bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Thoughts on “The Myth of High-Protein Diets”

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Image used under a Creative Commons Licence. Photo by Sean_Hickin on flickr.

Part of me is a little hesitant to address the op-ed piece by Dr Dean Ornish in the New York Times last week. This because, the low-fat zealots have already attacked me for criticizing Dr Esselstyn in the past. But, you know me, when something gets under my skin I can’t leave it well enough along.

The piece was titled: The Myth of High-Protein Diets. One would think that the accompanying article would be about pitfalls to following a high-protein diet. However, Dr Ornish focusses solely on animal protein, with an emphasis on meat and fat. The gist of his argument is that if you eschew animal products you will live longer, as will the planet. Okay, so it’s not the myth of high-protein diets. It’s the myth of high-animal products diets.

One of the studies Ornish cites is one that I blogged about a year ago. At the time it ignited headlines proclaiming that protein was akin to smoking and that animal protein would contribute to our premature demise. Suffice to say, the study was flawed and these conclusions were tenuously drawn. In fact, in older adults, diets that were higher in protein were actually positively correlated with reduced mortality. And there was no negative effect from plant sources of protein at any age. So, even with the poor quality of this research, some of the results were in direct opposition to Ornish’s interpretation of them.

I read articles like this and think to myself “it’s no wonder that people are confused about what to eat and don’t trust any health care professionals”. You have one doctor insisting that a low-carb diet is the key to a long healthy life, another insisting that it’s low-fat, another insisting that it’s high-carb, another insisting that it’s blahblahblah. Of course, they all have the book to sell you. Maybe they’re all right. Maybe you can be healthy one any of their highly-restrictive diets. As I’ve said before, the best diet is the one that you can enjoy and follow for life. For me, that involves eating fat, protein, and carbs from both plant and animal sources. Yeah, I know it’s not sexy, but balance and variety are the hallmarks of a nutritious diet.


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Follow Friday: Dietitian services

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Did you know that many employers don’t offer dietitian services as part of their employee health plans? Considering that food and nutrition are vital to good health and productive employees our services should be covered by health plans. If your employer doesn’t cover our services please let them know that you’d like them too!


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Would you wear a diet monitoring necklace?

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Have you heard about this WearSens necklace? It’s technology that you can wear around your neck to monitor what you eat and drink. Of course, the most talked about application is for weight management. Fortunately, the engineers who designed it are also hoping that it will be used for medical management. It has the potential to be used to monitor whether or not people have taken medications or breathing patterns of lung transplant patients. Much more worthy applications of the technology if you ask me.

Why don’t I think it’s a good idea for weight management? For one thing, it can distinguish between food textures but not specific foods. Therefore, it’s not a useful tool for calorie tracking. It wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between water and pop or yoghurt and pudding, for example. Sure, if you’re trying to eat or drink at specific times of day it could monitor that but it seems like an unnecessary (and, I’m assuming, expensive) method of doing so. More importantly, it attaches a sense of shame to eating. And people complain about the nanny state! Do you really want a sense of judgement literally hanging around your neck every time you eat or drink something? Yes, mindfulness is important in developing healthy eating habits. So is learning to enjoy food without guilt.


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Don’t do the crime if you can’t stand the cold food in the kitchen

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In the news last week was an exposé of prison food in British Colombia. Allegedly, prisoners have become ill after eating food distributed to prisons from a central kitchen. Sometimes prisons have run out of food before all of the prisoners have been served, leaving inmates to go hungry. Based on the comments, it seems that most people believe that prisoners should suck it up. After all, they’re criminals and are lucky that they’re getting food from our tax dollars. How dare they ask for food that’s safe or even nutritious. Just a taste of some of the comments:

Just looked at their menus they eat better than I do! Ohh and I work and pay taxes! These bums have a lot of nerve complaining. Try working for a living, try feeding your children and being a good parent. They blame society inequality and drugs for all their problems… The reality is there’s only one person to blame the one in the mirror! Do inmates children on the outside have enough to eat? Are they warm at night? Theses looser bring children into the world and forgo their responsibility…

Don’t like the food? Don’t put yourself in a position where you may go there.

Cry me a river. A murderer complaining that his prison food is not to his liking.

I know, I know “never read the comments”… I did it for you!

I think that many people are missing the point. Everyone deserves access to safe and nutritious food. If our prisons are intended to rehabilitate people who have committed crimes (which they ostensibly are) then nutritious food is an important component of that process. A number of studies have shown that nutrition affects cognition and behaviour (1, 2, 3). I’m sure that most of us have anecdotal experiences of the effects of poor (or good) nutrition on mood and behaviour. I know that I felt pretty crappy after the weekend I survived on primarily poutine, coffee, and beer. And that was one weekend! Imagine the effect that long-term malnutrition can have on mood and behaviour. I’m not saying that prisoners should be eating gourmet meals every day. However, if we want to rehabilitate inmates and have more of them re-enter society as contributing members then we need to provide them with the tools they need to do so. Good nutrition, and the ability to prepare nutritious meals upon release, is one of these tools.


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Follow Friday: Ask the dietitian

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I’m writing a monthly column for Rustik Magazine, titled: Ask the Dietitian. Check out my first contribution on staying healthy during the flu season. If you have any questions you’d like to see addressed in the column, or any blog topics, feel free to comment below or send me an email: dmc555 [at] gmail [dot] com. Have a great weekend!