bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Should moderation have a place on your plate?

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I found myself getting annoyed by this article as I was reading it. While I agree that “moderation” is not the best term to use when referring to eating habits, I don’t agree with the way that this article characterized it.

According to the article, “moderation” should be done away with because there are some foods that we should eat lots of and other foods that we should avoid. I’m more inclined to think that we should do away with “moderation” because it’s not clearly defined in terms of a balanced diet. I see nothing wrong with the sentiment that all foods can be a part of a healthy diet. However, instead of “moderation” we should probably be talking about “every day” foods and “sometimes” foods.

As the article states, we should be eating plenty of vegetables and fruits. Few would dispute that. Where the article and I disagree is about the inclusion of “sugary treats” in a healthy diet. The article states that “none” is better than “moderate” amounts. Well, sure if you’re treating all foods equally in terms of “moderation”. Of course you shouldn’t consume equal quantities of doughnuts and brussels sprouts. I don’t think that doughnuts (or whatever sweet treat it is that you enjoy) have to be entirely eliminated from your diet in order to be healthy. What good is a healthy diet if you’re miserable and hate it? If you’re happy never eating doughnuts, that’s cool. I’m happy for you. Most of us aren’t.

The main study cited to support Ludwig’s argument against moderation is not as cut and dry as he’d have us believe. Ludwig wants us to think that the study was stopped short because those in the control diet (who were advised to eat a low-fat diet) were at greater risk of death than those in the experimental groups (i.e. one assigned to a Mediterranean diet high in extra-virgin olive oil and one assigned to a Mediterranean diet high in nuts). The study was actually concluded early because the researchers had sufficient data to draw conclusions. Continuing it would be unnecessary for their purposes but it wasn’t putting participants lives at risk. Indeed, there was no significant difference in mortality between the groups. Although there was slightly greater risk of stroke among the control group.

This study has been highly criticized for a number of reasons. One reason being that the diets followed by each group weren’t actually all that different from each other; the low-fat control group didn’t actually consume a low-fat diet. However, the Mediterranean groups were given regular counselling sessions while the control group was not. It’s possible that this counselling alone could have accounted for the slightly lower stroke risk in the experimental groups in comparison to the control group. The study allegedly only included participants at high-risk of cardiovascular disease. As no difference in mortality was seen between the groups what are the chances that following any of these diet conditions would improve health outcomes for the general population?

Besides the study mentioned by Ludwig, the article mentions a few other studies which I don’t feel it’s quite as worthwhile to examine closely. Primarily because they’re like “duh Captain Obvious”. Although it’s quite possible that their designs were also not great, as we so often see with nutrition research. Anyway… They tells us of a study that found that people who eat a high variety of sweets and condiments but a low variety of vegetables “made people fatter”. Another study found that eating “plenty” of vegetables lowered the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.

The conclusion of the article:

The takeaway? The quality of the foods you’re eating matters more than the relative quantity. In other words, what you eat matters – not just its amount.

It’s probably time to stop saying, “everything is OK in moderation.” Some things just aren’t.

My conclusion: eat plenty of vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and fruit. These foods should be the foundation of any healthy diet. However, there are other foods that we eat for pleasure like pastries, chocolates, and potato chips. You don’t have to eliminate these foods from your diet to be healthy. Treat them as treats. The occasional cookie won’t kill you.


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Hollywood juice bar owner’s diet analyzed

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Photo of Green Juice by Marten Persson on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

In case you missed it last week, the Internets got their collective panties in a twist about this article sharing a typical day of food for the founder of Moon Juice.

Moon Juice, for those such as myself who are not in the know, is ostensibly the most popular juice bar in LA.

Pardon me for not being surprised that her diet includes ridiculous things that I’ve never heard of before and am not entirely convinced are actually food. Things like Brain Dust and quinton shots. Ugh.

People immediately began decrying her diet. Just for fun, I decided to do a completely unscientific analysis of the nutrient content of her food to see just how her food stacks up when compared to a diet of recognizable food items. I used the nutritional info listed for the products on the Moon Juice website where I could. For everything else I just googled for nutrition information. I only looked at macronutrients, so it remains to be told how nutritious her diet is in terms of micronutrients.

Breakfast: 307 kcal, 13g CHO, 17.5g fat, 27g protein, 7g fibre, 3g sugar

Snack: 284 kcal, 31.1g CHO, 12g fat, 2.5g fibre, 8g sugar, 9g protein

Lunch: 265 kcal, 20g fat, 10.7g CHO, 4g fibre, 5.9g sugar, 6.3g protein

Snack: 353 kcal, 36.9g CHO, 8.5g fibre, 21.7g sugar, 22.5g fat, 7g protein

Snack: 280 kcal, 30g CHO, 6g fibre, 6g sugar, 4g fat, 26g protein

Supper: 50 kcal, 9g CHO, 0.5g fibre, 0.7g sugar, 0.6g fat, 5g protein – Potentially an entire day’s worth of sodium in this meal alone!

Snack: (Nutrition info for Heart Tonic is unknown, estimating the nutrient values for the chocolate based on single servings of all the ingredients mentioned) 174 kcal, 5g CHO, 3g fibre, 4.5g fat, 21g protein – I find it hard to believe that this chocolate is remotely palatable without any added sugar but maybe that’s just me.

Totals for the day: 1713 kcal, 135.7g CHO, 81.1g fat, 101.3g protein, 31.5g fibre, 45.3g sugar

I must confess, I’m a little disappointed that her diet didn’t show any glaring imbalances. Overall, it’s maybe a little low in carbs, and a little high in protein and fat and sugar. But essentially, it’s actually fairly well balanced.

I would be a little concerned about calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 consumption for someone following this diet. Also, the sodium is quite high. Not knowing her energy requirements it’s hard to say whether or not 1700 kcal is adequate. That would depend on her height, weight, level of activity, and resting metabolic rate.

Even though this diet is not horribly balanced I still wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. Why? Well, variety is very important in a balanced diet. Based on the fact that she seems to eat essentially the same things every day she’s quite likely not getting all of the micronutrients that she needs. She may also be getting excessive amounts of others through her supplements.

Speaking of the supplements, there’s quite a few ingredients in there that are questionable at best. I don’t think that anyone can say with any degree of certainty that they’re safe to consume on a regular basis. Although one can say with a fair degree of certainty that they won’t live up to the claims. They’re definitely not worth the hefty price tags. Although if you’re willing to spend $55 for a 25 serving jar of Brain Dust then you probably need all the help you can get maintaining “healthy systems for superior states of cognitive flow”.

 

 


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Follow Friday:10 checks of a healthy weight management program

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I haven’t done a Follow Friday post in a while so when I came across this checklist I knew that I had to share it with you. It’s one of the many great resources available on the Canadian Obesity Network website.

I hope that some of the people who keep landing on my old post about Ideal Protein will come across this and have pause for thought.

Note that all of the boxes should be checked and that you should consult with a healthcare professional before beginning any weight loss program.


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Gratuitous gluten destruction on The Bachelor

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Who else watches The Bachelor? I’m not ashamed to admit (okay, I’m totally ashamed to admit that I do). It’s a guilty pleasure. Unlike bread which is a pleasure without guilt. Which brings me to the short-lived contestant Breanne.

When I saw this girl walking up to Ben with a basket of bread I thought “ooh, maybe this one’s a baker”. Sadly, no. She proceeded to tell him that gluten is Satan and she brought the bread for the express purpose of them smashing it on some rocks together!! My horrified boyfriend couldn’t have put it better. He groaned, “THAT WAS PERFECTLY GOOD BAGUETTE”.

Does this mean that gluten-free has finally jumped the shark? It’s got to, doesn’t it? For someone to use the destruction of bread as an intro on The Bachelor it’s got to be near an end. Kudos to Ben for not keeping her around. Honestly, if I was him I would have just sent her packing then and there. I would not tolerate the gratuitous abuse of gluten by a would-be suitor.

I would also like to take this moment to remind you that a “nutritional therapist” is not a registered dietitian. Pretty much any hack with a hate for gluten and a love for kale (sorry kale, you know I love you too) can call themselves a nutritional therapist. Unlike RDs, they are not accountable to any governing body. That means that there is no recourse for members of the public who are fed incorrect information by these “therapists”. They do not have to complete a university degree, nor an accredited internship programme, nor a national exam, nor provide evidence of on-going learning.

Naturally, I had to take a little peek at Breanne’s website. Her “about” page is pretty revealing. She suffered from unnamed digestive issues and vitiligo and somehow cured herself through diet. While her website fails to make it clear, vitiligo is not related to digestive problems. It’s a loss of pigment in the skin. While in some rare occasions the pigment may return, it’s highly uncommon and almost certainly unrelated to diet.

Digestive “issues” on the other hand, can quite often be managed by diet, although not usually cured completely. Not knowing what these mysterious digestive issues were I can’t provide much further comment on her self-treatment. All I can say is that different things work for different people and experiencing an ailment doesn’t make a person competent to treat others with similar ailments.

Most telling, is what’s absent from Breanne’s website and that’s mention of her credentials. There’s nothing about where she received her education. If you’re looking for a credible nutrition professional, that’s something that you need to ask for. Make sure that you’re getting advice from someone who’s qualified to provide it. Dietitians aren’t registered for our benefit, we’re registered for the benefit of the public. Our regulatory bodies exist to protect the public and work to ensure that we’re competent to provide the best evidence-based advice possible.


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Is slow chewing a way to prevent obesity or foster disordered eating?

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Image by Meliblair on Visually

A few weeks ago results of a study reportedly showing that chewing food slowly might prevent excessive weight gain in children hit the news. While it’s not exactly news that practicing mindful eating is healthy and can help with weight management I still had to check out the original research.

According to the authors: “The study’s goal was to test the feasibility of reducing body weight by teaching how to eat at a controlled pace and stop eating at satiety”. They did this by recruiting children and adolescents (between the ages of 6-17 years) through an open invitation to parents of children at a school in Mexico. 54 children were placed in the study group while 36 were in the control group.

There was no weight criteria for participation in the study and parents were advised that the study was not intended to alter diet or meal size.

All participants were given an hourglass to time their bites (30 seconds per bite) – it’s unclear whether or not this means that the control group was given an hourglass. They, and their parents, were also given a guide on how to follow the program,

appropriate weight by age, main causes of obesity or dyslipidaemia in children and adolescents, complications of obesity such as diabetes and which foods are recommended and not recommended for healthy growth. Instruction also promotes eating a home-cooked meal at the table.

Additional instructions to participants included:

eat slowly, using the hourglass as a guideline; drink water before starting to eat (possibly avoiding sugary drinks); do not talk and eat at the same time; no repeated portions; no overfilling; no eating or snacking between meals; and no eating off the table. The control group did not receive any instructions.

Children who stuck to the programme at least 50% of the time each week were referred to as the “adhering group” (16 at baseline and 14 after a year) for analysis. Students who didn’t stick with it at least half the time were referred to as the “non-adhering group” (26 at baseline and 20 after a year).

The average weight and BMI of the children in the adhering group decreased over the 12-months of the study while both measures increased in the non-adhering group. Weight of the control group increased, however BMI decreased. Somehow this was interpreted to mean that counselling children to chew each bite for 20 seconds can prevent obesity.

Here’s where my concerns come into play. I found it interesting that the average height of the non-adhering participants actually decreased during the first six months. This suggests to me that the sample sizes are far too small to provide any meaningful reliable data. These are growing children and can’t shrink. If the average height was shown to decrease during the study this means that the average weight and BMI results could also be easily affected by the attrition of just one or two participants. That is, we can’t say with any degree of certainty whether or not the weight reduction seen was a result of the intervention or just a lucky coincidence.

I’m also not so sure that it’s positive for us to see a weight reduction among these participants anyway. These were not obese or even overweight children. The average BMI of the children in the adhering group was 23.7 to begin with. This is perfectly healthy. Yes, we want to look into measures to prevent obesity but I don’t think that we can say that weight loss among a group of healthy weight children is prevention of obesity. The non-adhering group and the control group were already at lower BMIs to begin with (20.5 and 21.5, respectively). Despite both of these groups gaining weight, they were still at healthy BMIs after a year (21.3 and 20.3). Interesting that the non-adhering group fared “worse” than the control group. While likely not statistically significant, this does bring me to my greatest concern about this research.

Rather than teaching children healthy relationships with food, I fear that studies such as this only serve to promote disordered eating among children. Sure, family meals are great, as is mindful eating. However, timing each bite and scaring children with the consequences of obesity, labelling foods as “good” and “bad” does not foster a healthy relationship with food. While I’m sure that the researchers meant well, I truly hope that we don’t see this study expanded and replicated as the authors are aiming to do.