people with acne and rosacea. That said, there are rare cases where high niacinamide concentrations cause the skin to become red and irritated, says Dr. Gonazlez. People with sensitive skin should always use caution.
To avoid irritation, it’s best to try a “patch test” of niacinamide before applying it all over the face. Apply a small amount to the inside of the arm or wrist. If there is no redness or negative symptoms after a few days, then it’s likely your skin will react well to its use, Dr. Gonzalez says.
Remember that every person’s skin reacts differently to ingredients. Pay attention to how your skin reacts to the use of niacinamide. If any symptoms are painful or do not resolve on their own within the next day, make an appointment with a dermatologist for a customized treatment plan. If you see a dermatologist regularly, mention any niacinamide products before adding one to your routine.
The bottom line
There are lots of reasons to consider adding a water-based niacinamide serum or cream to your skin care routine. It’s an excellent ingredient for people with sensitive skin, and works well with ingredients like vitamin C and retinol. Always patch test products before use and run new products by your dermatologist, if you can.
Now that you know all about niacinamide, these are the drugstore products that will make you want to play with makeup again.
Like many Canadians, in March 2020, Joanna Barcessat’s life changed in an instant. On Friday the 13th, she closed her two Montreal juice bars, unsure of when she and her staff would return. At home under lockdown, Barcessat, 51, found herself with the kind of time she hadn’t had since starting her business several years earlier and a desire to spend as much of it as possible outdoors. So in July, after she decided not to reopen her second location, Barcessat did something she’d been wanting to do for eight years: She dusted off her road bike, took it in for a tune-up and hopped on for a ride. That beautiful summer day, Barcessat cycled for 90 minutes, pedalling along Montreal’s Lachine Canal. She took it at an easy pace, but she felt excited and accomplished — she had gotten back on her bike.
(Related: 5 Handy Biking Apps to Amp Up Your Ride)
Barcessat, who studied physical education at McGill University, used to be a regular cyclist – she even rode with a group of triathletes. But when she started her business, Rejuice Nutrition, and opened her first cold-pressed juice store in 2011, she gave it up. “If I could, I would go to a spinning or circuit-training class for an hour,” she says, “but I didn’t have the time to commit to riding anymore.” It took the pandemic to finally get her back in the saddle — and, once she started, she wasn’t stopping for anything. “I had this joke: My store could be on fire, and I’m not giving up my bike ride,” she says. “I had given so much to my business for so long that I forgot to take care of myself.” From July to October, Barcessat rode three mornings a week, rediscovering her favourite routes and seeking out new ones. “Riding was my escape from the stress that came with running a business and being a mom during a pandemic,” she says. “It helped clear my mind and, at the same time, gave me a great workout.”
In the past 12 months, many have had the same idea: Cycling is booming, as people around the world look to stay active, be outdoors and find new ways to get around in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In April 2020, the World Health Organization recommended cycling or walking as a means of both socially distant, open-air transportation and daily physical activity. Just a few weeks later, bike shops across Canada reported surging sales as many Canadians took out their new two-wheelers, heading to nature-adjacent bike trails and taking advantage of quieter streets and city-wide road closures. And many of these new or returning riders are women: Strava, the world’s largest online fitness platform, saw the number of cycle rides uploaded double in 2020, while women ages 30 to 59 uploaded almost 50 percent more activities between April and September 2020 than during the same period the year before.
“One of the reasons we saw this surge is that we were limited in the activities we could do — and we still are,” says Julia Aimers, an Ottawa-based exercise physiologist and triathlon coach. “The walk around the block gets a little bit boring after a while.” In addition to offering a much-needed sense of freedom, cycling provides a cardiovascular workout, it’s low impact (read: it lubricates the joints while also being gentle on them) and it’s more accessible than other forms of cardio, like running. “It’s a big effort to run. If you’re a little overweight, it’s hard on your cardiovascular system. Biking is accessible — you jump on, the seat holds some of your weight, and it’s easy to go fast and easy to go slow,” says Aimers. She equates an easy ride to going for a walk, with the workout increasing depending on factors like gears, incline and speed. “If you want to compare it to training for a 10K run, you’d be doing hill training, riding against the wind and doing some speed repeats,” says Aimers.
No matter how you’re cycling, the physical benefits are real: It helps lower your risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. A significant 2017 U.K. study that followed more than 260,000 commuters found that those who cycled to work reduced their overall risk of an early death by 41 percent; another study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine links weekly rides (anywhere from one to 60 minutes in length) to a 23 percent lower risk of premature mortality. And the dividends of regular pedalling are also mental: Research published in the Lancet in 2018 looked at the association between exercise and mental health in more than 1.2 million Americans, and those who cycled regularly were found to experience 21.6 percent fewer bad mental health days.
Angela Chang rides regularly with Liv, a cycling community centred on the women-focused bike shop of the same name in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood. For Chang, 44, finding a group to cycle with took her from using biking as a means of commuting to entering a full-fledged cycling scene — one that’s warm, welcoming and approachable for all skill levels. Chang is a great example of the physical and mental impacts cycling can deliver: Since she started riding with Liv four years ago, she’s gained muscle mass, increased her endurance and improved her cardiovascular health (her doctor says it’s like that of a teenager’s). The rides also offer a respite from her stressful role as a partner at an accounting firm. “Being on the bike, outside and in nature, provides a mental break from my desk that’s important for me,” she says. But perhaps the biggest advantage for Chang is the social element of riding with a group — and the motivation her fellow riders supply. “You meet people who push you beyond what you imagine is possible. If I think I can only ride 40K, but the group is going 50, then maybe I’ll try that,” she says. Throughout the pandemic, in lieu of riding in person in large groups, Chang has been doing so virtually, with women from across North America: “We all chat on an app while we ride on our trainers at home, talking about cookie recipes, our cats or dogs or kids; that social interaction is really fun.”
Barcessat recognizes that her previous experience of cycling in a group pushed her physically — and her goal is to join one again, maybe even this season. But last year, one of the things she loved most about getting back on her bike solo was reconnecting to the outdoors. Nature has provided much-needed balm for many Canadians throughout the pandemic: A recent Ipsos poll conducted for the Nature Conservancy of Canada revealed that 94 percent of Canadians have found spending time in nature has helped relieve stress and anxiety during the pandemic’s second wave, while three out of four of those surveyed revealed that moments in nature are more important to them now than ever before. “The visual aspect of getting on your bike and actually looking around and being present is what’s valuable — the workout and the calories burnt are just added benefits,” Barcessat says.
(Related: Expert Tips on How to Buy a Bike Helmet)
Throughout the pandemic, many cities have made it safe and easy to access the outdoors by closing roads to vehicle traffic. Last April, the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation temporarily shut down Stanley Park to cars to allow more space for cycling and walking, while in Toronto, the city’s ActiveTO initiative saw High Park, as well as major roadways like Lake Shore Boulevard, open exclusively to cyclists and pedestrians on weekends. Meghan Winters, an epidemiologist and associate professor at Simon Fraser University who leads the Cities, Health & Active Transportation Research lab, is encouraged by how quickly urban areas were able to implement these initiatives and how, in doing so, more people took up or returned to cycling. “It was exciting to see that cities can create and accommodate the space that’s needed for walking and cycling,” says Winters. “It allowed them to test designs and locations, but I’m looking for things to be more thoughtful and permanent as we move into the second year [of the pandemic].”
It’s initiatives like these that encourage people — especially women, who, research shows, were less likely to cycle than men, particularly on traffic-heavy streets — to ride on roadways and bike paths for the first time, eventually becoming regular cyclists and reaping all of the benefits that come with it. “Riding in Stanley Park during the full closure was a heavenly experience,” says Winters. “I’d imagine there were people who had not been on a bicycle in 15 years. All of a sudden, there was this park you could cycle through — and I think once people tried that, they were willing to go to other places. It starts with safe, protected places, and then people will build daily habits.”
Barcessat doesn’t plan on getting so busy again that she gives up riding. “When things go back to normal, whatever normal is going to be, I don’t think I’ll be the only one who re-evaluates what we want to put back into our lives.” For her, cycling is here to stay, and she plans to get an early start this season. “As I was riding last summer, I had all these dreams and plans. I forgot how good it feels to be on my bike.”
We’re told having a routine is healthy—it can give structure to your day, prevent procrastination, offer a sense of purpose—but as the most played-out saying in the wellness world goes, it’s all about moderation. Turns out, during these days of social isolation, when it can feel like you’re living the same day over and over again, resisting the script can help you create better memories. And these memories not only offer vital health benefits, but also may be your only hope for looking back fondly at 2020 and 2021.
Studies show many Canadians are feeling anxious, lonely, and depressed during the pandemic. For those not directly affected by the virus, restrictions on daily life and the inability to create special moments can be to blame. There’s a strong link between missing memories and diminished emotional well being, says Morgan Barense, Ph.D, professor in the field of Perception, Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Toronto and Canada Research Chair. “Feeling like you haven’t done anything or not remembering what happened is really disorienting and stressful,” she says. Memories comprise our identity—who we are is closely tied to what we have done. An unsettling feeling can arise when we don’t have new memories—or can’t remember what we’ve been doing.
The reason it’s hard to recall what you’ve been up to in the past few months is that we don’t have many sensory experiences in our day-to-day lives anymore, says Richard Amaral, a psychologist in Markham, Ontario. To create more memories, you need situations that trigger the senses. “An emotionally-charged event will stimulate areas of the brain responsible for smell, hearing, taste, sight, which makes the event stick with you,” says Amaral. In addition, an event that surprises you or one in which you learn something about yourself is also likely to earn a spot in the memory bank.
So, here’s the task: Add sensory experiences to your daily life — even to monotonous tasks, when you’re barely leaving the house — to make moments distinctive and more pleasant, says Barense. Instead of eating breakfast at your kitchen table, take your coffee and bagel to the park. Instead of just another weekend routine of Netflix binges, offer kids a choose-your-own-adventure day when they get to pick from a list of activities to do and foods to eat.
The goal is to elevate the peaks (good memories) and smooth out the pits (bad memories), said Chip Heath, author of The Power of Moments, on an episode of the goop podcast in 2018. Even if you find the pandemic to be boring the majority of the time, it can be remembered in a positive light by injecting a few enjoyable sensory experiences into it.
Think about the typical experience at a place like Disney World, Heath says. The average wait time for a ride can be 60 minutes, and the average ride time is about two minutes. The wait time, which is comprised of not more than taking slow steps, walking through winding pathways, and dealing with tired kids, is dull but not awful enough to be a “pit,” while the ride, full of surprises, is a “peak.” A peak outweighs long expanses of monotony in the memory bank.
This form of unconscious selective memory can be healthy. “Positive reminiscence is linked to all sorts of good outcomes in terms of emotional well-being,” says Barense. “Depression is linked to distortions in one’s memory—focusing on the negative aspects as opposed to the positive ones,” she says. “If you focus more on the positive elements of the experience, you tend to be more positive overall.”
Not only will your mood benefit from positive reminiscence, but your brain will too. Studies suggest people who do a variety of activities tend to have better memory function. “The more events you have to remember,” says Barense, “the more remembering you’ll do, and the better your memory will be.”
To reinforce your memories, consider recording them. Amaral suggests journalling, making note of any out-of-the-ordinary experiences that can be reviewed when you’re feeling down. Heath suggests getting into the routine, on each birthday, of summarizing one major lesson you learned that year and want to remember. After all, having a routine is good–in moderation.
Next, learn the priorities to make for a happy, healthy life.
I started cycling last summer as a way to get outside, get active and combat my pandemic-induced stir-craziness. I’m a cautious cat by nature, and while I thought I was taking every safety precaution, a more experienced cyclist friend pointed out that my helmet (which I bought because it was cute and affordable) was designed for skateboarding. Turns out that’s not super helpful — or safe — for biking. If you are as confused as I am about how to pick the right helmet, here are the five expert tips you need.
1. Stick to your sport
While there is some crossover among helmets designed for different sports, “it’s usually best to stick to the sport in which the helmet was designed to be used,” says Claire McFarlane, the programs and operations manager at Cycle Toronto. “Helmets are designed differently for different sports to take into account factors like travelling speed and the way people fall when they’re participating in those sports.”
2. Make sure it’s certified
Choosing a helmet with an approved standards label means you’re getting a product that’s been rigorously tested by the manufacturer. Look for CSA (Canadian Standards Association), CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission), Snell or ASTM (American Testing and Materials).
(Related: 5 Handy Biking Apps to Amp Up Your Ride)
3. And look for MIPS
The multi-directional impact protection system, or MIPS, is a safety feature on many new helmets. It refers to a yellow plastic liner in the helmet that’s engineered to help prevent certain types of concussions by rotating slightly, independent of the outer helmet.
4. Get the right fit
McFarlane suggests using the 2-V-1 method: With the helmet on, you should be able to fit roughly two fingers between your eyebrows and the helmet, the straps should form a “V” around your ears, and you should only be able to fit one finger between your chin and the helmet strap. “You want the helmet to be snug but not so tight that you feel like it would give you a headache if you wore it for an hour or more,” says McFarlane.
5. Go on and splurge a little
Safety is priceless, and the more you spend on the helmet, the more comfortable it will be. Helmets on the higher end of the price spectrum tend to have better ventilation, which makes them lighter, more breathable and much more pleasant for longer rides. “A lighter helmet has significantly less impact on your neck,” says Ira Kargel, co–owner of Gears Bike Shop. “You won’t think it’s a big deal, but small things like adding a bit of weight to your head and shoulders can have a long-term impact.”
Now that you know how to buy a helmet that fits, this is why golf is the perfect pandemic sport to get into.
While it’s true that more men are diagnosed with colorectal cancer than women, the risks are virtually the same, according to the Canadian Cancer Society, 1 in 14 men will develop colon cancer in their lives compared to 1 in 18 women. And among adults under 50, this cancer is on the rise: It’s now the number one cause of cancer-related death in men, and the third leading cause for women.
Young adults tend to be unaware of their risks or downplay colorectal cancer symptoms when they do appear. That was the case for Amy Hart, 35, who knew that something wasn’t right for nearly a year before demanding the tests she needed. Here, Hart shares her journey with colon cancer and how she’s adapting to a new normal.
No time to be sick
I used to say, “I don’t have time for a sniffle,” and it was true. I had a fast-paced job with long days and lots of moving parts and I lived for it. When I had my two girls, I found a way to keep going in my industry. I hadn’t had the flu in at least five years. I went to the OB-GYN every year and I saw a regular family doctor when I needed to. But overall, I was very healthy and had a strong immune system.
Even when I first started to feel the nudges that something wasn’t right, which was back in 2018, my first thoughts were no, I have my business, I have my girls who need this, this, and this, someone has a dentist appointment next week…when will I go in and get looked at?
Telltale signs of colon cancer
At the beginning, I really just didn’t feel like myself, which was frustrating. I felt tired a lot more and I was struggling mentally. I just didn’t feel good and I didn’t know why. Every doctor I saw during this time looked at my bloodwork and everything about me and thought it was anxiety.
They pushed me toward getting help for the anxiety I had around losing my mom to uterine cancer when I was young. I did seek help—I went to therapy to see if I was just not satisfied with my life. I think therapy is super helpful and it did get me feeling better about my anxiety…but I still wasn’t feeling like myself.
After about eight months of this, my digestive system started to go haywire. I was having diarrhea and stomach upset where I’d never had those things in my life.
Then a few months later, about a year in, I started to have symptoms of bleeding when I was going to the bathroom. That was when I got indignant because I knew that didn’t happen to normal people. I knew it meant I was very sick.
Demanding a colonoscopy
A week later I got in to see a gastroenterologist (a GI doctor). I told him what was going on and he looked at my tests and said it might be an infection in my bowel or it might be stress.
It could also be a number of other things, and he said he didn’t want to give me a colonoscopy because of my age. So I sat there in his office and said, “call security then, because I’m not leaving unless you schedule me for a colonoscopy.”
What happened when I woke up after the procedure? They told me they didn’t even need to wait for a biopsy because they knew it was advanced colon cancer. It was like the most vindicating, disgusting lemon I’ve ever eaten in my life. I had known something was wrong for months, but when I got that news I didn’t want it. I was so afraid.
Personalized treatment for Lynch syndrome
I had the colonoscopy in mid-November of 2019 and began a six-week daily regimen of chemotherapy and radiation on December 9. A really good friend of mine, who was just a casual mom friend at the time, found out about my diagnosis. A radiologist at a local hospital, she called me and said you need to come to my people for your treatment.
I always say I have the best worst luck, but I’m not sure I would be alive if she weren’t involved. A few months later, after they’d stopped allowing visitors to the hospital because of Covid-19, she was still able to come and see me and it made a world of difference.
My initial chemo was oral, so I had to take six chemo pills a day, then I had radiation treatments.
Originally I thought I might have surgery first, but they had to approach my treatment a bit differently because I have something called Lynch syndrome. Lynch syndrome is a genetic mutation that predisposes you to a family of cancers.
Colorectal cancer is the biggest one, but you also have an increased risk of endometrial, stomach, breast, ovarian, intestinal, pancreatic, prostate, urinary tract, liver, kidney, and bile duct cancers.
Since my mom died of uterine cancer and there was a history of different cancers in my family, my surgeon suggested I get genetic testing prior to starting treatment, which was when I found out about my Lynch syndrome.
Becoming a cancer patient
After I started chemo and radiation, my identity really began to waver. I was always the healthy, happy helper who was there for everyone else, and I struggled to understand who I was if I wasn’t productive for everyone else and able to express my love in that way.
The treatments were hard physically, but for me, it was more of a mental thing. Going in to get radiation every day really makes you feel like a cancer patient and I struggled to separate myself from that.
Undergoing abdominal surgery
I completed my first round of treatment in January of 2020, then I had six weeks off to rest, recuperate, and let the radiation do its job. Radiation continues working in the body long after your last zap.
In February, I went in for a scan and there was no visible tumor, which was really good news. Next on the schedule was surgery, which would come the following month.
On March 19, I went in for open abdominal surgery. Because of my Lynch syndrome, they removed my entire digestive system below my small intestine. They also did a hysterectomy, removing my uterus as a preventative measure.
My colon was the next target: My original tumor was a stage 2 tumor, but I had lymph node involvement and my genetic predisposition meant that my cancer was technically staged 3B. So I had them take the entire colon because I didn’t want to live in fear.
After surgery, they biopsied all the tissue they could but there was no tumor left. Not even a lymph node or any piece that came back positive for cancer. The radiation had done its job, and the news was as good as I get after surgery.
Learning to live with an ostomy bag
Since I had the total colectomy (the procedure where they removed my colon), I also needed an ileostomy, where they connected the end of my small intestine to my abdomen so I could excrete waste into an ostomy bag. Learning to live with the bag was mind-blowing.
I had always been really hard on myself and never let my body be good enough—and at the beginning, I felt like the bag was going to make me a monster.
I tell people that when you first hear you’re going to need an ostomy bag, it’s OK to absolutely hate it. It’s even OK to hate yourself a little in order to process the idea of it, and I think I did that.
But then I started waking up every morning, looking at myself in the mirror and saying through gritted teeth, “This does not matter. It’s not that scary. And it means that you get to be alive.”
From the beginning, I made myself touch it and look at it and do everything myself. The first few weeks, whenever I emptied it or changed it, I considered that a success. Sometimes I would put on a super cheesy song from the ’80s that I loved and sing along while I changed my bag.
Sure, there were days when I cried on the bathroom floor, but then I would get up and see my girls and know I could do it for them.
The way I see it, if I either have a really rough road or no road at all, I’m always going to choose the road. No road was never an option. I’d take 100 bags before I say goodbye to my girls voluntarily.
Clean up chemo
Three months after my big surgery I started intravenous chemo. This was part of my Lynch syndrome diagnosis as well; it was a way to blast everything so that if there was a rare cancer cell somewhere in the body we would find it and get it, just to be extra cautious.
They called it clean-up chemo, and I had to do six rounds. I got to keep my hair, but it was really rough stuff.
I finished the clean-up chemo in September and I’m now on hiatus waiting for my next scan, which is coming up in April. I’m not expecting bad news—I don’t have a colon left to have anything in there—but I’m still a little worried. Right now, I’m working on how to live my normal, daily life without constantly thinking about it, but I’m hopeful that it will get easier.
Physically, I get worn down a lot easier than I used to. I used to be like an ever-charged battery, sneaking in a happy hour one day and being ready for soccer the next, but I’ve had to realign what recharges me and doesn’t drain me.
Sometimes that means saying no and disappointing people, but I’m working on finding worth and value in what I can do, not just in how much I can do.
Leaning on love and hope
More and more young people are dealing with cancer diagnoses while also trying to process the complicated world we live in. And especially when it comes to women and colorectal cancer, it’s insane how much higher our risk is than our moms’ and grandmas’. I’ve even met people who thought that only men got it, which obviously isn’t true.
Even I was pretty oblivious before I went through this and I have a family history of cancer. Knowing the right doctor to talk to or the right thing to look for is so important, and then it’s just persevering. Leaning on the ones you love and doing it for them and then rebuilding your lifestyle in the way you need and deserve.
If there is a moral to my story, it’s to listen to your body and not try to explain away symptoms. Early-onset colorectal cancer is on the rise, and the young people who are diagnosed tend to be diagnosed with late-stage disease. Don’t hesitate to get checked out.
—As told to Alyssa Sybertz
Now, learn about the 5 signs of colon cancer every woman should know.
Recently, while doing some online window shopping, I noticed a new material popping up everywhere: lyocell. Once I noticed it, I couldn’t stop noticing it. I found sportswear, underwear, blouses, pants and even bedding made from lyocell—and most of the brands selling these products claimed that lyocell was more sustainable than other fabrics like polyester and conventional cotton. Even fast fashion brands like Zara were getting in on it.
I started to fall down a bit of a lyocell Google rabbithole. Is the material really sustainable? Or are fast fashion brands just using it to greenwash their products and rehabilitate their reputation? And what about the claim that lyocell is softer than good ol’ cotton?
Here’s everything you need to know about lyocell.
What is lyocell?
Lyocell is made from wood cellulose that’s made by dissolving wood pulp and mixing it with amine oxide to create a wet, sticky mixture. Then, the mixture is pushed through a machine with holes to make the lyocell fibres, which are ready to be spun into yarn and eventually woven into fabric, after being washed and dried. Lyocell is usually made from eucalyptus trees, but it can also be made from birch or oak trees. The finished fibres are often processed with another material (like cotton, polyester or silk) to enhance the texture, look and functionality. But, lyocell is also often found alone, especially in clothing. “[Lyocell] is typically referred to as a natural fibre because it’s made from plant-based materials,” says Candice Batista, environmental journalist and the editor-in-chief of the Eco Hub. “So, if you don’t add any synthetic fibres, it’s actually fully biodegradable.”
What does it feel like?
Though lyocell can have many different textures (it all depends on how it’s processed), the basic fabric is soft to the touch, hypoallergenic and doesn’t cling. It’s also more absorbent and breathable than cotton, making it a favourite for activewear manufacturers. The ability to mix lyocell with other fibres gives a wide range of uses. Aside from clothing, lyocell is used to make underwear, towels and bedding.
How sustainable is lyocell?
Lyocell is considered sustainable because it’s typically made from eucalyptus trees, which grow super fast, can be grown virtually anywhere and don’t need a lot of irrigation, water or pesticides. Lyocell can use less less than half the amount of water during production than cotton does, helping to reduce the fashion industry’s massive water consumption. (It takes 2,720 litres of water—as much water as you’d drink in three years—to make a single T-shirt.)
What gives lyocell an extra eco-boost is that it doesn’t require any toxic chemicals to produce. Typically, textile manufacturers use highly toxic chemicals like trichloroethane, and according to the World Bank, 20 percent of the world’s water pollution comes from textile dying and treatment. Lenzing AG, an Austrian company that manufactures Tencel lyocell (a branded version of lyocell), is able to recover more than 99 percent of the solvent used to make their product in a closed chemical loop that feeds back into the production process.
So, is lyocell actually good for the environment?
In the end, it comes down to how the entire product is made—and the manufacturing system behind it—not just the material used. While lyocell itself has a lot of potential, how sustainable it is depends on who’s making and selling it.
While a fast fashion brand like H&M, for example, does make 100 percent Tencel lyocell products (meaning they haven’t blended the lyocell with anything else, so it’s fully biodegradable), their final garments aren’t manufactured in a way that’s sustainable or ethical. Fast fashion companies buy Tencel lyocell in bulk and then ship it to factories scattered around the world, where working conditions are harsh. “That’s really where the problem lies, says Batista. “Most of their clothing is made in factories where workers aren’t being paid well or treated fairly.”
On top of how workers are treated, it’s important to think about the environmental footprint of the factory. Let’s be real, fast fashion inventories are massive, and these so-called sustainable products make up a tiny fraction of their stock. A couple lyocell garments won’t offset the negative environmental impact of a factory that uses a ton of fossil fuels or coal or dumps its waste into waterways and landfills. Pretending otherwise is just greenwashing.
How do I know I’m making the most sustainable choice?
Check out the label and do a bit of research before buying an item. If you’re looking into a 100 percent lyocell product, see if you can figure out who made the lyocell. Since Lanzing trademarked Tencel lyocell, it’ll show up that way on your products’ labels. Tencel is definitely the most common lyocell and looking for 100 percent Tencel lyocell ensures that you know where the fabric came from and how it was made. If the label just says “lyocell,” it might be worth it to dig around on the brand’s website to see what you can find out about its manufacturing processes.
Brands that are sustainable and ethical will typically trip over themselves to tell you about the good work they do when it comes to making their products. “They’ll tell you online, ‘This is the factory it comes from, this is a photograph of the people who make the clothes.’ They’re unbelievably transparent,” says Batista. “And those are the brands that you want to align yourself with.”
Another way to make sure you’re making the most sustainable choice is by looking at the third-party certifications, which brands will stick on their labels to prove that they’ve reached certain standards of sustainability. Since there aren’t laws in Canada in place to make sure that clothing brands that say they’re sustainable actually are, looking for reputable third-party certification like Certified Organic, B Corp and Ecolabel can back a brand’s claims.
Now that you know about lyocell, find out if shampoo bars, a low-waste alternative, is worth the swap.
On a frigid February morning, I was running an errand and stopped to grab a coffee, finding myself just a few hundred metres from a boardwalk that snakes along Lake Ontario. It was snowing, and it had been for days. The fluff was piled so high that the usually well-worn path was no longer visible. Snow piled up on the ice that had formed close to shore, while geese glided in the water behind it. Looking out at the horizon, I could hardly believe I was a three-minute walk from a highway, streetcar tracks and a McDonald’s.
As the soft, clumpy flakes continued to fall from the sky, I stopped every few minutes to just stare in wonder, watching the slight ripples in the water move toward me. Throughout the pandemic, I had made going for long walks a priority. But I usually wandered in my neighbourhood in Toronto — through Chinatown, Little Italy and Little Portugal, areas punctuated by storefronts and restaurants. I always felt good after coming back from a stroll, but this felt different. It reminded me of how beautiful winter can be, and it seemed incredible that in just a few short months, people would be sunning on the beach. The to-do list in my mind receded, and before I knew it, my parking app was telling me my hour was up.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I had just gone on an awe walk, an activity in which you lead yourself to witness something that feels expansive. It could be seeing something new or just approaching a familiar site with fresh eyes — I’ve been to the lake a thousand times, but on this day, I was in the right frame of mind to really see it. There’s, of course, loads of research that shows walking alone can put you in a better mood, improve your circulation and help you sleep well. The Japanese concept of forest bathing, the practice of mindfully engaging all five senses while being immersed in nature, is recommended as an effective complementary approach to reduce stress, depression and anxiety. And now, a recent study shows that seeking awe on a walk can also have benefits.
Researchers define awe as the mostly positive emotion you feel when you’re in the presence of something so vast you can’t immediately understand it. Awe is often found in nature — the experience of watching the sun rise over the ocean on an empty beach or a taking long hike in a dense forest. But it can also be experienced by looking at a cityscape, listening to music or absorbing a piece of art that transports you to a sublime place. It can make you feel small (in a good way), reminding you there’s something bigger out there, prompting you to perceive more connection to other people as a result.
The impact of awe walking was studied by a group of researchers, led by Virginia Sturm, an associate professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco, who followed 52 healthy seniors over eight weeks. Participants were split into a control and an experimental group, and the latter was given instructions encouraging them to find something awe-inspiring, guided by two features — physical vastness and novelty. Researchers tracked participants’ emotional experiences before and after the walk, and asked them to take selfies before, during and after, and to fill out a daily survey about their mood.
The results, published in the journal Emotion last fall, were consistent with other studies on awe: Those who went on awe walks felt greater joy and more socially connected afterwards.
Dacher Keltner, a co-author of the study, is one of the pioneers of awe research. Now a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley and host of the podcast The Science of Happiness, Keltner first became interested in awe when he noticed that “the study of positive emotions was pretty impoverished.” He attributes this to the focus on Paul Ekman’s seminal work identifying basic emotions, such as sadness, fear, anger, disgust, contempt, surprise and enjoyment. But Keltner wanted to know more about positive emotions like gratitude, wonder and awe. So he wrote a conceptual paper along with social psychologist Jonathan Haidt in 2003 defining awe, and they began to study it.
“What we started to find is awe can make you more altruistic and reduces stress and the inflammation response in your body; it can give you the sense that you have more time and make you feel more connected to people around you,” says Keltner.
That grew into another challenge, Keltner says: “How do we give people awe in short little doses?” He wanted to counteract the myth that “the only good emotion is an authentic, unplanned emotion.” His research has shown that, actually, the more you practise accessing those emotions, the more you will feel them. “Awe did not wane but bloomed the more awe walks participants took,” the Emotion study concluded.
(Related: Why You Should Reframe Your Goals)
The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley put together a guide on how to awe walk. First, pick a place that has the qualities of physical vastness and novelty, as the study participants did. Second, get in the right frame of mind by preparing to immerse yourself in the experience by, say, turning off your cell phone. The guide recommends doing a bit of breath work: Count to six as you inhale and six as you exhale to ground yourself, and return to this pattern throughout your walk. Then, let your senses take over. If you’re in the forest, listen to the sounds, note what the ground feels like and notice the scents of pine and mud. It also advises you to shift your focus from how large a landscape feels to smaller details — if you’re looking at a lake, for example, shift your focus to the rocks by the water, the moss growing on them and the way the light is hitting it.
With most of us having little access to novelty over this past year in a pandemic, getting out of our heads and into the world could be especially important right now. “We’re all busy and stressed, and maybe even a little more self-involved because of the pandemic,” says Jennifer Stellar, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. Social isolation may be prompting a tendency to ruminate more or even be narcissistic, she adds, which is related to ego. Experiencing awe can be seen as a way to “quiet that ego,” says Stellar, prompting a feeling of self-transcendence that can make people feel more connected to the outside world.
In the Emotion study on awe walking, there was evidence of a growing “small self” mentality in the photos participants took of themselves on their walks — their faces literally took up smaller proportions of the frames compared to the backgrounds as the weeks went on.
Stellar thinks many people already plan experiences in which they will feel awe — for her, it’s efforts to get out of the city to immerse herself in nature, or trips to an art gallery or museum closer to home. And she says there are ways to seek out the feeling even if you aren’t able to leave the house: Try watching YouTube videos of inspiring speeches or a new destination you hope to visit, or taking virtual museum tours.
There’s also a relationship between those who seek out these experiences and openness, she says. People who are more open are more likely to seek out awe, as are children, who are constantly experiencing things for the first time. Take, for example, her 10-month-old’s tendency to stop in her tracks when she sees a dog while out for a walk — not exactly an awe-inspiring event for Stellar. But when adults do experience awe, she says, it can be profound.
“When you think you have a really strong sense of how the world works, and then you see something that defies that — something so beautiful you just can’t imagine it exists,” Stellar says, “it’s powerful.”
Now that you know about the benefits of awe walking, read about how the pandemic has remapped friendships.
Unsurprisingly, plant-based eating is a growing trend. Among adults, about 50 percent say they purchased a meat or dairy alternative in the past three months, according to Sarah Marion, director of syndicated research at Seattle-based market research firm Murphy Research. These purchases include foods like meat crumbles and veggie burgers, tofu, and plant-based yogurt and cheese.
However, the switch to plant-based foods doesn’t necessarily exclude animal products. While vegan and vegetarians strictly or mostly eliminate animal foods, plant-based eaters still include them. Indeed, two-thirds of those surveyed reported buying fresh meat, and three-quarters said they bought dairy foods in the same time period.
(Related: How to Eat a Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet)
Health benefits of plant-based eating
Concern for personal health is a top reason people say they’re trying more plant-based meals. Indeed, there are benefits to swapping some animal foods for plant-based ones.
A 2020 study of almost 11,000 adults published in the British Journal of Nutrition concluded that participants following any dietary pattern that reduces meat consumption had lower body mass indexes (BMIs) and total cholesterol and blood pressure levels compared with people who ate meat on a weekly basis. These markers suggest that a lower-meat diet may reduce the risk of heart disease.
Some study participants who reduced their meat consumption did so through a vegetarian diet, but not all gave up meat altogether. Some followed a flexitarian diet, which is a type of vegetarian diet that’s high on plant-based foods but allows for some meat. Others followed a pescatarian diet—think of it as a vegetarian diet with fish.
Shifting toward more plant foods can have other benefits as well. In a 12-week randomized clinical trial published in 2020 in the journal Nutrients, replacing some animal foods with plant foods resulted in higher fibre intakes, healthier fat consumption (with less saturated fats eaten), and improvements in cholesterol levels.
Eating more plant foods, including fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and pulses, can improve your diet’s nutritiousness by providing more fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and protective plant compounds.
(Related: Top 10 Plant-Based Food Trends for 2021)
Types of plant-based proteins
People shop for plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy for more than just health reasons. Many also want to try new foods and flavours, and are curious about the trend, according to Murphy Research’s State of Our Health syndicated tracker.
There are numerous plant-based proteins to try. Whole food forms of plant-based proteins include beans, legumes, peas, tofu, and edamame. Nuts and seeds, and to a lesser extent whole grains, provide plant-based protein as well. Of course, there are also meat substitutes in the frozen and fresh aisles of your supermarket.
One main difference between most forms of plant protein and animal protein is that plant-based sources may not provide all of the essential amino acids—the building blocks of protein. Your body can’t make essential amino acids, so you need to get them from your diet.
Scientists used to think that the only way to get the full spectrum of amino acids was to combine plant-based protein sources, such as peanut butter with bread or beans with rice. But we now know that this isn’t necessary. It’s more important to get a variety of protein sources throughout the day. This ensures you get all of the amino acids you need.
(Related: Your Guide To Every Nut Butter Out There)
High-protein plant-based breakfast ideas
Barney Butter Powdered Almond Butter
On its own, oatmeal has just 5 grams of protein per half-cup serving, which is hardly enough to qualify it as a high-protein plant-based meal. My secret protein-boosting ingredient is Barney Butter Powdered Almond Butter. This protein powder is practically tasteless and dissolves easily in oats.
Combine two tablespoons of powdered almond butter with a half cup of old-fashioned oats, one teaspoon of cinnamon, one cup of unsweetened almond milk, one teaspoon of chia seeds, one tablespoon of sunflower seeds, and a chopped apple, and you’ll get a muesli-style breakfast that packs 18 grams of plant-based protein and 12 grams of fibre.
You can also use powdered almond protein in smoothies, soups, and baked goods.
Beyond Meat Breakfast Sausage with Avocado Toast
Beyond Meat’s Beyond Breakfast Sausage patties are the perfect swap for ordinary pork sausages, and the switch goes over well with meat eaters since the patties are seasoned just like classic breakfast sausages. Two cooked patties have 11 grams of protein. Serve them alongside a slice of whole-grain toast (gluten-free, if needed) topped with mashed with avocado and tomato slices. Together, this balanced breakfast packs about 18 grams of plant protein.
High-protein plant-based lunch ideas
Instead of chicken, egg, or tuna salad, try using chickpeas. There’s nothing easier than opening and rinsing a can of chickpeas, and they’re a great alternative to animal proteins in your traditional salad recipe. Since classic tuna salad and others use mayonnaise, which contains eggs, you could make this completely plant-based by using mashed avocado instead.
Just combine the avocado mash with chickpeas and mustard (or whatever seasonings you prefer), and scoop the salad mixture over leafy greens. Or stuff it into a whole wheat pita along with some veggies. This meal supplies 18 grams of both protein and fibre, so it’s sure to keep you full and focused for hours.
Smoky lentil salad
Buying ready-to-eat steamed lentils is a convenient way to go. When I want a super-quick, high-protein plant-based meal, I toss them with some smoked paprika and tahini, a spread made from sesame seeds that adds a creamy texture. Then, I scoop the mixture over salad greens and call it a day. Together, a cup of lentils mixed with a tablespoon of tahini has 22 grams of plant protein, 18 grams of fibre, and a spectrum of other nutrients, such as calcium and magnesium.
High-protein plant-based dinner ideas
One of the easiest ways to dip your toe into plant-based eating is to swap your meat burger for a veggie burger. I eat mine with fixings like grilled onions, ketchup, and mustard over a big salad, but feel free to eat yours with a whole grain bun or English muffin and veggies on the side.
Crispy air fryer tofu
I’m convinced that most meat-eaters would like tofu if they seasoned it well and crisped it in the air fryer. Another key to crisping it is pressing the tofu first. Start with extra-firm tofu and drain any liquids it’s packaged in.
Next, slice the block in half lengthwise and stack paper towels on top and beneath it. Put a heavy skillet on top and let it sit for at least 15 minutes, changing the paper towels once midway through. After it’s pressed, cut the tofu into cubes and toss with a mixture of two tablespoons coconut aminos, one tablespoon each sesame oil and olive oil, and one-half teaspoon garlic powder.
Cook for 10 to 15 minutes in an air fryer set at 375 degrees, stirring once midway through. If you don’t have an air fryer, you could also make this in the oven.
Serve the tofu as I do: over brown rice and roasted veggies. With four ounces of tofu and a half cup of cooked brown rice, the combo provides 18 grams of plant protein and six grams of fibre.
The last word
Swapping some of your meat-based meals for plant-based ones can add much-needed nutrients to your diet and may offer health benefits. When it comes to mealtime, preparation is key.
One of the most disappointing things about finances — and life in general, for that matter — is the uncertainty and complexity you have to deal with. It would all be so much easier if you had a clear grasp on what is going to happen next.
But despite that uncertainty, everyone moves forward in areas like our careers and relationships, because you have to if you’re going to meet your goals. It’s no different when it comes to finances — yet people commonly avoid paying attention to them.
And this pandemic has likely made it feel even more impossible to make any headway in the already frustrating and complex world of money. You may have lost your job or your business, or kept it but needed to learn a new way of operating. Your stress level has likely risen, because this pandemic has been weird and frightening. Your family responsibilities may have become heavier. The number of decisions you have to make with brand new information definitely increased exponentially.
Whether your cash flow significantly increased or decreased, your life got tougher. If you weren’t already a personal finance expert, you had to become one because thinking about money got harder. But the issues aren’t going to go away. So how do you move forward?
The answer lies in creating a great decision-making structure that takes into account where you are right now, what you know and the fact that there are some things you simply can’t predict.
I’m a huge fan of the design thinking process, an approach used for practical and creative problem solving, which I believe can also help you deal with the inevitable complexity of personal finances. Design thinking breaks down any issue you’re dealing with into steps that give you the room to focus on what is important to you so you can make great decisions about your future.
There are five steps to the process. Tackle them in order, one at a time.
With money? No, money doesn’t need your empathy — but you do. Empathy, in this case, is about taking the time to truly understand who you are and what you value. You are a constant work in progress, as we all are. You are learning, adapting and developing. Taking this time to reflect will allow you to adjust and tweak your decisions so they meet you exactly where you are right now.
Defining in this case simply means deciding the overall outcomes you want. This can be incredibly tough, but go back to the information you gathered at the empathizing stage, and start defining the key elements of what you want to achieve with your finances. Is retiring at a certain age a priority? Buying a forever home or a cottage? Helping with your kids’ education? What about your own values, which you’ve already spent time thinking about, are they connected with these goals? Why are they important to you?
You’ve figured out what gives you purpose and happiness. You’ve got at least a sketch of what you want out of your life (not your money). Now is the time to ask, And how would my money work to support that?
This is when you might start looking at options. Maybe you want to invest for the long term or save for the short term. Maybe you want to pay down some debt, because doing that will free up the cash flow you need to feel a little more secure and work toward some other goals. You may want to work with your spouse, friends, family or a finance professional to really get a good grasp on what kinds of ideas might work for you.
Now that you have a few options, it’s time to test them. You might use a debt calculator, retirement calculator, or a budgeting or cash flow spreadsheet or app, or work with a financial planner to create thorough projections.
With some ideas about potential outcomes, it’s time to choose the one or two that seem like they can take you where you want to be. You might start making those additional debt payments, contributing to your RRSP or trying a new cash flow strategy. Remember that you’re not married to this just yet — it’s still in the test phase. Try it out. Book some time to see how it worked so you can tweak or change it early enough that anything going sideways can be fixed.
Design thinking is a great tool for your personal finances because your personal finances are all about you, your life and your version of success. When you’re armed with the skills to make great decisions, you’ll be able to stay your course, even when the world around you plunges wildly into the unknown.
Julia Chung is CEO of Spring Plans, an advice-only financial planning firm; vice-president of the Financial Planning Association of Canada; a board director at the Family Enterprise Xchange; and a mentor with SFU’s Young Women in Business.