bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Google’s new calorie counting app may be dumb but that doesn’t mean counting calories is

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Apparently Google is developing a “smart” food diary that allows you to track calories simply by taking photos of your food. This concept has been around for a little while and is still notoriously inaccurate. From that standpoint, I agree with the reviewer in the verge who called the smart food diary “dumb”. However, I disagree with their reason for calling it dumb.

He states that “calorie counting doesn’t work”. Um. What? Tell that to the countless people who have successfully maintained weight loss with the help of tracking their food intake. Sure, no one thing works for everyone and calorie counting is not 100% accurate. This doesn’t mean that it’s not a useful weight management tool.

You see, the thing about calorie counting is that it’s not really about the calories, or the counting. It does give people a rough idea of how many calories they’re consuming and a sense of how much to increase or decrease depending on whether they want to gain or lose weight. In addition to that, it increases mindfulness. When you have to record everything you eat it makes you pause before you mindlessly snack out of boredom or anxiety or whatever non-hunger related reason that you might be tempted to eat. It can also help you to get a better idea of what and when to eat. If you see that you’re skipping breakfast and then snacking all night then you might be prompted to aim to start your day with a more substantial breakfast to help curb excessive snacking later in the day. Or if you find that you’re always tired in the afternoon you might see that there’s room for improvement at lunch time or that you might need to add a snack and more water to your afternoon routine.

Yes, in the sense that cutting 3, 500 calories does not generally translate to a pound of weight lost over the course of a week, calorie counting “doesn’t work”. However, as a tool to help guide your food choices and timing, food diaries can be invaluable.


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A little bit about the Starbucks mini frappuccino

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I have mixed feelings about Starbucks addition of “mini” frappuccinos to their menu. There’s a part of me that’s glad to see it because their “normal” sizes tend to be monstrosities. At least this is offering customers who want a sweet blended icy treat a better option. However, there’s another, more cynical, part of me that hates this limited time promotion.

Really, Starbucks, if you wanted to offer healthier options for your customers then you wouldn’t make them “limited time” offers. You would also maybe try to actually make them healthier rather than just smaller. Because let’s face it, a S’mores Frappuccino isn’t really the healthiest of options at any size. And since when is 10 oz “mini”??! Ten ounces is a perfectly reasonable normal serving size for a beverage. It’s only because of our years of super sizing that we have come to reside in a world in which a ten ounce beverage is miniature. Miniature for Shaq or Sultan Kösen perhaps, but not for the majority of us. This is all just a marketing ploy to get more of us to spend our money on their products and to feel good about doing it.

Okay, so let’s ruin that delicious blended icy treat for you just a little bit more shall we? An average (assuming the grande, i.e. 16 oz is average) Starbucks S’mores Frappuccino packs in a mere 500 calories (approximately what many of us should consume at an average meal), 20 grams of fat, and 68 grams of sugar (that’s about 17 teaspoons of sugar). But the much more reasonably sized “mini” version contains only 230 calories, 9 grams of fat, and 31 grams of sugar (a piddly near 8 teaspoons of sugar). Fine if you’re having it as a treat or a dessert, but don’t be fooled into thinking that the mini frapp is a good or virtuous option or a justification for having a cookie or brownie on your order as well.

While not sweet or blended, I’m partial to the iced latte which, of course, isn’t even listed on their menu board. With just ice, espresso, and milk it’s a far less indulgent treat but it’s cold and caffeinated so it meets all of my criteria.

If you do love the blended sweet beverages, I’ve created a healthier version of the frappuccino:

In advance: freeze strong coffee in ice cube tray(s).

Blend together: coffee ice cubes (about 1/2 tray worth), 1 frozen banana, 1 heaping teaspoon of cocoa powder, 1 tbsp almond butter, 1/2-1 serving of mocha flavour vega one, milk (to consistency). Serves two.

Nutrition (approximate – used 3/4 cup of 1% milk and 1/2 packet of vega one for this analysis):

180 kcal, 7.3 g fat, 3.1 g fibre, 12.3 g sugar (about 3 teaspoons, from banana and milk), and 10.2 g protein.

Let me know what you think if you try it and feel free to share your own healthy iced coffee recipes!


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The truth about vegetables that will make you fat

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Image: The courgette I forgot to pick by Caroline on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

 

Following on the heels of my post last week about greens vs grains is another diatribe stemming from an article I found online. This one? 5 Vegetable Foods That Make You Fat.

What are these insidious vegetables? Vegetable tempura, veggie chips, vegetable juice, vegetable smoothies, and vegetable dips. Was anyone under the impression that these are sound dietary choices on par with fresh vegetables? I’d hazard a guess that most people would realize that deep frying, adding sugar, and adding a smattering of vegetables to a creamy cheesy base is not the same as eating a salad or a carrot. Even so, these foods are not inherently fattening. You can eat them and not get fat. As with any food, it’s the amount you eat that matters. I’d even argue that home made vegetable juice and smoothies can be a nutritious choice. Even vegetable dips can be healthy if you make them with Greek yoghurt.

Why do we keep having to label foods as “good” or “bad” anyway? It’s rarely that simple. Even if you’re having vegetable chips you may be consuming less sodium and more fibre than if you were consuming potato chips. Even if you’re not, is that really so bad if it’s an occasional treat? We need to stop calling foods “bad” and “good”. This only leads to unhealthy relationships with food and greater desire for those forbidden “bad” foods.

The real lessons from this article: 1. don’t read articles that tell you X, Y, or Z will make you fat (or skinny, for that matter), 2. prepare your own meals the majority of the time. If you’re making your own meals you can control what goes into them (and what doesn’t) and you can make a perfectly healthy and delicious veggie smoothie.


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Greens vs Grains

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Yes, I can get behind the statement that “we can all benefit from more veggies in our diet”. After that, I diverge from this weekly nutrition challenge. I don’t think that replacing grains with greens makes nutritional sense. Maybe if all of your grains are refined baked goods. Otherwise, there are nutrients in both grains and greens and replacing all of your grains with vegetables isn’t necessarily a nutritional win.

Grains tend to provide more fibre than vegetables. They’re also a good source of B vitamins and minerals such as iron and magnesium. The fibre in grains can help promote digestive health, lower LDL, and feeds the probiotics in our intestines. The gut microbiota is a fascinating emerging area of research. There seems to be many relationships between the bacteria living in our digestive tracts and other aspects of our health. Fibre also contributes to satiety. Sure, greens have lower caloric density than grains but they also don’t keep you feeling full.

Greens provide you with plenty of other nutrients. It doesn’t have to be an either or situation. I don’t understand why so many people want to attach guilt to specific foods or food groups. Grains and greens can both co-exist in a healthy balanced diet. Yes, even some refined grains.

In my mind, challenging people to eliminate food groups is not a sensible or sustainable challenge. But what do I know, I’m just a dietitian; not a “strength coach, nutritional expert and practitioner of Chinese medicine”. And greens for grains is pretty catchy. I guess catchy is more important than realistic, sound nutrition advice.