bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Craisin a little hell #craisingate 2016

Earlier this week Dr. Yoni Freedhoff wrote about why he considers craisins to be better classified as candy than as fruit. I retweeted his post and posed the question on twitter: Should craisins be considered candy or fruit?

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As you can see from the results, people were overwhelming in favour of treating craisins as candy rather than as fruit. However, the results don’t tell the full story.

There was a surprising amount of vitriol expressed by some of my fellow dietitians. Apparently this topic touched on a nerve. Personally, I don’t feel all that strongly about the subject but I do take exception when people suggest that I’m causing eating disorders by daring to suggest that we should treat craisins (and perhaps other dried fruit) as we would candy, and not as we would fruit. I don’t see the need to attack each other’s professional ability over such a minor disagreement. Just because I disagree with dietitians who believe that craisins should be treated as fruit doesn’t mean that I think they’re incompetent. We don’t have to agree on everything and in the big scheme of nutrition this is pretty minor.

Anyway… A loaf of other strawmen brought to the party. Apparently I also hate camping because I think craisins are like candy. Somehow I was also implying that craisins are causing obesity (yes, I don’t get it either). I was “demonizing” craisins. Really? Really? I had no idea that people were so passionate about dried up sugary cranberries.

Let’s look at the facts. While Yoni drew some comparisons between craisins and candy, I think we should also take a moment to compare craisins and cranberries.

Dried Cranberries (60ml) Fresh Cranberries (125ml)
95 kcal 23 kcal
25.32 g carbohydrate 6.12 g carbohydrate
1.8 g fibre 2.3 g fibre
19.98 g sugar 2.03 g sugar
3 mg calcium 4 mg calcium
0 mcg vitamin A 18 mcg vitamin A (beta carotene)
0 mcg folate 1 mcg folate
0 mcg vitamin B12 0 mcg vitamin B12
0.1 mg vitamin C 6.7 mg vitamin C
1.2 mcg vitamin K 2.6 mcg vitamin K
4.92 g moisture 50 g moisture

As you can see, craisins do lose some nutrients when they’re dehydrated. They also gain a whole lotta sugar (both because the sugar is more concentrated and because a lot of sugar is added to make them tasty).

The sugar is certainly one of the reasons that I think we should treat craisins more like candy than like fruit. It’s like any sweet treat, apple pie, chocolate milk. Sure there are some redeeming qualities but just because it was once a berry, fruit, or white milk doesn’t mean that it’s equal to what that food was in it’s original state.

Why else should we consider craisins to be more akin to candy than to fruit? They’re lacking the water that’s present in whole fruit. This has three effects: 1. you’re not getting the water that you would eating whole cranberries that you do from dried, 2. the calories are far more concentrated so you only need a small portion to get the same calories that you would from eating fresh cranberries, 3. craisins are very sticky which makes them excellent contributors to the formation of dental caries.

After I had written this post, another RD (who wisely chooses to remain nameless, wanting to avoid getting caught in the fray) shared this with me:

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Sorry, for the poor resolution. Hopefully it’s clear enough for you to see that these national guidelines recommend dried fruit be included as “sometimes” foods. Which, as you can see below, is exactly what I’ve been saying.

I’m not saying that craisins are bad. Heck, I sprinkled some in my pancake batter for Pancake Tuesday (much as I might chocolate chips). I don’t think that candy is “bad” either. I don’t believe in labelling foods as “good” or “bad”. All foods fit. We should simply consume some more regularly than others and I would put craisins firmly in the “sometimes” food category.

*Thanks to my friend and fellow RD Mark McGill for the title suggestion and tweep Amanda McLaren for coining the now infamous craisingate hashtag


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Should moderation have a place on your plate?

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I found myself getting annoyed by this article as I was reading it. While I agree that “moderation” is not the best term to use when referring to eating habits, I don’t agree with the way that this article characterized it.

According to the article, “moderation” should be done away with because there are some foods that we should eat lots of and other foods that we should avoid. I’m more inclined to think that we should do away with “moderation” because it’s not clearly defined in terms of a balanced diet. I see nothing wrong with the sentiment that all foods can be a part of a healthy diet. However, instead of “moderation” we should probably be talking about “every day” foods and “sometimes” foods.

As the article states, we should be eating plenty of vegetables and fruits. Few would dispute that. Where the article and I disagree is about the inclusion of “sugary treats” in a healthy diet. The article states that “none” is better than “moderate” amounts. Well, sure if you’re treating all foods equally in terms of “moderation”. Of course you shouldn’t consume equal quantities of doughnuts and brussels sprouts. I don’t think that doughnuts (or whatever sweet treat it is that you enjoy) have to be entirely eliminated from your diet in order to be healthy. What good is a healthy diet if you’re miserable and hate it? If you’re happy never eating doughnuts, that’s cool. I’m happy for you. Most of us aren’t.

The main study cited to support Ludwig’s argument against moderation is not as cut and dry as he’d have us believe. Ludwig wants us to think that the study was stopped short because those in the control diet (who were advised to eat a low-fat diet) were at greater risk of death than those in the experimental groups (i.e. one assigned to a Mediterranean diet high in extra-virgin olive oil and one assigned to a Mediterranean diet high in nuts). The study was actually concluded early because the researchers had sufficient data to draw conclusions. Continuing it would be unnecessary for their purposes but it wasn’t putting participants lives at risk. Indeed, there was no significant difference in mortality between the groups. Although there was slightly greater risk of stroke among the control group.

This study has been highly criticized for a number of reasons. One reason being that the diets followed by each group weren’t actually all that different from each other; the low-fat control group didn’t actually consume a low-fat diet. However, the Mediterranean groups were given regular counselling sessions while the control group was not. It’s possible that this counselling alone could have accounted for the slightly lower stroke risk in the experimental groups in comparison to the control group. The study allegedly only included participants at high-risk of cardiovascular disease. As no difference in mortality was seen between the groups what are the chances that following any of these diet conditions would improve health outcomes for the general population?

Besides the study mentioned by Ludwig, the article mentions a few other studies which I don’t feel it’s quite as worthwhile to examine closely. Primarily because they’re like “duh Captain Obvious”. Although it’s quite possible that their designs were also not great, as we so often see with nutrition research. Anyway… They tells us of a study that found that people who eat a high variety of sweets and condiments but a low variety of vegetables “made people fatter”. Another study found that eating “plenty” of vegetables lowered the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.

The conclusion of the article:

The takeaway? The quality of the foods you’re eating matters more than the relative quantity. In other words, what you eat matters – not just its amount.

It’s probably time to stop saying, “everything is OK in moderation.” Some things just aren’t.

My conclusion: eat plenty of vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and fruit. These foods should be the foundation of any healthy diet. However, there are other foods that we eat for pleasure like pastries, chocolates, and potato chips. You don’t have to eliminate these foods from your diet to be healthy. Treat them as treats. The occasional cookie won’t kill you.


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Hollywood juice bar owner’s diet analyzed

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Photo of Green Juice by Marten Persson on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

In case you missed it last week, the Internets got their collective panties in a twist about this article sharing a typical day of food for the founder of Moon Juice.

Moon Juice, for those such as myself who are not in the know, is ostensibly the most popular juice bar in LA.

Pardon me for not being surprised that her diet includes ridiculous things that I’ve never heard of before and am not entirely convinced are actually food. Things like Brain Dust and quinton shots. Ugh.

People immediately began decrying her diet. Just for fun, I decided to do a completely unscientific analysis of the nutrient content of her food to see just how her food stacks up when compared to a diet of recognizable food items. I used the nutritional info listed for the products on the Moon Juice website where I could. For everything else I just googled for nutrition information. I only looked at macronutrients, so it remains to be told how nutritious her diet is in terms of micronutrients.

Breakfast: 307 kcal, 13g CHO, 17.5g fat, 27g protein, 7g fibre, 3g sugar

Snack: 284 kcal, 31.1g CHO, 12g fat, 2.5g fibre, 8g sugar, 9g protein

Lunch: 265 kcal, 20g fat, 10.7g CHO, 4g fibre, 5.9g sugar, 6.3g protein

Snack: 353 kcal, 36.9g CHO, 8.5g fibre, 21.7g sugar, 22.5g fat, 7g protein

Snack: 280 kcal, 30g CHO, 6g fibre, 6g sugar, 4g fat, 26g protein

Supper: 50 kcal, 9g CHO, 0.5g fibre, 0.7g sugar, 0.6g fat, 5g protein – Potentially an entire day’s worth of sodium in this meal alone!

Snack: (Nutrition info for Heart Tonic is unknown, estimating the nutrient values for the chocolate based on single servings of all the ingredients mentioned) 174 kcal, 5g CHO, 3g fibre, 4.5g fat, 21g protein – I find it hard to believe that this chocolate is remotely palatable without any added sugar but maybe that’s just me.

Totals for the day: 1713 kcal, 135.7g CHO, 81.1g fat, 101.3g protein, 31.5g fibre, 45.3g sugar

I must confess, I’m a little disappointed that her diet didn’t show any glaring imbalances. Overall, it’s maybe a little low in carbs, and a little high in protein and fat and sugar. But essentially, it’s actually fairly well balanced.

I would be a little concerned about calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 consumption for someone following this diet. Also, the sodium is quite high. Not knowing her energy requirements it’s hard to say whether or not 1700 kcal is adequate. That would depend on her height, weight, level of activity, and resting metabolic rate.

Even though this diet is not horribly balanced I still wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. Why? Well, variety is very important in a balanced diet. Based on the fact that she seems to eat essentially the same things every day she’s quite likely not getting all of the micronutrients that she needs. She may also be getting excessive amounts of others through her supplements.

Speaking of the supplements, there’s quite a few ingredients in there that are questionable at best. I don’t think that anyone can say with any degree of certainty that they’re safe to consume on a regular basis. Although one can say with a fair degree of certainty that they won’t live up to the claims. They’re definitely not worth the hefty price tags. Although if you’re willing to spend $55 for a 25 serving jar of Brain Dust then you probably need all the help you can get maintaining “healthy systems for superior states of cognitive flow”.

 

 


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Is frying vegetables the healthiest way to cook them?

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Image from Pexels. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

I came across an article the other day extolling the benefits of frying vegetables in olive oil. The article proclaimed that frying the vegetables was actually healthier than boiling or sautéing them.

Why were the fried vegetable purported to be healthier than the other preparations? Because they had higher polyphenol content (a type of antioxidant) than the vegetables prepared using the other methods. While I don’t dispute the findings (although the full article is behind a paywall so I can’t state that for certain and I do wonder where the funding came from) I do think that the comparison is disingenuous.

All vegetables were cooked for the same amount of time, regardless of preparation method. In reality, it would take differing amounts of time to cook these vegetables using different cooking techniques.

I also question the cooking methods selected. Why not roasting or steaming? We know that high nutrient losses are going to occur with boiling and at high temperatures as water soluble and heat sensitive vitamins are leeched from the veggies or destroyed.

The selection of vegetables is also curious to me. They used eggplant, tomato, pumpkin, and potato. Would it be because these types of vegetables would readily absorb oil that they were chosen? I’d be curious to see what the results would show if vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, or snap peas were used.

While an increase in polyphenols may be seen when these vegetables are fried, this doesn’t necessarily mean that we should all start frying our vegetables. Frying increases acrylamide in food which is a potential cause of cancer. It’s doubtful that the increased polyphenol content from the olive oil justifies the increased acrylamide content.

Steaming vegetables until tender crisp is one of the best methods for preserving nutrients. If you want to increase the polyphenol content and maximize nutrition, why not toss your steamed vegetables with a little olive oil?

Have some raw vegetables, some roasted, some sautéed, some steamed, maybe some boiled or fried. Variety is an important factor in a healthy diet. That encompasses not just the foods we eat but how we prepare them.