Welcome to Rhea's Research!

Rhea's Research encompasses the research I've done on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I'm committed to the transformation of humanity through the healing power of food and exercise and I'm using this platform as a means to share my tips, ideas and insights.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Dr. Rhea's hangout shout-out! Dr. Rhea's hangout shout-out! This WED at 6pm EST.. see you lovelies there! #livingrhea #hangout

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The rising tide of vegetarianism

An article I wrote for Fashion Studio 7

The rising tide of vegetarianism  

Rhea Mehta, PhD Toxicology

The ‘Rachel’ haircut. Dogs as accessories.  Big sunglasses. Thick eyebrows. Many of the style trends we see today were initiated by Hollywood and media icons. Like fashion trends, holistic movements like vegetarianism, yoga and cleansing are also emerging among celebrities. Once exclusively linked to hippies and health nuts, vegetarianism is now on the rise and is gaining popularity amongst an eclectic community. Some celebrities, like Woody Harrelson, Toby McGuire and Erykah Badu have silently been on this path for years. While several others like Alicia Silverstone, Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Clinton, albeit more recent converts, have become powerful advocates for vegetarianism, or more specifically veganism, as the best approach to healthy and sustainable living. 

 I should note that I’m using the term vegetarianism very broadly. There are several varieties of the diet and multiple reasons for adopting such a precise lifestyle. Before I dive into the types and motives, I’ll start by defining what it means to be a vegetarian. Wikipedia describes vegetarianism as the practice of following a plant-based diet with or without the inclusion of dairy products, eggs or by-products of animal slaughter and with the exclusion of meat (poultry, seafood and red meat). Under the umbrella of a vegetarian diet lies a cluster of sub-categories, some of which include semi-vegetarian (consumption of dairy, eggs, poultry and seafood but no red meat); ovo-lacto vegetarian (eggs and dairy only); ovo-vegetarian (eggs); lacto-vegetarian (dairy); vegan (neither animal products nor by-products) and often labelled as the most gruelling and complex. 

Why have we created such an extensive and formal list of vegetarian sub-groups? The reason for this is what brings me to my next point—adoption motives. Those who pursue vegetarianism are usually motivated by particular drivers—be it for health (weight loss, disease prevention, food allergies), the environment (utilization of fewer resources) or ethics (reduced animal suffering, religion). Regardless of their intent, most would agree that upon making the transition to a vegetarian diet, they realized an enhanced life experience. 

My choice to switchover to an ovo-vegetarian diet stemmed from health reasons—dairy sensitivities that haunted me for a number of years until I developed the strength to restructure my diet. Besides no longer wanting to feel ill, I was motivated by the fact that I was not alone and that there was an entire community, both global and local, to support my efforts. I took pride and comfort in the very notion that celebrities—the world’s most watched and adored people—were taking a stance on vegetarianism. Overtime, I’ve become so passionate and knowledgeable about the many health advantages of a plant-based diet, and like those advocating from an environmental or ethics perspective, I endeavour to share my research and learnings on the healing power of food. 

This winter season, why not challenge yourself to preparing a hearty, nutritious veggie meal? Better yet, why not consider going vegetarian this Monday? Meatless Mondays, powered by the Toronto Vegetarian Association, is an initiative to help Torontonians make one day a week meat-free, as a means to protect your health, reduce your carbon foot print and cutback on cruelty.  As with the majority of global actions, the vegetarian movement can’t be accomplished without support from the people. So, take a stand with me! Let’s go veg this Monday and take pride in our contribution toward reducing global energy consumption and subsequently protecting our health. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Beauty is not only skin deep

Article #4: TCHAD Quarterly.

Beauty is not only skin deep 

Rhea Mehta, PhD

I've been shopping at natural food stores for years, but always for food. I've proudly passed by the beauty sections, sometimes glancing over, but mostly inadvertently thinking I had that part of my routine covered. I'm a Toxicologist by training, but I failed to consider the potential side effects or 'toxicity' of the products I smothered all over my face, body and hair on a regular basis. Until one day, that is. On this day, curiosity got the best of me. I went to a natural food store specifically to examine the beauty section. I read the ingredients of nearly 100 creams, makeup, fragrances and hair care products, and to my surprise, I was shocked. The labels of most products read 'free of [chemical or irritant]'. Did that mean that other products containing these were harmful? And if so, was I using them? 

Through my training, I had learned and read about these chemicals, but never in the context of beauty. These chemicals are widely used in personal care products, often as synthetic preservatives, like parabens, which are known to extend the product's shelf life and stop microbes from growing in the moist environment of a bathroom. Other chemicals, such as sodium laureth/lauryl sulfates, are used to foam and emulsify greasy substances, while phthalates are used to mix ingredients together and act as stabilizers to retain scent, as in fragrances. Finally, the heavy metal lead, although restricted from cosmetics in Canada, may still be found in colour additives that are used to colour lipsticks. Mainstream companies often load their products with these chemicals to cut costs and save time. 

Natural products are often more effective because they use higher levels of active ingredients and as a result, they do much more good than harm. They are safer alternatives, but they often carry a higher price tag.  Another issue is that most regulatory bodies, such as Health canada and the Food and Drug Administration, have deemed these chemicals as safe and non-threatening despite not actually having enforced safety testing or reviewed the safety of ingredients. Without regulatory pressure, expecting people to increase their awareness and modify their buying habits becomes even harder. 

Independent and academic groups do exist however, and are attempting to take a stand and shed the light on the dangers of mainstream beauty products. For example, the not for profit, Environmental Working Group, created a cosmetic database to rank chemical-loaded cosmetics with known or suspected health risks, such as skin allergies, cancer and sexual development and birth defects. EWG is working hard to call to action on a number of beauty-related health risks, but the debate lingers. Until research can directly connect our everyday exposure to severe health risks, these chemicals will continue to lurk in our beauty products. 

There's still so much the average beauty product consumer doesn't know about her products. According to EWG, the average American woman uses 9-10 beauty products every morning before leaving the house. That number at least quadrupled would amount to the number of chemicals entering your body simply as part of your morning routine. Skin is our largest organ, meaning, whatever we put on our bodies is going to be absorbed and end up on the inside. That in itself should trigger alarm bells. 

My intention isn't to tell you which products to use or which to avoid, simply because there is still so much uncertainty. It is reasonable though to ask that we all be more aware, explore our options and do the necessary deeper digging if we are so inclined. There is a plethora of useful resources, like the EWG, that can help guide you on your path. 

Yes, that day was a turning point for me. It showed me what was possible and prompted further exploration. I continue to use natural products and have even attempted to make them myself. I have realized the positive health implications simply by seeing the way my skin and hair have transformed. I still have much to learn, but just knowing that I'm caring for my body as best as I can is motivation enough to continue on this natural journey. 

East Meets West

Article #3 in TCHAD Quarterly. 

East Meets West
Evolution of yoga

Rhea Mehta, PhD

Yoga is an ancient, self-empowering practice that was born in India millennia ago. Though originally associated with religious scriptures, yoga has exploded as a trend in the Western world. It essentially became its own genre of fitness in the 1980s when it was redefined by modern yoga gurus as a physical system of health exercises, independent of religion. Its mainstream following has expanded even further in more recent times thanks to celebrities like Madonna and Angelina Jolie who have embraced the practice. 

The term yoga literally means union. It is derived from the Sanskrit word yuj, meaning to yoke. The act of yoga refers to the “yoking together” of the mind, body and spirit. For the past few years, I’ve been on a steady journey through the practice of yoga.  Along the way, I’ve sampled an assortment of techniques and developed a breadth of fresh wisdom and understanding. What started off as a means to build core strength and stability has also resulted in an increased level of clarity, harmony and wellbeing. 

Yoga in the West is typically derived from the Hatha style. The art of Hatha is based on the basic features of yoga—breathing techniques, dynamic physical movements and postures, with the purpose of enhancing balance and concentration.  The postures are called asanas, a term which means steady pose. Each asana is meant to be held for some time to release tension and increase strength and flexibility. The specific postures improve the health of the spine and circulation throughout the body, stimulating the organs and nerves. Modern adaptations of Hatha include physically demanding styles like Ashtanga Vinyasa or slow, gentle movements like Yin yoga. 

In ancient times, the aim of the person practicing yoga was often to achieve tranquility and spiritual insight. Yoga today has attracted the interest of medical researchers who are striving to understand and interpret the therapeutic and health benefits of the practice. This has shifted the attention of many modern day instructors and students to include increased fitness or weight loss, health maintenance or restoration and stress reduction. 

The path of yoga requires dedication, regular practice and the quietening of one’s restless mind. My personal journey with yoga continues, as I endeavour to remain fit and healthy in addition to achieving the spiritual goals of the ancient gurus. At the very least, yoga can be an enjoyable supplement to your regular fitness routine. If maintained over time, it can change the way you experience your inner and outer worlds. 


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Article #2 in the 'Hollywood North' issue of TCHAD Quarterly

This article was written in spirit of the Toronto International Film Festival... 

the big clean
the art of the cleanse

Celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayek and Beyonce Knowles are advocates for cleansing before big events, like walking the red carpet.  Despite their intention, which often is to lose weight, the stars are also rewarded with a deep cleaning of their bodies.  They look great, but is it the lost inches or the cleanse that gives them their extra glow?  

Cleansing is a celebrity trend that many of us view with suspicion. Some label it as a gimmick, while others are bothered by its association with narcissistic motivation and temporary weight loss.  But purification has been a part of rituals for health maintenance and disease prevention from the Mediterranean to the ancient cultures in India and China. 

For thousands of years, we have known that we need to give our bodies a break and actively eliminate the toxins that have accumulated in our organs and tissues.  Unfortunately, such customs are infrequent in most of our lives despite the heightened levels of exposure to dietary, lifestyle and environmental toxins.  We often maintain our cars better than we do our bodies!

Cleansing comes in many forms but shares two general characteristics:  A reduction in the intake of new toxins and an enhancement of the body’s natural systems for elimination.  Heavily processed foods are replaced by easily-digested, bioactive nutrients that boost metabolism and stimulate detoxification.  Superficially, this method sheds pounds, generates radiant skin and lifts self-confidence. It’s the feel good inside and look great outside phenomenon!  

The methods of cleansing range from fasting, to exclusive consumption or restriction of specific foods.  I have personally found nutrient-rich, liquid cleanses to be effective. They provide “clean calories”, enabling your body to stay out of starvation mode, while allowing your digestive system the time to repair, restore and recharge. You should always consult a specialist if you have any dietary restrictions or health conditions before starting a cleanse.

Treat yourself with some well deserved maintenance so you too can look and feel great!

My first publication in TCHAD Quarterly, North America's ultimate source for unique, edgy and artistic content and design

This is my first article that was published in the Spring/Summer issue of TCHAD Quarterly - Canada's leading metropolitan lifestyle publication. This magazine is unique in that it blends North American popular culture and design. The tagline - Lifestyle in a coffee table book - is a true testament to the diversity and authenticity of the content. The target market is tech savvy, fashionable and forward-thinking and I'm honored and incredibly excited to be part of such a talented team of influential and inspiring individuals.

Without further adieu, here it is -

Fructose - not so sweet

We use the word sweet colloquially to express a level of excitement or happiness—much like our psychological reaction to a decadent dessert. The sweetness in our Western diet, however, arises from more than just desserts and candy. Rather, it is infused within a broad array of products as a buried, addictive and harmful ingredient. 

The ingredient is fructose; a cheap and simple sugar. Fructose has received a considerable amount of negative media attention, mostly related to the prevalence of high-fructose corn syrup. Dietary intake of fructose has grown dramatically since the turn of the last century and evidence suggests that it is more damaging than its other sugar counterparts. Specifically, the overconsumption of fructose overwhelms the liver’s capacity to metabolize it as energy, and instead it is converted to fat. What’s more, fructose is also responsible for stimulating further hunger after a meal and is now shown to be associated with physical and neurochemical dependency. In other words, it’s addictive. Despite being a simple sugar, the upshot of fructose on the human body is actually complex.

The impact of fructose was insignificant and unknown once upon a time, when the main source of fructose was from fruits and vegetables. During these times, dietary fructose averaged a mere fifteen grams per day and was balanced within whole foods. The wide commercial presence of fructose in pre-packaged foods (ingredients labelled as fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, glucose-fructose and often as sugar, glucose syrup or fructose syrup) has since resulted in a five-fold increase in consumption, which places its use at an excessive and dangerous level. To put things in perspective, this volume of fructose is comparable to eating almost three, five-pound bags of table sugar a month. Excess fructose (aka “normal”) consumption in the Western diet is shown to be highly correlated with childhood and adult obesity, and contributes to serious health conditions, such as diabetes and liver disease. 

Unfortunately, the only way to reduce fructose intake is to become more aware and informed about the foods we are eating and to consider substituting the fructose-rich foods we crave with healthier varieties. While it has taken me a long while, I have managed to find alternatives that are truly satisfying and less harmful. One way of raising our awareness is through reading the labels on packaged products. In preparation for this article, I visited a local grocery store and read through dozens of packaged food labels.  Fructose was listed as a major ingredient in over seventy-five percent of the processed foods and beverages. Even those cooking at home are being impacted due to the fructose content in many sauces, dressings and marinades. 

Fructose is the sugar-coated perpetrator of damage to our health. 

By increasing our awareness and understanding of the health implications, we can make better food choices and in turn, lead healthier lives.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My Healthy Food Picks for 2010

I've done a lot of research and spent a long time reading through lists of ingredients on "processed-food" packages to determine the healthiest, yummiest and best bang-for-the-buck foods out there.

So, here they are!

Bread picks:
Dips and Condiments:
More to come on cereals, pasta, soup mix, crackers, health supplements and vitamins and desserts.