bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Infographics; heavy on the graphics, light on the info

Every body loves a good infographic. They’re eye-catching, succinct ways of sharing information. The problem is, for the most part, they oversimplify complicated information. At best, that means that viewers end-up getting only a partial picture of an issue. At worst, that means that they hasten the spread of misinformation.

Take the example of the viral Coke infographic.

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This was all over the place a few weeks ago and it made me want to tear out my hair. Don’t get me wrong, I personally dislike Coke (and pop in general) and I’m no fan of their marketing to developing nations and children, but I don’t want to dissuade people from drinking Coke using questionable science. Since this infographic went viral fellow RD Andy Bellatti wrote an excellent piece about it.

Following hot on the footsteps of the original Coke infographic came the Diet Coke infographic:

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And then…

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As Andy points out in his article, such infographics only provide information (and not necessarily accurate information as many people aren’t consuming these beverages in isolation) about a brief period of time. There’s nothing about the long-term implications of regular or excessive consumption of these drinks, which is the real concern. An occasional Coke isn’t going to kill you. It’s the daily, often multiple times a day, consumption of Coke that becomes a concern.

These are just a very small example of the infographics out there. Even when infographics are grounded in good science and information, when taken on their own they may not tell you the whole story. Anyone can put together an infographic. If you want the full picture you need to look beyond the graphic and find more info.


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The skinny on teatox

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Photo by Iyad Tibi on flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

last week a friend tweeted this “Skinny Teatox” cleanse telling everyone to eat real food and cc’ed me. I figured it was worth a blog post because so many people think that tea is innocuous, and of course, when it’s being marketed as innocent “natural” herbs, who can blame them? The thing is, natural is not alway superior, nor is it always safe. There are plenty of deadly toxins of natural origin. This tea, while not in the deadly toxin category, is certainly not the healthiest choice, nor is it likely to help you lose weight.

Before I get started dissecting the ingredients though can I just make a brief comment on the price? $35 for SEVEN days! That’s $5 a day! That’s insanity! You can buy many lovely herbal, green, and black teas for a fraction of that price.

They claim that the tea is“Made with 100% natural ingredients that promote good health and weight loss.” The teas also contain no “chemicals” lol. They may however, contain: “Our products may contain all or some of the following: gluten, malva verticellata, cassia angustifolia (senna leaf), cascara sagrada, arctostaphylos uva ursi, ginseng, liquorice, chrysanthemum, orange peel, cinnamon bark, cloves, rhubarb and ginger. Skinny Teatox produces a laxative effect and can be toxic in high doses. Do not consume more than once every two days.” 

Gluten – safe for anyone who doesn’t have celiac disease or a gluten allergy (a protein found in grains)

malva verticillata – (I assume they just misspelled this one, gives you great confidence doesn’t it?) also known as “Chinese mallow” or “Cluter mallow” it’s commonly used as a laxative. Not much is known about side effects but it may affect blood sugar so those with diabetes should probably avoid it (1).

senna leaf – is a common over-the-counter laxative and should not be used regularly because it can be habit forming (i.e. you may come to rely on it to poop).

cascara sagrada – is bark from a shrub, again, used to treat constipation. It can’t be purchased as a drug because questions were raised regarding its safety but manufacturers didn’t want to comply with the FDA testing (not alarming whatsoever) (2). Most side effects are associated with long-term use.

arctostaphylos uva ursi – the leaves of a plant, generally used to treat urinary disorders, and (you guessed it!) constipation! (3). Short term side effects can include nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and greenish urine. Long-term side effects can include liver damage, eye problems, breathing problems, convulsions, and death.

ginseng – may lower blood sugar, may act as a stimulant (4).

liquorice – a plant used to treat various digestive issues. May cause issues in people with certain health conditions and is not safe for long-term use (5).

chrysanthemum – used to treat, high blood pressure, chest pain, type 2 diabetes… It’s also a popular summertime tea in China. May cause an allergic reaction in some people as it’s in the same family as ragweed (6).

orange peel – I think we’re getting down into the flavourings now so I’m not going to continue. You get the idea. The vast majority of the ingredients in these natural herbal teas are laxatives. They’re not going to “detox” you or make you “skinny”. And if you need help pooping might I suggest that you save your money and go for some cheaper, safer, healthier natural remedies such as: increasing your fibre and water intake, prunes, coffee, exercise. If you suffer from chronic constipation please speak with your primary health care provider. Disclaimer: This is just a blog, I don’t know your personal medical information and can’t possibly provide you with medical advice in this forum.


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Recipe: Corn and Black Bean Panzanella with Avocado Lime Dressing

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I never really post recipes anymore but I’ve been on a bit of a panzanella kick and due to demand, here’s the recipe for the one I made for supper last night.

Black Bean and Corn Panzanella with Avocado Lime Dressing

(serves 4-6)

Ingredients:

Croutons (from about four slices of bread – I baked this sweet potato bread the night before but you can use whatever type of bread you want. Rustic, crusty loaves are best)

Corn (if it’s in season, I recommend using the corn from four cobs. Otherwise, about two cups of frozen kernels)

1 teaspoon of ground cumin

Freshly ground black pepper

Cherry tomatoes (quartered)

1 can of black beans (thoroughly rinsed and drained)

1/4 cup finely diced red onion

Olive oil (about 1 tablespoon and 3 teaspoons)

1 ripe avocado

1 handful of cilantro

2 tablespoons of lime juice

1 clove of garlic

Herbamare

To make the dressing:

Combine avocado, cilantro, garlic, lime juice (to taste), dash of herbamare, and olive oil (to creamy consistency, about a tablespoon) in food processor or blender. Blend until smooth and creamy.

To make salad:

Heat large skillet over medium heat, add a teaspoon of olive oil. When heated, add your corn kernels, cumin, freshly ground pepper, and a little Herbamare and sauté until cooked. Let cool.

Meanwhile, toss together black beans, tomatoes, and red onion. Cube bread and heat another skillet over medium-low heat. Add a teaspoon of olive oil and about half the bread. Flip bread cubes until nice and toasty. Remove and place in a medium bowl. Repeat with the rest of the bread.

Add the corn to the black bean mixture, pour dressing over top and gently toss to coat.

Divide croutons and salad among bowls. Eat. Enjoy.


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Reverse food snobbery: Who has time to cook lasagna after work?

My friend Meaghan shared the above infographic with me last week to see what I thought. I thought that it was worthy of a blog post.

I think that it’s over simplifying a complex issue. How can you possibly put frozen peas in the same category as a packaged frozen lasagna? Frozen peas (and other frozen vegetables) are picked and frozen at their prime, meaning that they’re often more nutritious than their “fresh” counterparts on grocery store shelves. However, as you can see, even with their selection of lasagna, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find a frozen lasagna that’s as healthy and nutritious as one that’s homemade. Who the heck is cooking lasagna as a weekday supper anyhow? Ain’t nobody got time for that! Let’s see some more realistic comparisons of quick and easy homemade suppers.

I’m not sure what the deal is with the packaged stir-fry pictured on the infographic. It appears to be a box but I would think that they’re referring to a frozen stir-fry mix. Sure, if you’re buying the frozen mixed vegetables without a sauce, they’re going to be easy to turn into a healthy stir-fry. However, if they’re already coated in a sauce you’re probably going to get more sodium, sugar, and fat (possibly trans fat) than you would if you made your own sauce.

Minimally processed packaged foods can be a great healthy time saver. However, you can’t equate buying pre-cut vegetables with a frozen tv dinner. As a dietitian, one of the main messages I hope to impart on people is the importance of cooking their own meals. If you’re trying to lose weight or just to be healthier this is probably the best thing you can do for yourself. And sorry, but taking a box out of the freezer and nuking it doesn’t count as cooking. I’d like to see the true cost of the frozen meals they’re pushing if you also factored in the shortened health-spans due to poor nutrition.

There’s also the not so subtle “reverse snobbery” (I’m stealing that one Meaghan) in the post accompanying the infographic. The implication that the average person doesn’t have time to cook and that their time is far too valuable to be spent *gasp* cooking. Yes, we’re all terribly busy, although we do somehow manage to find time to watch Big Brother or binge watch Orange is the New Black. I think that we, as a society, need to re-evaluate our priorities and put cooking right up near the top. The thing is, cooking doesn’t need to be a long torturous laborious process. There are plenty of healthy and delicious meals that you can whip up in less than half an hour after work. If you’re cooking for more than one, you can also enlist the help of other members of the household. You can prep ingredients the night before or batch cook on your days off. You can make extra portions so that you can have your own homemade nutritious frozen dinners ready to grab when you’re short on time. Cooking is not a luxury. It’s a necessity.