bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


21 easy food swaps that will totally leave you feeling like you’re missing out


Image “Vegemite for Sue” by mobil’homme on flickr, used under a Creative Commons licence.

A couple of RDs I know on twitter shared the this post recently and deemed it “food wankery”. An apt description. Let me fix that for you…

21 “easy” food swaps you can make now without missing out

  1. Sugar. Swap it for rice malt syrup less sugar. Sugar by any other name (including rice malt syrup) is still sugar. Try to avoid sugary drinks and keep sweet treats actual treats.
  2. Vegetable oil. Swap it for coconut oil what ever type of oil you prefer when cooking. Coconut oil does have a higher smoke point than most other oils making it a good choice for higher heats. However, it’s also very expensive. Use the oil that you prefer, can afford, and have on-hand. Despite what you may have heard, coconut oil is not a miracle food and “oil pulling” is bullshit but can be done with any type of oil. It’s important to consume a variety of types of fats so don’t toss your EVOO and butter and use coconut oil for all of your cooking; switch it up.
  3. White flour. Swap it for gluten free flour alternative <if you have celiac disease>. Most gluten free flours are far more expensive than white flour and don’t provide the same texture. It’s true that white flour isn’t the healthiest thing you can eat but refined gluten free flours are on-par with white flour or even less nutritious as they may not be enriched. Unless you have celiac disease there’s no reason to go gluten-free just make sure you’re consuming a variety of grains and that the majority of your servings are whole grain.
  4. White rice. Swap it for quinoa brown and wild rice mixes. Brown rice has more fibre and nutrients than white rice as it’s simply less refined white rice. Quinoa is not as protein-rich as the superfood marketers would have you believe. Sure, it’s great to switch it up but quinoa is another super expensive food.
  5. White wine vinegar. Swap for apple cider vinegar depending on the recipe. Unpasturized apple cider vinegar contains probiotics in the sediment (aka “the mother”) which may be beneficial. However, the flavour of apple cider vinegar may not always work for the recipe that you’re making and the small amount that you consume in a dressing is unlikely to provide any substantial health benefit.
  6. Wheat crackers. Swap for seed and vege crackers/snaps whole grain crackers. Seed and veg are fine but most crackers that contain them are still white flour based with a smattering or seeds or vegetables. Look for crackers with minimal ingredients and whole grains. You can also find some great legume based crackers and tortilla chips in stores now.
  7. Commercial muesli. Swap for rolled oats mixed with nuts, spices and organic dried fruits or simply fresh fruits. Okay, this isn’t a bad suggestion, although commercial muesli doesn’t usually have much added sugar anyway; most of it comes from the dried fruit.
  8. Commercial chocolate. Swap for raw fair trade chocolate. If you can find/afford/enjoy raw chocolate then go for it. If you enjoy “commercial” chocolate go for it. Try to choose fair trade so that the farmers get appropriately reimbursed.
  9. Wheat pasta. Swap for rice, buckwheat, quinoa or legume based pasta whole grain pasta. Choose whole grain for more fibre. Other pastas can also be good sources of fibre but many gluten-free options are actually lower in fibre. Read the labels and choose the best option that you enjoy.
  10. Packet muesli bars. Swap for a small handful of nuts and seeds, bliss balls — or bake your own or choose fresh fruit, hummus, veg, there are many snack options. What the heck are “bliss balls” anyway?! Something pretentious packed full of super expensive ingredients no doubt.
  11. Vegemite. Swap for a mix of tamari and tahini. I don’t have a suggested swap for this one either. Although one of my tweeps suggested “the inside of a trashcan” – haters gonna hate. Yes, vegemite is high in sodium (173 mg in 5 g) considering the quantity in one serving. It’s also a good source of B vitamins and consumed in small quantities occasionally there’s little harm in that. Switch it up with natural nut and seed butters.
  12. Table salt. Swap for sea salt or Himalayan crystal salt herbs and spices. Sea salt is no better for you than table salt. Try seasoning your food with herbs, lemon zest, and spices to cut back on sodium.
  13. Bottled sauces. Swap for simple combinations of fresh or dried herbs and spices to season foods. This is also acceptable. However, you can find healthy bottled sauces in a pinch. Look for no-salt-added options or better yet, make your own.
  14. Instant coffee. swap for freshly brewed plunger coffee, green tea or dandelion tea real coffee. Sorry, I’m a coffee snob. You should not be drinking instant coffee. Go for ANY OTHER coffee.
  15. Poppers. Swap for fresh vegetable juices or smoothies. fruit. I don’t know what poppers are but whole fruit is better than juice. Home made smoothies can also be a good choice as long as you’re not adding juice or sugar. Sweeten with frozen banana chunks.
  16. Soft drinks. Swap for sparkling water with lemon, lime, orange or pomegranate. This is also a good suggestion. I’ve been loving the Blue Menu sparkling waters this summer.
  17. Peanut butter. Swap for pure nut butter or a natural peanut butter without added vegetable oils. Choose peanut butters and other nut and seed butters without any ingredients besides nuts. There’s unnecessary added sugar, salt, and fat in most peanut butters. Beware of labels that proclaim “natural” that aren’t just peanuts.
  18. Nutella. Swap for raw cacao mixed with almond butter, or make your own with roasted hazelnuts, raw cacao, maple and coconut milk. it really depends what you’re using it for. We all know that Nutella is delicious but not nutritious. If you’re having a spread on toast go for a nut or seed butter unless you want to turn it into a chocolate bar. However, if you’re having an occasional treat or using it in a baked good unless you’re ambitious enough to make your own healthier version then a little’s not such a big deal.
  19. Potato chips. Swap for rice crackers <and a feeling of utter dissatisfaction and excessive consumption of other foods>. I’m sorry but I don’t know anyone who is satisfied by rice crackers when they’re craving potato chips. If you are, power to ya. If you’re like most other human beings, and you’re craving potato chips then allow yourself to have a small portion, don’t eat straight from a large bag. If you have a microwave you can make your own healthier portion-controlled potato chips.
  20. Cookies. Swap for bliss balls or bars. Again with the bliss balls. Are these akin to rocky mountain oysters? I won’t lie, sometimes I made energy balls for a snack but cookies are a whole other thing. Cookies are a treat. They’re not sustenance to get you through the sleepy morning hours between breakfast and lunch. If you want a cookie, go for it, preferably homemade, fresh from the oven. A “bliss ball” is unlikely to satisfy that craving and it’s better to have a little of what you want than a whole bunch of other random foods to try to fill that cookie sized hole in your tummy.
  21. Sweetened dried fruits. Swap for organic unsweetened dried fruit or fresh fruit. Unless you’re one of the few people who is sensitive to sulphites in dried fruit there’s no need to avoid dried fruit in order to avoid sulphites. Avoid sweetened dried fruit because dried fruit is already full of sugar as the sugar in fresh fruit becomes concentrated in dried fruit. Because dried fruit is sticky and full of sugar it’s also a great promoter of dental caries. If you do choose dried fruit you should have only a small portion, try to pair it with something like nuts or cheese, and be sure to brush your teeth after.

You don’t have to swap the foods that you enjoy for expensive pretentious foods to be healthy. Try to eat healthy foods that you enjoy 80% of the time and really savour those treats the other 20%.


Hunger Awareness Week #HungerWeek


I originally posted this back in 2012. As it’s national Hunger Week, and I must confess, I don’t know what to blog about, here it is again:

Food Insecurity is Not Simple Math

A recent study showed that healthy food is actually less expensive than “junk” food. This study eschewed the usual caloric comparison of foods for a portion-based comparison. Based on this comparison the researchers found that many healthy foods are, in fact, cheaper than their less nutritious counterparts. For example, a serving of carrots was found to be less expensive than a serving of potato chips. I agree that healthy food is not necessarily all that expensive and some options (e.g. beans, legumes, and root vegetables) can be quite economical. However, I have several major issues with this study.

Having worked with people experiencing food insecurity I know that the first concern of most of them is getting enough calories into their family members and keeping them as full as possible. So, even if this study is showing that by portion size and by edible weight, healthy foods are less expensive than unhealthy foods this is not how the majority of people who are suffering from food insecurity are thinking. They’re trying to get caloric bang for their buck. Sadly, carrots are not going to give them as many calories for their dollar as pop and hot dogs are.

Even if we accept what the study is telling us, there is a lot more to consider beyond the face-value of these foods. Many of these healthy food items are not ready to eat as is. Do you know anyone who’s going to eat onions straight-up? How about dried chickpeas? These foods require cooking skills, equipment, and additional ingredients (e.g. herbs, spices, oils, etc. to make them palatable). Many people, be they food insecure or not, are lacking in the food skills department and may not have the confidence or knowledge to cook a rutabaga. Do they have a stove to use? What about pots? Knives? Vegetable peelers? All of the additional ingredients and supplies can add a considerable amount of cost to the meal.

Another major issue when it comes to food insecurity is oral health. If your teeth are sore or missing it’s going to be mighty difficult to chow down on raw carrots and apples. Potato chips and spam are much easier to manage when you’re lacking quality teeth.

So, sure, serving for serving some fresh vegetables may be less expensive than “junk” food but food insecurity is not simple math.


BANT Ill-being Guidelines


A dietitian in the UK was questioning BANT about the new “Wellbeing Guidelines” they had posted last week. One of the most significant issues being the use of a skull and crossbones to denote foods that should be avoided. These foods being: Artificial sweeteners, Fizzy/sugary drinks, Alcohol, Pasta, bread, sweets, cakes & biscuits, Dried fruits and fruit juices, Eating between meals, Ready and processed meals (emphasis mine). BANT tried to justify this by saying that these particular guidelines don’t apply to everyone, just the people who are overweight or obese. They actually titled these guidelines “Fight the Fat – Beat the Bloat“. As if it somehow makes it better that “only” those who need to lose weight are being told that these foods are essentially poison. Because we all know that fear mongering and making people feel guilty about their food choices leads to weight loss, SIGH. And never mind that the majority of the population is classified as overweight or obese.

Sure, most of the foods to avoid are ones that people (no matter their weight) should limit. Oddly enough, there’s no skull and crossbones nor mention of foods to avoid on the guidelines for people who aren’t trying to lose weight (just a note to limit refined grains). Which is silly because healthy eating is healthy eating no matter what your weight and attaching a stigma to food for people who are trying to lose weight doesn’t exactly promote a healthy relationship with food.

The other significant oddity about these guidelines is the fact that those trying to lose weight are told to limit their consumption of fruit to no more than one serving a day while the general guidelines tell people to eat 1-3 servings of fruit a day. While I have known people who have consumed fruit to excess this is pretty rare and in any event, 1-3 servings is certainly not excessive.

While these are issues with all of the government issued nutrition guidelines that I’m aware of, these guidelines are not an improvement. Shaming people about food doesn’t promote wellness.


Who polices the food police?


You know how everyone thinks that dietitians are the food police (spoiler: we’re not)? I find it a bit ironic (no, not like rain on your wedding day, that’s just crap luck) that everyone seems to believe that we’re secretly judging every morsel they eat. Honestly, I generally pay very little notice to the lunches of others; unless they consume a Monster energy drink and a chocolate bar on the daily in which case I dare you not to pass judgement. At any rate, I find that others are far more likely to pass judgement on what I’m eating when they know I’m a dietitian than I am to pass judgement on them.

I’ve had people say things to me like “but you’d never eat that” when discussing a chocolate cake recipe and then show genuine shock when I reply “of course I would, I love chocolate”. When I ate lunch at work I would have co-workers examining the contents of my lunchbox, often either expressing their distaste at my “fear factor” food or amazement that I was eating something “normal” like spaghetti. My lunch was a constant source of scrutiny and discussion. And yes, some days I lived up to their expectations with a kale salad in a jar or a glory bowl but dietitians can’t live on superfoods alone. Sometimes we enjoy a cookie, chips, or chocolate bar.

I also experience a weird pressure when faced with food at work events or when offered food by a co-worker. Maybe I’m just paranoid, like everyone who thinks that I’m judging their lunches, but I always feel like my decision faces extra scrutiny simply because of my profession. When offered a chocolate my thought process is: “should I take this to show that I’m cool too, I’m not some health freak dietitian that subsists solely on green smoothies and quinoa? Or should I politely decline to set a good example, show them that I’m a good healthy dietitian and quietly eat my chocolates behind closed doors at home?” I feel like no matter what my decision it’s going to be “wrong” so I decide based on whether or not I actually want that treat at that time and whether or not I’ve already had a treat that day or will be having one later and just hope that people aren’t thinking “look at her, she thinks she’s so much better than us not having a candy”.

In truth, it really doesn’t matter what others are thinking of me and my food choices. In fact, I’m (hopefully) just being as paranoid as you are when you think that a dietitian is judging your food choices.

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The modified grocery guide for runners


A friend and fellow runner recently shared this grocery guide for runners with me asking for my thoughts. While for the most part I think that it’s good advice for anyone not just for runners, there are a few things that I wasn’t totally down with. Here are my revisions:


“If you’re going to eat the exterior (apples, peaches, bell peppers), buying organic will limit your pesticide exposure.”

While peeling or washing vegetables and fruit will remove some pesticide residue, some pesticide residue will remain and certain pesticides can exist within the vegetable or fruit. Organic produce may have fewer pesticides applied than conventional but research has shown that they often still have pesticide residue. In addition, just because a food is organic doesn’t mean that pesticides weren’t used on it. There are pesticides which are approved for organic use. Don’t be fooled into a false sense of security by purchasing organic produce. You should still always wash fruit and vegetables to remove dirt and bacteria.


“Organic meat costs more but limits your exposure to the antibiotics and growth hormones used in conventionally raised livestock”

In Canada, growth hormones are only permitted for use in beef cows. Antibiotics are permitted for use in all non-organic farming. The amounts present in the meat that you purchase are very low but if you are concerned about their presence in your food you may wish to choose organic meat.

Farmed Atlantic salmon
Ocean pens can pollute surrounding waterways, and contamination from PCBs may be a concern. Splurge on wild.”

All Atlantic salmon is now farmed. It is possible to find ethically farmed Atlantic salmon. However, at this point, you’re probably better off going with wild Pacific salmon.

Toss out Multigrain bread
Toss in 100% whole grain
Multigrain bread is often made of enriched flour or wheat flour—which lacks the fiber and vitamins of 100 percent whole-grain flour.”

Just check the ingredients if you’re buying bread at the grocery store. Go for ones that list whole grain flour as the first ingredient. If you avoid mass-produced commercially available bread and go for preservative-free locally made bread you should be able to find multigrain bread that is also whole grain. Keep it in the freezer to keep it fresh.

Salted nuts and seeds Eating too many will put you into calorie and sodium overload.”

While I’m generally not one to recommend salted nuts I’m definitely a big fan of nuts. Runners usually need more calories than the average person and don’t need to worry quite as much about the calorie content. They may also be able to afford to have a sodium-containing snack such as salted nuts, especially if they’re sweating a lot during workouts (like me on my runs lately).

Good Honey The easily-digestible carbs contain antioxidants and antibacterial properties. Stash a honey packet in your running shorts for midrun fueling.
Better Maple syrup It has about 20 percent fewer calories than honey, plus a wider array of antioxidants that may help muscle recovery. Use it to lightly sweeten plain yogurt and oatmeal.”

Still use these sweeteners sparingly as when it comes down to it they’re still sugar.

These tiny seeds brim with omega fats and fiber and can help lower cholesterol.”

Just remember that your body can’t digest whole flaxseeds. Make sure you buy cracked or ground or grind your own (I use my coffee grinder). Keep flaxseed (any other nuts and seeds) in the fridge or freezer to maintain freshness. Remember that the omega-3 in flaxseed is not the same as the omega-3 found in fish and doesn’t have the same health benefits.

Studies show regular consumption can help reduce type 2 diabetes risk.”

I just found this to be a very bizarre entry in a grocery list aimed at runners who aren’t necessarily at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Also, while it may help to regulate blood sugar cinnamon has not been proven to reduce risk of developing diabetes.

Chocolate milk “The combination of protein and quick-digesting carbs helps repair exercise-induced muscle damage and refuel tired muscles,” says Sumbal. But it’s high in calories, so “choose low-fat varieties.””

Just frig off with the chocolate milk would ya.

On the whole, not a terrible article, if a bit lengthy. I wasn’t overjoyed to see the canned soup and frozen meal suggestions as I’m an advocate for preparing your own meals using basic ingredients. The specific product suggestions also made me uncomfortable. It’s always best to read the labels and decide which product best meets your needs yourself.