Though I usually recommend that singers try to stick to eating whole unprocessed foods, the truth is that packaged foods are part of the landscape of our dietary lives. And many unprocessed foods are found in packages as well.
Now if we are eating packaged foods, the priority is to read the ingredients list to make sure you are not getting a food full of artificial sweeteners, colours, preservatives and other chemical additives.
After that we can move on to the Nutrition Facts.
The Nutrition Facts table is on the side of most packaged foods. It’s often found close to the ingredient listing.
The purpose of it is to help consumers make better nutrition decisions. When people can see the number of calories, carbs, sodium, etc. in food, they should be able to eat better, right?
Whether you like the Nutrition Facts table or not, let’s make sure you get the most out of it, since it’s here to stay!
Here’s my four-step crash course on reading the Nutrition Facts table.
Step 1: Serving Size
The absolute most important part of the Nutrition Facts table is to note the serving size. Manufacturers often strategically choose the serving size to make the rest of the table look good. Small serving = small calories/fat/carbs. So, it's tricky.
All the information in the table rests on the amount chosen as the serving size. And, since every manufacturer chooses their own, it’s often difficult to compare two products.
In Canada, in the next few years (between 2017-2022), serving sizes will be more consistent between similar foods. This will make it easier to compare foods. The new labels will also have more realistic serving sizes to reflect the amount that people eat in one sitting, and not be artificially small.
Let’s use an example - plain, unsalted walnuts from Costco.
As you can see, right under the Nutrition Facts header is the serving size. That is a ¼ cup or 30 g. This means that all the numbers underneath it are based on this amount.
FUN EXPERIMENT: Try using a measuring cup to see exactly how much of a certain food equals one serving. You may be surprised at how small it is (imagine a ¼ cup of walnuts).
Step 2: % Daily Value
The % Daily Value (%DV) is based on the recommended daily amount of each nutrient the average adult needs. Ideally, you will get 100% DV for each nutrient every day. This is added up based on all of the foods and drinks you have throughout the day.
NOTE: Since children are smaller and have different nutritional needs if a type of food is intended solely for children under the age of 4, then those foods use a child’s average nutrition needs for the %DV.
The %DV is a guideline, not a rigid rule.
You don’t need to add all of your %DV up for everything you eat all day. Instead, think of anything 5% or less to be a little; and, anything 15% or more to be a lot.
NOTE: Not every nutrient has a %DV. You can see it's missing for things like cholesterol, sugar, and protein. This is because there isn't an agreed "official" %DV for that nutrient. The good news is that the new Nutrition Facts tables will include a %DV for sugar. Keep your eyes out for that.
Step 3: Middle of the table (e.g. Calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, potassium, carbohydrates, and protein)
Calories are pretty straight forward. Here, a ¼ cup (30 g) of walnuts has 200 calories.
Fat is bolded for a reason. That 19 g of fat (29% DV) is total fat. That includes the non-bolded items underneath it. Here, 19 g of total fat includes 1.5 g saturated fat, (19 g - 1.5 g = 17.5 g) unsaturated fat, and 0 g trans fat. (Yes, unsaturated fats including mono- and poly-unsaturated are not on the label, so you need to do a quick subtraction).
Cholesterol, sodium, and potassium are all measured in mg. Ideally, aim for around 100% of potassium and sodium each day. It's easy to overdo sodium, especially if you grab pre-made, restaurant foods, or snacks. Keep an eye on this number if sodium can be a problem for you (e.g. if your doctor mentioned it, if you have high blood pressure or kidney problems, etc.).
Carbohydrate, like fat, is bolded because it is total carbohydrates. It includes the non-bolded items underneath it like fiber, sugar, and starch (not shown). Here, 30 g of walnuts contain 3 g of carbohydrates; that 3 g are all fiber. There is no sugar or starch. And as you can see, 3 g of fiber is 12% of your daily value for fiber.
Proteins, like calories, are pretty straight forward as well. Here, a ¼ cup (30 g) of walnuts contains 5 g of protein.
Step 4: Bottom of the table (e.g. vitamins & minerals)
The vitamins and minerals listed at the bottom of the table are also straightforward. The new labels will list potassium, calcium, and iron. Yes, potassium will drop from the middle of the table to the bottom, and both vitamins A & C will become optional.
Manufacturers can add other vitamins and minerals to the bottom of their Nutrition Facts table (this is optional). And you'll notice that some foods contain a lot more vitamins and minerals than others do.
I hope this crash course in the Nutrition Facts table was helpful. While you can take it or leave it when it comes to making food decisions, it’s here to stay. And it will change slightly over the next few years.
Do you have questions about it? Have you seen the new labels with a %DV for sugar? If so, leave me a comment below.
Or join our free online community at Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice.
Recipe (walnuts): Delicious and Super-Easy Walnut Snack
This is a great snack for singers on the go!
8 walnut halves
4 dates, pitted
Make a "date sandwich" by squeezing each date between two walnut halves.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Try with pecans instead.
This week is the final week of my first session at Resonanz Opera in Mentor, Ohio. All the singers enrolled in this program have come such an amazingly long way in understanding themselves and their instruments.
I’ve been putting them through their paces with physical workouts designed for singers, as well as teaching them about health from a singer’s perspective.
We’re often given a list of vocal health tips that include a bunch of dos and don’ts. One of these is often – eat well. But what exactly does “eat well” mean and how does it affect the voice?
That is what these singers have been learning. And I’m going to share with you seven ways that good nutrition will aid your voice.
What is good nutrition?
When speaking of voice care, many sources will state what not to eat before performing, such as:
Or you may get very general advice such as:
Or advice of foods to avoid if you suffer from acid reflux.
This can leave you asking, “What are nutritious foods?” So you Google, you read labels at the grocery store and you’re still confused.
With so many seemingly conflicting diets out there how are you supposed to know what to do? Well, one thing they all have in common is that you are to reduce the amount of processed food in your diet and increase the whole foods, that is foods as close to their natural source as possible.
In addition, all of these diets stress eating more plant-based foods, especially vegetables.
7 Ways Good Nutrition Helps Your Voice
So if you are eating a more plant-based diet, here’s what it will do for your voice:
1. Improves energy levels.
The Standard American Diet (SAD), now adopted by many Western societies, is full of processed foods that have your blood sugars unbalanced, with a sugar high followed by a sugar crash. This can leave you feeling sapped of energy.
Eating whole foods, rich in fibre allow for a slower release of sugar into the blood stream maintaining a steady blood sugar level. Healthy sources of carbohydrates and fat are your bodies primary energy sources, but the nutrients in vegetables, especially in dark leafy greens will give you even more of a boost in energy.
2. Improves immunity.
The SAD diet is low on many immune boosting nutrients. Vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients that aid in warding off those colds and sore throats, and even allergies that singers dread are missing in processed foods. Taking vitamin pills or having vitamins and minerals added into these foods is not the same, since they don’t get absorbed into the body as well and are limited to only a few nutrients versus the thousands of nutrients available in real whole plant foods. Whole food sources are designed for our bodies and have a wealth of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients that will keep your immune system strong.
3. Balances hormones.
Keeping hormones balanced can have a big impact on the voice from keeping the swelling of the vocal folds associated with PMS at bay to managing stress responses to keeping your mood at an even keel. Diet plays a large role in this. You can read more about hormones and the voice here.
4. Keeps collagen and elastin fibres in the vocal folds supple.
The tissues of the vocal folds consist of collagen and elastin fibres. These proteins are responsible for flexibility and resiliency of tissues. We see it especially in our skin – wrinkles form as less collagen and elastin are formed. It’s not just superficial aging we need to worry about. We need to maintain elasticity of the vocal folds. Vitamin C is vital in the formation of collagen, as well as other nutrients such as hyluronic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, lycopene, sulfur containing foods, vitamin A and plant steroids. A healthy diet rich in a variety of plant foods like fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and beans and legumes will ensure that you have all the nutrients to keep producing collagen.
5. Speeds up recovery between vocal use.
As we sing we are using many muscles; laryngeal and respiratory getting the most use. With athletic use the muscles will start to break down and need to repair. You may also be experiencing some inflammation from overuse, as well as a build up of lactic acid. Hydration is essential, but so is a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods and lean protein to repair and re-build the used muscles so that you will be ready for the next singing session.
6. Maintains appropriate body composition.
Body composition can definitely have an affect on your voice. Energy levels are higher because there is not excess adipose tissue to carry around. It’s easier to carry out the demands of a director (Does he ask you to fall to the ground? How many times do you need to do this over and over in rehearsal? Can you do it without effort and maintaining support of the voice as you do it? Or maybe you’re a musical theatre performer and need to dance while you sing.) Also, if you are prone to yo-yo dieting it’s hard to maintain a sense of support as your weight fluctuates widely. By eating a healthy plant-based diet, you will be easily able maintain a consistent weight that will service your voice and your health and keep cravings at bay.
7. Reduces risk of vocal injury.
Ultimately, every singer wants to enjoy a lifetime of singing. Avoiding vocal injury is one way to ensure that. When you have improved energy levels, less inflammation and less illness you will be able to sing with less effort (provided you also have good technique in hand). This will reduce the risk of damaging your vocal folds either through a hemorrhage, nodules or polyps. A healthy diet high in plant-foods, which are rich in anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals, phytonutritents and omega-3 fatty acids, can be highly anti-inflammatory. Some especially anti-inflammatory herbs include ginger and tumeric, so if you feel inflammation, load up on them. Try this tumeric milk recipe.
So make sure you are cutting the processed foods and eating a wide variety of fresh or frozen plant foods. As they say: “Eat the rainbow”. Your voice will love you for it.
Get more guidance on how to eat healthly in our Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice community.
There has been a lot of conflicting information about dairy products for singers. Some say it causes excess mucus, some say that it’s a myth that’s been debunked. Most singers will agree that it feels icky if you have to sing right after consuming dairy.
For those that have dairy intolerance to lactose, casein, and whey it can be a concern and affect your ability to sing at your peak. Read on to find out the low-down on dairy...
Having a food intolerance is not fun. It can cause abdominal pain, discomfort, and nausea. It also causes embarrassing symptoms like flatulence and diarrhea. Other symptoms linked to food intolerances include muscle or joint pain, headaches, exhaustion, and even skin symptoms like rashes and eczema.
Definitely no fun to sing with abdominal pain, bloating, muscle pains, headaches or exhaustion.
Dairy is just one of those foods that many people seem to be intolerant of. Let’s talk about the main components of milk that people react to: lactose, casein, and whey.
Milk sugar (lactose) intolerance
It’s estimated that up to 75% of adults are lactose intolerant. Lactose is the carbohydrate “milk sugar” naturally found in most dairy products. Lactose intolerance is so common you can buy lactose-free milk in your regular grocery store. Lactose-free products are treated with the enzyme “lactase” that breaks the lactose down before you ingest it. It’s this lactase enzyme that is lacking in most people who are lactose intolerant.
The lactase enzyme is naturally released from your intestine as one of your digestive enzymes. It breaks down the lactose sugar in the gut. When someone doesn't have enough lactase, the lactose doesn't get broken down the way it should. Undigested lactose ends up being food for the resident gut microbes. As they ferment the lactose, they create gases that cause bloating, flatulence, pain, and sometimes diarrhea.
Lactose is in dairy but is in lower amounts in fermented dairy (e.g. cheese & yogurt) and butter. Steering clear of lactose isn't that easy as it is added to other foods like baked goods, soups, and sauces. And if you're taking any medications or supplements, check to see if it's in there too, as lactose is a common ingredient in them.
If you have symptoms of lactose intolerance, keep an eye on food, medication, and supplement labels.
Milk protein (casein & whey) allergy
Milk is a known, and common, food allergen. In Canada, it is considered a “priority allergen” and must be declared on food labels.
So, what are the allergens in milk? You've heard of "curds and whey?" Well, these are the two main proteins in milk. The solid bits are the curds (made of casein), and the liquid is the dissolved whey.
Unlike lactose intolerance, casein and whey can cause an actual immune response. It’s an allergy. And this immune response can cause inflammation, which can put you at higher risk of vocal injury. In fact, we don’t know how many people have these milk allergies, but most estimates put it far below that of lactose intolerance.
Like lactose, these allergenic milk proteins can be found in other products too. They're not just in dairy but are often in protein powders as well (Have you heard of "whey" protein powders?).
Some of the symptoms of milk protein allergy differ from that of lactose intolerance; things like nasal congestion and mucus (phlegm) are more common here. And casein seems to be linked with belly fat.
Interestingly, people who have gluten intolerance are often allergic to milk proteins like whey and casein as well. These can go hand-in-hand.
Like lactose intolerance, if you're allergic to casein and whey keep an eye on labels so you can avoid these.
If you get gassy, bloated, or diarrhea after eating dairy, you may have a lactose intolerance. If you often get a stuffy nose and mucus, then you may be allergic to casein and/or whey.
While dairy may be an entire food group, it is not an essential nutrient. All the nutrients in dairy are available in other foods. If you experience these symptoms, you can try removing dairy from your diet. You may find improved digestion and fewer gut issues. Or you may find improved nasal congestion, or even less belly fat. You may even find you recover faster from vocal fatigue since inflammation places a large part in this.
If you decide to (or have already) removed dairy from your diet, let me know your experience in the comments below.
Recipe (Dairy-free): Chocolate Ice "Cream"
3 bananas, sliced and frozen
2 tsp cacao powder, unsweetened
1 tbsp almond butter
Place frozen bananas in food processor and blend until smooth (a few minutes). You may have to stop a few times to scrape the sides.
Add cacao powder and almond butter and blend until mixed well.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: You can make this in advance and freeze in an airtight container.
To get more great dairy free recipes, join our free Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice community.
This summer is a whirlwind for me this year. Often I spend my summers enjoying some time to myself, training for triathlon, some light planning for the fall and teaching voice one day a week. My online world continues, but not teaching really frees up a lot of time.
This summer however, is vastly different – and in a good way. I’d say even a GREAT way.
It started of with a bang with five days in Vegas at the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) conference .
That was loaded with inspiration; refreshing old ideas and exploring new ones.
With my head still swimming with all of that, I made my way to Resonanz Opera in Ohio, where I’m pulling triple duty as director of the high school internship program, teaching health & wellness for singers in my LIVE Empowered Singer program and stepping in for the Abbess in Suor Angelica. This last one was impromptu as the originally cast Abbess could not make it. Good thing I brought my score!!!
We started off our Empowered Singer program talking about mindfulness and ways of thinking. And it was also the subject of a couple of sessions at the NATS conference. This is a subject of growing importance to singers.
In an industry where we can feel such negativity - feeling examined under a microscope, dealing with rejections, feeling the heat of competition, being our own worse critic, struggling with finances and so on, it can all affect our ability to free our voices, to open ourselves to our own vulnerability, to be confident in that vulnerability, to be able to cope with the stresses in the face of that negativity, and to bring out our true creative nature.
Great performers have learned to overcome this. In part this is due to these traits that they have in common:
A fighting-spirit: That doesn’t mean you’re going to get in a catfight with that arrogant soprano with a diva complex (she’s probably dealing with issues of her own). What it means is that you have the fight in YOU to carry on no matter what obstacles come your way, to fight to make YOURSELF the BEST you can be, to keep improving in all aspects of your life.
The ability to focus their attention: In times of stress if the stress levels get too high we can hyper-focus, that is we narrow our range of focus and often to the negative. At the same time if there is too little feeling of stress or nervousness then there is a lack of focus and can become easily distracted. Finding that middle ground of our stress response allows us to focus on the task at hand with detachment from emotional responses without sacrificing expressivity – sometimes this is called the Flow State.
A positive attitude: Towards yourself and others. Being willing to learn and grow. The ability to forgive.
Self-Confidence: So often we think of self-confidence associated with body image and as the opposite of shy, and though to some extent that’s true, it’s also confidence in the skills you have, and being confident that you will master the skills you don’t yet have.
Self-Discipline: Of course, we know we need self-discipline to practice, but it is also the self-discipline to practice effectively. There is also the self-discipline required to keep detached during performances and detached from distractions, and finally, self-discipline in other areas of your life that may have a bearing on your instrument, such as looking after your health.
Determination: In the face of all odds you are determined to get the outcome you want. Whether it is to perform your best at your next concert, get a handle on your finances or the determination to make this career choice work for you, your determination will find ways to tackle any obstacle.
You can have these traits, too!
The good news is all these traits can be learned and practiced. The most effective path is through mindfulness.
Mindfulness can be used in many ways:
Studies have shown that meditation and other mindfulness practices do actually make physiological changes to your brain.
Mindfulness can be informal or formal.
Formal include practices such as prayer, transcendental meditation, visualization practices and yoga.
Informal practices can be washing dishes, eating mindfully, walking or running (when runners get in the zone), taking a shower.
Most likely you will use a combination of different types of mindfulness to achieve different outcomes.
You may use informal methods to calm yourself or unleash creativity (the best ideas always seem to come in the shower) or even learn to focus (focus on experiencing your meals, slowly chewing, tasting, smelling).
Formal methods can help you reach deeper into yourself to make changes. Get over performance anxiety or learn how to control your temper by practicing visualization of the situation you are going to be in that may trigger the unwanted responses. You can use visualization to improve motor skills, as well – a great way to practice when you’re traveling and won’t be able to properly vocalize.
Mindfulness practices usually will cross-over to other benefits, just the focus of attention may change. Example: A visualization practice will help you focus, de-stress, release tension and master a skill.
There are many apps available that can lead you through guided meditations. Choose one and get started to reach heights of awareness you didn’t think were possible. You can start of with as little as 5 minutes a day.
The key to success with mindfulness is to practice it consistently. Focus on one area of improvement at a time and stick with it for at least three weeks before moving on to another skill or goal.
If you want more guidance on mindfulness join our free community at Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice.
Follow The Fit Singer on Facebook or Instagram to follow my adventures at Resonanz this summer and get more tips on all things vocal health.