bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Sexism and snacks

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Of course I couldn’t resist reading the article Nutrition Bars Are Sexist? Oh, Okay when it came through on my Google nutrition news alert. The author writes rather condescendingly about a blog post: The Stereotype-Driven Business of Selling Nutrition Bars to Women

In the original blog post Stephie Grob Plante writes, more than fairly in my opinion, about the marketing of “nutrition” bars to women. These bars include Luna, thinkThin, and Eat Like a Woman. I’ve only seen the former in Canada. However, based on the packaging and the marketing terms I’m in wholehearted agreement with Plante’s assessment of these nutrition bars appealing to the expectation that women desire to be thin and to lose weight. You can see the same thing in the advertisements for Special K and, let’s be honest, pretty much every product that is targeting women. The notion is that women need portion-controlled grab-and-go bars to avoid uncontrollable over eating and subsequent weight gain.

On the other hand, you see energy and protein bars targeting men and athletes. These products focus on packing as many calories and as much protein as possible into a single bar. As Plante points out, the marketing suggests that men are more inclined to forget to eat and need something that they can grab and scarf down.

The responding article, written by Katherine Timpf states that Plante seems to have forgotten that “marketing is about stereotyping”. Oh, okay. Because marketing is rooted in sexist stereotypes that makes it logical that nutrition bars employ said stereotypes to market their products to women. Just because sexism is insidious doesn’t make it okay.

Timpf asserts:

The advertisements are targeted at women who want to lose weight because the bars are intended to appeal to women who want to lose weight. How could this possibly be considered controversial?

Um… It can be considered controversial because the stereotypes employed to market these bars to women are offensive. To tell me, as a woman, that I should eat a bar because it will make me thin is presumptuous. It also goes beyond the implication that I chose my foods to stay or become skinny. It implies that thin is ideal. That I will be more successful in life, and more desirable to men, if only I eat their specially formulated snack bar. Good grief.

Timpf also states that somehow this is an issue to take-up with God(??!!!) because he created men and women differently and therefore, we have different nutrient needs. Yes, okay, on average, men need more calories than women. However, nutrient needs vary more among individuals than between sexes. And one little bar is not going to have a huge impact on your nutrient consumption for the day anyhow.

There is one good point made by Timpf at the very end of her article. That’s the fact that most of these “nutrition” bars aren’t particularly nutritious to begin with and they’re full of highly processed suspect ingredients.

Obviously, making your own snacks is ideal. However, we’re all busy and sometimes a snack bar does come in handy. There are plenty of decent options available that don’t employ sexist marketing messages. You don’t have to support the continued use of sexist marketing tactics. Choose snack bars that focus on the ingredients, nutrition, and flavour rather than telling you that you need to lose weight.


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Are mushrooms the new meat?

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How could I resist the headline: 7 simple weight-loss foods? Of course, we all know that there are no magical weight loss foods. Weight loss and management is all about the overall pattern of eating. Eating half a grapefruit before every meal, eating eggs, or blueberries is not necessarily going to mean that you’ll lose weight.

The suggestion that bothered me the most was to swap out meat for mushrooms. I’ve got nothing against mushrooms (cooked, obviously). Nothing against meat either. Certainly, if you’re a frequent meat eater and you start replacing meat with mushrooms, you’re probably going to lose weight. However, mushrooms, despite their meaty texture are not nutritionally comparable to meat and the suggestion that they’re interchangeable concerns me. Go ahead and have a portabello burger or a mushroom lasagne, but bear in mind that those mushrooms aren’t providing you with the protein, iron, vitamin B12, etc that meat does. Ensure that you include other sources of these nutrients in your diet as well as the mushrooms.


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Can yoghurt prevent diabetes?

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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.