bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Look at this almond milk drinking hipster

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I feel like the anti-almond milk article Lay Off the Almond Milk, You Ignorant Hipsters that was published in Mother Jones and making the rounds on social media last week was intentionally crafted to get a rise out of people. If the author, Tom Philpott, really wanted to educate people about the downside to almond milk I don’t think he would have led with a title like that (or maybe he had nothing to do with the title and Mother Jones is just trying to rustle some hipster jimmies). Regardless, I’m sure some jimmies were rustled. I’ll take the bait.

I’m far from a hipster myself, but I still feel like I have to defend the consumption of almond milk, to a degree. I think that Philpott raises some very valid and important points. Almond milk is not as nutritious as cow’s milk, or even soy milk. It’s very low in protein. Our sudden love for almonds is also an environmental concern. I’ve heard that bees are trucked from all over the States for the almond pollination in Cali every year. Consuming almonds as milk is also certainly not the most nutritious way in which to consume them. But…

Philpott neglects to address those who cannot consume cow’s milk. He touches on lactose intolerance. However, not everyone who consumes almond milk is a lactose-intolerant hipster. There are a number of reasons that people do not consume cow’s milk: milk allergy, veganism, poverty (milk is expensive!), religion, personal preference. These people deserve an alternative to cow’s milk. Almond, soy, rice, hemp, coconut, flax, and quinoa milks all provide reasonable alternatives for cooking, cereal, and drinking. It’s not like cow’s don’t have a huge environmental footprint themselves. I think the key here, as with everything, is to consume a variety of foods.


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Follow Friday: Food sharing

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Apparently the Germans (besides having the best soccer team) are also leading the world in food waste innovations. Last week I shared the new package-less supermarket, this week the food sharing website.

I learned about this site from the NPR blog The Salt where they shared a little bit about the premise and its development.

Essentially, it’s like freecycle for food. You sign-up; then you can post food to share, get food from others, or meet people and share a meal with them. The idea is based on the fact that we waste a lot  of perfectly good food, and about half of that waste comes from households. You buy a cabbage but only use a quarter of it for a recipe or you’re going away and have perishables in your fridge or you buy a new cereal and you hate it. Instead of just throwing away, or composting, your perfectly edible excess food, now you can give it away through the website. Very cool.


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Revisiting Dr Esselstyn

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A reader recently commented on a blog post from over a year ago: <a Something's Greasy About Dr Esselstyn's Diet. He suggested that I take a look at some recently published research supporting the diet (and, I think, revise my previously stated opinion).

One of the links was to a series of case studies presented by Dr Esselstyn. As we know, case studies can be interesting, especially in cases of rare conditions, but are not readily generalized. As coronary artery disease (CAD) is a fairly common condition, I feel that it’s more prudent to focus on larger research studies when developing recommendations for the public.

The other link was to a study conducted by, you guessed it, Dr Esselstyn. The study followed 198 CAD patients who were counselled in plant-based nutrition for approximately 44 months. Upon follow-up it was found that 21 were non-compliant (what ever that means… more on this to follow). The remaining participants all showed significant improvement, and only one experienced a related medical incident (i.e. stroke) during those 44 months.

The biggest issue with this study is that there was no control group. There is nothing to compare the participants with. It’s entirely possible that a group, provided with all the same medical treatments and advice, minus the nutritional counselling would have fared just as well. It does seem unlikely, but without the inclusion of such a group, there is no way to be certain that the nutrition counselling (and subsequent adherence) was the reason the participants fared so well. In addition, there was no control for any potential confounding factors. The authors didn’t control for anything. That means that the success could have been due to physical activity/exercise, sleep, stress reduction, socioeconomic status, etc.

There are a few other issues I have with this research. The article states that:

Initially the intervention avoided all added oils and processed
foods that contain oils, fish, meat, fowl, dairy
products, avocado, nuts, and excess salt. Patients were also asked to avoid sugary foods
(sucrose, fructose, and drinks containing
them, refined carbohydrates, fruit juices, syrups, and molasses). Subsequently, we also
excluded caffeine and fructose

However, “We considered participants adherent if they eliminated dairy, fish,
and meat, and added oil.”

My issue with the diet prescribed by Dr Esselstyn was the lack of healthy fats. I have no issue with a vegetarian diet (yes, I’m still not convinced that oil, fish, and dairy products are unhealthy, especially for those who do not suffer from CAD) which is what the adherent participants followed. This means that they could have added nuts, seeds, nut butters, sugar, coffee, avocado, and so on, to their diets and still been adherent. A far cry from the original Esselstyn diet. In turn, I also wonder what the non-adherent participants consumed. Did they eat some fish or meat? Drink some milk? Or were they chowing down on fast food and Hungry Man dinners on the regular? Without knowing these things we shouldn’t be too quick to jump to the conclusion that the Esselstyn diet is superior to all other diets when it comes to treating CAD.

Naturally, there’s also the issue that (despite stating that the authors had no known conflicts of interest) Dr Esselstyn is the author of a number of heart health and lifestyle books that would surely take a hit in sales were research contrary to his hypothesis to be published.

Sure, this study warrants further research into the benefits of plant-based diets (and Dr Esselstyn’s very low-fat plant-based diet) for CAD patients. I’d like to see some larger studies with control groups conducted. Until then, I’ll still be cooking with oils and enjoying my guacamole.

 

 


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Nutrition labels are getting a makeover – Have your say!

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Big news announcement from Health Canada yesterday: proposed new nutrition label guidelines are available for viewing and input

For once, I think that Health Canada is heading in the right direction with these labels. The key (proposed) changes are:

Improved new serving size guidelines

This will ensure that similar products will have to use similar serving sizes; thus, making comparisons easier. For example, all bread will have to use two slices as the serving size, and all yoghurt will have to use 175 grams. Of course, you’ll still have to do some math if the amount you normally eat differs from the serving size used on the package, but at least you won’t have to do algebra to determine which tub of yoghurt is the healthier choice. One thing I wonder about this change for the yoghurt is how it will affect those “single serve” tubs that are only 100 grams. Will they have to list their nutrition information as 175 grams? So you’ll still have to do math if you’re not planning on eating 1 and 3/4 tubs of yoghurt? I also wonder about products that currently list serving sizes that don’t match with what you would actually eat. For example, I’ve seen some packages of “bites” that contain 5 bites but the serving size is based on 1/6th of the package. I hope that this is something that will no longer be allowed when the new guidelines are approved.

Improved sugar disclosure

I love that they are proposing listing all sugars (e.g. fructose, honey, rice syrup, glucose, evaporated cane juice, etc) together in parentheses on the label following the listing of “sugar”. Of course, this will make it more difficult to determine where (based on weight) the different forms of sugar fall in the list but it helps prevent the current sneaky tactic by food manufacturers of putting in multiple types of sugar scattered throughout the ingredient list. I can’t help but wonder how they’ll address the issue of sneaky sweeteners like fruit puree and fruit juice concentrate. I hope that they’ll list those along-side the other sugars and that they’ll count them in the new “added sugars” line on the nutrition facts panel. I worry that this may be a bit of a loophole for food manufacturers trying to healthwash their products if it’s not required to be listed as sugar.

I’m not sure how I feel about the application of the “5% is a little, 15% is a lot” guide to Daily Values in relation to sugar, and other nutrients. Health Canada uses 100 grams (about 25 teaspoons) of sugar as the amount to calculate the percent daily value. I think that many people look at the %DV as an amount to shoot for. In some cases this is true. In others, it’s more of a maximum (e.g. sodium), and in others, a minimum (e.g. vitamin D). The current figures used for the %DV are also outdated and it’s great to see that Health Canada is proposing that we update those.

Appearance of the Nutrition Facts panel and ingredients list

There’s nothing really wrong with the new design. I definitely like what they’re proposing for the ingredients list. However, I would like to see the Nutrition Facts panel in a different sequence. I’d prefer to see the macronutrients (fat, protein, and carbohydrate) in the upper panel (i.e. directly underneath the calories), with any relevant breakdown directly beneath. I think that the sugar, added sugar, and fibre should all be listed under the carbohydrate header. Listing the trans and saturated fat under the fat header is good but maybe we could go a step further and add mono- and poly-unsaturated fat as well.

Micronutrients of concern should be listed in the second section of the panel. I’m not sure about cholesterol and sodium. Dietary cholesterol really isn’t all that relevant; sodium definitely is for many people though. I think that they should either be lumped in with the micronutrients or placed in their own section. I know that we can’t include every micronutrient, and I love the addition of potassium, but I question the removal of vitamins A and C (1). Most Canadians don’t meet their needs for magnesium either so I think that this might be a useful nutrient to add. With the increased popularity of sea salt I wonder if it might be prudent to add iodine to the panel. I’m going to stop there before I disappear down a micronutrient wormhole.

It’s important to note that these are proposed changes. If you want these changes to happen, or if you want to see additional or different changes you need to provide your input to Health Canada (first link in this post).


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So hot; overnight oats

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Overnight oats are totally hot right now because they’re cool. In the summertime, if you’re anything like me, you don’t crave a bowl of hot oatmeal for breakfast. That doesn’t mean that you don’t need a good breakfast. The perfect, quick, easy, and tasty way to get the satisfaction of oatmeal for breakfast, with none of the heat, is overnight oats.

I prefer to make them in a mason jar as I can make a few batches and stash them in the fridge for breakfast. Another great trick is to make them in your nearly empty jar of peanut butter (or other nut butter). I’m sure that if you don’t have any jar you could still make them in a bowl; just cover with a lid of cling wrap before refrigerating.

The key to overnight oats is letting them sit long enough for the oats to absorb the liquid ingredients. I like to make mine in the evening and then all I have to do in the morning is grab them out of the fridge. Make sure you mix your ingredients well, before refrigerating. This is also where a mason jar comes in handy because you can just shake it like crazy.

Here are a couple of my favourite versions I’ve come up with:

Stewed rhubarb and coconut overnight oats

1/4 cup stewed rhubarb (use your favourite recipe or combine about 2 cups of rhubarb, squeeze of orange juice, bit of orange zest, and 1 tbsp of sugar – this will make enough for several servings of overnight oats or use the extras for another recipe)

1/4 cup quick oats

1/2 cup milk (cow, almond, coconut, whatever you prefer)

1/4 cup greek yoghurt (plain or coconut both work well for this recipe)

1 tsp shredded unsweetened coconut

Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate until thickened (preferably overnight). Enjoy as is.

Choconana PB overnight oats

1/4 quick oats

1/4 cup plain greek yoghurt

1/2 cup (unsweetened) chocolate almond milk (or use plain milk and add 1 tsp of unsweetened cocoa powder)

1/2-1 mashed banana

1 tbsp natural PB

Mash the banana and PB together, put in jar with all other ingredients. Mix well. Refrigerate. Enjoy!

Basically, you can combine any fruit, nuts, seeds, you desire. Although you may want to add nuts in the morning so that they don’t get mushy in the mixture overnight.

Have a great weekend!!