bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


Can yoghurt prevent diabetes?


A friend of mine recently shared the news of a new study reporting an association between yoghurt consumption and decreased risk of type 2 diabetes.

The study was actually a meta-analysis of three large studies. Meta-analyses always make me a little nervous due to the ease of cherry picking and interpreting the results to yield the desired effect. The results of a meta-analysis can only be as good as the results of the original studies on which they’re based. I’m not saying this was the case here, just that it’s something to bear in mind when reading about meta-analyses. The researchers do have on their side the fact that all three studies had large sample sizes. After examining the results of these three studies, they added an additional 11 prospective-cohort studies for their meta-analysis.

The researchers controlled for a number of potential confounders. However, there’s always a remaining risk that an unaccounted for confounding variable might be the true reason for any observed effect. While the researchers reported a significant decreased risk of type 2 diabetes in regular yoghurt consumers they were also quick to acknowledge that this does not indicate causation. Yes, people who consume yoghurt appear to be less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than people who don’t. However, the studies all relied upon self-reported food frequency questionnaires and they were observational. It is possible that there is some unaccounted for variable that’s reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes in yoghurt consumers other than the yoghurt.

The researchers do make an interesting suggestion that the probiotics in yoghurt may be responsible for the decreased risk of type 2 diabetes. I do wonder about the validity of this as many yoghurts contain limited live bacteria due to their processing. In addition, it’s unlikely that many probiotics in yoghurt survive the acidic stomach environment to make their way to the intestines. Perhaps it’s the by-products of the bacteria in the yoghurt (e.g. vitamins, lactic acid) that are responsible for decreased risk of type 2 diabetes. Just postulating here. I would love to see a study in which participants are prescribed diets containing either yoghurt with live bacteria, yoghurt without live bacteria, and no yoghurt. Yes, it would take a long time to determine if the yoghurt reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes but other effects could be examined as well and it would be interesting to see what the true effects of  regular yoghurt consumption are on health.

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The zinc taste test certainly leaves a sour taste in my mouth

Photo by Danny on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Photo by Danny on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Last week I received an email from a local spa. I usually just delete this sort of thing without reading it but I decided to open it. Scrolling down, I saw them proudly offering zinc deficiency tests and asking us to “show our zinc face”. Apparently this $7 test diagnoses zinc deficiency through a simple taste test. If the substance tastes bitter then your zinc stores are adequate. If the substance is flavourless then you’re deficient in zinc. I had never heard of the zinc taste test before and it sounded a little suspicious to me. I did a little delving.

Of course google took me to a whole bunch of site of spas and naturopaths offering this fun easy zinc deficiency taste test. Searching a little more I found a study into the accuracy of the zinc taste test. According to the researchers, To date, there are no tests that are both sensitive and specific that accurately assess marginal zinc status in humans. The ZTT, albeit widely used, does not fill this void, and further research is needed.” How does the zinc taste test work? Those who are deficient in zinc experience “diminished taste acuity”.

The problem with the test is primarily that there are other conditions, besides zinc deficiency, that can lead to diminished taste acuity. By accepting the results of the taste test, without confirming the diagnosis with their doctor, people may risk ignoring other underlying conditions and may unnecessarily self-medicate with zinc supplements.

While zinc deficiency is estimated to be quite common worldwide, about 30%, in “high-income” countries such as Canada and the US, estimates are between 3-11% of the population (1). Zinc is an important mineral for development, especially for sexual maturation, the immune system, and wound healing. However, extended, unnecessary or excessive zinc supplementation can increase the risk of deficiency of other minerals such as copper and can cause a whole host of other medical problems.

It concerns me that people may be taking this test, essentially self-diagnosing and self-treating. If you want to take the zinc taste test for fun at the spa, go for it. If the test indicates that you may be deficient in zinc, go see your doctor for confirmation and appropriate treatment options.

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Recipe: Sweet potato cornbread muffins


I had some sweet potatoes that needed using and I was scheming a way to use them in cornbread. I decided to go for a cornbread muffin just because the crispy crusts of buttery cornbread are the best, in my opinion. Making muffins maximizes the crispy edges over traditional cornbread. Using sweet potato also meant that I could use a little less butter, not that these are really healthy but any justification to have a second one…


1/2 cup butter

1 cup sugar (white or cane)

2 eggs

3 small sweet potatoes (about 1 cup, roasted, peeled, and mashed)

1 2/3 cups flour

1 cup cornmeal

4 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1 1/2 cups buttermilk (I use a splash of apple cider vinegar and regular milk)


Preheat oven to 350F.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Combine eggs, milk, and mashed sweet potato in a small bowl. In a separate bowl combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the creamed butter and sugar, alternating with the milk/egg/sweet potato mixture.

Spoon into greased muffin tins. Bake in centre of oven for about 25 minutes, until muffins spring back easily when lightly pressed on top. Cool, eat.

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Follow Friday: the Dartmouth Community Health Board


My apologies to non-Dartmouth residents. However, if you live in Nova Scotia, you’ll have a community health board for your district. Other provinces and places in other countries may have equivalent bodies and it’s worth checking into.

I’m shamelessly promoting the DCHB, of which I’m a volunteer member, as I think they’ve done (and we’re doing) great work in the community. We’re here to work toward improving the health of Dartmouthians and to act as the liaison between residents and Capital Health. We do this through advocacy, education, events, various other activities, and reporting to Capital Health.

Did you know that we offer grants to non-profit organizations in Dartmouth? We do this twice a year, once in the fall, and once in the spring. Find out more here. We also give a monthly award to an outstanding volunteer in our community. Do you know someone who is making a difference in Dartmouth through volunteer work? Just send off a quick email to with the name of the person you’d like to nominate, where they volunteer, and why they’re so great.

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Free Community Skate – December 2014