bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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It’s my birthday!

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It’s true, it is. Did you forget to buy me a gift? What?! Ees okay because you can just pledge to support my charity fundraising. I’ve signed-up to raise money for Nourish Nova Scotia, an amazing breakfast and food literacy program for students when I run the Blue Nose Half Marathon in May. Just click here to donate to my effort (no amount is too small or too large) and the money raised will go to help start a child’s day off right. Thanks in advance for making my first fundraising effort a success!


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Why Philpott’s vendetta against almonds is cracked

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Image Breakable Almond by philografy on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Boy, does someone over at Mother Jones have a hate on for almonds. In case you haven’t seen it, Tom Philpott’s latest “California goes nuts: It takes a gallon of water to produce one almond. And that’s not the most insane fact about the hedge-fund-fueled race to plant thirsty trees in the middle of a catastrophic drought” is one in a series of pieces attacking almonds and those who love them. You may recall his article telling ignorant hipsters to lay-off the almond milk. Perhaps he’s found something that “works” and decided to stick with it? As long as we keep reading his articles about almonds, and almond products, he’ll keep writing them.

You know, I get his point, California is in the middle of a massive drought. Should we really be driving consumption of a crop that relies on huge quantities of water to survive? The thing is, nearly all of the food we eat relies on huge quantities of water. Philpott states that one little almond requires a gallon of water. One apple needs 1.75 gallons, one pound of chicken, 500 gallons of water, one hamburger, 633 gallons, one glass of milk 54 gallons. And it’s not just the food we eat, it’s everything. A ton of steel used to make one car requires a whopping 32, 000 gallons of water (1)!!! We should probably all be thinking more about the environmental impact of everything we purchase.

But is it really the almond’s fault that we’re in this mess? Is it your fault for choosing almond butter over peanut butter for your morning toast? The almond is just a scapegoat. After all, as Philpott states himself, the largest importer of all of these California almonds is China. I don’t have any data on Canadian consumption of California almonds but I doubt that you switching from almonds to walnuts is going to have much of an impact on almond production and the drought in California. Instead of making people feel guilty for enjoying some chocolate covered almonds it would be nice if journalists were using their platforms to educate people about the problems with our current food system and to encourage them to lobby the government to stop creating a system whereby large-scale industrial crops are the most profitable. Start encouraging the government to take immediate action to curb climate change and protect the environment so that we’ll all be able to enjoy almonds into our old age.


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The truth about weight loss

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I so often hear people complaining about how they’ve fallen off track with healthy eating, exercise, and need to lose weight. It’s so hard to sit silently by, but in my experience, most people don’t want to hear the truth. Fortunately, I have this lovely blog where I can write the truth and if you want to read it that makes me very happy, but I’m not interjecting my educated opinion into your pity party.

You say, “I need to get my ass back to the gym”. I hear, “If I just workout harder/longer/more often I’ll lose a bunch of weight and wow everyone at the beach this summer.” The truth: the vast majority of weight loss occurs in the kitchen. Most of us eat more calories than we burn in compensation for workouts, negating efforts exercise might impart on body weight. I don’t want to discourage anyone from exercising. If you know me, you know that I love to workout and that running is my drug of choice. There are plenty of good reasons to workout for physical and mental health. However, it’s unlikely that you’re going to lose much weight in the gym.

You say, “I need to start eating clean again”. I hear, “Im going to start an unpleasant diet that I won’t be able to stick to for the rest of my life”. The truth: Weight management is more about the maintenance than the loss. If you’re following a diet that you loathe and are forbidding yourself from having foods that you love, you’re not going to be able to stick with it for the rest of your life. If you can’t find a healthy diet that you can enjoy for life then you’re not going to maintain weight loss for life. Healthy eating can be delicious. Clean eating is bullshit. I don’t know anyone who enjoys eating boiled boneless skinless chicken breasts and steamed broccoli for every meal. You need to have variety. You need to cook the vast majority of meals yourself. And you need to find a way to include treats that doesn’t mean you’ve derailed your entire diet. As I’ve said before, if you want to see sustainable weight loss you need to make sustainable changes. There is no one-size-fits-all method of weight loss. You need to figure out the method that works best for you and ignore the nay sayers.

You say, “I failed”. I hear, “I am weak. If I was just more disciplined I could be thinner”. The truth: It’s not your fault. Our society is set-up in such a manner that it’s far far more difficult to be thin than it is to be over weight. We value putting in long hours at work, rather than spending time cooking with your family. It’s a point of pride to scarf something down at your desk rather than taking a lunch break. There is a proliferation of nutritionally questionable grab-and-go foods available, while most healthy choices necessitate time and planning. It’s not all down to you and you don’t have to go it alone. Most people benefit from having support and accountability when they’re trying to lose weight. You might want to go to a registered dietitian, join a weight management group like Weight Watchers or TOPS, or team up with a friend or your significant other.

You say, “I need to lose X number of pounds”. I hear, “I’ll do whatever I have to, to attain an arbitrary number on a scale”. The truth: The numbers on the scale don’t matter. It’s about how you feel inside your own skin. Not everyone can have the physique of a supermodel. We come in all different shapes and sizes and even those at the same weight may have very different body shapes. You may be able to torture yourself down to the same weight you were at twenty but if you’re miserable, then what’s the point? Stop judging yourself against others. Stop focussing on the scale. Health and weight are not the same thing.


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What you need to know about magnesium

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Photo “nuts!” by Adam Wyles on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

I recently read an article about magnesium that someone shared on facebook. Shockingly, for FB, it wasn’t nearly as inaccurate as I had expected. However, there were a couple of things in it that I wanted to address. The premise of the article was that most of us are magnesium deficient. This is untrue. Most of us don’t consume enough magnesium but there’s a world of difference between that, and being truly deficient. Magnesium deficiency manifests as an irregular heartbeat which may be accompanied by weakness, muscle spasms, disorientation, nausea, vomiting, and seizures. People who are at greatest risk of magnesium deficiency include: users of some diuretics, those with diabetes, people with alcoholism, as well as those who live in climates where they experience frequent heavy perspiration or those who have long bouts of vomiting or diarrhea.

So, how much magnesium should you be consuming? If you’re a man between 19 and 30 years of age, you should be consuming about 400 mg a day. Women in this age group should be consuming about 310 mg a day. Needs increase beyond this age by about 20 mg/d for men and 10 mg/d for women, and for those experiencing the conditions listed above. For more information of magnesium recommendations, click here. According to one of my old nutrition textbooks (Perspectives in Nutrition by Wardlaw and Hampl), assuming things haven’t changed that much in the past eight years, men consume 325 mg, women 225 mg, on average each day.

It’s not that terribly difficult to reach the recommended intakes of magnesium. One cup of spinach contains 157 mg, one cup of squash `105 mg, 1/4 cup of wheat germ 90 mg, 1/2 cup of navy beans 54 mg, 1 cup of plain yoghurt 43 mg… Nuts and seeds are also good sources of magnesium; as is dark chocolate and raw cacao (nibs, powder). Other leafy greens, beans, and legumes are also good sources of magnesium.

If you do decide to take a magnesium supplement, you should be aware that they are not all the same. Magnesium oxide tends to be the most common and inexpensive form of supplemental magnesium. However, it is also the most poorly absorbed form of magnesium. Liquid magnesium supplements will be best absorbed; the quantity of magnesium listed on the label is not as important as the form. As far as tablets and capsules go, Magnesium lactate, magnesium gluconate, and magnesium citrate are the most absorbable. However, magnesium citrate may have laxative effects, and magnesium hydroxide and magnesium sulfate are forms commonly used as laxatives. Zinc supplementation may interfere with magnesium absorption, while vitamin D supplementation may enhance magnesium absorption. Some medications may also affect magnesium absorption. As with any supplement, you should always check with your pharmacist to ensure that there will be no interactions with any other medications you’re taking. As with any nutrient, it’s best to try to get it from your food rather than from a supplement.


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#Sugarfree me

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Now that it’s over, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and experiences during my sugar-free experience.

After one week:

It’s been much easier than I expected. The biggest challenges have been mornings and dessert after supper. There are only two cold cereals available that don’t have any added sugar so I’ve been relying on smoothies (my maximum one serving of fruit a day), steel cut oats, and toast (no sugar) with natural peanut butter. Instead of my usual small glass of coconut water, I’ve been having plain kefir. For morning snacks at work, instead of fruit or a bar, I’ve been having cheese and crackers (again, not many without added sugar, low sodium triscuits fit the bill), vegetables and hummus, avocado with Herbamare, or mixed nuts. After supper I’d been in the habit of having a cookie or some chocolate. I must confess that I’ve been snacking on chips far too often in the evenings since giving up sugar. However, I find that teas work as a great substitute for a sugary snack. I’m loving the Stash chocolate orange, Traditional Medicinals organic ginger and some of the David’s teas (some have sugar so I have to be careful).

While I can give up sugar, I can’t give up baking on my days off. Instead of something sweet I made crackers (rosemary gruyere puffs) one day. They were so yummy! Who needs sugar? That being said, I’ve already planned my Easter Sunday baking: a recipe for lemon sticky buns I saw recently. Mmmm….

While I haven’t felt too much like I’m missing out, I think that my subconscious may be missing sweet treats as I’ve had a couple of dreams where I scarf down cookies, either in guilty defiance of my self-imposed sugar ban or forgetting about it entirely. Very interesting. I can’t recall ever dreaming about secret cookie snacking before.

One evening my boyfriend picked up the evening take-out from The Canteen (a delicious local sandwich shop that also does a different take-away most evenings). The meal included dessert, some sort of profiteroles by the looks of it. He had forgotten about my sugar ban so he lucked into two desserts. I was a little bit envious, but had some tea and Beanitos to compensate.

Two weeks in:

Why do I follow so many people on twitter who tweet links and photos of delicious baked goods? I’ve been emailing myself lots of links to recipes to try after this experiment is over.

Have purchased a new herbal tea. Some kind of berry flavoured thing. It’s pretty tasty.

Sorry if this is TMI but… I usually have terrible cramps when I get my period. Debilitating. This month, I had some slight cramping, took one ibuprofen and they went away without resurfacing! I don’t have them horribly every month, but more months than not, so I’m not sure that this was due to my sugar free diet or just a coincidence.

I’ve heard so many people say that when you quit sugar that you’ll go through withdrawal. I haven’t experienced that. I’ve felt fine, perhaps even a little better, than usual.

Made some quick cooking oatmeal bread today, couldn’t have a day off without baking something! The recipe called for just a couple of tablespoons of honey so I omitted them and it turned out fine – yay!

Three weeks:

I’ve noticed that I follow some people who share a lot of recipes, often for sweet baked goods, on twitter. Some of these people are dietitians. While I’m amassing a collection of recipes to bake when I’m back on the sugar, I’m also questioning how appropriate it is for RDs to be sharing copious recipes for less than healthy food. It’s almost as if we feel the need to buck the stereotype of puritanical healthy eaters. Yes, we all indulge in treats, but should we be essentially pushing these foods on others?

Went to the Bulk Barn for some snacks and made the sad discovery that nuts are really the only option there for people avoiding added sugar. I love nuts but was gazing with longing at the peanut butter M&Ms and sour watermelon gummies that my boyfriend purchased. I did find some fun snacks at Winners: seeded crackers, veggie straws (not super healthy, but tasty!), roasted edamame, and sesame roasted seaweed snacks.

Eating out is a little tricky. Avoiding sauces and dressings. I don’t usually eat out very often but somehow it happened that I had three meals out over the past three days! I must confess that I decided that ignorance was bliss as far as bread products were concerned. I just couldn’t do my burger without a bun or pass up the amazing toast at brunch.

Three and a half Weeks:

ONLY TWO MORE WEEKS(ISH)! Not that I’m counting or anything… It’s really not that hard. Although, I can see how it would be difficult if I was one to use more packaged foods. Sugar is insidious in a lot of foods that you wouldn’t expect, and very high in a lot of others. It’s in nearly every cracker, cereal, snack bar, protein bar, sauce, salad dressing, etc. I nearly bought a bag of cracked black pepper chips the other day and then I saw sugar in the ingredients! Who woulda thunk?

Pinterest pushed out a list of eye roll inducing pins to me last week on how to “ditch sugar for good” and “sugar is the new fat”. Yes, most of us can stand to curb our sugar consumption but there’s no need for the fear mongering. I’m all about consuming everything in moderation and I don’t see the need to completely eliminate sugar on a permanent basis.

In my desire to bake on my day off today I made these sugar-free scones. I didn’t add the raisins because they’re concentrated sugar but I did add a few frozen berries for flavour and they turned out pretty good! Tomorrow I’m making a savoury french toast for breakfast with a sugar-free cheese beer bread I made. If nothing else, this experiment is forcing me out of my safe breakfast zone.

Four weeks:

I ate some sugar. I’m sorry. No, I’m not. We had yet another snowstorm on Wednesday and in the face of about 70 (more) centimetres of snow I said “screw it, I’m baking cookies” as one does. I made an exception for the one day. I had some Baliey’s in my coffee and about four cookies (toasted coconut cashew chocolate chip) and I regret nothing. Interestingly, I didn’t find they tasted too sweet and I didn’t feel any worse for having eaten them. I got right back on the wagon the next day. Bringing some of the remaining cookies in for coworkers and leaving the rest for my boyfriend to take care of. I regret nothing.

Week 5:

I’m ready for this adventure to be done. Sticking with it though because I’m stubborn (shocker, I know!) and because I think that the longer I do this, the easier it will be to keep my sugar intake low when I’m done.

One evening after supper I had a wicked craving for dessert; preferably chocolate. I managed to stave off the craving by eating a spoonful of peanut butter with raw cacao nibs. Not quite what my taste buds were looking for but it did the trick.

I’ve become annoyed with the fact that there is no trail mix without dried fruit or chocolate. It’s either mixed nuts or sugary trail mix. No in between. Planning on hitting up the Bulk Barn to create my own but there must be others who would like a lovely mix of nuts and seeds. Get on that food manufacturers!

Six weeks:

On the home stretch!

Did I mention that I found some chocolate in the linen pantry leftover from my Christmas bake-a-thon? I did. Pretty much right after I went sugar-free. I left it hidden there because I knew if I told my boyfriend about it he would eat it all before I could get back on the sugar. I got my period the other day (cramps and all, so much for my hope that going sugar-free was alleviating those) and he was out and I kept thinking “I could eat those Smarties and no one would ever know about it”. I didn’t though because I’m far too stubborn for that, but it was a little touch and go for a while.

If nothing else, this experiment has forced me to be more creative with breakfasts. I’m a big fan of cereal, and I usually have shredded wheat, but it’s a bit meh on its own so I would normally top it with granola. I’ve been having a lot of variations on steel cut oats and smoothies, as well as some savoury breakfasts. I also created a delicious pudding: blend together a frozen banana, heaping teaspoon of cocoa powder, a bit of canned coconut milk solids, plain yoghurt, and peanut butter. So good!

Easter Sunday:

Made those lemon sticky buns for breakfast (see photo above). Yum! It feels strange not to have any foods off limits or to have to check ingredient lists for sugar.

While I’ll be reintroducing sweets into my usual diet following this experiment, I intend to continue to be much more cognizant of the amount of sugar that I’m consuming and try to limit my total, and added sugars each day. As I always say “too much of anything is bad for you.” While I don’t believe that sugar is toxic and to be entirely eschewed, I do think that many of us, my past self included at times (including on Easter!), consume it to excess.