bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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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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DDT and obesity

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You know how I feel about mouse studies. It’s very difficult to create circumstances that accurately mimic real life in the lab. It’s even more difficult to create circumstances using mice that can be assumed to be the same for humans. A recent study reported that perinatal exposure to DDT caused an increase in diabetes and insulin resistance in mice.

It was quite interesting that the only difference between the mice exposed to DDT in the womb, and those not exposed, appeared to be a decrease in body temperature. They ate the same amount of food, exercised the same amount, and yet they gained weight, apparently because of decreased thermogenesis.

What are the implications of this for those of us who are human though? Well, if you live in a country where DDT is not banned as a pesticide, or is used to control malaria, it may be a concern. It may also be a factor in women (apparently the DDT did not have the same effect on male mice as it did on the females) who were exposed to DDT in the womb before DDT was banned (1972 in Canada and the US). However, it does nothing to explain the current rise in obesity rates and rates of type 2 diabetes in North Americans of all ages. Type 2 diabetes rates in children continue to rise. This study does bring more validity to the argument that pesticide exposure may be playing a role in the obesity epidemic. However, DDT is certainly not the culprit in our neck of the woods.


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Fat does not equal fat

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The article: Anyone Silly Enough to Think Fat is Good for You Needs to See This Brain Study made me want to scream and scarf a bag of potato chips out of spite.

The article reports that the study found that body fat doesn’t just sit around your midsection, it also affects your cognitive function. This lead them to the conclusion that recent reports that dietary fat has been wrongly demonized are incorrect.

What’s my problem with this? One, body fat and dietary fat are not the same! You can become obese by consuming too many fat-free foods. Dietary fat does not equal body fat. The study was looking at  body fat not dietary fat. This means that we can’t go blaming butter. Two, the study was done on mice. Mice are not humansYes, it’s quite likely that excess body fat has negative effects on many aspects of your system. However, we can’t make the leap from a study on mice to humans. And we most certainly can’t make the leap to dietary sources of fat.


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Fed Up – Movie review

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I went to see the movie Fed Up last week. I think that the overall message was a good one: cook more, avoid highly processed packaged foods. Because of this, I feel a little bit torn about being critical of it. However, I feel that it’s going to be “preaching to the choir” anyhow so bringing up my issues is probably unlikely to do much to impact ticket sales. And even with my issues, it’s worth a watch.

First issue: why did they have to include so many people with quackerific tendencies (such as Mark Hyman and Robert Lustig)? Fortunately, there were some credible people with backgrounds in nutrition (such as Marion Nestle). Why were there no dietitians? I’m seeing the examples of what the obese children were eating and proclaiming as “healthy” (low-fat cereal, Special K chips, NUTELLA DIPPERS) and I’m thinking that maybe the problem here is lack of education and understanding of what “healthy” is. One of the mums was saying that they had the tools, and knew what to do, so they were going to do it on their own as her daughter was too young for Weight Watchers. Well, if those are the choices that you think are healthy, then you clearly don’t have the tools. Any dietitian could have set things straight. But no, Fed Up had to go and conflate the issue of obesity with the issue of excess sugar.

I’ve said it before, and I’m saying it again no one nutrient is to blame in the obesity epidemic. Yes, indeed, too much of anything is bad for us but sugar alone is not what’s making everyone fat. The movie even talked about the true cause: the proliferation of inexpensive calorie-dense, nutrient lacking food everywhere we go. Our food system and environment. Why on earth they had to go and lose credibility by demonizing sugar is beyond me. Suggesting that sugar is the problem only provides the food industry with the ability to provide the “solution” by creating low-sugar and sugar-free foods. I can tell you right now that, that solution is going to work just as well as the low-fat, fat-free solution did. When you visit the home page for Fed Up the first thing you see is an option to sign-up for the challenge “sugar free for 10 days”. Not, cook supper and eat as a family for 10 days. Sigh.

Even though it was only a brief moment in the film, there was mention of how chefs like Jamie Oliver are going into schools and trying to help children to get excited about preparing and eating nutritious food. Yes, this is a good thing but I question how much more Jamie Oliver is a part of the solution than he is a part of the problem. Putting aside his lack of knowledge of nutrition, and his terrible lesson of teaching children to choose oranges over chocolate bars by forcing them to run around a track to burn-off the calories from their snack of choice, have you seen how many packaged foods he has in grocery stores? If the problem is unhealthy processed foods then a chef who is profiting from sales of said foods should not be too loudly lauded for his efforts to teach children and families about cooking on tv (which he is also profiting from). I’m not sure how much this differs from the much reviled McDonald’s selling crappy food but running a lovely charity like the Ronald McDonald House.

And why, oh why, did they feel the need to say “cook real food”. This is redundant. Who is cooking fake food? Just cook.

They also brought up the “calorie is not a calorie” argument. This makes me want to tear my hair out!!! A calorie is a unit of measure. Arguing that a calorie is not a calorie is like arguing that an inch is not an inch or a kilogram is not a kilogram. Yes, you should consume foods that contain vitamins and minerals alongside the calories but that does not negate the value of a calorie.

Okay… I’m almost done… The other issue I took exception to was the evidence presented that healthy eating is less expensive than unhealthy eating. They showed the cost for a fast food meal in comparison to the cost of a home made meal consisting of a whole chicken, rice, and veg. There are a couple of problems with this. One, the cost of the meal was based on what was used to make the meal, not what all of the ingredients would actually cost. You can’t just buy the exact amount of oil, rice, spices, etc to make one meal, you would spend considerably more to buy the full containers. Someone living in poverty might not have that money. And where the heck are they getting a whole chicken for only $5 and change!? Two, it presupposes that people have the skills, time, and facilities necessary to prepare a roast chicken dinner. Sadly, many people living with food insecurity (and obesity) lack these conveniences.

Did I learn anything while watching the film? No. Did I agree with everything in the film? No. Do I think it’s a worthwhile watch? Yes. Despite all of my issues with specific content, I’m still a supporter of the overall message to cook more food at home.

After writing this post a colleague on twitter (David Despain @daviddespain) shared a link to an excellent article critiquing the science in the movie.

…After publishing this post, a colleague informed me that the authors of the article (linked above) are actually a front group for the food industry. I still think that they made some valid points in their critique of Fed Up but this is a good lesson that we should question everything.


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The “real food” fallacy

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All of a sudden, it seems that Zoe Harcombe is everywhere. She was providing ludicrous nutrition advice for sufferers of yeast infections (thanks @RD_Catherine for the link). Sorry y’all yoghurt won’t cure yeast infections. Yes, choosing a yoghurt with probiotics is great for overall health but it’s more because of the by-products produced by the bacteria (e.g. B vitamins) than because of the bacteria themselves. Unfortunately, most of the bacteria in yoghurt will not survive your stomach acid.

What I really want to address though, is her popular article in the Daily Mail (thanks to @ERHWG for sharing the article and her rage): Diets Make Us Fat. The Solution is Simple. The basic premise is that we need to eat “real food” as opposed to fake  “manufactured food”. Calories don’t matter, and we shouldn’t be counting them. All that matters is eating “real food”.

But what is “real food”? I don’t think you’ll find many dietitians who disagree with the importance of cooking and eating more vegetables, fruits, and minimally processed foods for overall health and weight loss. However, I don’t think the division between “real” and “fake” food is particularly useful. Nor is the vilification of whole grains. Grocery shopping is complicated enough and people are hard-pressed for time. Making them feel guilty for buying anything in a package is not going to help them to adopt healthier habits.

It’s also possible to be over weight when consuming a “real food” diet. You know why? Because calories do matter. I’ve met plenty of people who are over weight who eat very healthy diets. Simply telling people that if they eat “real food” is not going to solve the obesity crisis. If I was over weight and someone gave me this advice I would be insulted. Not everyone who is over weight or obese is subsisting on a diet of big macs and kit kat bars. Consuming more calories than we need, regardless of the source, will result in weight gain.

Finally, the reason that diets don’t work is because they’re short-term fixes. Not because people are necessarily consuming the wrong types of foods or because they’re counting calories. The problem with diets is that they have an end date. They are not sustainable lifestyle changes. The other reason that they don’t work is because our food system is broken. Our environment is structured such that the unhealthy choice is the easiest choice and it’s a lot of work not to be over weight. Placing the onus on the individual and suggesting that if they only stopped counting calories and ate “real food” doesn’t even come close to addressing the true societal roots of the obesity epidemic.