bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Restaurant rehab: Kill the Kid’s Menus

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You know what sucks? Kid’s menus. In theory they make sense; children generally don’t eat as much as adults and it’s nice for parents to have less expensive options when eating out with their kids. In practice, however, they suck. Most kid’s menus offer processed and fried bland options. When you think of a kid’s menu what do you think of? I usually come up with burgers, chicken fingers, pasta, and lots of french fries.

Children don’t need entirely different options from adults. They can handle spice and flavour. They’re also highly susceptible to suggestion. If you imply to kids that they’re not going to like something or it might be too spicy for them they’re far more likely to confirm those suggestions. They’ll live up (or down) to expectations.

I know that kids can be fussy. Just ask my mum. I could spot a speck of onion a mile away. I don’t think that this should mean that they should be offered entirely separate meal options from adults, whether at home or at a restaurant. What kind of a lesson does that teach children? What kind of eaters does that mean we’ll be raising? Another generation of people with unadventurous palates that prefer bland, processed, fried foods. More people who dislike vegetables and think that a meal can be complete with the only sign of a vegetable being ketchup, and maybe a tiny cup of mayonnaise laden coleslaw.

Restaurant owners and chefs, please consider the nutritional balance of meals. Both for children and adults. It’s not a meal without vegetables. And no, ketchup is not a vegetable. Please consider eschewing traditional kid’s menus and simply offer smaller plates of adult meals with kid-friendly names. We need to stop teaching kids that they won’t like flavourful nutritious food.


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Haters gonna hate

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It’s been a while since I lacked blogspiration. But here I am, I’ve scrolled through facebook and twitter for something to get riled up about and I must admit it was slim pickings. Sure, it’s irksome that Pippa Middleton has “secretly” become a nutritionist. Not so much so that I could be bothered to write an entire blog post about it. Mother Jones has moved on from almonds and is now telling us that there will be no more salads because of the drought in California. Yes, I know that this drought is a serious issue and I really feel for the people of Cali. However, for now, my local farmer’s market has got me covered thank you very much. The only thing that really got even the tiniest bit under my skin was a tweet from a doctor saying that nutritionists think they have more information than they actually do. By nutritionists, I’m pretty sure he also meant dietitians, based on the thread. Why thank you doctor, I’m sure that your nutritional expertise far exceeds that of those of us who studied nutrition at university for four years and continue to do so after graduation. Thank you ever so much for the professional support. Obviously we should just give up on this emerging field and let you do all of the nutrition educating.

To be honest, sometimes I do want to give it up. To say “screw it! Let them have their gluten-free charcoal smoothies. See if I care!”. It’s frustrating working in a field where the science is constantly changing and which is incredibly difficult to study at all. In a field that everyone fancies themselves an expert in based on the sole fact that they eat. A field that is constantly being attacked by hacks, journalists, and other healthcare professionals alike. All of them pushing their latest miracle diet. A field in which so few people understand what exactly it is that we do. Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and become an electrician. Kids, trades are where the jobs are at. Uni is great and all but a BA is the new high school diploma.

The thing is though, I love food. I love cooking it, eating it, and sharing that love with others. And despite what some may believe, I know quite a bit about it. Just because we don’t know the optimal amount of kale to eat each week doesn’t mean that we don’t know enough to help others improve their health through good nutrition. Healthy eating isn’t complicated, it’s true. It’s not rocket science or neuro-surgery. Yet, somehow, most people don’t seem to be able to manage it anymore. Helping people learn how to improve their diets isn’t just about vitamins and minerals. In fact, it’s not really about them at all. It’s about helping people prioritize their health and food. Getting them into the kitchen. Yes, we can tell you all about the different types of fibre, how to make cheese, the structure of all of the essential amino acids. We know the science behind food. We also know that this isn’t what’s important when helping people to lead healthier lives.


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Why I hate the caloric math game

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I have a beef with a lot of the all-in-one fitness/weight management apps. Many people benefit from tracking their calories when they’re trying to lose weight. I’m all for that. What I hate is the inclusion of calories burnt through exercise. I think that a lot of these apps over-estimate the number of calories expended during various activities. This can mean that if you’re looking at the bottom-line to determine how many calories you can eat without gaining weight you’re probably going to eat more than you need. I often tell people to either not track their exercise using these apps or to ignore the additional calories the app then tells them that they can have. Just use the nutrition side of the app. It’s wise to remember that even that’s not going to be 100% accurate, especially if you’re not weighing everything you eat. It’s just another weight management tool in a box of many.

Now for the real beef: I don’t like that these apps try to turn weight loss into a math problem. It’s not. We used to believe that cutting 3500 kcal would result in a pound of weight lost. We now know that it’s much more complicated than that. There are many factors contributing to the weight we are. Yes, how many calories we consume (and expend) are a huge factor in determining how much we weigh, and whether we lose, gain, or maintain our weight. I don’t want to diminish that fact. I’m not going to tell you that if you just ate cleaner you would lose weight. The cleanliness of your calories doesn’t matter when it comes to weight loss. However, adding 350 calories by going for a walk is an oversimplification. It may also lead to an unhealthy way of thinking about food, exercise, and weight management.

Most of us easily consume more calories than we’ve burnt after a workout. Exercise makes you hungry and it’s a whole lot easier to eat 500 calories than it is to expend them during a workout. When we start thinking about exercise as a way to “earn” more calories we’re moving away from healthy eating and healthy fitness. While I’ve said that the cleanliness of your calories doesn’t matter for weight loss, and I’ve also said that there should be no forbidden foods, eating primarily nutrient-rich whole foods is important for your health. A session at the gym shouldn’t be a licence to eat high-calorie, low-nutrient foods for the rest of the day. Focus on gaining health through the food you eat and the physical activity you do, rather than the numbers in an app or on a scale.


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When is a strawberry not a strawberry?: The marketing of food to children

Photo credit: Dr Dan Flanders. Thanks for the blogspiration!

Photo credit: Dr Dan Flanders. Thanks for the blogspiration!

One of my twitter friends recently posted the photo shown above and asked his followers to discuss the marketing of healthy foods; i.e. fruits and vegetables to children. My immediate reaction was to say that this was at least a better practice than the ubiquitous marketing of “junk” food to children. At least these popular characters are promoting something that parents and healthcare professionals are always trying to get kids to eat more of. Maybe if mum can’t get her child to eat a carrot Bugs Bunny can (I don’t know if kids even know who Bugs Bunny is these days but you know what I mean). Then I thought about it a little bit more.

Do strawberries really need TV characters to get kids to eat them? Strawberries are fairly popular amongst all ages, no? What about the leafy greens, the root vegetables, the mushrooms? Who benefits from this type of marketing? Not the children who aren’t gaining exposure to new foods. Not the parents who now have to deal with their children demanding expensive out-of-season fruit. Not the farmer who makes very little of the actual retail price of her/his product. Some marketing company I suppose.

What about all the other strawberries? Even if you argue that this type of marketing is getting kids to consume more fruit the fact is, it’s only getting children to consume more of one specific brand of one specific variety of fruit. What impact might this have on local farmers who don’t have kid-friendly characters on their packaging? This type of marketing does nothing to support local in-season fruit and vegetable consumption.

Besides the strawberries and the farmers does this type of marketing harm children? Possibly. As many argued after the Eat Right! debacle of putting the Academy of Dietetics logo on processed cheese slices, dietitians shouldn’t be lending their name to any food. Healthy eating isn’t about any one particular food, it’s about the broader diet. Putting a dietetic organization’s logo on a food product is not only a vote for that single food, it’s a vote against all of the other foods that don’t feature the logo. In a similar vein, marketing of specific foods to children promotes those foods and those foods alone. It makes food more about sales and marketing than it does about health and enjoyment. We don’t need to bombard children with more messages to consume (both in a figurative and in a literal sense) than we already do. Let’s make food more about food and less about profit.


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Showing a little KINDness to KIND bars

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Last week everyone got all in a kerfuffle because KIND bars were told that they were not allowed to use the term “healthy” to market their snacks by the FDA. Since I’ve promoted KIND bars on here in the past (my first, and only, giveaway) I felt that I should weigh in on the subject.

In my opinion, as far as snack bars go, many KIND bars are a damn sight better than the alternatives. Many of them contain only about a teaspoon of sugar, compare that to upwards of six teaspoons in other snack bars. They are all nut-based, which is a nice change from the refined ingredients in many granola bars. The packaging on KIND bars doesn’t actually state “healthy”. This was a claim made on the KIND website. If you want to see some misleading packaging, just take a walk down the granola bar aisle. Here are just a few examples that I found:

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I understand that the FDA and CFIA need to ensure that food manufacturers aren’t using terms willy nilly. Otherwise you’d have every bottle of pop, chocolate bar, and bag of chips claiming some sort of health promoting abilities or ingredient. But really, really? I think that all this incident does is to highlight the difficulty with food marketing and health and nutrition claims. “Healthy” is a relative term and the criteria the FDA has used to define it may not fit for everyone. As you know, the negative effect of dietary saturated fat (especially from plant sources) has recently been called into question. Using specific nutrient quantities to determine whether or not a product can be marketed as “healthy” is tricky, and frankly not all that useful. You’re far better off reading the ingredients and making your own decision as to whether or not you want to include a particular food in your diet.