bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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Is sugar making you go bald?


My google alerts, alerted me to this clip from The Doctors that says sugar is the surprising food behind your hair loss. While absolutely being sensationalist I do have to give them a little credit for not going full Dr Oz. They made sure to state that sugar, in and of itself, is not inherently evil and that it’s fine to consume it in small quantities. According to them, sugar is leading to expanding waistlines and thinning hairlines. Sweet.

It’s a very short clip, and naturally, there aren’t any references. As far as I can tell, there hasn’t been any new research in this area. I found a few studies from about a decade ago looking at the connection between an alleged male form of PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and premature balding and insulin resistance (1, 2). These studies did not explicitly examine a link between sugar consumption and hair loss.

Insulin resistance is an impaired ability of the body to properly use insulin. The causes of insulin resistance are not yet fully known; however, major contributing factors include diet and lifestyle. High levels of fat around the waist and a sedentary lifestyle may both contribute to insulin resistance. Excessive consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates may contribute to those high levels of abdominal adiposity. However, excessive consumption of calories in general, regardless of source, may cause accumulation of excessive abdominal fat.

There are many causes of hair loss, including hormonal disruptions. These may go hand-in-hand with insulin resistance and conditions such as PCOS and type 2 diabetes.

To summarize: The Doctors have taken the leap from excessive sugar consumption to hair loss. There are many other factors at play and sugar itself would not be the direct cause of hair loss, even if it is a contributing factor in the development of hormonal disruptions. Because there are many other causes of hair loss, before you go sugar-free, you should book an appointment with your primary health care provider to obtain an accurate diagnosis. That being said, if you watched that video and thought “I’m eating too much sugar” there’s absolutely no harm in cutting back. Too much of anything is bad for you.

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If children were plants


I cannot believe the absurdity of things like this. While the message is good, don’t give your children sugary drinks, the approach is ridiculous. Are they sincerely suggesting that human children are comparable to plants? If I still had photoshop I would change it to show the plant being offered fertilizer (or sunshine) and the child being offered salad. Or replace the plant with a pet cat or dog being offered pet food. I can’t imagine any parent (except possibly if the guy who made soylent has kids) thinking that it’s a good idea to give their children exactly the same food at every meal.

Let’s stop making silly comparisons that undermine messages. Children are not plants.

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Grocery store lessons: a tale of two pasta sauces

Further to all of my discussion about sugar in food and nutrition labels I wanted to share with you the following nutrition facts label that has me stumped:

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Apologies for the poor photo quality. Hopefully you’re able to see that the nutrition facts panel indicates that there’s no sugar in this pasta sauce. That’s grand and all, no one wants a sugary tomato sauce. It’s also puzzling because tomatoes (and many other vegetables) naturally contain sugar. So how does one end up with zero grams of sugar in a 1/2 cup serving?

Compare this to another pasta sauce:

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This second sauce, despite having no added sugar, still contains 6 grams of sugar per serving. This is much more the norm  than the sauce in the first photo.

I know that people are trying to cut back on sugar. That’s great. But this is another example of why you might want to pay more attention to the ingredients in a food than to the nutrition facts panel. These are very similar products but tell rather different stories when it comes to sugar content. One supposedly contains no sugar, while the other contains about one and a half teaspoons in a serving. Even if you’re trying to cut back on sugar there’s really no point in getting riled up about a little bit of sugar naturally occurring from vegetables.

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Does adding the percent daily value to the nutrition label add value or confusion?


The news broke the other day that, despite calls from the public, Health Canada will not be revising the nutrition facts panel to include added sugars. According to our current health minister, one of the most “significant” changes will be the inclusion of a percent daily value for sugar.

Despite the lack of evidence for a specific recommendation for sugar intake (either added or naturally occurring) the percent daily value will be based on a total of 100 grams of sugar (approximately 25 teaspoons). This kind of blows my mind. I think that it’s absurd to make numerical recommendations for nutrients to people when we don’t know how much people can (or should) safely consume. Everyone’s all up in arms about sugar being toxic and the root of obesity which, if you read this blog regularly, you know I think is melodramatic at best, misguided fear mongering at worst. So, how exactly are we making recommendations for total sugar intake when we don’t know what that should look like?

Another dietitian on twitter pointed out to me that the percent daily value is not a recommended amount to consume. Rather, it’s a tool to help people make healthy choices. A percent daily value of less than 5% is “a little”, while more than 15% is “a lot”. Yes, that’s how we’ve tried to frame the confusing percent daily value in recent years but I wonder, is that really how most people use it? And, considering that technically percent daily value is based on the recommended nutrient consumption for an “average” 2, 000 calorie diet, wouldn’t that mean that the arbitrary 100 grams of sugar be either a quantity to aim for or at least a maximum to stay under? Personally, I’d prefer to see the percent daily value removed from the nutrition facts panel rather than the addition of a %DV for total sugar.

Of course, beyond the addition of fairly useless information, Health Canada won’t be adding the more useful information that we were all screaming for. Nope, if you want to know if your food has added sugar in it then you’ll have to check the ingredient list (often preferable to the nutrition facts panel anyway but much more time consuming). Look for all of the usual suspects (e.g. anything ending in “ose”, sugar (duh), molasses, honey, syrup, fruit juice or puree, etc). Ideally, you want most of the sugar you consume to be naturally occurring so your food might not have an ingredient list (like an apple) or it might contain sugar but not have any sugars in the ingredients (like plain yoghurt). Limiting the number of pre-made foods you consume may mean that you spend more time in the kitchen but it will save you time reading labels in the grocery store and likely give you more healthy years to enjoy your life.


A little bit about the Starbucks mini frappuccino


I have mixed feelings about Starbucks addition of “mini” frappuccinos to their menu. There’s a part of me that’s glad to see it because their “normal” sizes tend to be monstrosities. At least this is offering customers who want a sweet blended icy treat a better option. However, there’s another, more cynical, part of me that hates this limited time promotion.

Really, Starbucks, if you wanted to offer healthier options for your customers then you wouldn’t make them “limited time” offers. You would also maybe try to actually make them healthier rather than just smaller. Because let’s face it, a S’mores Frappuccino isn’t really the healthiest of options at any size. And since when is 10 oz “mini”??! Ten ounces is a perfectly reasonable normal serving size for a beverage. It’s only because of our years of super sizing that we have come to reside in a world in which a ten ounce beverage is miniature. Miniature for Shaq or Sultan Kösen perhaps, but not for the majority of us. This is all just a marketing ploy to get more of us to spend our money on their products and to feel good about doing it.

Okay, so let’s ruin that delicious blended icy treat for you just a little bit more shall we? An average (assuming the grande, i.e. 16 oz is average) Starbucks S’mores Frappuccino packs in a mere 500 calories (approximately what many of us should consume at an average meal), 20 grams of fat, and 68 grams of sugar (that’s about 17 teaspoons of sugar). But the much more reasonably sized “mini” version contains only 230 calories, 9 grams of fat, and 31 grams of sugar (a piddly near 8 teaspoons of sugar). Fine if you’re having it as a treat or a dessert, but don’t be fooled into thinking that the mini frapp is a good or virtuous option or a justification for having a cookie or brownie on your order as well.

While not sweet or blended, I’m partial to the iced latte which, of course, isn’t even listed on their menu board. With just ice, espresso, and milk it’s a far less indulgent treat but it’s cold and caffeinated so it meets all of my criteria.

If you do love the blended sweet beverages, I’ve created a healthier version of the frappuccino:

In advance: freeze strong coffee in ice cube tray(s).

Blend together: coffee ice cubes (about 1/2 tray worth), 1 frozen banana, 1 heaping teaspoon of cocoa powder, 1 tbsp almond butter, 1/2-1 serving of mocha flavour vega one, milk (to consistency). Serves two.

Nutrition (approximate – used 3/4 cup of 1% milk and 1/2 packet of vega one for this analysis):

180 kcal, 7.3 g fat, 3.1 g fibre, 12.3 g sugar (about 3 teaspoons, from banana and milk), and 10.2 g protein.

Let me know what you think if you try it and feel free to share your own healthy iced coffee recipes!