bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Toast: The killer lurking in your breakfast

Darth Toast photo by Wendy Copley on Flickr

Darth Toast photo by Wendy Copley on Flickr

I recently read this article in the Daily Mail about elevated levels of acrylamide found in some packaged foods such as baby cereals and potato chips. Just to be clear, acrylamide is not something that’s added to food, it’s a potentially carcinogenic substance that’s formed when foods are cooked or processed at high temperatures. This is particularly common in foods that are high in starches and sugars; think, baked goods, potato chips, fried foods, toast, etc.

According to Health Canada, we don’t know the level of acrylamide that’s safe to consume. The conclusion that acrylamide causes cancer was drawn from animal research. As acrylamide is pretty common in most of our diets, it’s likely safe at some level.

I found it interesting that the Daily Mail article failed to note what “elevated levels” meant. This article would be far more interesting if it included “normal” levels and the higher than usual levels of acrylamide that were found in these foods. As it stands, this article is just another example of fear mongering. The advice it gives is to avoid cooking potatoes beyond golden brown, and toasting bread to the “lightest acceptable” shade. It also advises against storing potatoes in the fridge as that increases the sugar levels (but we already knew that, right?) , hence leading to increased levels of acrylamide if baked, roasted, or fried.

Worried about acrylamide in your food? Your fear may or may not be warranted. As with much dietary research, the cancer link was established in animal research and has not been replicated in humans. Epidemiological research has not, thus far, supported a link between acrylamide in our diet and cancer (1). The best things you can do are things that you should already be doing… Limit your consumption of potato chips, french fries (and other fried treats), baked goods, try not to burn your food, and don’t feel too badly if you don’t like the crust.


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Coke gives the green light to traffic light nutrition labelling

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Apparently Coke is going to adopt the “traffic light” front -of-package labelling in the UK. For those who are unfamiliar, this labelling scheme uses red, yellow, and green lights to help customers make healthy choices quickly.

I can’t help but wonder how Coke is going to have anything besides red on their beverages. If they’re able to, it’s a testament to the fact that you can’t always trust labels. After all, the absence of unhealthy ingredients (as in the instance of diet pop) doesn’t mean it’s healthy as there’s still an absence of healthy ingredients.

 

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Something doesn’t add-up with “Doing the Math” or: Food insecurity from a place of privilege

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Photo Credit: Food Banks Canada

I used to be a fan of things like Do the Math. These challenges where public figures (especially those in government) had to live on budgets akin to those on social assistance, or on food bank donations, seemed like a great eye opener. It was good for the mayor to understand that people are hungry. For those living in poverty, adequate calories are often unattainable, let alone healthy meals. While I’m not entirely opposed to such challenges, I’m no longer enthusiastically on board.

 

These challenges have been happening for years. And what benefit have they had? The politicians and do-gooders have experienced first-hand, for a week, that living in poverty sucks. They say, “wow, social assistance, disability, part-time minimum wage… is not enough money to put adequate nutritious food in our bellies.” And then??? Nothing. Nothing has changed as a result of these challenges. People are still going to the food banks and still going hungry. If these challenges resulted in actual change to our social supports then I’d be all for them. But they don’t, they’re not, and they won’t. And frankly, it’s kind of starting to piss me off that people can be so privileged that they can choose to follow a low/no budget diet for a week. In addition, I’ve always wondered if the food hampers they’re given take food away from those truly in need.

 

Let’s not even take into consideration the living standards that those in poverty often endure, couch surfing, unsafe and unpleasant apartments, sleeping in cars, homeless shelters, park benches. These poor politicians suffer through meetings, fighting to stay awake because they only ate a can of beans all day. Try working several physically demanding jobs and not having a car to get to them. I could go on and on. And yes, I come from a place of privilege, so maybe it’s not my place to have this rant. I know what it’s like to worry if the rent cheque’s going to clear, but I’m fortunate enough to have family to spot me money to make the bills and to be able to eat well.

 

If we’re going to continue doing these low-budget style challenges then the participants should at least donate any money saved on food to a local food bank, shelter, or another poverty-related organization, such as End Poverty Now.


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More on the return to home ec.

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I’ve been hearing a lot about the push for home economics (especially food skills) to return to high schools (as a mandatory course) in Ontario. I’m completely behind this idea. That being said, we were talking about that back when I worked in public health and that was more than two years ago (and I’m sure that the conversation predated my time). I’m not going to hold my breath.

 

I also think that we need to go further than reintroducing a re-vamped sexier home ec. in high schools. We need to catch kids when they’re young. Many elementary schools now have gardens which are a great way to teach children about growing, harvesting, and preparing food. They’re also great places for teaching children about math and other core subjects. I think that food literacy should be one of these school subjects. Children should receive more education about food and nutrition than the occasional food guide or guest dietitian presentation in health class.

 

If we want children to develop healthy habits for life then we need to show them what healthy living is. It’s not enough to ban cookies in the cafeterias. Our goal should be that no student should finish their school without knowing that carrots have green tops, they don’t come in cans, how to grow vegetables with or without a yard, how to prepare basic nutritious meals, how to slice and dice. We have to eat every day and we shouldn’t be allowing any more children to grow-up without the skills to feed themselves.


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Don’t let them eat KD; only the best for the poor

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I had a mixed reaction reading this article about a food bank rejecting “unhealthy” food items last week. Of course, I think that they should reject opened packages and half-eaten items. It’s extremely insulting that anyone would “donate” things like a package of opened pepperoni sticks to the food bank. A donation box is not synonymous with a garbage can. However, removing items such as Kraft dinner or candy is not right.

 

It’s understandable that the food bank staffer(s) doing this think that people relying on food banks deserve to have healthy food. I’m sure that this culling of donations is done with the best of intentions. However, it’s not the place of the food bank staff to decide what food items are suitable for patrons. They should certainly remove any potentially hazardous expired, damaged, or opened items. They should not remove items based on perceived nutritional shortcomings.

 

Everyone, including those in need, are deserving of a treat now and then. The food bank patrons can decide whether or not they wish to take a package of Swedish Berries. That’s not a decision to be made by anyone else. Removing these items in advance (and what’s being done with them? Are they just being pitched?) reeks of elitism. Also, considering that most donation boxes are only able to accept non-perishable food items, this leaves limited donation options. People who are donating may not be wealthy either, but they may be able to afford an extra box of Kraft Dinner to donate when it goes on special.

 

Another problem with the proclamation that food bank patrons deserve healthy food is that many people to not have the facilities or abilities to cook even basic meals at home. Do you know what to do with a turnip? A can of chickpeas? (Okay, I know that you’re not the masses). Many people don’t. Donating many of these items to food banks simply leads to more waste. I don’t want to discourage you from donating these things. Unfortunately, the reality is that these are often the last items to go.

 

If you really want to make a donation that will help, donate money or time to your local food bank or community kitchen.