Expert Interview Series: Vincci Tsui of vinccitsui.com About Eating Well For Your Specific Lifestyle

Vincci Tsui, RD is a registered dietitian, food lover, and eater who helps people discover their unique way of eating well that fits in with their lifestyle and health and wellness needs. We sat down with Vincci to pick...

Eating healthy

Vincci Tsui, RD is a registered dietitian, food lover, and eater who helps people discover their unique way of eating well that fits in with their lifestyle and health and wellness needs. We sat down with Vincci to pick her brain about healthy eating and the pitfalls of "dieting."

Tell us a little about your background. Why did you decide to become a dietitian and nutritionist?

Growing up, I did pretty well in school; and when you live in a stereotypical Chinese household, the dream is that you would be a doctor or lawyer, or take over the family business or something. All of these things sounded too stressful to me.

But we had a family friend who was a dietitian, and I was always fascinated by how the food that we ate turned into nutrients that our body could use, so I took the leap and registered in a dietetics program. I'm very grateful that it has turned out to be a career that I love and one that most people can relate to. Everybody eats and has an opinion on food, while everyone's eyes glaze over when my husband talks about his software development!

Wait a minute... is it really possible to maintain a healthy diet while eating real, delicious food? Even for non-vegans and non-vegetarians?

Yes! While studies show that choosing more plant-based foods can help prevent many chronic diseases, you definitely do not have to adopt a vegan or vegetarian diet to be healthy - or worse, rely on "diet foods," protein shakes, or juice cleanses.

There is so much nutrition noise out there that I see so many people paralyzed and overwhelmed about what to eat. Most of us know more about how to eat well than we think, and I think it comes down to trusting your intuition and using a little bit of common sense.

My 4 Foundations of Healthy Eating are a good place to start:

1) Eat every 3-5 hours, or at least 3 times a day.

2) Choose minimally processed foods most often.

3) Choose a variety of foods at every meal and snack.

4) Stay hydrated.

Tell us a secret about dieting or eating to lose weight that most people probably don't know about.

We have less control over our weight than we think. We are not machines; you cannot expect to lose X weight over Y time if you ate Z calories per day. There are so many factors that contribute to our weight that are beyond our control, like genetics, time of day, time of the month, fluid status, or even whether we've gone to the washroom. It pains me to see people obsess about the number on the scale, or the number of calories they've eaten in a day, when at the end of the day, it doesn't matter.

Eating well is not like the Olympics, where you're training for that one pinnacle, life-changing moment. It's not about white-knuckling it and spending hours on the treadmill and eating bland, tasteless food until you reach a goal weight. A number on the scale is not going to make you happy.

Eating well is about multiple moments: the choices that you continue to make every single day so that you can make even more quality moments. It's about the behavior, not the outcome; the journey, not the destination.

What are some common mistakes people make when they are trying to eat healthy?

A lot of people are striving for the "perfect diet," which frankly doesn't exist. People often ask me what is the "best fruit" or the "best vegetable" to eat, when really, any fruit or vegetable can benefit. Less than half of Canadians eat more than 5 servings of vegetables and fruit per day (and for those who care, Canada's Food Guide recommends 7-10 servings).

There's a lot of all-or-nothing thinking when it comes to food; and in most cases, it does more harm than help. That's because it causes people to categorize foods into "good" or "bad," and there's so much guilt tied up in eating "bad" foods.

I often talk about the 80/20 Rule: you want to make healthful and wholesome choices 80% of the time, while allowing that 20% of the time as room for those less healthy, nutrient-poor choices because they are a part of life. It's not realistic to expect to live without birthday cake, wine, or whatever your favorite treats or indulgences may be.

Do you mind sharing one of your favorite great-tasting recipes that also happens to be healthy?

Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup

[If you don't have a slow cooker, this recipe can easily be adapted for the stove top - simply simmer until the chicken breasts are cooked through, about 20-30 minutes.]

Makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients

2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Salt & pepper, to taste

1 can (4 fl oz/127 mL) green chiles, drained

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 yellow onion, diced

1 can (28 fl oz/796 mL) diced tomatoes, including juice

½ cup (125 mL) chicken broth

1 tbsp (15 mL) cumin

2 tbsp (30 mL) cilantro, chopped

½ cup (125 mL) Monterey jack cheese, shredded

Tortilla chips, crumbled (about ¼ cup per serving)

1 avocado, diced and tossed with lime juice to prevent browning

1 lime, cut into wedges

Instructions

  1. Heat up a pan over medium-high heat. Pat your chicken breasts dry with a paper towel, then season both sides of each breast with salt and pepper. Once the pan is nice and hot, add oil. Carefully place the chicken into the pan, and let sit for 5 minutes before flipping to the other side. The goal here is NOT to cook the chicken through, but you want to see a nice brown crust forming on the outside of the chicken to add flavor when it's slow cooking. Let sit for another 4-5 minutes on the other side, then remove from pan and place chicken in slow cooker.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine chilies, garlic, onion, tomatoes, chicken broth, and cumin. Stir well and pour over chicken. Cook on low for 4 hours. Remove the chicken from the slow cooker to a cutting board; and using two forks, shred the chicken into bite-size pieces. Return to the slow cooker. Adjust seasoning and add additional chicken broth or water if it's too thick.
  3. Once the soup is ready, stir in cilantro. Serve in soup bowls, topping each with shredded cheese, tortilla chips, diced avocado, and a squeeze of lime.

Since you also advise athletes on their nutrition, tell us about some of the typical athletes that you work with and how you are able to help them.

I mainly work with runners, particularly long-distance runners, in order to make sure that they're fueling properly before, during, and after training; as well as in their day-to-day regimen so that they can perform their best in competition. I am also working with a Strongman competitor, which has been really fun since the needs for strength and power-based sports are very different!

When you are cooking in your kitchen, what is the one item, tool, or utensil that you just can't go without?

My chef's knife! Having a good, sharp knife makes cooking that much more enjoyable.

For someone who is trying to lose weight and keep it off, what would be the one kitchen item that he or she should purchase to help accomplish that goal?

Any item that makes cooking more approachable, doable, and enjoyable for them. Preparing your own meals more often puts you in the driver's seat when it comes to what's in your food and how it's prepared. So, if there's anything that will get that person more excited about cooking, whether it's a good, sharp knife, cute bento boxes for meal prep, or a slow cooker so that they can "set it and forget it," they deserve to treat themselves to it!

Need a good chef's knife? Check out Cilantro's selection today!