bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Is your “green monster” a nutritional nightmare?

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I recently came across a blog post decreeing green smoothies to be a nutritional no-no. Great, so people finally find a way that works for them to get a bunch of veg and fruit in one go and now we tell them that these drinks might be the death of them.

Green smoothies seem like a no-brainer. If you’re making them at home you can easily control what goes into them and ensure that they’re packed with nutritious foods and not calories from things like frozen yoghurt. I know a lot of people who find it difficult to eat breakfast in the morning; smoothies can be a great way to get breakfast in as liquids may be more readily tolerated than solid foods first thing in the morning.

Now that people are hooked on green smoothies the fearmongering begins. Why should you fear your green smoothie? Well, raw cruciferous vegetables, such as kale, a staple in many green smoothies, contain goitrogens. These are substances that interfere with thyroid gland metabolism by inhibiting the absorption of iodide. When consumed in large quantities, they may cause goiters. Goitrogens are also found in turnips, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, and water.

Iodide (not to be confused with the toxic iodine, despite “iodine” being used interchangeably with iodide) deficiency hasn’t been a significant health concern in developed countries in many years because we generally cook cruciferous vegetables before eating them. In Canada, fortification of table salt with iodide is also mandatory. However, with the diminished use of the salt shaker and the popularization of sea salt (which is not fortified and loses iodide during processing) it’s likely that iodide will become a nutrient of greater concern in countries such as Canada.

Before you start reaching for the iodide supplements (which, by the way, you’ll find as kelp or bladderwrack, not as iodide/iodine) you should be aware that at very high amounts (more than 1.1 mg per day), iodide consumption can inhibit thyroid hormone synthesis. Even without consuming fortified table salt, most North Americans consume more than enough iodide per day as iodide is used as a sterilizing agent in dairies and restaurants, a conditioner for dough in bakeries, and in food colourings. Iodide is also found in saltwater fish (both fin and shell), molasses, seaweed, plain yoghurt, milk, and eggs. Some protein bars and multivitamins also contain iodide.

Back to your green smoothie. Should you be concerned about the effect your daily smoothie might have on your thyroid gland? Probably not. Unless you’re guzzling green smoothies for breakfast lunch and dinner, are consuming a cruciferious vegetable-heavy raw-diet, and have an existing thyroid condition it’s unlikely that a green smoothie once a day, or less, is going to have anything but a positive impact on your health. The most important feature of a healthy diet is variety. Consuming too much of anything be it green smoothies, potato chips, bread, or bananas, is unhealthy. Eating a balanced diet containing a variety of foods helps to ensure that you’re getting all of the nutrients you need. And yes, a green smoothies can be a part of a balanced diet.


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Should the food industry be allowed at the obesity debate?

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This article: Food firms could be out of the obesity debate baffled me. The by-line reads: “Food and drink manufacturers must emphasize the role of exercise in reducing obesity or risk being sidelined in the debate and hit with stricter regulation, according to new research.” What? Isn’t that exactly what many food and beverage companies are doing? I seem to remember Coke, for example, having an ad campaign based around how many calories it takes to burn off a coke. Isn’t this one of the biggest problems with the current debate? That you can out-run your fork? That food manufacturers want us to believe that we’re fat because we don’t move enough, not because we’re not eating properly? Sorry, hate to break it to ya, but the most important factor in losing, and maintaining weight loss, is diet. And the best way to attain a healthy diet is to prepare it ourselves rather than relying on packaged, processed, manufactured foods.

Of course, the by-line obscures one of the major recommendations of the research. That recommendation is that the role of public health in education and health programming should be emphasized. Sadly, they do state that food manufacturers should be making greater efforts to reformulate their products to meet the weight management needs of the consumers. Honestly, I think this is a fool’s errand. It’s been done before; and look where all those low-fat and fat-free products got us? Here. Greater import needs to be placed on cooking and the food system needs to be restructured so that “junk” foods are no longer subsidized, while fruits and vegetables are.

I for one, don’t see it as any great tragedy if the food industry was to be sidelined in the obesity debate. Frankly, their inclusion only serves their interests and keeps the mistaken belief that individual responsibility is the key to conquering obesity alive.


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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.