bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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Forget about Nicole Whatsherface, governments demonstrate the ultimate fat shaming

Image from the Rudd Center Image Library

Image from the Rudd Center Image Library

I was reading this article from the recent obesity series in the Lancet the other day and found myself becoming increasingly incensed at the discussion of “examples of shifting the cost of obesity to the obese”.

According to the article, the American government now “allows group health insurance plans to charge 30% higher premia to enrolees who are overweight and refuse to participate in qualifying wellness plans.” While I am well aware that obesity is a risk for many diseases, and may be classified as a disease in and of itself, this approach left a bad taste in my mouth. My immediate response was “WHAT ABOUT HAES (health at every size)??”. Not everyone who is overweight is unhealthy, and plenty of people who are “healthy” weights are not actually healthy and live unhealthy lifestyles. In addition, how do we know that these “state endorsed” wellness plans are any better than any other measures an individual might undertake to lose weight and/or become healthier?

This approach becomes even more suspect when you read a little further down the paragraph and see: “an insurance company can give a 30% premium discount to those with a body mass index of 26 or less. To get the same discount, those with a BMI greater than 26 must walk 150 min per week…” Considering that it’s widely known that BMI is a poor indicator of overweight and obesity (and weight, in turn, not an accurate indicator of health) I find this statement disturbing. It’s possible to be classified as overweight, even obese, by BMI and to be healthy. I’m also curious about the rationale of making the criteria for obtaining a discount walking 150 minutes a week. If the aim is to make people lose weight, it’s highly unlikely that 21 minutes of walking per day is going to achieve that goal. Even if the goal is to make people healthier, regardless of weight, that level of activity is going to make minimal impact. I can’t help but wonder if there was any scientific rationale whatsoever behind this decision.

Reading on… The next example was of a public-health insurance programme that won’t cover nutrition education, bariatric surgery, nor weight-loss management in its basic plan, but if enrolees who, “sign an agreement outlining their responsibilities for meeting health goals receive an enhanced plan with expanded coverage for such services.” That makes sense <– read in sarcasm font. Of course, let’s not allow people to access services in a preventative manner, let’s wait until they’re in need of bariatric surgery to cover their visits to a dietitian. Sigh.

It get’s even better… New Zealand apparently has an immigration ban on individuals whose body mass index is in the obese range, because they are considered to be a potential burden on the health system.” Yep, that’s right, somehow discriminating against people because of their body weight is thought to be a reasonable public policy. All I can say is “wow”.

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5 ways fish oil supplements (probably won’t) help fat loss


A friend recently suggested that I blog about this post touting the five ways that fish oil supplements help fat loss. Of course, the post contains no references for any of the claims so I had to do a little digging and guess at what the existing research supporting them might be. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. “They stimulate secretion of leptin, one of the hormones that decreases our appetite and promotes fat burning.”

The majority of studies I can find regarding fish oil and leptin involve mice, rats, or patients suffering from pancreatic cancer cachexia. Not exactly the general population. Off to where they reviewed two studies involving fish oil supplementation for women who were over weight. Neither study showed a significant influence of supplementation on serum leptin.

2. “They help us burn fat by activating the fat burning metabolic pathways in our liver.”

Back to (why do the work of slogging through google scholar when they’ve done it for me?). They found one study that showed no effect on metabolic rate as a result of fish oil metabolism.

3. “Fish oils encourage storage of carbs as glycogen (an energy source in our liver and muscles) rather than fat.” found one study that showed a very slight increase in fat oxidation with fish oil supplementation. Before you get too excited though, the study (the same as was noted in the response to “reason” number two above) participants were six lean and healthy young men. Probably not the population who is interested in taking fish oil for weight loss.

4. “They are natural anti-inflammatory agents. Inflammation causes weight gain and can prevent fat loss by interfering with our fat burning pathways in the liver and muscle cells.”

There were a lot more studies (17 to be precise) looking at this topic that were reviewed on The results were a mixed bag. A few found a very small reduction in inflammatory markers in subjects taking fish oil supplements. However, most of the studies found no effect on inflammatory cytokines and it’s important to note that even if fish oil supplements do reduce inflammation in some individuals, we can’t be certain that this will lead to weight loss.

5. “They possess documented insulin-sensitizing effects.” looked at 12 studies and stated that the scientific consensus is 100% that fish oil supplementation has no effect on insulin sensitivity. There are, however, a few studies that have shown an increase in insulin sensitivity but also a few that have shown a decrease in insulin sensitivity.

Overall, there is no evidence to support the use of fish oil supplementation to lose weight. Of course, Dr. Natasha would want you to believe otherwise as the purchase of her fish oil supplements is an “essential component” of her “Hormone Diet”. Remember, it’s a red flag when someone is trying to sell you a quick fix.

Don’t forget, the best way you can get fish oil is to eat fish.


21 easy food swaps that will totally leave you feeling like you’re missing out


Image “Vegemite for Sue” by mobil’homme on flickr, used under a Creative Commons licence.

A couple of RDs I know on twitter shared the this post recently and deemed it “food wankery”. An apt description. Let me fix that for you…

21 “easy” food swaps you can make now without missing out

  1. Sugar. Swap it for rice malt syrup less sugar. Sugar by any other name (including rice malt syrup) is still sugar. Try to avoid sugary drinks and keep sweet treats actual treats.
  2. Vegetable oil. Swap it for coconut oil what ever type of oil you prefer when cooking. Coconut oil does have a higher smoke point than most other oils making it a good choice for higher heats. However, it’s also very expensive. Use the oil that you prefer, can afford, and have on-hand. Despite what you may have heard, coconut oil is not a miracle food and “oil pulling” is bullshit but can be done with any type of oil. It’s important to consume a variety of types of fats so don’t toss your EVOO and butter and use coconut oil for all of your cooking; switch it up.
  3. White flour. Swap it for gluten free flour alternative <if you have celiac disease>. Most gluten free flours are far more expensive than white flour and don’t provide the same texture. It’s true that white flour isn’t the healthiest thing you can eat but refined gluten free flours are on-par with white flour or even less nutritious as they may not be enriched. Unless you have celiac disease there’s no reason to go gluten-free just make sure you’re consuming a variety of grains and that the majority of your servings are whole grain.
  4. White rice. Swap it for quinoa brown and wild rice mixes. Brown rice has more fibre and nutrients than white rice as it’s simply less refined white rice. Quinoa is not as protein-rich as the superfood marketers would have you believe. Sure, it’s great to switch it up but quinoa is another super expensive food.
  5. White wine vinegar. Swap for apple cider vinegar depending on the recipe. Unpasturized apple cider vinegar contains probiotics in the sediment (aka “the mother”) which may be beneficial. However, the flavour of apple cider vinegar may not always work for the recipe that you’re making and the small amount that you consume in a dressing is unlikely to provide any substantial health benefit.
  6. Wheat crackers. Swap for seed and vege crackers/snaps whole grain crackers. Seed and veg are fine but most crackers that contain them are still white flour based with a smattering or seeds or vegetables. Look for crackers with minimal ingredients and whole grains. You can also find some great legume based crackers and tortilla chips in stores now.
  7. Commercial muesli. Swap for rolled oats mixed with nuts, spices and organic dried fruits or simply fresh fruits. Okay, this isn’t a bad suggestion, although commercial muesli doesn’t usually have much added sugar anyway; most of it comes from the dried fruit.
  8. Commercial chocolate. Swap for raw fair trade chocolate. If you can find/afford/enjoy raw chocolate then go for it. If you enjoy “commercial” chocolate go for it. Try to choose fair trade so that the farmers get appropriately reimbursed.
  9. Wheat pasta. Swap for rice, buckwheat, quinoa or legume based pasta whole grain pasta. Choose whole grain for more fibre. Other pastas can also be good sources of fibre but many gluten-free options are actually lower in fibre. Read the labels and choose the best option that you enjoy.
  10. Packet muesli bars. Swap for a small handful of nuts and seeds, bliss balls — or bake your own or choose fresh fruit, hummus, veg, there are many snack options. What the heck are “bliss balls” anyway?! Something pretentious packed full of super expensive ingredients no doubt.
  11. Vegemite. Swap for a mix of tamari and tahini. I don’t have a suggested swap for this one either. Although one of my tweeps suggested “the inside of a trashcan” – haters gonna hate. Yes, vegemite is high in sodium (173 mg in 5 g) considering the quantity in one serving. It’s also a good source of B vitamins and consumed in small quantities occasionally there’s little harm in that. Switch it up with natural nut and seed butters.
  12. Table salt. Swap for sea salt or Himalayan crystal salt herbs and spices. Sea salt is no better for you than table salt. Try seasoning your food with herbs, lemon zest, and spices to cut back on sodium.
  13. Bottled sauces. Swap for simple combinations of fresh or dried herbs and spices to season foods. This is also acceptable. However, you can find healthy bottled sauces in a pinch. Look for no-salt-added options or better yet, make your own.
  14. Instant coffee. swap for freshly brewed plunger coffee, green tea or dandelion tea real coffee. Sorry, I’m a coffee snob. You should not be drinking instant coffee. Go for ANY OTHER coffee.
  15. Poppers. Swap for fresh vegetable juices or smoothies. fruit. I don’t know what poppers are but whole fruit is better than juice. Home made smoothies can also be a good choice as long as you’re not adding juice or sugar. Sweeten with frozen banana chunks.
  16. Soft drinks. Swap for sparkling water with lemon, lime, orange or pomegranate. This is also a good suggestion. I’ve been loving the Blue Menu sparkling waters this summer.
  17. Peanut butter. Swap for pure nut butter or a natural peanut butter without added vegetable oils. Choose peanut butters and other nut and seed butters without any ingredients besides nuts. There’s unnecessary added sugar, salt, and fat in most peanut butters. Beware of labels that proclaim “natural” that aren’t just peanuts.
  18. Nutella. Swap for raw cacao mixed with almond butter, or make your own with roasted hazelnuts, raw cacao, maple and coconut milk. it really depends what you’re using it for. We all know that Nutella is delicious but not nutritious. If you’re having a spread on toast go for a nut or seed butter unless you want to turn it into a chocolate bar. However, if you’re having an occasional treat or using it in a baked good unless you’re ambitious enough to make your own healthier version then a little’s not such a big deal.
  19. Potato chips. Swap for rice crackers <and a feeling of utter dissatisfaction and excessive consumption of other foods>. I’m sorry but I don’t know anyone who is satisfied by rice crackers when they’re craving potato chips. If you are, power to ya. If you’re like most other human beings, and you’re craving potato chips then allow yourself to have a small portion, don’t eat straight from a large bag. If you have a microwave you can make your own healthier portion-controlled potato chips.
  20. Cookies. Swap for bliss balls or bars. Again with the bliss balls. Are these akin to rocky mountain oysters? I won’t lie, sometimes I made energy balls for a snack but cookies are a whole other thing. Cookies are a treat. They’re not sustenance to get you through the sleepy morning hours between breakfast and lunch. If you want a cookie, go for it, preferably homemade, fresh from the oven. A “bliss ball” is unlikely to satisfy that craving and it’s better to have a little of what you want than a whole bunch of other random foods to try to fill that cookie sized hole in your tummy.
  21. Sweetened dried fruits. Swap for organic unsweetened dried fruit or fresh fruit. Unless you’re one of the few people who is sensitive to sulphites in dried fruit there’s no need to avoid dried fruit in order to avoid sulphites. Avoid sweetened dried fruit because dried fruit is already full of sugar as the sugar in fresh fruit becomes concentrated in dried fruit. Because dried fruit is sticky and full of sugar it’s also a great promoter of dental caries. If you do choose dried fruit you should have only a small portion, try to pair it with something like nuts or cheese, and be sure to brush your teeth after.

You don’t have to swap the foods that you enjoy for expensive pretentious foods to be healthy. Try to eat healthy foods that you enjoy 80% of the time and really savour those treats the other 20%.


Hunger Awareness Week #HungerWeek


I originally posted this back in 2012. As it’s national Hunger Week, and I must confess, I don’t know what to blog about, here it is again:

Food Insecurity is Not Simple Math

A recent study showed that healthy food is actually less expensive than “junk” food. This study eschewed the usual caloric comparison of foods for a portion-based comparison. Based on this comparison the researchers found that many healthy foods are, in fact, cheaper than their less nutritious counterparts. For example, a serving of carrots was found to be less expensive than a serving of potato chips. I agree that healthy food is not necessarily all that expensive and some options (e.g. beans, legumes, and root vegetables) can be quite economical. However, I have several major issues with this study.

Having worked with people experiencing food insecurity I know that the first concern of most of them is getting enough calories into their family members and keeping them as full as possible. So, even if this study is showing that by portion size and by edible weight, healthy foods are less expensive than unhealthy foods this is not how the majority of people who are suffering from food insecurity are thinking. They’re trying to get caloric bang for their buck. Sadly, carrots are not going to give them as many calories for their dollar as pop and hot dogs are.

Even if we accept what the study is telling us, there is a lot more to consider beyond the face-value of these foods. Many of these healthy food items are not ready to eat as is. Do you know anyone who’s going to eat onions straight-up? How about dried chickpeas? These foods require cooking skills, equipment, and additional ingredients (e.g. herbs, spices, oils, etc. to make them palatable). Many people, be they food insecure or not, are lacking in the food skills department and may not have the confidence or knowledge to cook a rutabaga. Do they have a stove to use? What about pots? Knives? Vegetable peelers? All of the additional ingredients and supplies can add a considerable amount of cost to the meal.

Another major issue when it comes to food insecurity is oral health. If your teeth are sore or missing it’s going to be mighty difficult to chow down on raw carrots and apples. Potato chips and spam are much easier to manage when you’re lacking quality teeth.

So, sure, serving for serving some fresh vegetables may be less expensive than “junk” food but food insecurity is not simple math.