bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Should veganism be a human right?

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Last week the Huffington Post reported on the news that veganism is close to becoming a human right in Ontario. I saw some mixed responses to this news.

Rather than do my usual personal ranting, I thought that it would be more meaningful if the responses came from people who were more passionate about the issue. Certainly, I have opinions but I think that these perspectives might get people thinking about the issue in different ways.

In the vegan corner we have Jason. Jason is from Halifax and is celebrating his 20th year as a devout vegan.

In the opposing corner, we have Amy Matheson. Amy is a strong and vocal advocate of the Canadian agricultural industry, and is very passionate about our food and the farmers who produce it. She is part of a dairy farm and crop growing family outside of Stratford, Ontario. She can be found on twitter, with her nose in a book, outside playing with her kids and drinking strong coffee. 

Jason’s thoughts on the new legislation:

I’m beyond thrilled that the province of Ontario is one step closer to recognizing veganism as a human right. However, I’ll be even more excited when government recognizes it as an animal right. That is to say, only when meaningful legislation is passed that directly protects the animals, not just the people who want to protect the animals, will true progress be made. Nevertheless, this is still a tremendous step in the right direction and my hope is that this landmark decision will kickstart likeminded initiatives across Canada and will serve to open a new dialogue at the federal level, with regards to animal’s basic interests.

Amy’s thoughts:

Ladies and Gentleman, I think we’ve peaked.

​I think that we, ​as society, have reached the epitome of entitlement. Here’s why:

Vegan or not, can we just please agree on one quick thing? Any animal that you will find on any​ farm is totally, completely and absolutely dependent on us, the farmers, for their very survival. They are our responsibility, and it’s an obligation we do not take lightly.

The activist group Animal Justice has a mandate to end animal agriculture and that​ all animals ​used in agricultural production should simply be freed and allowed to frolic in the tall grass (meanwhile as while I type this, it’s -22 degrees here in SW Ontario). With that, ​they should be allowed to fend for themselves​​. That would not only ​be a breach of our moral obligation, but would mean unnecessary widespread suffering, and death. Okay, super?

 If you agree with Ontario Human Rights Commission’s impending decision to include veganism as “creed”, recognizing ones personal decision not to use and consume animal products, and you don’t agree that the money, time and energy used to make this a reality would be better used to ensure that all children, for example, have access to warm clothing, shelter and food, then I believe your moral compass is broken.   

 From where I stand, a creed that sets out to protect the right to not put pork on your fork is illogical and where does it stop? Shall we have a creed for people who chose to salt their food, use sweetener instead of sugar, margarine instead of butter, prefer blue cheese dressing over ranch?

If being vegan is a human right, isn’t being an omnivore, a carnivore, a red foods only-avore?

 Having this absurdity recognized in Ontario as a human right just further perpetuates the belief held by vegan and animal activist groups that they’re somehow morally superior to​ those of us who live our lives stewarding the land and the animals in our care.

 I want the freedom to farm without vilification. I want the freedom to continue to do so without interference so that one day our children will live off the land that’s been in this family for over 100 years, and to know what it is to care for a newborn animal.

​And that​, that is my “creed”.

What do you think?


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Boycott Fit To Fat To Fit

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When I heard about the new TV show Fit 2 Fat 2 Fit I thought “that sounds a lot like that moronic trainer I wrote about years ago.” A little digging through my archives, and it looks like I was right.

For anyone who hasn’t heard about this new show, the premise is a group of personal trainers intentionally gain a bunch of weight (ostensibly so that they “know” what it’s like to be fat) and then they lose the weight again, along with their chosen client.

What I wrote about the original Fit 2 Fat 2 Fit trainer remains true over five years later, and applies to the trainers in the series. Unfortunately, by the sheer existence of a TV series it would seem that his stunt paid off, and then some.

There are so many things wrong with a series like this. Starting with the fact that these trainers are potentially putting their health at risk by gorging themselves to gain weight. And then by losing the weight, presumably through gruelling workouts and restrictive diets. And for what? Money? Fame? Even if they truly believe that “putting themselves in their clients shoes” is helping them to know what it’s like to be overweight, that’s not what this is really about and it’s not providing them with the true experience. They may gain a greater appreciation for how people fat-shame those who are overweight but they haven’t taken the same journey as their clients.

Most people aren’t overweight because they intentionally ate super-sized McDonald’s meals every day. They become overweight for myriad reasons and it happens over extended periods of time, not usually the six months allotted for the TV show. Our environment, our income, our upbringing, our genetics, our friends, our mental health, our gut microbes, our jobs, and on and on, are all factors in determining what we weigh. The trainers involved in the series aren’t experiencing weight gain in the same way that most people do. It’s simplifying a complex issue into calories in, calories out.

In addition to the detriment potentially caused to the trainers themselves there’s the harm potentially caused to their clients (and to the public watching at home). The clients are being taught that they are to blame for their weight gain. They’re also being taught that exercise is the way to lose weight. Have we learned nothing from the Biggest Loser? I guess we have. We’ve learned how to get some great TV ratings. We know that the Biggest Loser can wreak metabolic havoc, not to mention emotional havoc, on the contestants. This is the same thing. Let’s push people to their breaking points so they lose weight we get more viewers. Who cares what happens to them afterwards.

And the harm to people at home? The message the show sends it that it’s your fault that you’re fat and you can lose the weight if you just work hard enough. Even if everyone wanted to destroy their metabolisms at home, most people don’t have the time or money to undertake a punishing daily workout regimen with personal trainers. Nor is there the pressure to make the cut for a TV program looming over our heads. Who has the “luxury” of making weight loss their full-time job? Not to mention the fact that the majority of weight loss is a result of what we eat, not exercise.

Finally, programs like this are teaching us that there is only one way to be beautiful, healthy, loved, and worthy and that’s by being skinny. We all naturally have different body types and what healthy looks like on me may be very different from what healthy looks like on you. Suggesting that everyone needs to have the same abdominal definition to be fit and healthy is the same as suggesting that some of us need to grow a few more inches in height (or become shorter). It’s a ridiculous and impossible ideal.

Please don’t watch this show. By watching, you are only helping to support dangerous attitudes to weight and perpetuating false ideals and helping A&E make money from the suffering of others.


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Follow Friday:10 checks of a healthy weight management program

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I haven’t done a Follow Friday post in a while so when I came across this checklist I knew that I had to share it with you. It’s one of the many great resources available on the Canadian Obesity Network website.

I hope that some of the people who keep landing on my old post about Ideal Protein will come across this and have pause for thought.

Note that all of the boxes should be checked and that you should consult with a healthcare professional before beginning any weight loss program.


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Gratuitous gluten destruction on The Bachelor

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Who else watches The Bachelor? I’m not ashamed to admit (okay, I’m totally ashamed to admit that I do). It’s a guilty pleasure. Unlike bread which is a pleasure without guilt. Which brings me to the short-lived contestant Breanne.

When I saw this girl walking up to Ben with a basket of bread I thought “ooh, maybe this one’s a baker”. Sadly, no. She proceeded to tell him that gluten is Satan and she brought the bread for the express purpose of them smashing it on some rocks together!! My horrified boyfriend couldn’t have put it better. He groaned, “THAT WAS PERFECTLY GOOD BAGUETTE”.

Does this mean that gluten-free has finally jumped the shark? It’s got to, doesn’t it? For someone to use the destruction of bread as an intro on The Bachelor it’s got to be near an end. Kudos to Ben for not keeping her around. Honestly, if I was him I would have just sent her packing then and there. I would not tolerate the gratuitous abuse of gluten by a would-be suitor.

I would also like to take this moment to remind you that a “nutritional therapist” is not a registered dietitian. Pretty much any hack with a hate for gluten and a love for kale (sorry kale, you know I love you too) can call themselves a nutritional therapist. Unlike RDs, they are not accountable to any governing body. That means that there is no recourse for members of the public who are fed incorrect information by these “therapists”. They do not have to complete a university degree, nor an accredited internship programme, nor a national exam, nor provide evidence of on-going learning.

Naturally, I had to take a little peek at Breanne’s website. Her “about” page is pretty revealing. She suffered from unnamed digestive issues and vitiligo and somehow cured herself through diet. While her website fails to make it clear, vitiligo is not related to digestive problems. It’s a loss of pigment in the skin. While in some rare occasions the pigment may return, it’s highly uncommon and almost certainly unrelated to diet.

Digestive “issues” on the other hand, can quite often be managed by diet, although not usually cured completely. Not knowing what these mysterious digestive issues were I can’t provide much further comment on her self-treatment. All I can say is that different things work for different people and experiencing an ailment doesn’t make a person competent to treat others with similar ailments.

Most telling, is what’s absent from Breanne’s website and that’s mention of her credentials. There’s nothing about where she received her education. If you’re looking for a credible nutrition professional, that’s something that you need to ask for. Make sure that you’re getting advice from someone who’s qualified to provide it. Dietitians aren’t registered for our benefit, we’re registered for the benefit of the public. Our regulatory bodies exist to protect the public and work to ensure that we’re competent to provide the best evidence-based advice possible.


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Does that tub of yoghurt contain toxic levels of sugar?

Last week my twitter friend Stacey asked me for my thoughts on the mention of “toxic levels of sugar” in this article by Aviva Goldfarb: My healthy eaters are consuming toxic levels of sugar. Your kids probably are too. 

Before I go any further I think that we should stop and have a quick refresher on what toxic means as it seems to be a term that’s bandied about all too often these days. A toxic substance is a poisonous substance. There are a couple of ways in which something can be toxic. The effects of acute toxicity are fairly immediate adverse reactions to a substance. The effects of chronic toxicity are a result of long-term low-level exposure to a substance. Of course, the dose makes the poison. Large enough quantities of pretty much any substance can be acutely toxic. We need oxygen to survive but pure oxygen will kill us.

Now that, that’s out of the way, let’s take a look at the claims in the article at hand. According to Aviva, her children are consuming above the level of sugar recommended by the American Heart Association. The recommendation is no more than 3 teaspoons (or 12 grams) of added sugar a day. And she’s right, it’s easy for children, even children who snack on kale and edamame, to consume well over that amount of sugar in the course of a day. I mean, many cookies contain more than that amount of sugar. You can easily consume 3 teaspoons of added sugar from a bowl of cereal, a glass of juice, or a bowl of pasta with jarred tomato sauce. One meal or one snack and you’ve met your limit for the day. Does that mean that you (or your child) is consuming a toxic amount of sugar though? Probably not.

To my knowledge, there is no known dose of sugar that is toxic. Oh yes, I know that many of you, like Aviva will point to Dr. Lustig’s research and say that many MDs believe sugar to be toxic. I will argue that there are many MDs (and RDs and other critically-minded individuals) who dispute Lustig’s findings. I’d also like to remind you that Lustig has a serious conflict of interest. He’s built his entire career on convincing people that sugar is poison and written several books on the subject. If his study were to find that sugar was innocuous can you imagine the damage that would do to his career? He’d be finished. I’d also like to take the time to point out that, despite many others who have been fingered by the anti-sugar crusaders I have no conflicts of interest. I do not receive money from any industry groups, I have not made a career on pushing sugar, I don’t even like pop.

While it may well be that sugar is chronically toxic, there is not sufficient quality evidence to support a specific consumption recommendation. The number chosen by the AHA, the WHO, and others is completely arbitrary insofar as I can tell. What makes matters even worse is that these recommendations pertain only to added sugars. Despite our desire to believe that there is something inherently superior about the sugar in an orange, the fact is that it’s structurally identical to those vilified added (or “free”) sugars.

Sure, an orange comes with loads of excellent nutrients like fibre, vitamins, and minerals but that doesn’t change the fact that when it goes through your digestive system, the sugar in it is broken-down in just the same way as the sugar in a candy. If we are going to say that sugar is toxic then we can’t give “naturally” occurring sugars a pass. Surely we can easily consume more than 3 teaspoons worth of sugar from fruit, vegetables, grains, and dairy products in the run of a day. One glass of white milk and you’re already at 12 grams. Boom, done. Off to die.

Okay, I’m being a bit dramatic. But really now, enough with the fear mongering. Yes, most of us could stand to improve our diets by some measure or another. Undoubtedly, many of us would be well-served by eating fewer sweets and more leafy greens. That doesn’t mean that we need to start policing our children’s diets and denying them ketchup with their (gasp) fries. Honestly, I’d worry more about the negative effects of my children finding me surrounded by empty marshmallow bags and spent containers of Nutella than I would about enjoying the occasional sweet treat. I’d also worry more about the effects of counting grams of sugar they’re consuming and instilling the notion of toxic food choices than I would about a cookie.

Yes to more mindful food choices. Yes to preparing more meals at home using basic ingredients. Yes to more sitting down and eating as a family without distractions. No to more fear mongering and demonizing of single nutrients.