bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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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.


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Dietitians and brand recommendations

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The above tweet really bothered me. Why? For a couple of reasons. One, where is this data coming from? I assume it’s in regards to dietitians in the US, as that’s where the tweet originated. So, can we really paint all dietitians with the same brush? Would dietitians in other countries also be recommending products to clients by brand name 90% of the time in other countries? Are we even talking about dietitians in all areas of practice? After all, we’re a pretty diverse bunch, working in many different areas. 

Two, the implied assumption that this is a bad thing. Maybe I’m the only one, but I immediately felt like we dietitians were somehow doing a disservice to our clients by recommending foods by brand name. The 90% is really quite meaningless. It could mean that a dietitian recommends every food by brand, or it could mean that the dietitian recommends but one of all of the recommended foods by brand. 

Personally, I tend not to recommend foods by brand name. However, I can see times when it might be useful. For example, when telling a client with celiac disease about gluten-free products. Or when someone asks which coconut milk doesn’t contain preservatives or stabilizers. Or when advising someone about humane meat products available at the grocery store. Or when identifying a product which is unique in the market. I don’t think that recommending a product by brand name necessarily means that a dietitian is being influenced by the company in question. I don’t think that it should be taken to mean that his or her credibility is in question. It may simply mean that they are trying to simplify the navigation of grocery store aisles for their clients. 


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Is sugar the “new tobacco”?

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The headline reads “Why are health experts calling sugar the new tobacco?” Because it’s catchy and makes for great headlines, duh!

I know that a lot of people are going to be pissed off with me for not taking up the cause and demonizing sugar. Sorry guys. I agree that most of us consume too much sugar (and too much of anything is a bad thing). I agree that excess sugar can cause cavities. I agree that the vast majority of us like sweet foods. However, I don’t believe that sugar is truly addictive… There is a difference between addiction and desire. Just because rats like oreos and sugar “lights up pleasure centres” in our brains doesn’t make it addictive.

I keep seeing claims that our bodies process calories from white sugar differently than calories from other foods. This makes no sense. The common definition of a calorie (technically a kilocalorie) is: the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water one degree Celsius (1). There is no way for your body to differentiate between “types” of calories. There is only one type! Your body also can’t distinguish between sucrose in white sugar and sucrose in an apple. It is a chemical compound. It is what it is.

Calling on the food industry to reduce sugar content of foods is a dangerous proposition, in my opinion. Remember when we asked food manufacturers to reduce fat content? They added salt and sugar. Remember when we asked food manufacturers to reduce sodium? Not that much ever came of this. Point being, when they take something out they put something else in to replace it. We now know that fat is not inherently bad for us, nor is sodium, nor is sugar. No one of these things alone is causing obesity. Rather than asking food manufacturers to reduce the sugar content of their foods we should be calling for less heavily processed foods.

Sugar is not the new tobacco. It’s the new scapegoat in the obesity wars.


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The argument against glycemic index labelling

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The International Scientific Consensus Summit on Glycemic Index, Glycemic Load and Glycemic Response resulted in a consensus statement that, among other things, proposed consideration of the inclusion of glycemic index/load on nutrition labels. As a dietitian I can see how that information might be interesting and useful. However, I’m not so sure that it would be all that useful to the vast majority of consumers. Most people struggle with label reading as it is and adding GI information (which can be confusing) will just complicate matters. It’s also just one of many factors to take into consideration when selecting foods.

A high glycemic index rating doesn’t necessarily make for an unhealthy food (think watermelon). Just as a low glycemic index rating doesn’t necessarily make for a healthy food (think agave syrup). This doesn’t even get into the complication of the difference between glycemic index and glycemic load. let’s just say that GL has more meaning and leave it at that. Another consideration: we don’t eat most foods in isolation. Bread has a fairly high GI but how often do you eat a slice of bread by itself? Most of us will use it for a sandwich or toast it and spread peanut butter on it. The addition of low GI foods mediates the effect that high GI foods have on your blood sugar. I also foresee such labeling as another opportunity for the food industry to mislead consumers (think “gluten-free” and “cholesterol-free”). Health-washing processed foods so that people can feel better about buying their low-GI agave sweetened corn puffs.

Nutrition has already become far too complicated. I don’t think that we need another number on packages to make things more complicated for people. A good rule of thumb: avoid foods with packages altogether as often as possible.

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