bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


3 Comments

Are these 27 foods you should never buy again?

url

Reader’s Digest published the article 27 foods you should never purchase again. Reasons given include: being a rip-off, being gross, being fake, and being “drastically” unhealthy. Here’s my take on the list:

1. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is apparently over-priced in comparison to other flavourful hard cheeses. Depending on the prices at your grocery store this may be true. As they state, Pecorino Romano makes a nice substitute.

2. Smoked and cured meats are too fatty and are linked to a number of health problems. I certainly don’t think that bacon and sausages should be every day foods. However, I think that there is no problem with consuming them once in a while. Bacon is delicious.

3. “Blueberry” items often don’t contain any actual blueberries. Read the ingredients. Make an informed decision.

4. Multi-grain bread “is junk food masquerading in a healthy disguise.” They suggest checking the label for “whole wheat” as the first ingredient. Sure, the bread section of your grocery store can be difficult to navigate. However, it’s not necessarily a junk food and you should be looking for whole grain on the label, not whole wheat.

5. Reduced fat peanut butter fat is replaced with sugar. I’m on board with this one. Go with natural nut butters that contain nothing other than nuts.

6. Bottled tea is expensive and contains lots of sugar and calories. Good advice; brew your own at home and sweeten minimally.

7. Tomato-based pasta sauces are over priced. Sure, this may be the case but for those who are time-pressed taking an hour to make their own tomato sauce may not be viable. If you have the time, go for it. If you don’t, and you have the money, check the ingredients and don’t feel bad about buying a jar or can of tomato sauce. Add extra veggies for more nutrients.

8. Swordfish are high in mercury. True. Go for smaller fish, lower down the food chain.

9. Energy drinks are “sugar bombs” and have been linked to adverse health effects. No argument from me on this one!

10. Gluten-free baked goods unnecessary if you don’t have a condition that means you can’t have gluten, may be high in calories, and expensive. I agree that this items may be less nutritious than their glutenous counterparts. However, for those on gluten-free diets they can be nice to have. And some of them can be nutritious. As always, read the label.

11. Flavoured non-dairy milks are expensive and unhealthy. Well, yes, you should avoid the sweetened non-dairy milk, but you can buy unsweetened vanilla and chocolate non-dairy milks. For the many people who are lactose intolerant, allergic to cow’s milk, or vegan, nut, grain, and seed milks provide a viable alternative. They can also be a nice change for anyone. As always, read the label to make sure that it’s fortified (so that you’re getting the calcium and vitamin D and other micronutrients that you would get from cow’s milk) and also, be aware that these milks are not a good source of protein.

12. Foods made of WOOD - Cellulose is actually wood shavings. While cellulose is found in plants, it does appear that the cellulose used as a food additive is wood pulp used to add fibre and impart a creamy mouth-feel. I’m not sure if this is anything to get too worked-up about. Cellulose from a tree should be the same as cellulose from a plant. Still, it’s best to minimize your highly processed packaged food consumption so it’s something to bear in mind.

13. White rice is associated with higher diabetes risk. Yes, it’s always best to go with whole grains but having white rice every now and again isn’t going to kill you.

14. ‘Gourmet’ frozen vegetables are easily made on your own. Agreed. Unadulterated frozen veg are a great thing to have on-hand. They’re affordable, nutritious, and keep for months in the freezer. However, when you get into the “gourmet” ones you’re getting added fat and salt and probably other things. Far better (for your health and your bank account) to add your own herbs and spices when you’re cooking.

15. Microwave sandwiches you’re paying for packaging and additives. These things are so far off my radar! Definitely a waste of money. If you don’t have time and ingredients to make your own sandwich for lunch most grocery stores have delis at which you can purchase freshly made sandwiches which they can even grill for you.

16. Premium frozen fruit bars are overpriced; you should make your own. Yes, you can make far better flavours at home if you have time and freezer space and if they’re your sort of thing.

17. Boxed rice ‘entree’ or side-dish mixes may have added flavours but they also have considerable added cost. Yep, best to add your own herbs and spices. Try cooking in broth or coconut milk for extra flavour as well.

18. Energy or protein bars are expensive and full of sugar, fat, and calories. Yes, many of them (and granola bars) are candy bars masquerading as health foods. However, some of the better ones (again, read the label) can be handy snacks or meal replacements to have on-hand in a pinch.

19. Spice mixes may seem like a good way to reduce the number of spices you have to buy but usually contain a lot of salt. Again, check the label. But, I generally agree with this. Best to keep staple spices on-hand and make your own blends and rubs.

20. Powdered iced tea mixes or prepared flavoured iced tea are expensive and full of unhealthy ingredients. Umm… See #6.

21. Bottled water is expensive and environmentally unfriendly. Not to mention, provided your tap water is potable, it’s usually less safe than tap water. As they mention, there are occasions when bottled water may be a necessary purchase. In general, stick with tap.

22. Salad kits are expensive. Those added croutons and chips and whatever else they come with these days aren’t great for you either. Yes, if you can use up all of the ingredients you’d need to make your own salad before they go bad, this is the best option. If you can’t, check out the ready-made salads in the deli dept.

23. Individual servings of anything are expensive; buy a big package and portion out your own. While most of the foods that come in this format tend to be nutritionally void, if you’re going to buy them anyway and you struggle with portion control I do think that they can serve a purpose.

24. Trail mix pre-bagged is expensive, make your own. Any way you slice it, nuts and dried fruit are going to be expensive. Sure, make your own if you want, but also go for mixes in the bulk food section or hit-up a bulk food store. Don’t forget that trail mixes are very calorie dense. Watch your serving sizes!

25. Snack or lunch packs are overpriced and full of salt. Agreed. These are not good choices. Make your own healthy bento-box lunches for your kids instead. Use fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain crackers or flat breads, “real” cheese or meat.

26. Gourmet ice cream is expensive and there’s usually a cheaper brand that’s just as good. True, many store-labels are manufacturer by brand-name labels. Ice cream should be a “sometimes” food anyway though so price might not matter and you might be better off getting a small tub to avoid eating too much in one sitting.

27. Pre-formed meat patties are more expensive than making your own and may have an increased risk of bacterial contamination. Added bonus: when you make your own you can add special spices and chopped onion and jalapeno.

While it does seem that I agree with much of this list. There were a few additional comments I added that I feel are worth consideration.


Leave a comment

More on fat tax

imgres

Recent research showed that a combination of factors was best at discouraging purchasing of “junk” foods. It also showed that, on their own, cheaper healthy options, anti-obesity advertising, and healthy food advertising were ineffective at dissuading “customers” from purchasing the junk food. However, increasing the price of the “junk” by 20% was persuasion enough for customers to select the healthier options.

While an interesting result, there are a number of problems with applying these findings in the real world. The research was done with participants in a laboratory. Thus, their economical means and purchasing behaviours may not have been representative of how they would act in “reality”. Also, were participants representative of the population? I worry the most about the impact of jacking up prices on “junk” food on those who are experiencing food insecurity. Increasing the cost of these foods may cause more harm than good.

In addition, as mentioned in the article we’ve already seen the failure of the “fat tax” in Denmark. Why would we think that increasing the price of “junk” food would be any more effective in North America? And who will decide what foods are healthy and what foods are unhealthy and deserving of taxation. I’ve seen granola bars that were not permitted under school nutrition policies that (in my opinion) were healthier than those that were permitted. The ones that were permitted contained chocolate chips. The ones that weren’t contained almonds, causing the fat content to be too high to meet criteria! Research is always evolving and even within the dietetic world there isn’t consensus on some matters. Some dietitians would rule out butter in favour of margarine. Some would be okay with added sugars, while others would eschew them. Most would say that all foods are okay, with some being everyday foods and others being occasional foods.

Also, what would happen with the increased revenue from “junk” foods? Would it go to the food industry? Would it go to the government? Or would it go to subsidise vegetables and fruits or create community food initiatives?

Yes, this research provides some insight into human behaviour. However, I’m not sure that it’s all that useful of a weapon in the war against obesity.


Leave a comment

Vitamin supplements: deadly or life saving?

url-1

Last week everyone was getting worked up because an editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine advised against taking vitamin supplements. I wish that I could unequivocally state that they were correct (or incorrect) in this assessment. Unfortunately, this is a complicated issue and I don’t think that we have all of the answers yet.

We know that there are problems with the supplement industry. It’s not well-regulated. Some herbal supplements were recently found to contain ingredients other than those stated on the label, some even contained none of the sole ingredient they claimed to contain. It’s not a stretch to presume that this issue extends to supplements beyond the herbal variety. Last year researchers found that vitamin D supplement often contained hugely variable quantities of vitamin D, even within the same bottle.

An issue unique to multivitamins is that some minerals impede absorption of other minerals when consumed together (for example, zinc and copper). Other vitamins and minerals actually work better together (think calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D). When we’re taking a multivitamin we’re almost certainly not absorbing many of the vitamins and minerals listed on the label (assuming the label is correct in the first place). Does this mean that we should give up on supplements altogether? Possibly not.

The editorial refers to three specific studies. The important thing to note if that these studies looked at people who were not nutrient deficient. The problem with this is that many of us are nutrient deficient. Canadians have difficulty meeting their nutrient needs for calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D through food alone. We also tend to fall short in consumption of potassium as well as EPA and DHA (essential omega-3 fatty acids). There is also the fact that individual nutrient needs vary and that increased nutrients are needed during specific life stages. For example, folic acid is needed early in pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects in infants (1) and many nutrient needs are increased during pregnancy and lactation. Smokers have increased vitamin C needs and athletes have increased needs for nearly everything. Infants require vitamin D supplementation to avoid rickets. Vegans and seniors need vitamin B12 supplements. Etc.

Another problem with the basis on which the authors of the anti-supplement editorial made their recommendation is that they were looking at extremes. They asked: Do multivitamins prevent cancer? Cognitive decline? Heart attacks? Just because vitamin supplements don’t seem to prevent these conditions doesn’t mean that there aren’t other potential benefits to supplementation. More “minor” aliments may be ameliorated by consumption of supplements. We also may have been simply too late to see benefit from supplementation in those involved in those studies. As with osteoporosis which is a pediatric disease with geriatric consequences, these diseases are likely a result of exposures and lifestyles starting in utero.

So, should we take vitamin and mineral supplements or not? I think that it’s a bit of a gamble either way. On one hand you may not be getting what you bargained for in a supplement. On the other hand, you might be risking nutrient deficiency by avoiding all supplements.

Obviously it’s best to try to meet your nutrient needs through food. Realistically, most of us do not do this. If you’re able to determine what specific nutrients you’re lacking in your diet then it’s best to supplement with only those nutrients. Try to select supplements that have an NHP number on them to ensure a minimal level of regulation. And, of course, too much of anything can be a bad thing. Unless advised by your MD or nurse practitioner to take a high dose (and even then, you might want to question them) of any supplement avoid reaching or surpassing the upper limit.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,031 other followers