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Finding food that's the best fit for you

When it comes to healthy eating, "cardboard-flavoured" need not be a food qualifier when making nutritious additions to nosh on.

"Most people think I'm going to make them totally change their diet and make them eat salad and weird health foods all the time," said Aviva Allen with a laugh, "but that's not the case."

Allen is a registered holistic nutritionist, operating out of the Toronto-based Pande Family Wellness Centre. Not working in a hospital is what separates her from standard dieticians, their work usually involving "figuring out how much to feed someone through a tube," she said.

"A holistic nutritionist is looking at the whole person. It's not just about how many calories or fat grams someone's eating. It's about the larger picture and the quality of the food — how it's grown and processed."

But Allen's focus wasn't always on food. She started out in the skin-care industry and shifted to nutrition when she realized that creams just don't seem to cut it. "Most of what's happening on people's skin is a reflection of what's happening on the inside — what they're putting into their body, stress and hormones," she said.

Today, Allen tends to clients struggling with digestive issues, weight loss and gain, high cholesterol, low energy and meal planning, among other ailments.

Her method is informed by prior stints tilling the land on an organic farm in Connecticut and studying at a mostly-vegetarian chef-training program in New York. But her nutritionist certification came from the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition, which has locations in five provinces and also offers courses through distance education.

Nutritional consulting is not regulated in Canada, although there are informal bodies like the International Organization of Nutritional Consultants that aims to establish educational requirements in the field. Since practitioners in the profession may vary in how they treat their clients, it's Allen's approach she said makes her practice unique.

"With a lot of health practitioners … you can often walk away with a list of foods to avoid."

But it's the short-term commitment Allen said clients make to such exclusions that fails to help them in the long run.

"It should be long term, so you've got to make the changes slowly if you want it to stick. I will introduce people to new foods … good-tasting foods that are also healthy. By introducing the healthy foods into your diet, eventually they'll cut out the bad ones."

You can reach Allen at her website, avivaallen.com.

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