bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


4 Comments

Detoxify yourself, for real

hipster-liver

Back to that sage magazine for blogspiration… There’s a two page ad for an “herbal cleanse” entitled: Why do we need to cleanse?

It follows a Q & A format. The first question:

Doesn’t my body cleanse itself?

It’s true that our bodies are meant to naturally cleanse themselves…

If only it could have stopped right there and been like, “and they do!” But, that wouldn’t make them any money. Instead, the ad goes on to say that we’re bombarded with so many “toxic chemicals” which can lead to a “toxic overload”. Clearly, our bodies need help removing those toxins from our bodies <insert eye roll here>.

The thing is, your body does cleanse itself. What do you think your kidneys and liver are up to all day? Of course, your body can’t rid itself of all toxins but a cleanse can’t improve upon what your body’s already doing for free.

The ad goes on to instil a little more fear into all of us…

Every second, 310 kilograms of toxic chemicals are released into our air, land and water by industrial factories worldwide. These wastes enter our body, where they undermine its ability to function effectively, leading to symptoms including: fatigue, headache, gas and bloating, body odour, constipation, skin irritation and rashes, and sleeplessness.

Conveniently, these are all conditions that are extremely common and most of us can probably identify with them. This is how they get people to think “I’m tired! It must be toxins! I’d better do a cleanse!” Never stopping to consider that the reason they’re so tired may be as simple as they don’t go to bed early enough or they get woken up during the night by a crying baby, snoring partner, or obnoxious lovely kitty. Far easier to splash out $16 (or whatever the cost is) on a bottle of herbal cleanse than to improve current habits.

How does this magical cleanse purport to work?

Using cleansing herbs helps counteract this accumulation of toxins and wastes… The following “great eight” herbs are excellent for cleansing: Blessed thistle, Burdock, Kelp, Sheep sorrel, Slippery elm, Turkish rhubarb, Red clover and Watercress

Ignoring the fact that these are not all technically herbs, this is still a load of bullshit. Unless you consider pooping to be cleansing, as many of these plants are known for their laxative properties. Others are known for their diuretic properties. I hate to break it to you, going to the bathroom more frequently doesn’t mean you’re expelling more toxins from your body than you otherwise would.

The really great thing about their product is that you don’t have to adjust your lifestyle at all to reap the benefits.

You’ll often hear people say that they’re doing a cleanse or a detox, and then complaining about the difficult meal plan or extreme food restrictions. Cleansing your body doesn’t have to be a chore or disrupt your daily life. It can be as simple as making it a part of a daily ritual of drinking tea.

That’s right, you don’t have to follow some ridiculous diet to “cleanse” or “detox”. You also don’t have to drink an expensive herbal laxative diuretic tea. Of course, you’ll be healthier and probably feel better if you do just make healthy choices like eating more vegetables, getting exercise, going outside, and getting more sleep.

Instead of buying into cleanses, detoxify your life by removing unnecessary products and ignoring false marketing tactics.

 


4 Comments

Sugar by any other name is still as sweet

Sweet_potatoes,_Padangpanjang

I love sweet potatoes. They’re delicious, versatile, and packed full of nutrients like fibre, potassium, and vitamin A. However, when I came across an article extolling a new line of sweet potato ingredients for their ability to create a “clean ingredient deck” I was a little skeptical.

While the company website doesn’t provide the nutritional breakdown for the sweet potato ingredients they’re touting, I think that it’s safe to say that they’re not going to be far off from similar products already available on the market. As they themselves state, “Sweet potato ingredients can thus be expected to add a “health halo” to any product featuring them”. Has nobody told them that a “health halo” is actually a bad thing. It’s the creation of the appearance of health for food products that aren’t actually all that healthy. I suppose that as long as they’re marketing to food manufacturers that it makes sense to use that sort of language, but when consumers such as myself can see it on their website it becomes less desirable. It’s like saying, “hey, we know you’re dumb and just want to be able to fool yourself into thinking that your sugary snacks are healthy, lol.”

What are the sweet potato ingredients that they’re selling? A number of sweet potato juice concentrates, sweet potato juice, dehydrated sweet potato granules, and sweet potato flour. While I’ll admit to being intrigued by the flour, let’s face it, the others are simply sugar by other names. Sweet potato juice concentrate is unlikely to have a nutrient profile differing significantly from any other syrup on the market, likewise the juice from any other juice, and the granules from any other granular sugar. It truly is a health halo to imply that one form of sugar is healthier than another simply because it’s derived from another source.

I’ll be sticking with my whole sweet potatoes so that I can get all of the nutrients and not just the sugar and a health halo.


6 Comments

Reverse food snobbery: Who has time to cook lasagna after work?

My friend Meaghan shared the above infographic with me last week to see what I thought. I thought that it was worthy of a blog post.

I think that it’s over simplifying a complex issue. How can you possibly put frozen peas in the same category as a packaged frozen lasagna? Frozen peas (and other frozen vegetables) are picked and frozen at their prime, meaning that they’re often more nutritious than their “fresh” counterparts on grocery store shelves. However, as you can see, even with their selection of lasagna, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find a frozen lasagna that’s as healthy and nutritious as one that’s homemade. Who the heck is cooking lasagna as a weekday supper anyhow? Ain’t nobody got time for that! Let’s see some more realistic comparisons of quick and easy homemade suppers.

I’m not sure what the deal is with the packaged stir-fry pictured on the infographic. It appears to be a box but I would think that they’re referring to a frozen stir-fry mix. Sure, if you’re buying the frozen mixed vegetables without a sauce, they’re going to be easy to turn into a healthy stir-fry. However, if they’re already coated in a sauce you’re probably going to get more sodium, sugar, and fat (possibly trans fat) than you would if you made your own sauce.

Minimally processed packaged foods can be a great healthy time saver. However, you can’t equate buying pre-cut vegetables with a frozen tv dinner. As a dietitian, one of the main messages I hope to impart on people is the importance of cooking their own meals. If you’re trying to lose weight or just to be healthier this is probably the best thing you can do for yourself. And sorry, but taking a box out of the freezer and nuking it doesn’t count as cooking. I’d like to see the true cost of the frozen meals they’re pushing if you also factored in the shortened health-spans due to poor nutrition.

There’s also the not so subtle “reverse snobbery” (I’m stealing that one Meaghan) in the post accompanying the infographic. The implication that the average person doesn’t have time to cook and that their time is far too valuable to be spent *gasp* cooking. Yes, we’re all terribly busy, although we do somehow manage to find time to watch Big Brother or binge watch Orange is the New Black. I think that we, as a society, need to re-evaluate our priorities and put cooking right up near the top. The thing is, cooking doesn’t need to be a long torturous laborious process. There are plenty of healthy and delicious meals that you can whip up in less than half an hour after work. If you’re cooking for more than one, you can also enlist the help of other members of the household. You can prep ingredients the night before or batch cook on your days off. You can make extra portions so that you can have your own homemade nutritious frozen dinners ready to grab when you’re short on time. Cooking is not a luxury. It’s a necessity.


5 Comments

A little bit about the Starbucks mini frappuccino

url-2

I have mixed feelings about Starbucks addition of “mini” frappuccinos to their menu. There’s a part of me that’s glad to see it because their “normal” sizes tend to be monstrosities. At least this is offering customers who want a sweet blended icy treat a better option. However, there’s another, more cynical, part of me that hates this limited time promotion.

Really, Starbucks, if you wanted to offer healthier options for your customers then you wouldn’t make them “limited time” offers. You would also maybe try to actually make them healthier rather than just smaller. Because let’s face it, a S’mores Frappuccino isn’t really the healthiest of options at any size. And since when is 10 oz “mini”??! Ten ounces is a perfectly reasonable normal serving size for a beverage. It’s only because of our years of super sizing that we have come to reside in a world in which a ten ounce beverage is miniature. Miniature for Shaq or Sultan Kösen perhaps, but not for the majority of us. This is all just a marketing ploy to get more of us to spend our money on their products and to feel good about doing it.

Okay, so let’s ruin that delicious blended icy treat for you just a little bit more shall we? An average (assuming the grande, i.e. 16 oz is average) Starbucks S’mores Frappuccino packs in a mere 500 calories (approximately what many of us should consume at an average meal), 20 grams of fat, and 68 grams of sugar (that’s about 17 teaspoons of sugar). But the much more reasonably sized “mini” version contains only 230 calories, 9 grams of fat, and 31 grams of sugar (a piddly near 8 teaspoons of sugar). Fine if you’re having it as a treat or a dessert, but don’t be fooled into thinking that the mini frapp is a good or virtuous option or a justification for having a cookie or brownie on your order as well.

While not sweet or blended, I’m partial to the iced latte which, of course, isn’t even listed on their menu board. With just ice, espresso, and milk it’s a far less indulgent treat but it’s cold and caffeinated so it meets all of my criteria.

If you do love the blended sweet beverages, I’ve created a healthier version of the frappuccino:

In advance: freeze strong coffee in ice cube tray(s).

Blend together: coffee ice cubes (about 1/2 tray worth), 1 frozen banana, 1 heaping teaspoon of cocoa powder, 1 tbsp almond butter, 1/2-1 serving of mocha flavour vega one, milk (to consistency). Serves two.

Nutrition (approximate – used 3/4 cup of 1% milk and 1/2 packet of vega one for this analysis):

180 kcal, 7.3 g fat, 3.1 g fibre, 12.3 g sugar (about 3 teaspoons, from banana and milk), and 10.2 g protein.

Let me know what you think if you try it and feel free to share your own healthy iced coffee recipes!


3 Comments

Is 63 grams of liquid sugar the answer to high cholesterol?

A friend recently shared this tweet with me:

FullSizeRender (4)

She had asked the tweeter for more details but hadn’t received a response. My response: “Ugh. No wonder so many people don’t trust us as dietitians”.

Of course, it’s Florida orange juice that imparts these benefits. Because oranges from other locales couldn’t possibly impart the same benefits (<— please note this should be written in the yet to be developed sarcasm font). Even so, is the benefit even all that meaningful? I’d argue no.

While I can’t be certain that the study I found is the one the tweeter was referring to it was the top hit and was sponsored by Tropicana orange juice so it fits the bill. The study looked at a very small group of individuals with elevated cholesterol. There were only 25 participants, 16 healthy men, and 9 post-menopausal women. This means that the results cannot be extended to apply to pre-menopausal women or “unhealthy” individuals. There were additional strict criteria that participants had to meet: 1. have initial fasting plasma triacylglycerol (blood lipid) concentrations in the normal range, 2. be habitual or occasional orange juice drinkers, 3. be free of thyroid disorders, kidney disease, and diabetes, 4. have an alcohol intake of ≤2 drinks/d, 5. not be receiving hormone replacement therapy if female. With such a small sample size of people meeting such precise criteria, no concrete conclusions can be drawn from this study.

However, the researchers still drew conclusions. Namely that three cups of orange juice a day can lower LDL and increase HDL blood levels. They found that HDL levels were increased by 21% and the HDL-LDL ratio was decreased by 16%. That sounds fairly impressive but is it really? Well, no, not really. The average HDL level increased from 1.0 to 1.3. Anything over 1.0 is good anyway so they weren’t all that badly off to begin with. The HDL-LDL ratio really only changed because of the increase in HDL as LDL levels went from an average of 3.6 to 3.5. Not a significant change.

What the study doesn’t tell you is that cholesterol recommendations are only made in relation to risk of cardiovascular disease. If your risk level is low then an LDL of under 5.0 is fine. If your risk is high then an LDL of less than 2.0 is ideal. Risk level is determined by family and medical history. None of these factors were discussed in the current study despite the fact that the cholesterol levels measured are essentially meaningless without being placed in the context of CVD risk.

Can we just go back to that THREE cups of OJ a day again? The researchers found no significant change in cholesterol levels at one or two cups of OJ a day. Only at three cups a day. That’s a considerable amount of orange juice. Considering that a serving size of juice is 1/2 cup and most dietitians recommend no more than one serving per day I find it hard to fathom recommending 6 servings of juice every day for a slight increase in HDL levels. The researchers note that as OJ increased fibre intake decreased. They didn’t mention any other aspects of diet. There was no comparison to consumption of whole oranges, other fruit or vegetable juices, or any other dietary changes. Based on this study alone I would absolutely not advise anyone wishing to improve their blood cholesterol levels to drink 63 grams (more than 15 teaspoons) of liquid sugar daily.