Wellness Show guru prescribes skepticism

Carbs are bad for you. Carbs are good for you. Trans fats are evil. But some fats are beneficial. Drinking wine is healthy. But not if you drink too much. We should all consume eight glasses of water a day. Or maybe not.

The media, health magazines, and the latest get-thin-quick books constantly bombard us with nutritional advice, as do our friends and family. But opinions on how to eat right seem to change as fast as fashion trends, and it's hard to keep up, much less ferret out useless fads. This overload of sometimes contradictory information can lead to frustration and the impulse to throw up your hands in despair and ask, "What am I supposed to eat, anyways?"

Nutritional educator Allison Tannis took those words out of her mother-in-law's mouth and made them the title for her seminar on food and dieting. The author of Vitality: Quest for a Healthy Diet in the Wake of the Low Carb Craze (self-published, 2005), Tannis will speak at the 14th annual Wellness Show, this weekend (February 3 to 5) at the Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Centre. With more than 200 exhibitors, there will be plenty of people promoting their products and ideas on how to get and stay healthy, as well as workshops on how to make sense of it all.

On the line from Guelph, Ontario, Tannis tells the Straight that she hopes to simplify nutrition for visitors to the show. "A lot of people are downright confused," she says. In 2005, there was a lot of talk in the media about the merits and drawbacks of low-carb diets versus low-fat ones, and people don't know what to believe anymore. The nutritionist hopes to debunk myths like "fat is bad" and "carbs are bad" and give tips on how to separate fact from fiction.

Tannis admits that nutrition is a confusing business. She says new information is being discovered every day, and it's hard to follow. Her strategy? Teach people the essentials, like which fats are beneficial and which to avoid. Then give them the tools to make better choices when shopping, by teaching them how to read a nutritional-fact panel, which she will do at her seminars on Friday and Sunday (February 3 and 5).

Once you've got that down, Tannis argues, you should approach new health trends with skepticism. "Take anything you hear on the six o'clock news with a grain of salt," she says. "If it seems to contradict the fundamental basics of food and nutrition, you probably want to have a little caution before diving in headfirst."

Tannis isn't the only presenter at the Wellness Show who hopes to help people cope with information overload. Toronto research scientist Y. Michael Chan, founder of Wellness Options magazine, will give a seminar on Saturday (February 4) on exactly that: How to Evaluate Health and Wellness Information.

Other presenters will offer different takes on what constitutes proper nutrition. Ironman triathlete Brendan Brazier will speak on how plant-based whole foods contribute to optimal health. Sara Rosenthal will talk about the importance of glycemic control for Type 2 diabetes. Cathi Graham, who was once 326 pounds (148 kilograms) but lost 186 of them (85 kilograms) and has kept them off for over 20 years, will give her take on foods that she believes decrease wrinkles and cellulite.

The cooking stage, which is the show's most popular feature, runs over the three days, with culinary demonstrations often using organic and natural foods. Rob Feenie will be there Friday stirring up chunky tomato soup, Hidekazu Tojo will make healthy Japanese dishes on Saturday, and Le Crocodile's Frank Berthelon will present his French secrets on Sunday. As well, there will be plenty of health-food stores and suppliers advertising their wares. One can always hope for samples.

Food and nutrition are only part of the show, however, as wellness is the operative word. In the mental-health realm, Judy Zhu, who is a practitioner of Chinese medicine and acupuncture, will speak on healing depression and anxiety. Wellness Options magazine editor Lillian Chan will talk about "coping with everyday hassles and stress" and how they affect your health. Along the same lines, social psychologist Larry Axelrod and mediator and psychotherapist Roy Johnson will lead a workshop on dealing with conflict, a major source of stress. Participants can also learn to cope with stress through workshops on laughter and singing.

Spiritual health will be represented as well. Ever wondered what a chakra is? Michael D'Alton, who practices bio-energy therapy, will explain. Andi Alexander will talk on pranic healing, which the show's program calls a "non-touch form of energy healing that works on physical and psychological issues and illnesses".

For those who tire of seminars, there's plenty of activity. On the demonstration stage, visitors can attend classes in yoga, Pilates, pole dancing, and tai chi. (Preregister at www.thewellness show.com/.) The Thai Massage Center of Canada will give a hands-on demonstration of some of the 134 different positions and techniques used in traditional Thai massage. For kids, there will be a group of gymnastics clubs from around the Lower Mainland performing short floor routines to music, and there will be exercise circuits that everyone can try out.

With some 40 health-and-wellness experts promoting their ideas, and hundreds of others showing off their products and services, it all sounds a bit overwhelming. But if you pick and choose what you visit, it doesn't have to be.

Nutritionist Tannis wants participants to learn something practical from her seminar. "I hope they walk away feeling more confident about their ability to make healthy choices."

On the often confusing path to wellness, that seems like a worthwhile goal.

The Wellness Show runs February 3 from noon to 8 p.m., February 4 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and February 5 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. General admission is $10. For more information and seminar schedules, see www.thewellnessshow.com/ or call 604-983-2794.