bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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More bull… from Bulletproof

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Ugh. Why won’t Bulletproof bullshit just go away?? Earlier this week I saw this article about the new Bulletproof “Fatwater” which supposedly is more hydrating than regular old water because of the oil in the water. According to the creator, Asprey, “People have been talking for many years about how our bodies are dehydrated and how we need even more water in the body and not just more water in the mouth. This is our contribution to help people solve that problem.” Who’s been talking about this for years? Why, after water sustaining life on earth for at least 3.5 billion years is it suddenly not good enough? No, this is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. This is just an opportunity for Asprey and his company to make more money off unwitting people who buy into his self-proclaimed status as a biohacker.

As if that ridiculous product didn’t get me riled up enough, then my friend sent me a link to this Bulletproof article about how beans are deadly. Which, as it turns out, is several years old, and one of many in the paleo world proclaiming beans, and other lectin containing foods to be deadly. Oh crap, because I’ve unwittingly been eating beans and legumes for about 37 years. Who knew that I was committing suicide all this time? I guess my days are numbered.

What is lectin you might be asking? It’s a protein found in many foods, but at the highest levels in beans, legumes, and grains. And, it’s true, it can make you quite illBUT cooking, or sprouting, the foods that contain lectin destroys most, if not all of it (1, 2). So, unless you’re chowing down on raw kidney beans, it’s a non-issue.

There also seems to be some confusion in the article, and the comments (yes, I know, I broke the cardinal rule and read them), about lectin and the difficulty that people have digesting beans. Lectin is not why you get gas after eating beans. It’s actually the oligosaccharides raffinose and stachyose that are indigestible by humans that cause some people to become gassy after eating beans. This is not a sign that beans are toxic. It’s actually a good thing because the bacteria in your intestine are happily feeding away on these complexes, and we are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of the human microbiome on many aspects of health.

In defense of beans, as they seem to bear the brunt of this anti-lectin movement; they are affordable sources of protein, fibre, calcium, and magnesium, among other nutrients. You can buy many cans of beans (30 at $0.99 each) for the $29.95 price of 160 ml of fatty water.


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Grocery store lessons: a tale of two pasta sauces

Further to all of my discussion about sugar in food and nutrition labels I wanted to share with you the following nutrition facts label that has me stumped:

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Apologies for the poor photo quality. Hopefully you’re able to see that the nutrition facts panel indicates that there’s no sugar in this pasta sauce. That’s grand and all, no one wants a sugary tomato sauce. It’s also puzzling because tomatoes (and many other vegetables) naturally contain sugar. So how does one end up with zero grams of sugar in a 1/2 cup serving?

Compare this to another pasta sauce:

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This second sauce, despite having no added sugar, still contains 6 grams of sugar per serving. This is much more the norm  than the sauce in the first photo.

I know that people are trying to cut back on sugar. That’s great. But this is another example of why you might want to pay more attention to the ingredients in a food than to the nutrition facts panel. These are very similar products but tell rather different stories when it comes to sugar content. One supposedly contains no sugar, while the other contains about one and a half teaspoons in a serving. Even if you’re trying to cut back on sugar there’s really no point in getting riled up about a little bit of sugar naturally occurring from vegetables.


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The harm in fad diets

Many of us roll our eyes when we hear about people on fad diets. I think that most of us think, “oh well, it’s not doing them any harm. Let it run its course”. But what if these diets are doing people harm?  I’m not about fear mongering, you know this. Many of these trendy diets can be safe and healthy when followed properly. However, what about when they’re not? There is reasonable risk of deficiencies that could cause some degree of harm at worst, and at best prevent the adherents from attaining optimal health.

What’s the harm in a low-carb or gluten-free or paleo diet?

I’m lumping these two in together even though they’re not strictly the same, although it seems that they frequently go hand-in-hand. Here the risk lies in B vitamin deficiency. Yes, many B vitamins are available from animal foods. However, folic acid (which I blogged about a few weeks ago) was added to refined flour and cereals as a public health measure to prevent neural tube defects during pregnancy in 1998 (1). Eliminating grains from the diet may lead to increased risk of spina bifida, and other neural tube defects, in infants of mothers following these diets. It’s recommended that all women of childbearing age take a multivitamin containing 400 mcg of folic acid daily. Women who are following the above diets should be sure to follow this recommendation. The crucial window for neural tube formation is within the first 21-28 days of pregnancy. This means that if you wait to start taking a prenatal multivitamin once you find out you’re pregnant you may have already missed this window.

What’s the harm in a vegan diet?

While touted as one of the healthiest diets, a vegan diet can easily be deficient in essential nutrients. As with the low-carb diets above, a vegan diet may be low in some B vitamins. In this case, vitamin B12 is more likely to be the B vitamin of concern than is folic acid.

Vitamin B12 is important for many reasons. We need B12 for blood cell formation, nerve function, and brain function.

Vitamin D is also a concern in vegan diets as it’s primarily found in milk, fish, and eggs. During the winter months it’s difficult for most of us, vegans and non-vegans alike, to get enough vitamin D from food alone.

What’s the harm in a low-sodium diet?

This isn’t even so much a risk of low-sodium diet but of a diet that eschews table salt in particular. Now that sea salt is the salt selection of foodies and many of us are avoiding salt shakers there is potential for insufficient iodine consumption. Table salt is fortified with iodine, sea salt is not.

Iodine deficiency during pregnancy can result in poor mental development. Iodine is important in thyroid function and deficiency may result in the development of a goiter.

Now, to be fair, when consideration of balance, variety, and nutrients is taken into consideration all of these diets may be healthy. I think that it’s also worth mentioning that the average Western diet is probably less nutritious than all of the above diets. Most people consume too few vegetables and fruits, too much sodium, sugar, and fat. Most of us, even those of us consuming relatively healthy diets, don’t get enough potassium, vitamin D, magnesium, and fibre. While the focus should definitely be on whole food, it’s worth considering what nutrients your diet may be low in and making an effort to consume more foods rich in those nutrients or even considering taking a supplement if you’re finding it hard to meet your nutrient needs through food alone.


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The truth about vegetables that will make you fat

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Image: The courgette I forgot to pick by Caroline on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

 

Following on the heels of my post last week about greens vs grains is another diatribe stemming from an article I found online. This one? 5 Vegetable Foods That Make You Fat.

What are these insidious vegetables? Vegetable tempura, veggie chips, vegetable juice, vegetable smoothies, and vegetable dips. Was anyone under the impression that these are sound dietary choices on par with fresh vegetables? I’d hazard a guess that most people would realize that deep frying, adding sugar, and adding a smattering of vegetables to a creamy cheesy base is not the same as eating a salad or a carrot. Even so, these foods are not inherently fattening. You can eat them and not get fat. As with any food, it’s the amount you eat that matters. I’d even argue that home made vegetable juice and smoothies can be a nutritious choice. Even vegetable dips can be healthy if you make them with Greek yoghurt.

Why do we keep having to label foods as “good” or “bad” anyway? It’s rarely that simple. Even if you’re having vegetable chips you may be consuming less sodium and more fibre than if you were consuming potato chips. Even if you’re not, is that really so bad if it’s an occasional treat? We need to stop calling foods “bad” and “good”. This only leads to unhealthy relationships with food and greater desire for those forbidden “bad” foods.

The real lessons from this article: 1. don’t read articles that tell you X, Y, or Z will make you fat (or skinny, for that matter), 2. prepare your own meals the majority of the time. If you’re making your own meals you can control what goes into them (and what doesn’t) and you can make a perfectly healthy and delicious veggie smoothie.


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Greens vs Grains

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Yes, I can get behind the statement that “we can all benefit from more veggies in our diet”. After that, I diverge from this weekly nutrition challenge. I don’t think that replacing grains with greens makes nutritional sense. Maybe if all of your grains are refined baked goods. Otherwise, there are nutrients in both grains and greens and replacing all of your grains with vegetables isn’t necessarily a nutritional win.

Grains tend to provide more fibre than vegetables. They’re also a good source of B vitamins and minerals such as iron and magnesium. The fibre in grains can help promote digestive health, lower LDL, and feeds the probiotics in our intestines. The gut microbiota is a fascinating emerging area of research. There seems to be many relationships between the bacteria living in our digestive tracts and other aspects of our health. Fibre also contributes to satiety. Sure, greens have lower caloric density than grains but they also don’t keep you feeling full.

Greens provide you with plenty of other nutrients. It doesn’t have to be an either or situation. I don’t understand why so many people want to attach guilt to specific foods or food groups. Grains and greens can both co-exist in a healthy balanced diet. Yes, even some refined grains.

In my mind, challenging people to eliminate food groups is not a sensible or sustainable challenge. But what do I know, I’m just a dietitian; not a “strength coach, nutritional expert and practitioner of Chinese medicine”. And greens for grains is pretty catchy. I guess catchy is more important than realistic, sound nutrition advice.