bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Sexism and snacks

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Of course I couldn’t resist reading the article Nutrition Bars Are Sexist? Oh, Okay when it came through on my Google nutrition news alert. The author writes rather condescendingly about a blog post: The Stereotype-Driven Business of Selling Nutrition Bars to Women

In the original blog post Stephie Grob Plante writes, more than fairly in my opinion, about the marketing of “nutrition” bars to women. These bars include Luna, thinkThin, and Eat Like a Woman. I’ve only seen the former in Canada. However, based on the packaging and the marketing terms I’m in wholehearted agreement with Plante’s assessment of these nutrition bars appealing to the expectation that women desire to be thin and to lose weight. You can see the same thing in the advertisements for Special K and, let’s be honest, pretty much every product that is targeting women. The notion is that women need portion-controlled grab-and-go bars to avoid uncontrollable over eating and subsequent weight gain.

On the other hand, you see energy and protein bars targeting men and athletes. These products focus on packing as many calories and as much protein as possible into a single bar. As Plante points out, the marketing suggests that men are more inclined to forget to eat and need something that they can grab and scarf down.

The responding article, written by Katherine Timpf states that Plante seems to have forgotten that “marketing is about stereotyping”. Oh, okay. Because marketing is rooted in sexist stereotypes that makes it logical that nutrition bars employ said stereotypes to market their products to women. Just because sexism is insidious doesn’t make it okay.

Timpf asserts:

The advertisements are targeted at women who want to lose weight because the bars are intended to appeal to women who want to lose weight. How could this possibly be considered controversial?

Um… It can be considered controversial because the stereotypes employed to market these bars to women are offensive. To tell me, as a woman, that I should eat a bar because it will make me thin is presumptuous. It also goes beyond the implication that I chose my foods to stay or become skinny. It implies that thin is ideal. That I will be more successful in life, and more desirable to men, if only I eat their specially formulated snack bar. Good grief.

Timpf also states that somehow this is an issue to take-up with God(??!!!) because he created men and women differently and therefore, we have different nutrient needs. Yes, okay, on average, men need more calories than women. However, nutrient needs vary more among individuals than between sexes. And one little bar is not going to have a huge impact on your nutrient consumption for the day anyhow.

There is one good point made by Timpf at the very end of her article. That’s the fact that most of these “nutrition” bars aren’t particularly nutritious to begin with and they’re full of highly processed suspect ingredients.

Obviously, making your own snacks is ideal. However, we’re all busy and sometimes a snack bar does come in handy. There are plenty of decent options available that don’t employ sexist marketing messages. You don’t have to support the continued use of sexist marketing tactics. Choose snack bars that focus on the ingredients, nutrition, and flavour rather than telling you that you need to lose weight.


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Follow Friday: Inglorious produce

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A friend shared this video with me recently. Seems to fit with my recent theme of supermarkets reducing food waste. This one was in France, rather than Germany though. It’s ridiculous that vegetables and fruits are all expected to have a certain appearance and that “misshapen” ones are turfed. It’s great to see these being used in popular products. One little quibble with the article: these rejected produce items wouldn’t have been trash for the supermarket. They would have been trash for the farmers as the supermarket would not have purchased the “inferior” produce from them.


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Chocolate milk, juice, and marketing untruths

 

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After I wrote about how sugar’s not inherently evil on Monday, I’d now like to take exception (again) to the marketing of chocolate milk as a healthy beverage choice.

As I’ve mentioned before, just because there’s nothing wrong with having some sugar in our diets, that doesn’t mean we can’t have too much. Just because sugar’s not bad for you doesn’t mean it’s good either and it certainly doesn’t mean that most of us couldn’t stand to cut back on it a bit.

So… My best friend sent me the above photo (taken from a Dairy Farmers of Canada booklet) last week. It’s a great example of the food industry twisting the facts. Sure, a glass of chocolate milk has the same amount of sugar as a glass of apple juice. That doesn’t lead to the conclusion that chocolate milk is a nutritious choice. Both beverages have 24 grams of sugar per cup. That’s 6 teaspoons of sugar! That’s a lot of sugar in something that’s not going to fill you up. The conclusion should really be that neither chocolate milk nor apple juice is a healthy choice. Both are liquid candy, with a few added nutrients, and should be treated as treats.

I also would like to add my annoyance at the chocolate milk sponsored half marathon I ran on Sunday. The only beverages I could find at the end of the race were chocolate milk, juice, and coffee. Now, if anyone deserves chocolate milk, it’s probably someone who just finished a long run. However, sweetness doesn’t appeal to me after a race and all I wanted was a drink of water. I ended up settling for a cup of black coffee until I got home. As we were exiting the finish area, someone on the sound system was extolling the benefits of chocolate milk as the ultimate post-race rehydrator. Actually, no. If you missed it before, here are my thoughts on that. I get that the race needs sponsors, and I don’t mind there being chocolate milk available. However, I don’t think that it should necessitate the exclusion of water.


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Let’s Clear It Up makes one thing about the beverage industry clear

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One of the joys of blogging is getting unsolicited requests from PR people telling me what to write about. Some of them are pretty random, like the one I got about promoting the new album from a former reality show contestant, the tenuous connection to my blog? That the singer is committed to living a healthy lifestyle. Ha. Some of the requests are interesting and worth writing about (like the Beyond Milk and Cookies project I wrote about a few weeks ago). And then there are the slightly scary ones.

Those would be the ones from groups such as the American Beverage Association. The message I received urged me to “keep the facts in mind” and proceeded to disparage a new study that purportedly found that “postmenopausal women who sip diet soda are more likely to experience heart attacks and stroke“. Unfortunately, the research has yet to be published so I can’t comment on it directly. However, I think it’s pretty telling that the ABA feels sufficiently threaten by the research that they’re emailing bloggers such as myself (who, if they’d done any reading at all would have seen that I’m generally critical of the food industry) asking us to be critical of such research.

The email included a link to the ABA’s “educational” website “Let’s Clear It Up” which states:

Soda is a hot topic. And the conversation is full of opinions and myths, but not enough facts. America’s beverage companies created this site to clear a few things up about the products we make. So read on. Learn. And share the clarity.

The website presents “myths” and “facts” on topics such as artificial sweeteners, marketing, and caffeine, among many others. Unfortunately, it would take me far too long to comment on each “myth” and “fact”. So I’d just like to make a couple of fairly general comments. The first is in regard to marketing. The ABA claims that soft drinks and energy drinks are not marketed to children. Soft drinks not to audiences younger than 12 years of age, and energy drinks not to those in grade school. Are you kidding me?! Energy drinks sponsoring extreme sports isn’t marketing to teens? Putting cute little polar bears in your commercials isn’t targeting children?? I know that the pledge to stop marketing to children was just last year but I don’t think all that much has changed since Yale reported on broken industry marketing promises in 2011. The second is that many of these “facts” are misleading and while not being outright lies are twisted truths. Take hydration for example. Just because the 8-glasses-a-day has been busted and because other sources of fluid can contribute to hydration does not make pop a good choice for hydration. Sigh.

“Let’s Clear It Up” is a desperate attempt by the ABA to convince the public that their unhealthy beverages are healthy. The only thing made clear by the site is that the industry is running scared.


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What is a “superfood”?

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superfood is a marketing term intended to convince you to part with more money for food products. Yes, some of the superfoods are affordable; think kale. But many of them are not; think chia, acai, spirulina, hemp hearts. There is nothing wrong with these so-called superfoods, if you can afford them and like them then munch away. However, I know that many of these things aren’t in my regular grocery budget. What’s a poor girl/guy to do if they want to be healthy but they can’t afford all of these superfoods?

Just because they don’t have the marketing budget behind them doesn’t mean that loads of ordinary vegetables and fruits aren’t “super” in their own right. Carrots are loaded with vitamin A, and are also a good source of potassium, and fibre, as well as containing folate, vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium, and other vitamins and minerals. Apples are a good source of fibre, as well as containing vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, and phytosterols. Corn is a good source of protein, fibre, and contains a number of B vitamins, magnesium, and potassium. In fact, any vegetable or fruit is going to provide you with nutrients. The greater the variety you eat, the more nutrients you’ll get. There’s no need to worry if you can’t afford the superfoods all fruits and vegetables are super in their own ways.