bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Dr Oz gets schooled and says: #sorrynotsorry

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I’m sure that the whole Dr-Oz-goes-to-the-senate-and-gets-scolded thing is going to be all over all of the blogs for at least the next few days. Despite this, I still feel the need to throw my voice into the fray. I’ve ranted about Dr Oz and his ridiculous supplement (and dietary) proclamations many a time (too many for me to be bothered to even give you a link right now, feel free to search my blog for my scorn). It’s not just weight loss that’s a problem. It’s pretty much every dietary and supplement recommendation that he’s made. Eat a papaya every day? Come on, are we made of money (perhaps Dr Oz should read yesterdays post)? And what happened to variety is the spice of life. Any dietitian worthy of the “RD” after their name will tell you that variety is a key component of a healthy diet.

But that’s all history now, right? Dr Oz, the great and powerful Oz, has (gasp!) apologised for his role in the popularization of useless weight loss supplements. Does this really sound like the words of someone who is truly sorry: “For years I felt that because I did not sell any products that I could be enthusiastic in my coverage and I believe the research surrounding the products I cover has value.”? What I see here is Oz saying that by not putting his name on any product labels that he thought it was okay to tout each and every one of them as the next great MIRACLE weight loss cure on his show. Even more importantly, I see that Oz still believes in the “research” conducted on the products he promotes. Never mind that most of them have little to no scientific research to support their use as weight loss supplements. Never mind that those that do have research invariably have weak biased research. Never mind that he conducted his own “research” into the efficacy of green coffee bean extract using audience members.

Do I think that we’ll see any meaningful change as a result of this hearing? I doubt it. Dr Oz doesn’t believe that he’s done anything sincerely wrong and what he does is popular. Horrifyingly popular. Just a taste of some of the comments on his facebook “apology”:

Dr.Oz, you are amazing. You get people excited about living healthier and happier lives! You show is interesting, lively and is very enjoyable as well as more importantly very informative to watch. Thank you!!!

You have done far more good in your career than any other public medical professional, helping people take responsibility for their health and promoting preventive care and wellness. Don’t listen to the politicians, who are the MOST self-serving of our population and sell out every day to lobbying money. You owe no apologies.

You are a good doctor, and you have done nothing wrong. I am glad you stood up for what is right. Keep on doing what you do best Dr. Oz…
They go on and on in that vein. People want miracle cures. They don’t want to hear that losing weight (and keeping it off) is hard work. That’s why Dr Oz has 4.6 million likes on FB and a syndicated television show and dietitians (like yours truly) are tapping away writing unpaid blogs about nutrition in their spare time. As long as Dr Oz is being given a platform, as long as the network is getting the ratings, and as long as the public are swallowing every pill he proffers he is going to keep dishing them out.

 


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Diet of privilege

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A few weeks ago I saw someone comment on an Instagram photo of rhubarb. They said they didn’t know why anyone would ever buy rhubarb anymore because it grows like a weed in their garden. It’s true, rhubarb is very easy to grow (as my parents can surely attest to) but not everyone has a garden. That comment really got under my skin. It was innocent enough but it came from a place of privilege. I’m fortunate that I can afford to buy rhubarb at the local farmer’s market and that I have parents who are always happy to share their crop with me. Not everyone is so lucky and I think that most of us could do with a reminder of that before we pass judgement or dole out advice.

I recall seeing a recipe for healthy sugar-free cookies posted by a dietitian on twitter a while ago. It was full of expensive ingredients like almond flour and chia seeds. Putting aside the fact that the recipe actually sounded rather revolting, how many people can afford to purchase all of these ingredients to make a batch of “cookies”? Sure, share that recipe with your friends, family, and well-off clients but bear in mind that many people can’t afford such things. By telling people that these types of recipes are the way to go if you want to eat healthy then you’re quite likely to discourage people from making any steps to improving their diets. Sugar-free gluten-free chia seed cookies can be a part of a healthy diet, but they are not essential to a healthy diet.


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Diet, cancer, and blame

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I read these articles backwards. Starting with Dr Joel Fuhrman’s The Nutrition and Cancer Myth? in the Huffington Post and then reading the article An Apple a Day, and Other Myths in the New York Times, which it was written in response to.

To summarize: the NYT article was covering the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research. The article reports that nutrition research has proven to be much less cut-and-dry than had been hoped and that there has been little evidence to date to support any specific connections between diet and cancer prevention (or cause). The HP article suggests that the former article was biased and based on “mainstream” science. Fuhrman argues that there are connections between diet and cancer.

Let’s talk a little bit about bias. The free dictionary defines bias as: A preference or an inclination, especially one that inhibits impartial judgement. Fuhrman accuses George Johnson of bias in his article. Johnson is a writer and science journalist for the NYT. I’m not sure what leads Fuhrman to accuse him of bias other than the fact that his article threatens his book sales. As a journalist, impartiality is essential to Johnson’s writing. Fuhrman, on the other hand has a vested interest in having people believe that cancer can be prevented through diet as the author of books such as Super Immunity and Disease Proof Your Child and the creator of the “nutritarian” diet.

Maybe it’s just my interpretation, but I didn’t read Johnson’s article as telling us to eat whatever we please because it won’t have any impact on whether or not we develop cancer. To me, it said that we shouldn’t beat ourselves up too much for our dietary choices if we develop cancer because nutrition may not have a huge (or even a small) role in cancer development. Cancer has myriad causes and victim blaming does little to advance our knowledge. To his credit, Fuhrman does acknowledge that there are a number of causes of cancer, some of which are outside of our control. However, he continues to cling to the notion that diet can play a large role in cancer prevention and treatment. Understandably, he has a vested interest in people believing this assertion.

Fuhrman cites a number of observational epidemiological studies to support his claim that diet can affect cancer development/prevention. Obviously, we can’t determine causality from these types of studies and, in the comparisons of developed and developing countries there are many factors other than diet which may result in varying rates of breast cancer. Fuhrman uses a small study of the consumption of flax muffins by women with breast cancer as support for the assertion that diet can prevent cancer. Of course there were only 32 women in the study, they were all post-menopausal, and they all were diagnosed with breast cancer. So, really, while interesting that the women eating the flax muffins saw greater cancer cell death than the women eating the muffins without flax (of import is that both groups saw cell death) it’s not translatable to the general population and says nothing about diet and cancer prevention.

Diet may prove to play a role in cancer prevention. However, the evidence does not yet support this. Don’t let nutritionologists scare you into believing that you are in control of cancer prevention and you can only do so by buying their book(s) and ascribing to their diet.


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What’s the *BEST* diet?

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There are so many diets out there; from low-carb (and its many iterations), vegetarian, vegan, low-fat, paleo, gluten-free and on and on. The one thing that many of their followers seem to have in common is the absolute certainty that their diet is the best diet. It amuses me when I see back-to-back tweets from people praising their chosen religion diet.

I’m sick of seeing people (especially my fellow dietitians) passing judgement on the diets of others, presuming that their chosen diet is superior. Power to you if you are healthy and enjoy following your diet of choice. That doesn’t mean that the diets followed by others are inferior. It doesn’t mean that only you (and others following the same diet) are eating “real food”. What the heck does that even mean?? I’m fairly certain that I didn’t imagine my last meal, that I didn’t consume “fake” food. Just because it works for you doesn’t mean that it’s going to work for everyone. This isn’t Mormonism, you’re not going to secure your place in foodie heaven by converting more people to your way of eating.

Each diet has its drawbacks and nutrients of concern. Each of these diets has its benefits. I could go through many of them and list out the pros and cons but that would be tedious for me to do and tedious for you to read. So which one is the best? The one that you are happiest and healthiest following. The one that you can easily follow for the rest of your life without feeling like you’re on a “diet”. Yeah, sorry, I sucked you in with that title. It’s the truth though. Me, I don’t follow a diet with labels. I enjoy a variety of foods. I eat meat, but I have been known to go weeks without it. I eat grains, but I try to vary them and may not have them at every meal. I’m an agnostic eater.


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Another salt study

This headline made me cringe: Bread and cereal highest contributors to children’s salt intake: Study.
One, because we’ve known this for years, and it doesn’t just apply to children. In Western nations most people obtain the majority of their sodium from bread products.

Two, as the director of the Federation of Bakers points out toward the end of the article, it’s not because bread contains high amounts of salt, per se, it’s because people consume large quantities of bread products. Despite the focus of the article (and apparently the researchers) on pushing the food industry to lower amounts of salt in bread, it’s unlikely that this is the best response. For one thing, the industry is likely to replace the salt with something else that will turn out to be worse for us. For another, we should be focusing on encouraging people to consume a variety of foods, particularly those that are minimally processed, rather than emphasizing reformulating current packaged foods. Different bread is not the answer, less bread is.