bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Is your “green monster” a nutritional nightmare?

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I recently came across a blog post decreeing green smoothies to be a nutritional no-no. Great, so people finally find a way that works for them to get a bunch of veg and fruit in one go and now we tell them that these drinks might be the death of them.

Green smoothies seem like a no-brainer. If you’re making them at home you can easily control what goes into them and ensure that they’re packed with nutritious foods and not calories from things like frozen yoghurt. I know a lot of people who find it difficult to eat breakfast in the morning; smoothies can be a great way to get breakfast in as liquids may be more readily tolerated than solid foods first thing in the morning.

Now that people are hooked on green smoothies the fearmongering begins. Why should you fear your green smoothie? Well, raw cruciferous vegetables, such as kale, a staple in many green smoothies, contain goitrogens. These are substances that interfere with thyroid gland metabolism by inhibiting the absorption of iodide. When consumed in large quantities, they may cause goiters. Goitrogens are also found in turnips, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, and water.

Iodide (not to be confused with the toxic iodine, despite “iodine” being used interchangeably with iodide) deficiency hasn’t been a significant health concern in developed countries in many years because we generally cook cruciferous vegetables before eating them. In Canada, fortification of table salt with iodide is also mandatory. However, with the diminished use of the salt shaker and the popularization of sea salt (which is not fortified and loses iodide during processing) it’s likely that iodide will become a nutrient of greater concern in countries such as Canada.

Before you start reaching for the iodide supplements (which, by the way, you’ll find as kelp or bladderwrack, not as iodide/iodine) you should be aware that at very high amounts (more than 1.1 mg per day), iodide consumption can inhibit thyroid hormone synthesis. Even without consuming fortified table salt, most North Americans consume more than enough iodide per day as iodide is used as a sterilizing agent in dairies and restaurants, a conditioner for dough in bakeries, and in food colourings. Iodide is also found in saltwater fish (both fin and shell), molasses, seaweed, plain yoghurt, milk, and eggs. Some protein bars and multivitamins also contain iodide.

Back to your green smoothie. Should you be concerned about the effect your daily smoothie might have on your thyroid gland? Probably not. Unless you’re guzzling green smoothies for breakfast lunch and dinner, are consuming a cruciferious vegetable-heavy raw-diet, and have an existing thyroid condition it’s unlikely that a green smoothie once a day, or less, is going to have anything but a positive impact on your health. The most important feature of a healthy diet is variety. Consuming too much of anything be it green smoothies, potato chips, bread, or bananas, is unhealthy. Eating a balanced diet containing a variety of foods helps to ensure that you’re getting all of the nutrients you need. And yes, a green smoothies can be a part of a balanced diet.


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Are mushrooms the new meat?

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How could I resist the headline: 7 simple weight-loss foods? Of course, we all know that there are no magical weight loss foods. Weight loss and management is all about the overall pattern of eating. Eating half a grapefruit before every meal, eating eggs, or blueberries is not necessarily going to mean that you’ll lose weight.

The suggestion that bothered me the most was to swap out meat for mushrooms. I’ve got nothing against mushrooms (cooked, obviously). Nothing against meat either. Certainly, if you’re a frequent meat eater and you start replacing meat with mushrooms, you’re probably going to lose weight. However, mushrooms, despite their meaty texture are not nutritionally comparable to meat and the suggestion that they’re interchangeable concerns me. Go ahead and have a portabello burger or a mushroom lasagne, but bear in mind that those mushrooms aren’t providing you with the protein, iron, vitamin B12, etc that meat does. Ensure that you include other sources of these nutrients in your diet as well as the mushrooms.


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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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