bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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How important are the enzymes in your food?

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This headline: Cancer fighting with food caught my eye. As did the preview in my Google alert:

Eat as much raw food as you can, because anything you cook over 116 degrees is devoid of enzymes, which are necessary for breaking downfood so …

Reading through the article I realised that there was a lot more that I could address. However, I don’t feel like spending hours writing a super long post so I’m only going to address the initial statement that caught my eye.

There are pros and cons to both raw and cooked food. I’d like to think that it goes without saying that cooking meat (eggs, fish) and heating milk (aka pasteurization) is important for food safety, but it’s never wise to make assumptions. Yes, cooking can destroy certain nutrients, vitamin C is notoriously easily destroyed by cooking (1). However, the article’s not talking about vitamins here, it’s talking about enzymes.

The statement is a little puzzling to me. The enzymes contained in foods are not the same as our digestive enzymes. No matter the method of preparing food, most healthy people will release digestive enzymes to aid in the breakdown of food into particles small enough for absorption. These enzymes include amylases to breakdown starches, lipases to breakdown fats, and proteases to breakdown proteins. Yes, some foods such as papaya and pineapple contain the enzymes papain and bromelain, respectively, which both breakdown proteins. Protip: this is why your chicken stored with pineapple salsa will be mush when you reheat it. Aside from that, the enzymes in plant foods are proteins used in plant processes, not in our digestive processes.

There may be some benefits to consuming plant-based enzymes but there is currently no evidence to support a raw food diet for optimal nutrition and there is certainly no reason to expect that the enzymes in foods will aid with your digestion of them. In addition, it’s well-known that cooking can actually increase the bioavailability of certain nutrients. Cooking tomatoes makes lycopene (a carotenoid that may provide a number of health benefits, not least of which, reducing risk of prostate cancer) more available to us. Cooking spinach and other leafy greens makes the lutein (an antioxidant important for eyesight) in them more available for us to absorb.

The key here, as always, is variety. There are pros and cons to both raw and cooked vegetables eating an assortment of both is ideal.

Let’s also not forget that enjoyment is important as well. Eating is not just about obtaining nutrients. It’s also a pleasurable activity. I prefer raw carrots but cooked mushrooms. It’s far better to consume a vegetable in a manner you enjoy it than to not consume it at all.


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Meet the happy couple: Domino’s and Dairy Farmers of Canada

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Domino’s and Dairy Farmers of Canada were the happy new couple yesterday. Domino’s proudly proclaimed their new commitment to use only 100% Canadian cheese on their pizzas. Dairy Farmers of Canada was overjoyed by the marriage. We can only speculate that DFC came with a hefty dowry.

Obviously this is a win-win. Domino’s gets to look good for using only “local” cheese. Hush now, don’t question the fact that Canada is a HUGE country and “local” doesn’t quite encompass all of its cheese products. And don’t even bother to question the fact that Domino’s (an American chain) is hardly a local business. Dairy Farmers of Canada gets the certainty that at least one pizza chain will use only Canadian cheese on their Canadian pizzas. Of course, Domino’s made the same commitment to the US Dairy Association several years ago. Not to mention the publicity that both parties get out of this partnership.

Those more skeptical among us might question the motives behind this union. Although the details are not readily available, I can’t help but to speculate that this relationship is similar to that in the US. For those who haven’t read the second link above, the USDA bailed out a floundering Domino’s in return for promised use of more of their cheese, and only their cheese.

Dairy Farmers of Canada, you know that you don’t have to marry the first corporation that wants to get in bed with you, right? You could have done so much better than this. You could have committed to an initiative that would have garnered positive publicity such as working with schools or food banks to provide milk or yoghurt to those in need. You could have chosen a more nutritious product to attach your name to. Yes, good pizza is delicious but Domino’s is far from good and putting more cheese on it isn’t going to hide that fact (nor, let’s face it, is it going to make it any more nutritious). At the very least you could have joined forces with a Canadian company to promote your Canadian cheese. You know that Domino’s only wants you for your money, right?


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Don’t blame Bittman, family meals are important

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I heard a piece on the CBC recently that rubbed me the wrong way. Then my friend sent me a link to this interview with the author of the study being discussed on the CBC. The study looked at the alleged negative effect that proponents of home-cooked meals (such as Mark Bittman, Jamie Oliver, and other celebrity chefs) have on over-worked mums. This bothered me for a number of reasons.

First of all, it’s not just out-of-touch celebrity chefs advocating for eating home-cooked meals together as a family most evenings. Most dietitians are on-board and probably quite a few other health professions. There are so many good reasons to eat together as a family: home-cooked meals tend to be healthier than restaurant, fast food, take-away, and packaged meals; there is also the important social aspect involved with sitting down and sharing a meal with others; also, if you’re sitting eating at a table you’re less likely to overeat and mindlessly eat than you are if you’re eating in front of the tv or in the car.

Apparently these celebrity chefs are making working mums feel badly because they don’t have the time (and sometimes the money) to prepare elaborate home-cooked meals for their families every night. I get it, we’re all busy but home-cooked meals need not take exorbitant quantities of time or money to prepare. We also need to get our priorities straight. Cooking meals should not be taking time away from quality family time. Cooking meals should be quality family time. Kids can help in the kitchen from quite a young age and can become increasingly involved as they get older. Bonus: children are more likely to eat and enjoy food that they had a hand in preparing. Also, what’s with the burden being placed on mums? I know that the bulk of housework and cooking often falls on women (sorry, not sorry anti-feminists). Men, get in the kitchen! Everyone in the family can be involved in cooking.

Finally, just because a home-cooked family meal seven nights a week might be an unattainable goal, doesn’t mean that we should just throw in the kitchen towel and order a pizza. It’s like the watered down physical activity guidelines that were created because most people won’t meet the minimums that we should truly be meeting. Or dumbing down the grade school curriculum because children might not be able to achieve the desired outcomes. This lowering of the bar is doing us a disservice as a society. Maybe nightly home-cooked meals are not realistic immediate goals. Set a smaller goal to start but keep that end goal in sight. A home-cooked meal doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s okay to have grilled cheese and tomato soup. Planning ahead and prepping ingredients in advance can make nightly family meals achievable. There is no problem with home-cooked meals. There is a problem with our society that doesn’t value home-cooked meals.


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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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Why I write

A month ago (eep!) fellow dietitian and blogger Gemma Critchley asked me to participate in a little Why I Write challenge. Gemma shares great nutrition info, recipes, and product reviews on her blog Dietitian Without Borders. She’s very thoughtful in her blog posts and takes the time to carefully review available research when it’s relevant to her topic. You can read her story about why she writes here. You might also want to follow her on twitter: @dietnoborders.

My Story

I took a bit of a long and winding road to dietetics. After high school I went straight to university and completed an honours degree in psychology. I loved it. I knew that there was no way I was going to get a job with a BA in psych so after a somewhat torturous year working in tourism retail I decided to apply to grad school. Unfortunately, due in part to my obscure choice of research interest (I wanted to combine psych and philosophy and look at the development of “self” – deep, right?) and in part to my absent honours thesis supervisor deciding that he couldn’t write me a letter of reference (due to the fact that he was absent during my thesis – grr) I didn’t get into grad school.

After my dream of a career in psychology fizzled, I decided to go back to school for graphic design. I didn’t like it though. Art school is tedious, lots of repetitive drawings of potatoes (don’t ask), I wasn’t learning what I wanted to learn, and I wasn’t confident enough in my ability to generate good ideas. I dropped out and went backpacking across Europe for a few months. It was an amazing experience but I have no desire to ever stay in a hostel again.

Following the backpacking trip I got a job. Worked. Got another job. Worked. I was frustrated and felt like I needed to do more with my life. I figured that people could use some help figuring out how to eat healthy and I loved cooking and fitness so I decided to go back to school again for nutrition. This was when I was 28. I worked through my entire degree and my internships. Internships don’t pay. Don’t even get me started about that.

During my final internship placement I had a phone interview for a position working as a public health dietitian in Belleville, Ontario. I was offered the position. Permanent. Full-time. Pretty much the dream. Packed-up my cats and drove to Belleville.

Despite having a great job, I still wasn’t happy. I didn’t like Belleville and spent most of my time running through a rotation of work, gym, hide in apartment… After less than two years I decided to move home without a job lined-up. I thought I was going to work with a fellow nutrition grad at his private practice. Unfortunately, many health plans don’t cover RD services and most people don’t want to pay for dietetic services so that plan didn’t pan out.

After time working for a temp agency in administrative positions, a brief stint working in weight management in Ottawa, and more temping, I finally landed a job working in nutrition (sort-of).

How It All Began

I started my blog back in 2011 when I was working in public health. I came to work one day ranting to my dietitian colleagues about an advertising insert for Nutella that had come in my Chatelaine magazine. I was ranting because they had a dietitian supporting their spread as part of a nutritious breakfast. Ridiculous, right? Then I saw Yoni Freedhoff ranting about the same issue on his blog Weighty Matters. I was like, hey, I’m always ranting about this sort of thing, I should start a blog!

I started Bite My Words as a place for me to vent about nutrition misinformation. Things that I read in the media or heard people say. Even if nobody read it, I wanted to combat these myths and lies and a blog seemed like a better way to do it than ranting to other dietitians (not that I stopped ranting, mind you).

It took a long time to build-up a solid readership. I’m pretty sure that there were days early on when the only hits on my blog were my mum and a couple of my friends. Seriously, I think only three people read my post about cabbage. Some of my content was great, some wasn’t. My writing style wasn’t ideal. If you go back, you’ll see that pretty much every post was one paragraph. I like to think that I’ve improved over time and that I’m continuing to improve.

How I Write

Initially, I would write a post every day and then post it immediately. Eventually, I learned the beauty of scheduling posts so that I could write them when I had time and then have them go live at the same time each day. I was still writing pretty much every evening though, having posts go live at 9am the following day. Now I try to work a bit farther in advance. Sometimes I’ll have a couple of weeks posts scheduled. Sometimes I’ll be frantically searching for inspiration the evening before. I don’t post every day anymore either. My work days are much longer than they were in Belleville and I have other things to do besides write every evening. I still post three times a week. I think that it’s important to post regularly to keep your audience (yes, you!) entertained.

I come up with topics through a number of ways. I get daily alerts and digests of nutrition and food news in my email. I follow others who are interested in nutrition on twitter, as well as quacks people like Dr Oz who are always great for blog fodder. I also read nutrition magazines, Chatelaine, books, and recent nutrition journal articles. I can be inspired by a conversation or a friend might email me something that they think will interest me. Usually it’s pretty easy to come by something that fires me up. Sometimes though, it’s a struggle.

What Keeps Me Going

For me, blogging is like exercising. I feel so much better after I do it and I know that I’ll feel crappy if I don’t. Also, my current job doesn’t afford me as much opportunity to use my brain as I’d like. Writing blog posts allows me to feel like I’m contributing to my field, helping people, and learning about the latest nutrition research and trends. In addition, positive (and even negative) feedback keep me going. When people tell me that they read my blog it’s just a really nice feeling. When I see someone land on my blog after searching for some crazy diet or scam product I like to think that I may have saved someone’s health and money.

What’s Next

For the foreseeable future I plan to keep blogging. I’m toying with other opportunities such as freelancing and entrepreneurship. Stay tuned :)

I’m now supposed to nominate three fellow bloggers to share their stories. However, I did one of those chain-blogging-type things before and I don’t think that anyone took me up on it. So, if you’re a reader of my blog and want to get in on the “why I write” action please, go ahead, I’d love to read your story. Share your link in the comments.