bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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30+ bananas a day is bananas

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Originally, I wasn’t going to comment on a recent article spouting nutrition nonsense. As fired-up as I was, I felt that addressing the article would only provide more publicity for the individual featured in the article. I was torn between commenting on her ridiculous (and dangerous) assertions and leaving it alone because I think that giving this woman more coverage may do more harm than good. After mulling it over, I’ve decided to comment on the article without linking to it and without naming the woman featured. If you’ve already heard of her, I’m sure that you’ll have no trouble figuring out to whom I’m referring, even if you haven’t, you can likely google her quite easily. Still, I don’t want to assist anyone in accessing her foolishness.

Getting to the point… The article begins by discussing her belief that chemotherapy is deadly and that a raw vegan diet “will heal your body”. Yes, chemotherapy is dangerous and extremely hard on your body. It’s basically about finding the balance between the amount of toxins that will kill the cancer but not the patient. And yes, good nutrition is important for health. However, the notion that a raw vegan diet will cure cancer is total bunk and telling people to choose this over medical treatment is potentially harmful.

She also insists that losing her period on her raw vegan diet was healthy because “my feeling at the time that it felt good. At the time I think it need to happen for my body to balance out”. Since then, she has resumed having her period but they are very light. She alleges that having a period is your body ridding itself of toxicity. Umm… Actually, your period is your body shedding the unused uterine lining prepped for pregnancy every month. Not having your period (amenorrhea) is the opposite of evidence of good health. It’s an indication that your body is lacking in nutrients as it is unable to support a pregnancy. Suggesting that women who experience painful and heavy periods are consuming unhealthy diets is both incorrect and unfair to women who suffer from endometriosis.

The article mentions that she suffered from anorexia and bulimia before finding health with the raw food vegan diet. She prides herself on eating massive quantities of fruit (sometimes 50 bananas in a day!) as part of this diet, which is nearly all carbohydrate, very low in fat and protein. To me, this appears to be just another manifestation of an eating disorder. She mentions the weight loss she experienced after starting this diet and posts many photos of herself that look like those you would see on proana or fitspo sites. This bizarre eating pattern and obsession with food is not indicative of a healthy lifestyle. Yes, her figure may make her diet tempting for those who wish to be very thin. However, it is not healthy, and her advice is woefully incorrect and not based in scientific fact. Please do not be drawn in by internet sensations who promote dangerous self-serving agendas.


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Milk myths and vegan propaganda

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You know that I’m no great lover of milk. I have written a number of times about chocolate milk (for my newer readers here are just a few of those posts: The chocolate milk and exercise myth, Is chocolate milk essential to good nutrition?, Don’t cry over chocolate milk). Chocolate milk is delicious because it is essentially a liquid candy bar. White milk is definitely a better choice from a nutrition stand-point. Personally, I loathe a glass of milk (my mum can vouch for my life-long efforts to avoid milk consumption) but I’m more than happy to put it on my cereal, add it to a smoothie, or use it in a recipe. Despite my distaste for milk as a beverage, and a food group, I still think that it has nutritional merits and that people who enjoy it should not be discouraged from drinking it. Putting my personal opinions about milk aside, I was frustrated to read the article 5 Ridiculous Myths About  Cows Milk this week.

Myth 1: You need cow’s milk to get calcium

It’s true, you don’t need milk to get calcium. There are plenty of other food sources of calcium. However, the statements that, “the calcium contained in cow’s milk is barely absorbable to the human body” and, “The most calcium-rich foods on the planet comes from plants, especially leafy greens such as kale, spinach, and broccoli” are not entirely true.

It seems that calcium absorption from milk products and kale is similar (1) – about 30-35%. Spinach is notorious for being loaded with calcium that is not bioavailable to us – about 5% (2).

Myth 2: Cow’s milk will give you strong bones

Contrary to the claim that cow’s milk will actually result in weakened bones, there is no reason to believe that it will hinder bone strength. Although, there’s also no reason to believe that milk consumption will strengthen bones either. The best way to ensure strong bones is to engage in regular exercise, especially strength training.

Myth 3: Cow’s milk isn’t cruel

Here’s where the article really goes off the rails. The discussion of veal is irrelevant to the discussion of milk. Dairy cows and cows raised for meat are not one and the same. Yes, we have all seen the recent mistreatment of dairy cows. I’m willing to bet that this was the exception and not the norm. Just like humans, cows need to be relaxed to produce milk. Most dairy farmers treat their cows with love and respect.

Myth 4: Cows need to be milked

I can’t argue with this one. Obviously this is a matter of supply and demand. If cows are regularly milked, they will continue to produce milk, even without calves to feed. If cows are not regularly milked, and do not have offspring to feed, they will cease milk production. I’m not sure how this factors in as an argument against milk consumption by humans.

Myth 5: Cow’s milk is for humans

The argument is that cow’s milk is intended to feed baby cows and that no other species consumes the milk of another. Honestly, there was a time when I was like, “yeah, this makes sense. It’s so unnatural for us to drink milk from another species.” Then I thought about it a little more. We do A LOT of things that no other species do. Just from a food standpoint alone: we cook our food in a variety of ways, we preserve food in a number of ways, we eat at restaurants, we combine ingredients to make a recipe… Just because no other species does these things doesn’t mean that we should cease doing them as well.


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What’s the *BEST* diet?

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There are so many diets out there; from low-carb (and its many iterations), vegetarian, vegan, low-fat, paleo, gluten-free and on and on. The one thing that many of their followers seem to have in common is the absolute certainty that their diet is the best diet. It amuses me when I see back-to-back tweets from people praising their chosen religion diet.

I’m sick of seeing people (especially my fellow dietitians) passing judgement on the diets of others, presuming that their chosen diet is superior. Power to you if you are healthy and enjoy following your diet of choice. That doesn’t mean that the diets followed by others are inferior. It doesn’t mean that only you (and others following the same diet) are eating “real food”. What the heck does that even mean?? I’m fairly certain that I didn’t imagine my last meal, that I didn’t consume “fake” food. Just because it works for you doesn’t mean that it’s going to work for everyone. This isn’t Mormonism, you’re not going to secure your place in foodie heaven by converting more people to your way of eating.

Each diet has its drawbacks and nutrients of concern. Each of these diets has its benefits. I could go through many of them and list out the pros and cons but that would be tedious for me to do and tedious for you to read. So which one is the best? The one that you are happiest and healthiest following. The one that you can easily follow for the rest of your life without feeling like you’re on a “diet”. Yeah, sorry, I sucked you in with that title. It’s the truth though. Me, I don’t follow a diet with labels. I enjoy a variety of foods. I eat meat, but I have been known to go weeks without it. I eat grains, but I try to vary them and may not have them at every meal. I’m an agnostic eater.


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More on protein

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I have been seeing a bunch of infographics such as these lately:

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While the second one’s much better than the first (credit: Avery Muether Illustrations), it includes fairly accurate protein quantities (and some of these foods are reasonably high sources of protein), I still wanted to comment on them. I went through the foods included in the first infographic and looked up the protein in a serving of each. Here they are:

spirulina (1 tbsp dried) – 4g

goji berries (2 oz dried) – 8g

chia seeds (1 oz) – 4.4g

spinach (1 cup raw) – 0.9g

hemp seeds (2 tbsp) – 10g

barley grass (6g dried) – 1.5g

brazil nuts (1 oz) – 4g

broccoli (1 cup raw) – 3g

(bean) sprouts (1 oz) – 0.8g

figs (1 oz dried) – 0.9g

avocado (1 oz) – 3g

maca (1 tbsp powder) – 1g

kale (1 cup raw) – 2g

romaine lettuce (1 cup shredded) – 0.6g

For the most part, I wasn’t overwhelmed by the amount of protein in these foods. Considering that a single serving of protein is considered to be approximately 6-7g. Even if you consumed all of these foods in a day you would be consuming only 44.1g of protein in total. This is quite close to the needs for many women. Protein needs are generally 0.8g per kg of body weight. However, more protein may be needed in some cases such as for athletes, pregnancy, wound healing, childhood, elderly, etc. Even so, most of us handily exceed the daily requirements for protein.

There is something else beyond total protein to consider, however. We also need to look at protein quality. High quality proteins are those that contain ample amounts of all nine essential amino acids. I’m sure you already know this but just as a refresher… Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. There are 20 (or 21 if you count cystine) amino acids, 9 of which are considered essential because our bodies cannot synthesize them and must, therefore, obtain them from food. Animal proteins (with the exception of gelatin) are considered to be high-quality as they contain all of the essential amino acids in ample quantities. Many plant proteins are considered to be low-quality as they are either low in, or lack, one or more of the essential amino acids. While it’s absolutely possible to obtain all of the amino acids we need from plant proteins it also takes more careful consideration than proteins obtained from animal sources. This is why we talk about complementary proteins. These are plant protein sources that, when combined, yield adequate amounts of all 9 amino acids. A few examples are: hummus and pita, rice and beans, veggies and polenta. Just to be clear, the complementary proteins needn’t be consumed together at the same meal (although they certainly can be) as long as they’re consumed throughout the day.

Generally speaking, aside from foods such as beans, nuts, and seeds, plant proteins are lower in total protein (not just essential amino acids) than animal proteins. Just a few examples: 3 oz of canned tuna has 21.6g of protein, 3 oz of chicken breast has 21.3 g, Greek yoghurt can contain up to 15-18g per serving.

Yes, it is possible to consume adequate protein without consuming animal products. It’s likely preferable if we do favour plant sources of protein over animal sources. However, it’s not as simple as those infographics make it seem. Most foods contain some quantity of protein. That second infographic especially irks me. Suggesting that romaine lettuce and figs are good sources of protein is ludicrous.


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Forget sugar. Protein is the new smoking.

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A recent study in Cell Metabolism prompted numerous headlines proclaiming that protein (specifically animal protein) may be just as bad as smoking for your health. Before we jump on the anti-protein bandwagon let’s take a look at the actual study.

The researchers used the results from the NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) in combination with mouse and cellular studies. There were over 6, 000 participants in the NHANES which is quite a robust sample. Right off the bat it makes me suspicious that the researchers would also need to incorporate mouse studies. We also know that using nutrition data from self-reported surveys is far from ideal: people tend to under-report food intake. In this case the researchers used 24-hour recall. The pro to this is that it’s one of the more accurate methods for collecting dietary data. The major con to this is that the researchers are assuming that food/nutrient intake from one day is representative of intake every day. That’s a huge assumption. I know that I might eat animal protein at a couple of meals on one day while eating none on another. That would mean I could fall into either the low or high protein intake group depending on the day data collection was undertaken. We also know that mice are not humans (duh) and that research conducted using mice may not be translatable to a human population. Okay, not enthusiastic about the methods, but let’s take a look at the results.

The researchers found no association between all cause, cardiovascular disease, nor cancer mortality and protein intake in all participants over the age of 50. They did find an increase in mortality in participants in the high protein (20% or more of total daily calories from protein) group who had diabetes. Naturally, they could not say with certainty if the high protein intake was the cause of diabetes mortality. However, when they broke the results down further (splitting the group into those aged 50-65 and 66 and up), they found a relationship between high protein intake and all-cause and cancer mortality in the 50-65 age group. They reached the conclusion that animal-based proteins were the cause of this increased mortality because when they controlled for animal protein the “association between total protein and all-cause or cancer mortality was eliminated or significantly reduced”. This was not seen when plant-based protein was controlled for. Interestingly, the opposite was found in the over 66 years age group (i.e. higher protein intakes reduced risk of mortality from cancer or cardiovascular disease).

It appears that the researchers didn’t control for all confounding variables when they were examining mortality and protein intake. There is no mention of controlling for physical fitness, economic status, or employment status. These are important factors to consider when investigating the effect of diet on mortality.

So, what can we conclude from this study? High animal protein intake may increase your risk of mortality if you’re between the ages of 50-65. After that, it may have a protective effect. This suggests that protein plays different roles at different ages and also means that we cannot extrapolate the results to those under the age of 50. We also can’t be certain that the results are accurate due to the limits when using dietary recall data as well as the lack of control for certain potential confounding variables. There may be some benefits to including more plant-based sources of protein in our diets; however, it may be premature for us all to go vegan.

After writing this post, I read the review of this study on Examine.com in which they address the mouse study. They also make some really good points about the protein-human study, including the fact that there’s no differentiation between protein sources beyond separating animal and plant proteins (can we really assume roast chicken is the same as beef jerky?). I highly recommend taking a look at their review.