bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Eat for your microbes: lose weight fast, gain control of your blood sugar in only one week!

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Photo by Pacific Northwest Laboratory on flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

I know that I really shouldn’t comment on this research without reading the actual journal article but that hasn’t been published yet and I can’t resist jumping into the fray. Is there a fray? Not really. I just keep seeing people retweeting this and everyone seems all excited about the possibility of these individualized and I need to put a little rain on the parade.

The article starts off sounding great. Who doesn’t want a bespoke diet? Considering the number of people who have asked me as a dietitian to “just tell me what to eat” I think that most people want someone to hand them a nice little meal plan. Of course, most meal plans would be “bespoke” in a sense as any professional worth their credentials is going to tailor the menu to the client. But, I’m not here to quibble about what exactly makes a meal plan bespoke.

So, apparently the researchers looked at how different people react (in terms of blood sugar) to the consumption of different foods. They found a wide range of responses and linked those responses to the types of gut microbes residing in the participants digestive tracts. Then in another study (of only 20 participants) each participants was given a unique diet to control blood sugar and one that was designed to increase blood sugar. Unfortunately, the diets aren’t described in the article so it’s hard to say how much they differed for each participant. There’s also no explanation as to how this ties in to the earlier research looking at the microbiome. In a shocking turn of events, on the diets designed to control blood sugar some (again the article doesn’t indicate how many) participants blood sugar levels returned to normal. On the “bad” diets they had blood sugar spikes that “would be described as glucose intolerant” according to one of the researchers. Essentially, they exhibited diabetes or similar conditions.

The article then goes on to say that this research somehow shows that calories aren’t the only player when it comes to weight loss. What? I thought the research was looking at blood glucose levels. There was no mention of weight change in participants. While I certainly agree that there are many other factors at play, in addition to calorie consumption when it comes to weight management, I fail to see how this research examined this issue at all.

What makes me a little more leery about this study is that the researcher says it’s surprising that ice cream (for example) doesn’t cause huge blood sugar spikes, and that buttered bread has less impact on blood glucose than unbuttered bread. Have these people not heard of glycemic load before? Of course blood glucose responses are going to be mitigated when high carbohydrate foods are consumed with fat or protein. That’s why it’s important to look at how people are consuming foods rather than examining the effect of specific foods in isolation.

I’m trying to withhold full judgement until the research is published. I think that the human microbiome is a fascinating emerging area of research. However, on the basis of this article all I’m envisioning are more scam diet books urging people to eat for their microbes.


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Grocery store lessons: Big Slice apples

Oh hai. Did you miss me? Well, I missed you! Sorry for the hiatus. We were moving and I was starting a new job (eeee!!!) and we had no internets. But, now it’s the weekend (no, sorry, it’s Monday, sit back down) as I write this and it’s a beautiful day for blogging on the balcony with a Beau’s. I’d like to thank my friend Hannah for the blogspiration, making it easy for me to jump right back into it.

Have you seen this Big Slice product? I hadn’t, but Hannah wanted me to confirm her suspicions that it was essentially health washing (and certainly price jacking) of apple pie filling.

Let’s do a little comparison shall we?

Here’s the nutrition info for the Big Slice cinnamon french toast flavour:

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And here’s the nutrition info for a standard serving of apple pie filling:

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Naturally one would have to be by weight and the other by volume but let’s assume they’re similar serving sizes. They both clock in at 80 calories, contain pretty much the same amounts of carbs (20 g in the pie filling versus 21 in the “snack”) which consist of mostly sugar (16 g in the pie filling and 17 g in the “snack” – that’s roughly four teaspoons of sugar in that little pouch!). They also both contain essentially no other nutrients although the “snack” does contain a whole whack of vitamin C (because it’s used as a preservative). The ingredients are strikingly similar as well; don’t be fooled by the “snack” listing “apple and/or white grape juice concentrate” that’s just sugar by another name.

So, now that we know that these apple “slices” are basically over-packaged, over-priced apple pie filling, just for fun, let’s look at how they compare to an actual apple. One medium apple is approximately 180 grams (more than twice as much as the apple “snack”) but only contains about 95 calories. It does contain more sugar than the apple “snack” (about 1/2 teaspoon more) but none of that is added sugar and for more than twice the serving size it’s a much better choice. It also has a bit more than twice the fibre of the apple “snack” making it a good source of fibre rather than a middling one. It’s convenient, coming with it’s own protective packaging (aka skin) and affordable (generally about 80 cents at the store), and environmentally friendly (the core is biodegradable). All told, a much better choice than the Big Slice apple snacks.

Don’t buy the hype. Big Slice apples are not a “healthy snack”. If you want to send your child to school with a processed apple coated in sickly sweet sauce then consider portioning out a can of apple pie filling into Tupperware containers. You might not be saving your child from cavities and poor eating habits but at least you’d be doing your bank account and the environment a favour.


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Grocery store lessons: a tale of two pasta sauces

Further to all of my discussion about sugar in food and nutrition labels I wanted to share with you the following nutrition facts label that has me stumped:

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Apologies for the poor photo quality. Hopefully you’re able to see that the nutrition facts panel indicates that there’s no sugar in this pasta sauce. That’s grand and all, no one wants a sugary tomato sauce. It’s also puzzling because tomatoes (and many other vegetables) naturally contain sugar. So how does one end up with zero grams of sugar in a 1/2 cup serving?

Compare this to another pasta sauce:

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This second sauce, despite having no added sugar, still contains 6 grams of sugar per serving. This is much more the norm  than the sauce in the first photo.

I know that people are trying to cut back on sugar. That’s great. But this is another example of why you might want to pay more attention to the ingredients in a food than to the nutrition facts panel. These are very similar products but tell rather different stories when it comes to sugar content. One supposedly contains no sugar, while the other contains about one and a half teaspoons in a serving. Even if you’re trying to cut back on sugar there’s really no point in getting riled up about a little bit of sugar naturally occurring from vegetables.


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Beyond sugar: Canada’s new nutrition labels

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Last week I wrote about the change to the sugar entry on the new nutrition facts label on foods. Of course, while most of us are focussed on this change, this isn’t the only change to come.

One of the other changes would be the removal of vitamins A and C from the nutrition facts panel. They would be replaced with Potassium and vitamin D. This is because it’s extremely rare for Canadians to be deficient in either vitamin A or vitamin C these days. However, most of us don’t get enough potassium and vitamin D (at least during the winter months). While in some ways I think that this is a good change, in others I’m not certain. The inclusion of these nutrients on nutrition labels provides us as consumers with valuable information. It also provides food manufacturers with the impetus to add potassium and vitamin D to foods in order to improve their nutrient profiles. Adding vitamins and minerals to a highly processed fairly unhealthy food won’t miraculously make it healthy. Generally, it’s better to choose natural sources of these nutrients.

Health Canada is also planning on standardizing serving sizes. This means that if, for example, you’re comparing one loaf of bread to another, the nutrition facts will have to be for two slices of bread. You won’t find one loaf that has the nutrition information for a single slice and another that has it for two. While it will definitely make comparison shopping easier it may also lead to some confusion about serving sizes. Yes, most of us will eat two slices of bread as a serving, but a Canada Food Guide serving of bread is still one slice. You don’t get to eat twice as many sandwiches as before and still consume an appropriate number of servings of grains and cereals.

In addition to the changes to the nutrition facts panel, the label will now also have to more clearly list the ingredients in an easy to read box. I don’t think that any of us (even me) can complain about that! As I’ve said before, you’re generally better off reading the ingredients than the nutrition facts panel.