bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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No big fat surprise that butter is being touted as the next Superfood

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Why, oh why must we take everything to the extreme? Is it because simple healthy eating is boring? We have to have “clean eating”, “superfoods”, “low-fat”, “low-carb”, “cleanses”, “high-protein”, yada yada. The latest mantra to irk me “slather on the butter”. I know, I know, I said it first “real dietitians eat butter”. But this doesn’t mean that we have to eat it to excess. What am I on about now? An article in the Daily Mail that I came across on the weekend: Can eating fatty meat, whole milk and lashings of butter help you LOSE weight?

Okay, most of us in the nutrition world have accepted that low-fat was a grievous error. Taking anything to the extreme is a nutritional error. Just because something is not “bad” for you, or even good for you, doesn’t mean that you should consume more of it. The logic seems to go: apples are delicious and nutritious; therefore, an entire bag of them must be even better. In this case, we’re not even referring to foods that we know to be healthy when consumed regularly. We’re referring to foods that were unfairly demonized but have not been shown to lead to good health when consumed daily.

Perhaps, the article in the Daily Mail does not accurately portray Nina Teicholz’s book The Big Fat Surprise. I haven’t read the book, so I can only comment on the news article. Encouraging people to eat more cream, high-fat red meat, butter, and other foods high in saturated fat is not the solution to the obesity epidemic that the Daily Mail would have you believe. Yes, you can lose weight eating anything; remember the Twinkie Doctor? This doesn’t mean that you’re healthier (especially in the long-term).

Apparently Teicholz claims that removing the fat from milk means adding more carbohydrates. No. When you remove fat, you are not adding anything. Yes, an equivalent quantity of skim milk will be higher in carbohydrate (not sugar though) than whole milk. That’s simply a result of what’s left behind when you remove the fat. It’s also higher in protein, minerals, and vitamins. We wrongly vilified saturated fat, let’s blame carbs.

Health and the battle against obesity should not be a nutrient blame-game. How about we stop demonizing and glorifying foods and nutrients and accept that there is a place for bread and a place for butter in a healthy diet.


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Why you should eat these 6 “fat-burning” snacks (clickbait)

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While Dr Oz is supposedly going to dial down his “enthusiasm” for useless weight loss supplements, it seems that he’s not going to dial down his enthusiasm for “fat-burning” foods. Sigh.

I wasn’t even going to blog about this post on his website. I didn’t even bother clicking through to see all of the magical “fat-burning snacks”. I mean, we all know that this is a load of bunk, right? Food will not “burn fat”. End of story.

Instead of going through each food in his list and saying why the claims that they are fat-burners are foolish, I’m going to go through each food and provide you with the real deal about them.

Figs

One large fresh fig is a good source of fibre (just shy of 2 grams). It’s also got some potassium, calcium, vitamin B6, and magnesium*. They’re also delicious.

Beans

Well, I don’t really know anyone who snacks on beans. Maybe some bean salad or chickpea blondies or something. Regardless, beans are one of the most underrated foods. One half cup of cooked kidney beans is an excellent source of fibre with over 5 grams and protein with over 7 grams! They’re also a great source of folate, vitamin K, thiamine, potassium, magnesium, iron, and more. They’re also very affordable and are a great meat alternative in a meal. If you buy dried beans, make sure that you soak them well, and change the water a few times before cooking to remove as many of the gas-causing oligosaccharides as possible. If you buy canned beans, make sure you rinse them well, for the same reason, and if there’s added salt, to remove up to 40% of the sodium.

Licorice

We’re not talking about candy here. We’re talking about pure licorice root. Which, according to Oz, is available at health food stores. It’s not something I’ve seen here. I can’t vouch for it as a tasty, nor as a healthy snack. In fact, there are some cautions against it as a dietary supplement for some individuals. It may increase blood pressure, lower potassium levels, and induce labour in pregnant women. Another case of the naturalistic fallacy. Just because a food/supplement is “natural” does not mean that it’s a wise or safe choice.

Watermelon

Ooh! I love watermelon! I don’t have air conditioning so my favourite way to cool off when my apartment gets hot in the summer is to snack on frozen watermelon cubes. It’s pretty much like eating sweet water with a few vitamins thrown in for good measure. One cup, is a great source of vitamin C and vitamin A. It’s also a source of potassium.

Pistachios

Another one that I love. Pistachios are easy to over-do though. Make sure you portion them out so you don’t wind-up eating the better part of a large bag in one sitting! One ounce is a great source of protein (6 grams), and fibre (just shy of 3 grams). They’re also a good source of Vitamin K, thiamine, Vitamin B6, folate, and lots of minerals; including, iron, magnesium, potassium, and copper.

Pine nuts

These suckers are expensive! Not something I can afford to snack on. I sometimes replace them in pesto with other nuts to save money. They’re also not that spectacular on their own so I wouldn’t waste my money (or my calories) snacking on them. That being said, one ounce contains just under 4 grams of protein, and are a good source of Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Niacin, iron, magnesium, zinc, and manganese (124% of the %DV!!!).

*I used SELF Nutrition Data for all of the nutrient information contained in this post


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Warning!: Your groceries may be making you fat

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My friend and fellow dietitian Gemma tweeted a link to this story: Bespoke health warnings on supermarket till receipts to fight obesity last week. After checking to see if she had a blog post planned on the topic, and receiving her go-ahead to write about it, here I am!

The idea is that supermarkets could print tailored nutrition advice on customer receipts based on the items they purchase. These would be warnings based on the purchases a customer makes. Too much fatty food? Your receipt might tell you to skip the chips next time and go for the carrots instead. Too much sugar? Your receipt might tell you to lay off the candy bars and buy some lettuce. As current efforts to curb the obesity epidemic have been failing, apparently Public Health thinks that this might “nudge” customers to make healthier choices. Because shaming works so well. *Tears out hair* Sigh.

Thankfully, this idea is still in the early stages. I hope that this means it will never see the light of day. Why? There are a number of issues with this endeavor. As I pointed out, fat shaming (or any type of dietary shaming) is not an effective method to induce behaviour change. Does anyone really want their grocery store judging their purchases? Telling them they shouldn’t have bought that ice cream for a party? I certainly don’t. I know that with all of the misleading marketing and packaging navigating the grocery store aisles can be difficult and time-consuming. However, I don’t think many people need to be reminded that what they’re buying is crap when they load up their carts with fries and pop. If a grocery store had receipts that made me feel badly about my purchases I would probably just shop at another store. That leads me to a few other issues.

One, if a public health campaign like this were to be undertaken, it would have to be implemented in all supermarkets in order to be effective. I don’t think anyone is going to choose to shop at a chain because the receipts there tell them they made bad choices. Two, would anyone even look at these nutrition statements on their receipts? I know that I rarely examine my receipts. If a campaign doesn’t reach most people, even if were well-designed, it’s unlikely to be effective. Three, public health would need to get buy-in from the supermarkets, and I don’t see that happening. Why would any retailer want customers to leave feeling worse about themselves than when they entered their store? Removing candy from the tills makes sense. It’s great publicity and it’s something that customers want. Shaming customers for their purchases is not good publicity, and as far as I’m aware, it’s not something customers are clamouring for.

My final concern is with how the algorithm to determine nutritional merit of foods would be created. Would someone be told to buy less fatty food if they bought a jar of coconut oil or a stick of butter? Would they be told to buy less sugar if they bought a bottle of maple syrup? How would “unhealthy” be determined? What about someone who buys mostly fresh produce and minimally processed foods but throws a bag of chips in there or some cheese? Would a block of cheese be given the same treatment as a bag of chips? After all, there would be more fat in a block of cheese than a bag of chips.

I see this campaign as both problematic and offensive. If public health really wants to see systemic change they should work to change the system, not the consumer.


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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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The true cost of healthy eating

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I’ve ranted about the problem with the over-simplification of food insecurity before but I’d like to expand on that rant. Someone recently shared a link to a recipe for Spicy Tuna Guacamole Bowls on Budget Bites. I thought that they looked yummy so I bookmarked the recipe. The recipe does look great, and I do plan to make it, but I have an issue with the costing.

 

The cost for each ingredient is based on the quantity used in the recipe. Obviously, most ingredients cannot be purchased in such exacting amounts. Thus, the cost presented for the recipe is not an accurate reflection of what the meal actually costs to make. Yes, you may already have some of the ingredients in your pantry, but let’s assume that you don’t.

 

I priced out the ingredients needed for the recipe at my local grocery store. It may not be the least expensive place to shop but we also need to bear in mind that if you are food insecure you may not have a car, or the time, to afford the luxury of shopping around. In cases where there was more than one option available I selected the least expensive item. Here is my costing:

 

Brown rice: $3.99

Cucumber: $.99 (this is not the lovely English cuke, but the kind with the skin you need to peel and the tough seeds because the English cuke was $2.99!)

Frozen shelled edamame: $3.69

Carrots: $2.89 (there were no loose carrots so I had to buy a whole bag even though the recipe only called for one)

2 cans of chunk light tuna: $3.58

Container of guacamole: $4.69 (In this case, an avocado would have been cheaper at $.99, on special, so we’ll go with that option.)

Cilantro: $2.49

Sriracha: $4.99

GRAND TOTAL: $23.61, or $5.90 per serving.

 

That’s not a bad price for a meal but it’s a far cry from the “$7.45 recipe / $1.86 serving” stated on the website.

 

Out of curiousity, I decided to go back an price out the Bittman infographic that prompted the original rant.

 

Romaine lettuce: $3.99

Potatoes: $1.89 (these were available singly so I weighed four of them)

Lemon: $.79

Whole wheat bread: $2.69 (I cringed to choose the cheap “whole wheat” not “whole grain wheat” variety. I also question the inclusion of this in the meal. Potatoes should suffice as a starch.)

Chicken: $14.30 (ouch!)

Milk: $2.28 (for one litre)

Olive Oil: $5.99 (This was the smallest, most affordable option. Fortunately, it was available in extra virgin.)

Salt: $1.99

Pepper: $5.19

GRAND TOTAL: $39.11, or $9.78 per serving.

 

Bittman had this meal priced at $13.78 total.

 

While many people will have some staples in their pantries, others will not, and these items will need to be replaced at some point. It’s also important to note that there is the hidden cost of labour incurred when preparing meals at home. The time spent grocery shopping and cooking and washing dishes is all time for which you are not being paid. It is time that would be saved by picking up a fast food meal.

 

This is not intended to discourage you from eating healthy and cooking meals at home. For those of us who are not food insecure, cooking for yourself (and your family) is probably the single most important thing that you can do for your health. It can also be a great way to bond with family members or housemates and involving children in food prep encourages them to enjoy new foods. With planning and budgeting, healthy home cooked meals are attainable by most of us. However, for those of us who are struggling to make ends meet, and for whom time and calories may outweigh cooking and nutrition, these calculations of meal costs are erroneous.