bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Colour me surprised: Organic foods may contain pesticides!

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Last week consumers of organic produce got their knickers all in a knot over news reports of pesticide residue being found on “organic” produce. Now, I thought that we all knew by now that purchasing organic produce didn’t guarantee avoidance of pesticides. Apparently not.

Just a reminder… Organic food is not grown in isolation. There are pesticides in the soil, the rain, the air. Organic foods are not shipped and sold in isolation. There are many stages at which they may become contaminated with pesticides. Indeed, organic foods may also have pesticides deliberately applied during the growing process. Pesticides are allowable in organic farming, provided that they are not synthetic. For a list of permitted substances in organic farming see this from the Government of Canada.

Before we all give-up on organic produce, it’s worth considering a couple of things. One, it appears that the number of samples was quite small (the image at the bottom of the CBC article shows a sample size of 30 for the grapes). This could mean that the numbers are not an accurate reflection of the state of pesticide residue in produce in Canada. Two, only 1.8% of organic samples exceeded allowable limits for pesticides; 4.7% of non-organic samples did. In fact, less than half of the samples of organic produce tested positive for pesticides at all. While 78.4% of non-organic produce tested positive. Considering the numerous opportunities for organic produce to becomes contaminated with pesticides the number showing residue is actually quite small.

Yes, you’re taking a risk that your food is going to be contaminated with pesticides. That risk is present whether you choose organic or not. However, that risk is considerably greater if you choose non-organic produce. It’s also worth taking into consideration that by choosing organic produce you’re choosing to have fewer synthetic pesticides put into the environment. Over time, this may mean that your organic food will be less and less likely to be contaminated with synthetic pesticides.


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Follow Friday: @rustikmagazine

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Check-out Rustik Magazine. An online publication designed to help you master sustainable living. Based in rural Nova Scotia they focus on issues that are affecting both urban and rural NS, and the Maritimes. However, much of their content could apply to anyone anywhere. If you are in NS you may find them to be a useful resource for local events related to food and the environment.


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Man vs food industry

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A recent “article” – actually a “commentary” which apparently does not need to be grounded in reality – by Patrick Luciani refuted the view that the food industry is at the root of the obesity epidemic.

He begins by pointing out that BMI is flawed (which is true) but this does not mean that we don’t have an excess of overweight and obesity in Canada as Mr. Luciani would have us believe. Just because the measurement tool isn’t accurate doesn’t mean that we don’t have a problem.

Luciani continues by suggesting that some people choose to be fat and are content with their weight. Yes, there certainly are people who are overweight and are perfectly content and healthy. However, there are also many others who are unhappy with their weight and who are suffering negative consequences both social and health.

His third argument is that humans have always been gluttons and that the onus is on us as individuals to control our eating; not on the food industry. These three arguments don’t seem all that cohesive to me.

I certainly agree that the food industry is not entirely to blame for the state of obesity in our country. It’s got many different causes and the food industry is but one of them, albeit a large one.

For once I was really impressed with the comments on this article. Rather than rephrase them I’m going to share a few below:

1. The writer is promoting a harmful line of thought when he says:

“And modern medicine has made it easier to carry around that extra weight. Cholesterol-controlling statins, diabetes and blood-pressure medications and bariatric surgeries have lowered the medical costs of those few extra pounds.”

What we take from this is that an unhealthy life-style is no problem – just take some pills.

The treatments he casually mentions have their own limitations and side effects. Aside from this, many older people are suffering from weight exacerbated joint problems that severely impair their mobility and/or require costly surgery.

 

2. Some of us like the way we are just fine. Some of us don’t.

I didn’t…

 

3.┬áSuch paper thin arguments piled up to justify the author’s agenda. The BMI is flawed (which it is) so there is no obesity epidemic? There were some overweight people 300 years ago so we can ignore the things that are leading to so many of us being overweight now. There was a poorly designed tax in another country that didn’t work so we should just give up on broader solutions. People are overweight because they simply choose to eat more and that’s uninfluenced by our evolutionary drives, our upbringing, or our environment that encourages overeating (research would beg to differ).

The insinuation that public health advocates are inflating the crisis for their own benefit is a typical projection by those who do view the world from a “what can I gain” perspective, not the “how can we best help people help themselves” approach advocated by those who want to do something.

It’s no wonder the author’s book was nominated for a Donner Prize as it furthers the Donner Foundation’ agenda to denigrate what communities and governments can do and put the blame on the individual.

 

4.┬áThis author’s opinion is truly a stretch. What percent of the population do professional athletes make up? Definitely not enough to impact the overall obesity statistics. There are many, many reasons for people gaining weight, but all age groups are getting heavier and this needs to be addressed. In our current lifestyles making the healthier choices is the more difficult choice and any way we can change this is worthwhile. Trying to deny or explain away the obesity statistics is not helpful.

 

 


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Grocery store lessons: food waste

Not so long ago there were a number of headlines regarding food waste in Canada. Apparently most of this food waste occurs at the household level (about 51%). Despite this, and the statement that 11% of food waste occurs at the retail store level, I have become increasingly aware of food waste whilst working at a grocery store.

Seeing how many (often still perfectly safe and palatable) foods get tossed at the store level has made me acutely aware of the extensive amount of food we waste as a result of our current food system. There are plenty of tips on how to reduce your household food waste. If you’re interested here’s a good list. I also really like how Chatelaine magazine has suggestions for how to use up extra ingredients from recipes in their magazine.

I’d like to propose that you go a step beyond this and help to reduce waste at the store level. Stop trying to find the absolute latest expiration date on the shelf. I know that most of you are guilty of this, I was too. I see people every day digging at the back of the fridge to get the furthest out expiration date. Before you do this, take a moment and ask yourself, “will I be able to finish this product (with the nearest expiration date) before it expires? Even if I won’t, will I completely finish it anyway?” If you’re able to finish it then please, take the product that’s closest to coming to date. If you’re going to use it any not finish it, please, do the same.

As we know, many foods are good past the expiration date. You can continue to safely consume many foods after they’ve reached that date stamp. However, stores are unable to sell them on or after the expiration date and those foods will go to waste. Just like how you’re not doing your health any favours by circling the parking lot for the spot nearest to the door, you’re not doing the environment, or economy, any favours by needlessly seeking out the latest expiration date.


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Teenaged Girls Fail to Lose Weight

Yet another recent study failed to show improvement in diet, physical activity, or weight status in teenaged girls. I, for one, can’t say I’m surprised. This study randomly assigned girls to the intervention group, or a control group. Girls in the intervention group were offered nutrition and physical activity sessions throughout the school day, at lunch hour, and given homework assignments pertaining to these topics. Girls in the control group were given no special nutrition or physical activity sessions.

As well meaning as these types of studies are, they are not addressing the root cause of obesity. Studies like this place the onus on the individual. If you were a teenaged girl (or even in your current situation) would you want to spend your lunch hour learning about nutrition? Or do physical activity “homework”? Why was no difference seen between the two groups? One reason is that, as one researcher put it, “we need to make the programs more appealing and exciting and present information in a way that is meaningful to adolescent girls”. Obviously, if the individual can’t see the incentive for making changes then they’re not going to make those changes. Even when they can see the incentive they often still fail to make changes. That brings me to the second, and more important reason why studies like this one often fail. All of these girls are in the same environment. As long as the environment is obesogenic then it’s extremely unlikely that you will see any meaningful long-term change in weight. We need to make more of an effort to change the environment in which people live so that healthy eating becomes the easy choice and physical activity is supported and encouraged.

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