bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Leave the veg for the rabbits, you’re going to die anyway

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A few weeks ago, Dr Sharma shared this article (on twitter and on facebook), without comment. It’s an article by the dreaded Zoe Harcombe about why we shouldn’t be striving for at least five servings a day of fruit and vegetables. No, it’s not what you think. She’s not suggesting that people should have more than 5 servings of veg and fruit a day, she’s suggesting that people should have fewer servings of veg and fruit a day. “Great,” I thought, “Zoe strikes again“.

After working myself up into a bit of a rage about the article I noticed the date on it. January 2011. When I first saw that I thought that I wouldn’t blog about it after all as it’s not current. My second thought was, “whatever”. If I’m only seeing this for the first time there are probably others only seeing it for the first time as well.

Harcombe argues that recent research showing the lack of protection against myriad chronic diseases through increased vegetable and fruit consumption means that we should cease encouraging people to eat more vegetables and fruits. And everyone rejoiced and ate doughnuts for dinner and lived long and healthy lives dying peacefully from old age in their sleep! Dietitians, nutritionists, and other health professionals were suddenly out of work as there was no more chronic disease to contend with. If only.

In the article, Harcombe states, “no doubt some dieticians and nutritionists will reject my arguments. But science backs me up.”
Well, she got the first part of that statement right, at least.

A great deal of Harcombe’s hypothesis centres around the assertion that vegetables and fruit don’t contain many vitamins or minerals. She concedes that vegetables do contain vitamin C and some A and K. Fruit apparently is only good for potassium. According to Harcombe, meat and other animal products are superior sources of most vitamins and minerals. This truly is a load of nonsense. Veg and fruit can be good sources of many vitamins and minerals. Not to mention the fact that they are usually good sources of water and can provide greater volume to your meal with few calories. Food is not just about individual nutrients. It’s about taste and texture and pleasure. Imagine eating a salad without vegetables. Think about the pleasure of eating a fresh blackberry off the brambles. How dull food would become if we didn’t have vegetables and fruit in our diets.

Harcombe moves on from her argument about the lack of vitamins and minerals in vegetables and fruit to say that some dietitians will argue that they are a source of antioxidants. She doesn’t object to this statement but instead says that she would rather not ingest oxidants in the first place. What was it that she said earlier? Oh yeah, “Science backs me up.” Might be time for a review of the oxidizing process, Zoe. If she’s avoiding oxidizing agents I want to know how she’s managed to survive without breathing air or drinking water. Our environment is chockfull of oxidizers. We should certainly avoid adding to them ourselves by avoiding smoking, excessive sun exposure, excessive alcohol consumption, etc. However, avoiding “chemicals” as Harcombe suggests is both ridiculous and impossible. Everything is chemicals. We are chemicals.

There is too much in this article to address it all. I mean, I could, but it’s too nice out as I’m typing this, and would you really keep reading if I went on and on? I just want to touch on one more issue with Harcombe’s vendetta against vegetables and fruit.

Harcombe takes issue with the belief that vegetables and fruit are important sources of fibre in our diets.

“The fact is, we can’t digest fibre. How can something we can’t even digest be so important to us, nutritionally?”

Apparently Harcombe doesn’t mind being constipated. Nor does she recognise the importance of fibre in prevention of heart disease. The desire to feel satisfied after a meal? Also not important. Even if these things are not important to her fibre serves other important organisms inside our bodies. That indigestible fibre is food for the bacteria living in our digestive tracts. Those same bacteria that provide us with things like vitamin B12, protect us against GI upset and harmful micro-organisms. We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of the importance of our gut bacteria but it seems that they do a lot more for us than we ever realised.

So, if we are to listen to Harcombe and throw those five-a-day away, what are we to eat? Her top five foods: liver, sardines, eggs, sunflower seeds, and dark-green vegetables. That’s right. After telling us that vegetables and fruit are overrated and should be left for the rabbits, Harcombe then turns around and recommends vegetables in her top five foods. I rest my case.


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Follow Friday: How to win an argument with a nutritionist

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I don’t necessarily agree with all of the arguments made in this article (although I do agree with most). And I certainly don’t agree with the premise that many dietitians aren’t “basing their nutrition advice on the latest science”. And as fond as I am of science, I’m the first to admit that there are many flawed studies garnering far too much publicity. Despite all of this, I think that the post How to Win an Argument with a Nutritionist is worth a read. Thanks to a fellow RD for sharing it with me!


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Of wellness chats, dietitians, and L-Glutamine

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The other night I had my first exposure to a “wellness chat” on twitter. It was interesting to say the least. The guest* was a registered dietitian in the US. A few of her statements surprised me, and at least a few other RDs. The most surprising tweet read:

What to do when U have a craving? Have a balanced #PFC (protein, fat, carb) snack AND take an L-Glutamine capsule #cravingfree #wellnesschat

A few of us tweeted back at her asking for her to share a link to the research supporting the use of glutamine to reduce cravings. As far as I’m aware, none of us received a satisfactory response. The only response I saw to our requests for research to support her statement was: “Get your supplements where u like, just make sure they’re high quality for effective results.”  This response was also in reply to our expressed concerns that she is selling these supplements (among many others) on her website. In my mind that’s an ethical concern. No health care professional should be profiting from the sale of medications/supplements. It’s an obvious conflict of interest. It’s also a little baffling that she’s doing podcasts extolling the benefits of real food (while also patronizingly insulting many other dietitians by suggesting that we are “brainwashed” into following obsolete dogma taught in school and don’t keep up with current research. Odd, in Canada at least, as part of our professional standards we must demonstrate continued competence by keeping up with current research and new developments in the field) yet profiting from the promotion and sale of supplements.

But… Back to the glutamine issue. My first stop to answer this question was examine.com. They do a great job of slogging through all of the research to get the facts about supplements. The short version of what they say about glutamine is:

A conditionally essential amino acid, only appears to benefit the body as supplementation when otherwise deficient (vegans, vegetarians with low dairy intake) or during prolonged endurance exercise. Anecdotally reported to reduce sugar cravings.

Yes, anecdotally reported to reduce sugar cravings. That means that there is no actual research to support the use of glutamine to reduce sugar cravings. A search of google scholar shows that there are no scientific studies supporting the use of glutamine to reduce sugar cravings. As dietitians we have an obligation to employ evidence-based best practices. This means that we cannot ethically recommend unproven treatments or supplements. I’m not saying that glutamine doesn’t work to reduce sugar cravings. I’m saying that we have no evidence either way. Until there is evidence to support its use in reducing sugar cravings dietitians cannot ethically recommend its use for that purpose.

I have yet to meet a dietitian who fails to keep up to date with current research. It does a great disservice to our profession when one of our fellow RDs suggests that many of us are not up to speed and that she is somehow special and superior to others in the field  because she is “science-based”, especially when she is making recommendations that are not actually based in science. Please be wary of any healthcare professional who is profiting from selling you a cure.

 

*Name has been omitted to protect the guilty. This is something that I struggled a bit with. I decided not to identify the RD in question because I don’t want this to be viewed as a personal attack, it is not.


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More biased research on the wonders of walnuts

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The California Walnut Board’s been busy lately. The latest study funded by them, to be published in the June issue of The Journal of Nutrition, found that consumption of whole walnuts and walnut oil had a positive effect on blood vessel function following a meal as well as improving the effectiveness of HDL (the “good” cholesterol). This is all lovely but I have a few questions.

I wonder how walnuts and walnut oil fare in comparison to other nuts and oils. I also wonder if there are any long-term implications for these findings. A short-term effect of consumption of a food, both positive and negative, means little in the big picture. Sure, it may very well be true that consumption of walnuts improves cardiovascular health but such a small study (only 15 participants) over such a short period of time: 30 minutes, one hour, two hours, four hours and six hours after administration of treatments really doesn’t tell us much about the impact of walnut consumption on long-term health.

I complain about unscientific practices a lot but science like this is just as bad. Give me a large, long-term, double-blind, study with unbiased researchers and then we can talk about the miracles of walnuts.