bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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30+ bananas a day is bananas

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Originally, I wasn’t going to comment on a recent article spouting nutrition nonsense. As fired-up as I was, I felt that addressing the article would only provide more publicity for the individual featured in the article. I was torn between commenting on her ridiculous (and dangerous) assertions and leaving it alone because I think that giving this woman more coverage may do more harm than good. After mulling it over, I’ve decided to comment on the article without linking to it and without naming the woman featured. If you’ve already heard of her, I’m sure that you’ll have no trouble figuring out to whom I’m referring, even if you haven’t, you can likely google her quite easily. Still, I don’t want to assist anyone in accessing her foolishness.

Getting to the point… The article begins by discussing her belief that chemotherapy is deadly and that a raw vegan diet “will heal your body”. Yes, chemotherapy is dangerous and extremely hard on your body. It’s basically about finding the balance between the amount of toxins that will kill the cancer but not the patient. And yes, good nutrition is important for health. However, the notion that a raw vegan diet will cure cancer is total bunk and telling people to choose this over medical treatment is potentially harmful.

She also insists that losing her period on her raw vegan diet was healthy because “my feeling at the time that it felt good. At the time I think it need to happen for my body to balance out”. Since then, she has resumed having her period but they are very light. She alleges that having a period is your body ridding itself of toxicity. Umm… Actually, your period is your body shedding the unused uterine lining prepped for pregnancy every month. Not having your period (amenorrhea) is the opposite of evidence of good health. It’s an indication that your body is lacking in nutrients as it is unable to support a pregnancy. Suggesting that women who experience painful and heavy periods are consuming unhealthy diets is both incorrect and unfair to women who suffer from endometriosis.

The article mentions that she suffered from anorexia and bulimia before finding health with the raw food vegan diet. She prides herself on eating massive quantities of fruit (sometimes 50 bananas in a day!) as part of this diet, which is nearly all carbohydrate, very low in fat and protein. To me, this appears to be just another manifestation of an eating disorder. She mentions the weight loss she experienced after starting this diet and posts many photos of herself that look like those you would see on proana or fitspo sites. This bizarre eating pattern and obsession with food is not indicative of a healthy lifestyle. Yes, her figure may make her diet tempting for those who wish to be very thin. However, it is not healthy, and her advice is woefully incorrect and not based in scientific fact. Please do not be drawn in by internet sensations who promote dangerous self-serving agendas.


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Leave the veg for the rabbits, you’re going to die anyway

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A few weeks ago, Dr Sharma shared this article (on twitter and on facebook), without comment. It’s an article by the dreaded Zoe Harcombe about why we shouldn’t be striving for at least five servings a day of fruit and vegetables. No, it’s not what you think. She’s not suggesting that people should have more than 5 servings of veg and fruit a day, she’s suggesting that people should have fewer servings of veg and fruit a day. “Great,” I thought, “Zoe strikes again“.

After working myself up into a bit of a rage about the article I noticed the date on it. January 2011. When I first saw that I thought that I wouldn’t blog about it after all as it’s not current. My second thought was, “whatever”. If I’m only seeing this for the first time there are probably others only seeing it for the first time as well.

Harcombe argues that recent research showing the lack of protection against myriad chronic diseases through increased vegetable and fruit consumption means that we should cease encouraging people to eat more vegetables and fruits. And everyone rejoiced and ate doughnuts for dinner and lived long and healthy lives dying peacefully from old age in their sleep! Dietitians, nutritionists, and other health professionals were suddenly out of work as there was no more chronic disease to contend with. If only.

In the article, Harcombe states, “no doubt some dieticians and nutritionists will reject my arguments. But science backs me up.”
Well, she got the first part of that statement right, at least.

A great deal of Harcombe’s hypothesis centres around the assertion that vegetables and fruit don’t contain many vitamins or minerals. She concedes that vegetables do contain vitamin C and some A and K. Fruit apparently is only good for potassium. According to Harcombe, meat and other animal products are superior sources of most vitamins and minerals. This truly is a load of nonsense. Veg and fruit can be good sources of many vitamins and minerals. Not to mention the fact that they are usually good sources of water and can provide greater volume to your meal with few calories. Food is not just about individual nutrients. It’s about taste and texture and pleasure. Imagine eating a salad without vegetables. Think about the pleasure of eating a fresh blackberry off the brambles. How dull food would become if we didn’t have vegetables and fruit in our diets.

Harcombe moves on from her argument about the lack of vitamins and minerals in vegetables and fruit to say that some dietitians will argue that they are a source of antioxidants. She doesn’t object to this statement but instead says that she would rather not ingest oxidants in the first place. What was it that she said earlier? Oh yeah, “Science backs me up.” Might be time for a review of the oxidizing process, Zoe. If she’s avoiding oxidizing agents I want to know how she’s managed to survive without breathing air or drinking water. Our environment is chockfull of oxidizers. We should certainly avoid adding to them ourselves by avoiding smoking, excessive sun exposure, excessive alcohol consumption, etc. However, avoiding “chemicals” as Harcombe suggests is both ridiculous and impossible. Everything is chemicals. We are chemicals.

There is too much in this article to address it all. I mean, I could, but it’s too nice out as I’m typing this, and would you really keep reading if I went on and on? I just want to touch on one more issue with Harcombe’s vendetta against vegetables and fruit.

Harcombe takes issue with the belief that vegetables and fruit are important sources of fibre in our diets.

“The fact is, we can’t digest fibre. How can something we can’t even digest be so important to us, nutritionally?”

Apparently Harcombe doesn’t mind being constipated. Nor does she recognise the importance of fibre in prevention of heart disease. The desire to feel satisfied after a meal? Also not important. Even if these things are not important to her fibre serves other important organisms inside our bodies. That indigestible fibre is food for the bacteria living in our digestive tracts. Those same bacteria that provide us with things like vitamin B12, protect us against GI upset and harmful micro-organisms. We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of the importance of our gut bacteria but it seems that they do a lot more for us than we ever realised.

So, if we are to listen to Harcombe and throw those five-a-day away, what are we to eat? Her top five foods: liver, sardines, eggs, sunflower seeds, and dark-green vegetables. That’s right. After telling us that vegetables and fruit are overrated and should be left for the rabbits, Harcombe then turns around and recommends vegetables in her top five foods. I rest my case.


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What is a “superfood”?

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superfood is a marketing term intended to convince you to part with more money for food products. Yes, some of the superfoods are affordable; think kale. But many of them are not; think chia, acai, spirulina, hemp hearts. There is nothing wrong with these so-called superfoods, if you can afford them and like them then munch away. However, I know that many of these things aren’t in my regular grocery budget. What’s a poor girl/guy to do if they want to be healthy but they can’t afford all of these superfoods?

Just because they don’t have the marketing budget behind them doesn’t mean that loads of ordinary vegetables and fruits aren’t “super” in their own right. Carrots are loaded with vitamin A, and are also a good source of potassium, and fibre, as well as containing folate, vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium, and other vitamins and minerals. Apples are a good source of fibre, as well as containing vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, and phytosterols. Corn is a good source of protein, fibre, and contains a number of B vitamins, magnesium, and potassium. In fact, any vegetable or fruit is going to provide you with nutrients. The greater the variety you eat, the more nutrients you’ll get. There’s no need to worry if you can’t afford the superfoods all fruits and vegetables are super in their own ways.


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Optimyz edits

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I recently participated in my first Mud Run. It was more fun, and more challenging than I expected. But, this is beside the point. In our swag bags there was a copy of the magazine Optimyz. Why these magazines seem to pander to pseudo-healthcare professionals is beyond me. Actually, no, it’s not. It’s because good solid advice isn’t “sexy”. It’s the same reason that people would rather buy green coffee bean extract and visit a holistic healer than to listen to a dietitian. So… In this magazine were a couple of sentences that bothered me. One was in an article about “Wicked wheat” and good old Dr William Davis’s Wheat Belly agenda. While the author actually reached the same conclusion as most sensible people “I see no magical elixir within the pages and practices of the “Wheat Belly Diet”” she also made a couple of  statements that made her seem completely clueless about the topic.

…I found it far-fetched that the Cheerios that got me out of bed in the morning back then were the cause of my current belly bulge battle.

The idea of giving up my treat of a bowl of oatmeal post workout seemed like the Everest of cold turkey quits. But I guess that dramatic reaction may indicate that I may have a problem with wheat.

Um… Neither of these statements indicate that you have a problem with wheat as Cheerios are made from oats and oatmeal is made from, you guessed it, oats! Sigh.

My other issue was with an article by a “certified nutrition coach” who said: “Post-workout carbs should come from… low sugar fruits such as blueberries and papaya.” I wondered to myself “are these low-sugar fruits?” To answer the question, let’s look at the sugar content of these and some other commonly consumed fruits (all quantities are based on a one-cup serving of fruit):

apple = 13 g sugar

orange = 17 g

strawberries = 7 g

banana = 18 g

blueberries = 15 g

papaya = 8 g

Yes, papaya is relatively low in sugar compared to some of these other fruits. However, blueberries are not. My point is that all fruits have nutritional benefits, no need to limit yourself to blueberries and papaya.


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Are wild plants more nutritious than cultivated plants?

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According to a recent article in the New York Times, we’ve been breeding the nutrients out of our food since we first started growing our own fruits and vegetables. Apparently when you compare cultivated plants to wild plants the wild plants come out ahead, by leaps and bounds, for phytonutrient content. Now, not having seen nutrient comparisons of these foods I can’t comment on whether or not this is the case. Perhaps it is true. It’s entirely possible, and not really all that surprising considering the state of modern mass agriculture, that wild plants would contain more nutrients than cultivated plants. However, there are a couple of other concerns I have regarding the content of this article.

Firstly, you may be wondering what phytonutrients are. Essentially, they’re the nutrients in plants that give them their colours and provide you with health benefits (1). They’re things like anthocyanin in beets, lycopene in tomatoes, catechins in teas, etc. While no one phytonutrient (also known as phytochemical) has been proven to be responsible for a specific health benefit they are all widely regarded to be beneficial and provide protection from certain diseases such as cancers.

While phytonutrients provide many benefits, they are not the only form of nutrients present in plant foods. Even if, as the article states, these nutrients are vanishing from our food supply, there are other essential vitamins and minerals, as well as things like fibre and water, present in fruits and vegetables. Are we also breeding these nutrients out of our foods? Hard to say, as the article does not address this at all and there has been little, if any, sound research on this subject.

Lastly, the author of the article (Jo Robinson) is selling a book on the merits of consuming a “wild” food diet. Thus, she has a vested interest in convincing us that our fruits and vegetables are nutritionally lacking and the article itself lacks a balanced approach. I’m not saying that she’s wrong, I’m just saying that there is more to the story of nutrition than phytonutrients and I would like to see some unbiased research before I draw any conclusions myself.