bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Is skim milk healthier than whole milk?

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Last week Fooducate published a blog post answering (?) the question: Which is healthier for me: Skim or whole milk? Their response boiled down to “it depends”, can you afford the extra calories in whole milk or not? Which is certainly a part of the answer, but definitely not the whole (pardon the pun, you know I can’t resist) answer. So, what is the answer? Sadly, I don’t have the answer either, but I can give you a little bit more information than Fooducate did so that you can decide for yourself.

Fooducate mentions that lower fat milk options often have more sugar. This is not the case. Skim milk and whole milk both contain roughly 12 grams of sugar per cup (1, 2). When you get into chocolate milk and all of those bizarrely flavoured milks like Crispy Crunch or banana, yes, those will have more sugar than plain old white milk. This is the case regardless of fat content; it just so happens that most commercially available flavoured milks are low fat or skim. It can safely be said that white milk is better for you than chocolate. I’m not saying that you can’t ever have chocolate milk, it shouldn’t be considered a healthy dietary staple though. Treat chocolate milk like a liquid chocolate bar.

Fooducate focussed on macronutrients: fat, protein, and carbohydrate. What they fail to look at is micronutrients. When comparing fortified skim and whole milk they are very similar on the vitamin and mineral front. The difference lies in the bioavailability of these nutrients. Fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) need fat for your body to absorb them. If you’re having a glass of milk with a meal that contains another source of fat, awesome, you’ll get those vitamins. However, if you’re eating a bowl of SpecialK for breakfast topped with skim milk then you’re not going to be getting as many nutrients out of that milk (or that fortified cereal) as you would if you used whole or 2% milk. Just because the nutrients are on the label doesn’t mean your body’s able to utilize them.

I’m not saying that everyone should go whole hog and drink milk. Heck, you don’t even need milk to have a healthy diet. The type of milk you should consume really depends on your personal preference, what else you’re consuming milk with, your overall diet, and your personal goals.


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Got lactose intolerance? More dairy is the answer! (The role of industry in education)

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Last week I participated in a webinar about “dairy’s role in lactose intolerance”. It was presented by Today’s Dietitian and sponsored by Danone. This is a shining example of why industry should not have a place at the table in nutrition education and policy.

The first part of the presentation was fine. It was a review of lactose intolerance prevalence, methods of diagnosing lactose intolerance, symptoms, and so on. Of course, the importance of dairy products in a nutritious diet was impressed upon us. This, despite the fact that they aren’t truly necessary. Yes, dairy can be an easy source of protein, calcium, B12, and vitamin D (this because it’s added, not naturally occurring in dairy) but it’s still possible to obtain these nutrients from other foods.

The second part was where I started to get really annoyed. I should have expected it. It was a webinar developed by dietitians working for Danone but the blatant bias still irritated me. It was discussed how much lactose could be tolerated by those who are lactose intolerant (apparently about 12 grams in a sitting). Recommendations by the NMA (National Medical Association) apparently state that even those suffering from lactose intolerance should still aim to consume three servings of dairy products each day. Their recommendations include: gradually increasing exposure to lactose-containing foods, including low-lactose dairy products such as yoghurt and lactose-free milk, and using lactase enzyme supplements. No suggestion of alternative sources of the nutrients that are available in dairy products. Nope.

I think my favourite slide was the one listing a number of milk alternatives; such as, almond, coconut, soy, and rice “milks”. Descriptions that make them all sounds ever so appealing were used. Soy milk “Off-white/yellowish color”, rice milk “watery texture”. No mention of the nutritional aspects of the milk alternatives. Funny, as in at least one aspect, they are inferior, they all contain significantly less protein than cow’s milk. I think that presenting the nutrition information would have been much more informative than presenting subjective descriptions. I’m of the mind that it’s much better to let people make up their own minds as to whether or not they like a food and I’m pretty disappointed that a presentation by a fellow dietitian would disparage foods based on their own subjective opinion.

Finally, there’s part three of the presentation “lactose-intolerant friendly dishes”. Every single one of these dishes contain dairy. Good grief. My personal fave, “cheesy guacamole” containing both cottage cheese and cheddar cheese. Um… Since when does guacamole contain cheese??? Why on earth would suggested recipes for lactose-intolerant individuals take a naturally lactose-free dish and add lactose? And this is why many people don’t take dietitians seriously. Sigh.


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No big fat surprise that butter is being touted as the next Superfood

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Why, oh why must we take everything to the extreme? Is it because simple healthy eating is boring? We have to have “clean eating”, “superfoods”, “low-fat”, “low-carb”, “cleanses”, “high-protein”, yada yada. The latest mantra to irk me “slather on the butter”. I know, I know, I said it first “real dietitians eat butter”. But this doesn’t mean that we have to eat it to excess. What am I on about now? An article in the Daily Mail that I came across on the weekend: Can eating fatty meat, whole milk and lashings of butter help you LOSE weight?

Okay, most of us in the nutrition world have accepted that low-fat was a grievous error. Taking anything to the extreme is a nutritional error. Just because something is not “bad” for you, or even good for you, doesn’t mean that you should consume more of it. The logic seems to go: apples are delicious and nutritious; therefore, an entire bag of them must be even better. In this case, we’re not even referring to foods that we know to be healthy when consumed regularly. We’re referring to foods that were unfairly demonized but have not been shown to lead to good health when consumed daily.

Perhaps, the article in the Daily Mail does not accurately portray Nina Teicholz’s book The Big Fat Surprise. I haven’t read the book, so I can only comment on the news article. Encouraging people to eat more cream, high-fat red meat, butter, and other foods high in saturated fat is not the solution to the obesity epidemic that the Daily Mail would have you believe. Yes, you can lose weight eating anything; remember the Twinkie Doctor? This doesn’t mean that you’re healthier (especially in the long-term).

Apparently Teicholz claims that removing the fat from milk means adding more carbohydrates. No. When you remove fat, you are not adding anything. Yes, an equivalent quantity of skim milk will be higher in carbohydrate (not sugar though) than whole milk. That’s simply a result of what’s left behind when you remove the fat. It’s also higher in protein, minerals, and vitamins. We wrongly vilified saturated fat, let’s blame carbs.

Health and the battle against obesity should not be a nutrient blame-game. How about we stop demonizing and glorifying foods and nutrients and accept that there is a place for bread and a place for butter in a healthy diet.


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Follow Friday: You’re drinking the wrong kind of milk

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A friend shared this article on twitter last week. While I can’t vouch for the science behind it (any readers able to?), I did find it very interesting. I know a number of people who have mentioned that they have “lactose intolerance” here, in North America, but when they travel overseas to places like France they have no trouble digesting any dairy products. I wonder if this could also help to explain the people who’ve told me that the local East Coast Organic milk is the only kind they can tolerate. Perhaps it has less to do with what the cows are eating, and more to do with the breed of cow. Something to chew on.


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Is organic milk really better than conventional milk?

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Last week it was all over the news that organic milk is nutritionally superior to conventional milk. Don’t you just hate that non-organic is commonly known as “conventional”? When did the use of pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, and genetic modification become conventional anyway? I really think that we should have a more nefarious name for it. Anyway… I digress. The purpose of this post is not actually to bash non-organic farming. Nope, not today. Today I want to rant about this study.

First off, who sponsored the research? Oh, just CROPP, only the “nation’s largest and most successful organic farmer cooperative” according to their website. Oh sure, they had no influence over the design and results of the study but do you think it would have been published if it hadn’t found that organic milk was superior to non-organic milk? This is not unbiased research.

And let’s just talk about the finding that organic milk is much better for you than non-organic milk. The newspapers were reporting that organic milk contains significantly more omega-3 fatty acids, and significantly fewer omega-6 fatty acids, than non-organic milk. So, we should all drink more full-fat organic milk to obtain our omega-3s. Now, scientific significance is a funny thing. In this case it showed that there was a bit more than twice as much omega-3 in the organic milk, and about 1/4 as much omega-6. Wow! That’s a HUGE difference! Is it though? When we’re comparing 0.0321 g of omega-3 in organic milk and 0.0198 g in non-organic milk (per 100 g). No, no it’s not. And when we read the small print at the bottom of the graph stating that the results were biased because unreported small values were entered as zero this could make for a comparatively large margin of error. Especially when the researchers reported that they obtained more samples of organic milk than non-organic. This could quite easily have skewed the results to make the values appear lower in the non-organic than in the organic.

As the researchers point out, there was a great deal of seasonal variability in the fat-profile of the organic milk. This indicated that the increased omega-3, and decreased omega-6, was more likely a result of consumption of a grass and forage based diet rather than a grain-based diet. Basically, the miniscule benefit from consuming organic milk is a result of the diet composition, not the fact that it was organic.

I’m a big supporter of organic food and products. However, from a nutritional standpoint, there is little reason to choose organic milk over non-organic. There may, however, be some reason to choose grass-fed dairy products over grain-fed dairy.