bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Step away from the chips, the grocery store RD is watching you

Not my usual uniform, I swear!

Not my usual uniform, I swear!

A couple of weeks ago the Globe and Mail published an article about the role of “nutrition experts” in grocery stores. It caused a bit of an uproar in the dietitian community for a couple of reasons: one, there was some conflation between nutritionists, dietitians, and naturopaths (if you don’t know why that would upset dietitians then you should read this); two, it poorly represented our roles in grocery stores. Following that, a dietitian published a blog in Huff Post in response to the inflammatory article in the Globe. As a dietitian who worked in a grocery store for several years and who was interview for, and quoted in, the original Globe article I feel obligated to add my belated two cents to the fray.

I actually had a really nice interview with Shawna, we covered a number of topics, and I felt like she was “getting” what I was saying. So, I was a little disappointed when I read the article and saw the quotes that she had chosen. Not to mention that I had asked that grocery retailer I worked for not be identified as employees cannot speak as representatives of the company, a normal PR policy, my job was not “retail dietitian”. I was a Wellbeing Counsellor, and as part of the interview I explained the different roles of the Wellbeing Counsellor and the in-store Dietitian. Wellbeing Counsellors essentially manage the Natural Source and Wellbeing Department in one store (ordering, stocking shelves, inventory, checking for out dates, dumping expired milk…). In addition, they are there to assist customers with any food, supplement, or nutrition-related question they might have. They also teach classes, do demos, and perform community outreach. The in-store Dietitian teaches classes, does demos, store tours, community outreach, and one-on-one counselling. They’re not tied to one department and they usually split their time between two stores.

In retrospect, Shawna was trying to push the helicopter parent/food police angle a bit, and I found it odd when she brought up orthorexia. While I agreed that many people are taking healthy eating to a whole new disordered level of “clean” eating, I suggested that dietitians (I’m now talking about those of us in both Wellbeing Counsellor and Dietitian roles) working in grocery stores can actually serve to combat this. I said that the food industry, the media, and society have made healthy eating far more complicated than it has to be. Dietitians in grocery stores can help you to look past the front-of-package label claims to the true nutritional value of a foods. They can help you make healthier, more delicious choices. They’re not there peering into your cart and judging what you’re eating. They’re not there to push products on you. No one ever told me to sell more of X or Y and as a regulated health professional I would never have done any such thing. Yes, obviously, grocery stores hire us to boost sales but it’s not by pushing products, it’s by having value-added service; by showing customers what they can do with chia seeds or by helping them find the product that’s best going to meet their needs.

When I said that comment about how people often think that dietitians only eat salad (and that we don’t, sometimes we eat candy or chips) it seemed to be met with some surprise. Especially when I insisted that I’m not in the minority; that most dietitians I know would say the same thing. That it’s important to eat a variety of foods and to allow yourself to have treats. I actually hate the term clean eating and am still hoping that my #eatdirty hashtag will catch on. If you’re not enjoying your food then you’re doing it wrong.


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The dark green leafy truth about your kale smoothie

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I’ve been slacking again, sorry! No post on Monday and I had plans to write a post debunking this article about how kale is killing us all that a friend sent me over the weekend. My immediate reaction was that if kale is accumulating these toxins then it stands to reason that many other vegetables are, as if people need any discouragement from eating their veggies. My friend responded that it would be best if everyone stuck to corn dogs. Of course, that’s no solution as corn dogs are full of GMOs and carbs which we all know cause “grain brain”. Anyway… I was going to dig a little deeper but before I did, I saw this article by Julia Belluz that did that for me so, please, go read her article about how faulty the “science” is behind the headlines that kale is a killer. Sure, alliteration is a great literary device (possibly my favourite), it makes for great headlines, but it doesn’t make bad science good.

There are just a couple of things I really want to emphasis that Julia just touched on. First, despite what the articles indicate, this was not a strong scientific study. There was no true control group. There was no randomization of participants. This was a very small “sample” of 20 self-selected individuals who went to Ernie Hubbard for “detoxes” for myriad inexplicable medical complaints. Ernie started with the assumption that kale was causing their problems, he didn’t seek out other causes. His finding that they were all kale consumers was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Second, Please, please, please don’t stop eating vegetables because of these sensational headlines. The benefits from eating vegetables far outweigh any real risks. Variety is an essential part of any healthy diet so be sure to consume a wide variety of vegetables, including leafy greens and members of the Brassica family, such as kale.


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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.