bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Follow Friday: sugar-free challenge

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Photo Sugar City by What What on flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

For the past several years I’ve adopted a different diet for Lent. This year I’ve decided to try going sugar-free. To be fair, not completely sugar free. I’ll still be consuming naturally occurring sugars in foods such as fruit and yoghurt. However, I’m going to be giving up all added sugars. This means no chocolate, baked goods, candy, honey, maple syrup, dried fruit, etc. No, I’m not religious, I just find it to be a good opportunity to try new things and experience ways of living that can help me be a better dietitian.

Anyone want to try to do this with me this year?

If you’re interested, as much as I wasn’t a huge fan of the Fed-Up movie, they have some helpful resources on their website. I have a feeling that this may be the most difficult challenge yet.


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National Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast and other unnecessary food holidays

Last week someone shared this tweet from the Cleveland Clinic:

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Not ideal from a provider of healthcare. I’m sure many children are getting more sugar from breakfast cereal and juice in the morning but that doesn’t excuse the fact that ice cream is not a balanced breakfast and the Cleveland Clinic should know better.

That got me to thinking about food holidays. It seems to me that most of these holidays promote unhealthy foods, foods that really need no promotion. I decided to do a little number crunching.

Based on the food holidays listed on Foodimentary, I added up all of the food holidays, all of the holidays promoting unhealthy choices, and all of the holidays promoting healthy foods. Out of 475 food holidays, 250 were for unhealthy foods (e.g. candy, doughnuts), and 81 were for healthy foods (e.g. kale, almonds). Do we really need all of these days devoted to promoting treats? How about we start a new calendar of food holidays promoting a different whole food every day? We don’t need to encourage anyone to eat ice cream, especially not for breakfast.


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The other evening I was out with my brother and his girlfriend and she stopped at Starbucks to order an iced coffee. I haven’t ordered an iced coffee in years but it reminded me of the first time that I did from a Starbucks. I ordered my iced coffee, black, got a straw, took a sip, and was surprised to find that it was sweet. I went back up to the counter, thinking that there had been some mistake, apparently there was. It was my mistake for not specifying “unsweetened”. Since when did sweetened iced coffee become the default for iced coffee? They wouldn’t automatically put sugar in a hot coffee, latte, or espresso, so why assume that customers want their cold coffee sweetened?

This is a great example of what’s wrong with the food system in North America. The healthy choice is not the easy choice. I should have to ask if I want sweet coffee. Or add the sweetener myself. It shouldn’t be the default. That sweet coffee left a bitter taste in my mouth.


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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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Chocolate milk, juice, and marketing untruths

 

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After I wrote about how sugar’s not inherently evil on Monday, I’d now like to take exception (again) to the marketing of chocolate milk as a healthy beverage choice.

As I’ve mentioned before, just because there’s nothing wrong with having some sugar in our diets, that doesn’t mean we can’t have too much. Just because sugar’s not bad for you doesn’t mean it’s good either and it certainly doesn’t mean that most of us couldn’t stand to cut back on it a bit.

So… My best friend sent me the above photo (taken from a Dairy Farmers of Canada booklet) last week. It’s a great example of the food industry twisting the facts. Sure, a glass of chocolate milk has the same amount of sugar as a glass of apple juice. That doesn’t lead to the conclusion that chocolate milk is a nutritious choice. Both beverages have 24 grams of sugar per cup. That’s 6 teaspoons of sugar! That’s a lot of sugar in something that’s not going to fill you up. The conclusion should really be that neither chocolate milk nor apple juice is a healthy choice. Both are liquid candy, with a few added nutrients, and should be treated as treats.

I also would like to add my annoyance at the chocolate milk sponsored half marathon I ran on Sunday. The only beverages I could find at the end of the race were chocolate milk, juice, and coffee. Now, if anyone deserves chocolate milk, it’s probably someone who just finished a long run. However, sweetness doesn’t appeal to me after a race and all I wanted was a drink of water. I ended up settling for a cup of black coffee until I got home. As we were exiting the finish area, someone on the sound system was extolling the benefits of chocolate milk as the ultimate post-race rehydrator. Actually, no. If you missed it before, here are my thoughts on that. I get that the race needs sponsors, and I don’t mind there being chocolate milk available. However, I don’t think that it should necessitate the exclusion of water.