bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


Will coffee reduce your risk of death?


Image from pixabay, used under a creative commons licence

I must say, the headlines stemming from this study were baffling. Isn’t it a foregone conclusion that the risk of mortality is 100% in everyone? I suppose there’s the off-chance that someone will find a fountain of youth or become a vampire or something but given how unlikely those scenarios are, it’s safe to say that we’re all going to die.

And yet, last week many articles were proclaiming that coffee would reduce the risk of death. Reduce the risk of death, during the time frame of the study, sure. Eventually though, regardless of how much coffee you drink you’re going to die. Sorry if this comes as a surprise.

Let’s be clear, the study was observational so, as with most nutrition research, no conclusions about causality can be drawn. Despite the fact that the researchers found a reduced risk of death (during the study) among coffee drinkers, this doesn’t mean that the coffee was responsible for that reduced risk.

It’s important to note that when the researchers included smokers in their analysis, they actually found that heavier coffee drinkers were more likely to die than those who drank less coffee; likely due to the fact that coffee and cigarettes tend to go hand-in-hand for many smokers. Once they removed smokers from their analysis they found an inverse relationship between coffee consumption and risk of death from cardiovascular disease, neurological disease and suicide. There was no relationship between coffee consumption and risk of death due to breast cancer or colorectal cancer. Take away: if you smoke, coffee won’t provide you with any protection from developing lung cancer and respiratory diseases. Even if you don’t smoke, coffee won’t protect you from some forms of cancer and many other causes of death.

The association between coffee consumption and reduced risk of dying as a result of the aforementioned causes held when the sample was stratified for things such as BMI, physical activity, alternate healthy eating score, sex, and cohort. This suggests that coffee may reduce the risk of death from these causes (during the study) independent of many other risk factors. However, we don’t know how much protection against death from these causes drinking coffee actually affords us. The relative risk is not stated in the paper.

Drinking coffee, regular or decaf, may provide you with some protection from specific causes of death. It’s also looking likely that there are more benefits to regularly drinking coffee than there are harms. Regardless, coffee will not keep you alive forever.


1 Comment

Of strawmen in food swamps who exclusively eat carrots

The Statist Guide to Healthy Eating in the National Post last week had me all like:


Maybe the author, Soupcoff, was trying to be inflammatory. In that case, she certainly succeeded.

Recent news has come out about so-called “food swamps” in Toronto. These swamps are areas that are plentiful in less nutritious food options and lacking in things like grocery stores and farmers markets where fresh, minimally processed foods can be purchased.

Soupcoff argued creating policies and zoning to promote healthy eating is ridiculous; as is the notion of a “food swamp” in the first place. Instead of creating places where the healthy choice is the easy choice we should just be teaching people how to make healthy choices.

According to Soupcoff, “If we want people to eat healthier, treating them as grown-ups and giving facts is probably going to be far more effective than elaborate zoning plans to engineer equal kale distribution.” Sorry, nope. If people are surrounded by food options that aren’t very nutritious then they’re far more likely to choose those options on a regular basis than if they’re surrounded by healthy food options. I certainly believe that most people could benefit from greater nutrition education. However, for people to make healthier choices we need to be redesigning our environments so that those healthier choices are easier to make. Kale or no kale.

Soupcoff then goes off on a tangent, bringing in a strawman, to tell us that people who exclusively consume carrots are less healthy than people who consume a balanced varied diet and an occasional chocolate bar. As if this has anything to do with making healthy food choices easily available to all.

Interestingly, Soupcoff is the National Director for the Canadian Constitution Foundation. A far-right-wing organization that supposedly fights for the freedoms of Canadians. Apparently, creating environments which promote food security and provide healthy food options is somehow infringing on our basic rights and freedoms. Go figure.


1 Comment

Burger King rules in New Brunswick schools

Burger King image by Mike Mozart on flickr used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Burger King image by Mike Mozart on flickr used under a Creative Commons Licence.

A few weeks ago it hit the news that Burger King has the contract to provide hot lunches for the Anglophone East School District in New Brunswick. Some people were upset that a fast food restaurant is being paid to provide children with lunches. Others defended the program by stating that the foods provided meet the provincial school nutrition policy.

Without knowing exactly what foods are being provided through this program, I would be remiss in dismissing the program as unhealthy. The article simply states that burgers can’t be served more than twice a week, fries aren’t served at all, and they also offer salads and apple sauce. I admit that these claims don’t instil me with much confidence that the offerings are truly healthy, balanced, varied choices. After all, a healthy diet isn’t the absence of the least healthy foods. Offering burgers “only” twice a week isn’t exactly a paradigm of health. Nor is apple sauce and what I’m speculating would be an iceberg lettuce-heavy salad. But that’s just speculation. Perhaps BK is offering a variety of nutritious salad options.

I do think that it’s unfortunate that the decision as to which company receives the RFP to provide schools with lunches is made based on what company can meet the guidelines for the lowest price. Instead of looking at what other hot lunch providers can offer by way of variety and nutrition above and beyond foods permitted, it’s all about the money. Far be it for schools to consider the import of good nutrition on health, behaviour, and the ability of students to learn.

The issue goes beyond the nutritional value of the food being served. Having Burger King provide the hot lunches also allows them to advertise within the schools and build life-long customers out of young children. BK may be providing the food at a lower cost than other providers could but that’s because they’re a huge corporation that sells relatively inexpensive mass-produced food products. They’re also getting more than their money’s worth by being allowed to advertise in schools in this manner, and don’t think for a second that this isn’t exactly why they’re doing it.

In an ideal world, schools would have their own cafeterias with staff and nutritious food prepared for all students at lunch. Unfortunately, our world isn’t ideal. At the very least, school boards could be ensuring that RFPs give preference to local companies rather than large multinational fast food conglomerates.

1 Comment

Grocery store lessons: Steem Peanut butter

Image from pixabay, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Image from pixabay, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

One of my dietitian friends alerted me to this new product, caffeinated peanut butter, the other day and suggested a blog post might be in order.

Now, I love peanut butter. I also love coffee. Heck I even have a jar of vanilla espresso flavoured peanut butter in my cupboard right now. But I still fail to understand why anyone would ever think that caffeinated peanut butter would be a good idea. It boggles my mind.

According to their website,  this caffeinated peanut butter is for you if you’re stuck with only access to horrible coffee or don’t want to lug your bodum camping but want to avoid those pesky caffeine withdrawal fuelled headaches. Essentially, if you’re seriously addicted to caffeine, instead of considering cutting back, you can just tote a jar of peanut butter around with you everywhere. People with peanut allergies be damned.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t mind bringing along a bodum or percolator when I’m camping. They don’t take up a whole lot of space and on chilly mornings a hot beverage is going to hit the spot a lot more than a spoonful of peanut butter. And if you’re so tired that you’re nodding off behind the wheel get off the freaking road. I find it horrifying that people might be popping spoonfuls of peanut butter while driving to prevent themselves from falling asleep at the wheel.

What’s even scarier about this product is the fact that a single serving contains 150 mg of caffeine. I’m assuming that a single serving is the standard two tablespoons. That’s a lot of caffeine in a little peanut butter. Considering that most people probably use more than that (sadly, I can’t find any statistics indicating how much people usually spread on their bread) you could easily be getting upwards of half the daily recommended maximum dose of caffeine (that’s 400 mg, or about three 8 oz cups of coffee) in your PB&J alone.

Despite the warnings on the website about not feeding the peanut butter to your dog, I worry about the potential for children to consume an excessive amount of caffeine if they were to get their hands on a jar. A single serving of STEEM contains more caffeine than children at any age can safely consume. Lest you think that I’m overreacting, there can be serious consequences to caffeine overdose; including, seizure and death. Even without overdosing, we don’t know what the long-term effects of caffeine consumption in children are. We do know that adequate sleep is essential for good health and that most children are not getting enough sleep. Caffeine consumption can be used to counteract the effects of insufficient sleep, in turn leading to decreased sleep at night, and can quickly become a vicious cycle. We also don’t know what the long-term physiological effects of caffeine exposure may be in children.

As far as I’m concerned, the answer to the question “who is STEEM for” is no one.


21 Day Fix won’t fix much

Image of 21 Day Fix by porcupiny on flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Image of 21 Day Fix by porcupiny on flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

I was recently asked for my thoughts on the 21 Day Fix program. Not knowing much about it, I decided to do a little bit of research.

If you, like me, aren’t overly familiar with the 21 Day Fix, essentially it’s a diet plan that restricts calories and portion sizes through the use of some colourful plastic food containers. In addition to the containers there’s a fitness program available on DVD and protein shakes (called Shakeology) that you can buy. According to Amazon, the containers alone will set you back $42.83. If you buy a kit with workout DVDs and other accessories, that can set you back up to $175.57. That doesn’t include any of the shakes or cookbooks. The price for the shakes is outrageous; $155.95 for a 30 serving bag. That’s over $5 (not including tax) for a single serving of protein. It’s even more expensive if you want to buy the powder in single serve packets ($6.50 per shake). If you’re really keen on protein shakes, there are plenty of much more affordable options out there. Just be aware that the supplement industry is notoriously poorly regulated and you may be getting ingredients that aren’t disclosed on the label, or not getting the ingredients that are.

Back to the basic program then… According to the method of determining your caloric intake I should be consuming 840 calories a day in order to lose weight. Fortunately, they do advise that if your calculated intake is less than 1200 calories a day that you should stick to 1200 calories. There’s no way that 1200 calories would satisfy me but then again, I don’t actually want to lose weight. I found it a little odd that the calculation doesn’t take into consideration a persons height or their goal weight.

Based on my prescribed intake, I’d be permitted 3 green containers for veg (1 1/4 cups each), 2 purple for fruit (1 1/4 cups each), 4 red for protein (3/4 cup each), 2 yellow for carbohydrates (1/2 cup each), 1 blue for “healthy” fats like nuts, cheese, or avocado (1/4 cup), and 1 orange for dressings or oils (2 tbsp). Just out of curiosity, I plugged some random foods fitting these measurements into myfitnesspal. I ended up with 1276 calories, 121 grams of carbs, 63 grams fat, 82 g protein, 59 mg calcium, and 19 g fibre. As far as macronutrients go, not too bad. But when we come to micronutrients, not great (and I’m sure it would be worse if my report showed more of them). 19 grams of fibre is not enough, nor is 59 mg of calcium. I’m sure each day would vary, but I’m still concerned that this diet would leave someone (especially users on the lower caloric end) nutrient deficient.

The use of the colour coded containers might be help some people with portion control and food selection; there’s no room for prepared foods or fast food so this encourages people to consume whole foods. However, that’s also a bit of a downfall. Unless you’re buying the cookbook and the recipes match your needs, the use of the containers limits your options for meals. You wouldn’t be able to follow a recipe from any old cookbook and have it fit your prescribed containers. I think that I would end-up just filling all the containers, and never eating anything interesting because figuring out recipes that match the containers I’m allowed would be too complicated. This really limits your ability to eat socially as well. Imagine showing up to a potluck with your little containers. It also seems like a great gateway to orthorexia.

Can you imagine eating this way for the rest of your life? I sure can’t. You would probably lose weight if you could stick with this plan but what about micronutrients you might be lacking and what’s going to happen when you go off it? 21 days might be bearable but what will you do once those 21 days are over? Not to beat a dead horse, but if you want to see sustainable weight loss, you need to make sustainable changes.