bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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The dark green leafy truth about your kale smoothie

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I’ve been slacking again, sorry! No post on Monday and I had plans to write a post debunking this article about how kale is killing us all that a friend sent me over the weekend. My immediate reaction was that if kale is accumulating these toxins then it stands to reason that many other vegetables are, as if people need any discouragement from eating their veggies. My friend responded that it would be best if everyone stuck to corn dogs. Of course, that’s no solution as corn dogs are full of GMOs and carbs which we all know cause “grain brain”. Anyway… I was going to dig a little deeper but before I did, I saw this article by Julia Belluz that did that for me so, please, go read her article about how faulty the “science” is behind the headlines that kale is a killer. Sure, alliteration is a great literary device (possibly my favourite), it makes for great headlines, but it doesn’t make bad science good.

There are just a couple of things I really want to emphasis that Julia just touched on. First, despite what the articles indicate, this was not a strong scientific study. There was no true control group. There was no randomization of participants. This was a very small “sample” of 20 self-selected individuals who went to Ernie Hubbard for “detoxes” for myriad inexplicable medical complaints. Ernie started with the assumption that kale was causing their problems, he didn’t seek out other causes. His finding that they were all kale consumers was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Second, Please, please, please don’t stop eating vegetables because of these sensational headlines. The benefits from eating vegetables far outweigh any real risks. Variety is an essential part of any healthy diet so be sure to consume a wide variety of vegetables, including leafy greens and members of the Brassica family, such as kale.


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Haters gonna hate

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It’s been a while since I lacked blogspiration. But here I am, I’ve scrolled through facebook and twitter for something to get riled up about and I must admit it was slim pickings. Sure, it’s irksome that Pippa Middleton has “secretly” become a nutritionist. Not so much so that I could be bothered to write an entire blog post about it. Mother Jones has moved on from almonds and is now telling us that there will be no more salads because of the drought in California. Yes, I know that this drought is a serious issue and I really feel for the people of Cali. However, for now, my local farmer’s market has got me covered thank you very much. The only thing that really got even the tiniest bit under my skin was a tweet from a doctor saying that nutritionists think they have more information than they actually do. By nutritionists, I’m pretty sure he also meant dietitians, based on the thread. Why thank you doctor, I’m sure that your nutritional expertise far exceeds that of those of us who studied nutrition at university for four years and continue to do so after graduation. Thank you ever so much for the professional support. Obviously we should just give up on this emerging field and let you do all of the nutrition educating.

To be honest, sometimes I do want to give it up. To say “screw it! Let them have their gluten-free charcoal smoothies. See if I care!”. It’s frustrating working in a field where the science is constantly changing and which is incredibly difficult to study at all. In a field that everyone fancies themselves an expert in based on the sole fact that they eat. A field that is constantly being attacked by hacks, journalists, and other healthcare professionals alike. All of them pushing their latest miracle diet. A field in which so few people understand what exactly it is that we do. Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and become an electrician. Kids, trades are where the jobs are at. Uni is great and all but a BA is the new high school diploma.

The thing is though, I love food. I love cooking it, eating it, and sharing that love with others. And despite what some may believe, I know quite a bit about it. Just because we don’t know the optimal amount of kale to eat each week doesn’t mean that we don’t know enough to help others improve their health through good nutrition. Healthy eating isn’t complicated, it’s true. It’s not rocket science or neuro-surgery. Yet, somehow, most people don’t seem to be able to manage it anymore. Helping people learn how to improve their diets isn’t just about vitamins and minerals. In fact, it’s not really about them at all. It’s about helping people prioritize their health and food. Getting them into the kitchen. Yes, we can tell you all about the different types of fibre, how to make cheese, the structure of all of the essential amino acids. We know the science behind food. We also know that this isn’t what’s important when helping people to lead healthier lives.


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Skeptic or jerk? What’s the difference?

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Eternal Damnation by Stephen L. Cloud used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Last week I tweeted the question “When did skeptic become synonymous with a**hole?” (except without the asterisks because I’m much more brazen on twitter). Something I’ve been noticing a lot lately is that people seem to be using their self-proclaimed skeptic status as justification for being condescending and rude to other people. If you know me at all, you know that I don’t suffer fools gladly. It’s damn hard to bite your tongue in the face of ignorance and stupidity. However, I don’t understand why it’s become acceptable (especially on social media) to be patently rude to other people just because they have different opinions or beliefs than you do. And those are people that you’re attacking; not avatars, not bots. You’re not advancing your cause by insulting those who disagree with you.

The definition of skeptic (according to google) is: “a person inclined to question or doubt all accepted opinions.” I consider myself a skeptic. I question most things. I tend not to believe anything until I see evidence. That’s skepticism to me. It would appear that skepticism to many skeptics is belittling or insulting those who don’t hold the same values as themselves. Interestingly, most of those I’m seeing lately are not questioning accepted opinions, only tearing down those who dare to question the status quo. I’m pro science. That doesn’t mean that I unquestioningly accept every piece of scientific research and discredit every unproven theory. There is a plethora of terrible scientific research out there. Loads of poorly designed and biased studies are published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. We also haven’t done all of the science that there is to science so there’s always the possibility that unproven theories will one day be proved. Being a skeptic means questioning everything, not just the non-science, and not just the beliefs held by others. We need to hold ourselves and our beliefs up to the same level of scrutiny as all others.

Insulting other people doesn’t make you a skeptic. It just makes you a jerk.


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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.