bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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

A friend recently shared this tweet with me:

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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.


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Sexifying food

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Apparently the hot new trend at the grocery stores is gender-specific food. *insert massive eye roll here*

There are breads specifically formulated for marketed to men and women. Trail mixes. Cereals. Snack bars. Who knows what they’ll come up with next. At least, unlike many personal care products, the versions for women don’t appear to be more costly than the versions for men.

The nutritionist quoted in the CBC article raises an interesting point that I hadn’t thought of, that people might treat these foods as supplements. It’s kind of a weird notion because we dietitians are usually encouraging people to get their nutrients from food and only using supplements when nutrient needs cannot be met by food alone. To suggest that it’s concerning that people might be using food to obtain their nutrients is pretty much the reverse of what we advise. However, when they’re making claims regarding specific nutrients I can see how it might be an issue. Consuming a bread with calcium, for example, is not going to meet your calcium needs.

I wanted to compare the bread for women to the bread for men. However, these products from Stonemill Bakehouse are now defunct. All I can find are front-of-package images. The women’s wellbeing bread contains hemp and quinoa and claims to contain calcium and vitamin D. The men’s wellbeing bread contains barley and rye and claims to be high in protein and fibre. Of course, there’s nothing that makes hemp and quinoa better for women than for men, just as there’s nothing that makes barley and rye better suited to men than to women. Stonemill removed the gender-specific labelling on these breads as a result of customer backlash (go customers!). Supposedly they had customer welfare in mind when they developed these breads. I can’t help but think that money might have been a factor as well. You know, the husband needs one loaf of bread and the wife needs another. There’s two loaves of bread sold, as opposed to one. They are still selling the breads but with new labelling and amongst the wellbeing breads on their website I can’t tell which ones are the made-over sex breads.

While some micronutrient needs vary between men and women, needs between individuals of the same sex are are likely to vary more. Gender or sex specific foods are more about marketing than meeting nutrient needs. Don’t buy into the hype.


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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.