bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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How important are the enzymes in your food?

fight cancer

This headline: Cancer fighting with food caught my eye. As did the preview in my Google alert:

Eat as much raw food as you can, because anything you cook over 116 degrees is devoid of enzymes, which are necessary for breaking downfood so …

Reading through the article I realised that there was a lot more that I could address. However, I don’t feel like spending hours writing a super long post so I’m only going to address the initial statement that caught my eye.

There are pros and cons to both raw and cooked food. I’d like to think that it goes without saying that cooking meat (eggs, fish) and heating milk (aka pasteurization) is important for food safety, but it’s never wise to make assumptions. Yes, cooking can destroy certain nutrients, vitamin C is notoriously easily destroyed by cooking (1). However, the article’s not talking about vitamins here, it’s talking about enzymes.

The statement is a little puzzling to me. The enzymes contained in foods are not the same as our digestive enzymes. No matter the method of preparing food, most healthy people will release digestive enzymes to aid in the breakdown of food into particles small enough for absorption. These enzymes include amylases to breakdown starches, lipases to breakdown fats, and proteases to breakdown proteins. Yes, some foods such as papaya and pineapple contain the enzymes papain and bromelain, respectively, which both breakdown proteins. Protip: this is why your chicken stored with pineapple salsa will be mush when you reheat it. Aside from that, the enzymes in plant foods are proteins used in plant processes, not in our digestive processes.

There may be some benefits to consuming plant-based enzymes but there is currently no evidence to support a raw food diet for optimal nutrition and there is certainly no reason to expect that the enzymes in foods will aid with your digestion of them. In addition, it’s well-known that cooking can actually increase the bioavailability of certain nutrients. Cooking tomatoes makes lycopene (a carotenoid that may provide a number of health benefits, not least of which, reducing risk of prostate cancer) more available to us. Cooking spinach and other leafy greens makes the lutein (an antioxidant important for eyesight) in them more available for us to absorb.

The key here, as always, is variety. There are pros and cons to both raw and cooked vegetables eating an assortment of both is ideal.

Let’s also not forget that enjoyment is important as well. Eating is not just about obtaining nutrients. It’s also a pleasurable activity. I prefer raw carrots but cooked mushrooms. It’s far better to consume a vegetable in a manner you enjoy it than to not consume it at all.


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Follow Friday: Zero-waste supermarket

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Germany is opening the first zero-waste supermarket: Original Unverpackt this summer. I LOVE this idea! I’m not sure how it will work for selling liquids (like milk) or semi-solids (like yoghurt) or frozen products but… Aside from these questions, it seems like an awesome idea.

Unfortunately, in Canada, we seem to be moving in the opposite direction. To save time people are buying more pre-washed and chopped produce. I cringe every time I walk past the cello-wrapped asparagus on the styrofoam tray. Why did someone decide that was a good idea? Asparagus will last for less time when stored like that than it will standing up in water like it was always sold in the past. And don’t even get me started on the vast quantity of perfectly good food that gets composted (at least it doesn’t go in the garbage anymore) just because its best before date is looming. Come on Canada, let’s take a page out of Germany’s book and try to reduce food waste at all levels.


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Monsanto, GMOs, and a dose of condescention

I bit my tongue the other day when I was reading a deluge of tweets insulting people who were participating in the March Against Monsanto. I found the tweets offensive because they presumed that only farmers have the right to decide if genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are worthy of entry into the food supply. They also presumed that people who were marching against Monsanto were only concerned about GMOs and were ignorant of science. Someone actually said that, as long as you have enough to eat, you have no right to complain about or question the food system. Seriously? I think that we should question everything. As long as I’m putting food into my body I would like to feel confident that it’s safe, nutrient rich, and delicious. Of course, GMO is not the only concern when it comes to safety, the centralization of our food supply and the diminished capacity of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) are probably more concerning to me. As is the declining number of farms and farmers across the country.

To be honest, I take exception to both extremes. My concern with Monsanto is that they force farmers to become reliant on them for seeds. Patenting seeds is terrifying to me. We should not be allowing one company to have so much control over our food supply. My concern with GMOs is that we don’t know what the long-term impact of their introduction to the ecosystem will be. We don’t know what effect these new plants and animals (so far just salmon has been applied for approval in Canada but we’ve seen other experimental animals around the world) will have on the other plants and animals. There could be serious implications for biodiversity. We also don’t know what the long-term implications of consuming these GMOs will be. Sorry if short-term mouse studies don’t convince me of the safety of these new foods for human consumption throughout our lives.

Okay, now for the other extreme. We have research conducted on tumour-prone mice intended to demonstrate that GMOs will give us cancer. Lots of photos like this:

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And this:

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No, that one’s no GMO, but the extreme anti-GMO camp tends toward chemophobia and seems to lack an understanding of the fact that everything is comprised of chemicals. So what that ants aren’t into the artificially sweetened candy. That must mean that it’s toxic. Except, there are many foods, including lots of vegetables, that ants would not recognize as food.

While I am clearly wary of GMOs, I don’t see attacking each other and dismissing arguments out of hand as beneficial to either side. It’s making me want to tune out both camps and start my own subsistence farm in a very isolated location.


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Sugar and obesity

Letsblameobesityon

I don’t dispute the fact that most of us likely consume too much sugar. As with too much of anything it’s also likely doing more harm than good. However, I do take exception to the sentiment I’ve seen from some vocal supporters of Action On Sugar on twitter. There’s the dichotomy that you’re either with them or against them. Along with that, there’s the implication that any dietitians questioning the assertion that sugar is toxic must be in the pocket of the food industry.

Why can’t it be possible that some of us think there’s a middle ground? That perhaps, as with other nutrients before (e.g. fat, salt, carbs) it will turn out that there is nothing intrinsically harmful about sugar, and that some dietary sugar is perfectly safe as part of a healthy diet.

I resent the implication that if I dare to question the sensibility of demonizing sugar that I must be brainwashed by the food industry. After the harm we’ve seen done by demonizing nutrients in the past, you would think that we would have learned our lesson. The likelihood that a single nutrient, such as sugar, is the cause of the obesity epidemic is extremely unlikely. Reformulating products is not the solution. We’ll probably just end-up replacing sugar with something that will turn out to be even worse for us. Instead, we should be teaching people to cook and to consume fewer highly processed calorie-dense, nutrient-light foods.