bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


If I quit meat will I lose weight?


This article was ALL OVER my twitter feed last week. I couldn’t help but wonder how much truth the headline “To shed pounds, going vegetarian or vegan may help” contained. You know, I have no doubt that it may help. I also have no doubt that it may not help, and that it may not be the only option.

The article states that the study (meta-analysis) concluded that following a vegetarian or vegan diet lead to greater weight loss than following an “average American diet”. At which point I was like “are you kidding me?!!“. Of course following a prescribed vegetarian or vegan diet is going to lead to more weight loss than a terrible diet consisting of heavily processed foods and few vegetables (aka the “average American diet”)! Especially when you’re only looking at the results over the course of the study. We all know that it’s easier to lose weight than it is to keep it off.

I was also left wondering how the authors decided which studies to include in their meta-analysis. There were only 12 studies used and I can’t imagine that there were only 12 studies that met their inclusion criteria. Is it possible that they were “cherry picking”? Someone want to do some pubmed searching and let me know? I don’t really have time for that so I suppose I’ll let them slide on that count and just leave the suggestion out there.

The authors themselves state that at most, the studies lasted for 18 months and it did appear that weight loss on these vegetarian and vegan diets was often not sustained over time. Therefore, while it’s possible that people will initially lose weight on vegetarian and vegan diets they may not keep the weight off over time. This may be due to reverting to normal dietary intake or to increasing consumption upon conclusion of study participation.

While this article tells us that at least 12 studies have shown vegetarian and vegan diets to be effective methods of short-term weight loss it doesn’t tell us if other diets are any more or less effective. There was no comparison made between low carb, high fat, high protein, calorie counting, mindful eating, or any of the kazillion diets that people undertake to lose weight. Perhaps there is an equally, if not more effective way to lose weight. As everyone is different, I would hazard a guess that, while going veg might help one person to lose weight it might not help another. Don’t feel that you have to give-up roast chicken to lose weight, and don’t be discouraged if you give-up meat and don’t see a change on the scale. There are many factors that contribute to weight loss, the consumption of animal products may or may not be one in your case.


The harm in fad diets

Many of us roll our eyes when we hear about people on fad diets. I think that most of us think, “oh well, it’s not doing them any harm. Let it run its course”. But what if these diets are doing people harm?  I’m not about fear mongering, you know this. Many of these trendy diets can be safe and healthy when followed properly. However, what about when they’re not? There is reasonable risk of deficiencies that could cause some degree of harm at worst, and at best prevent the adherents from attaining optimal health.

What’s the harm in a low-carb or gluten-free or paleo diet?

I’m lumping these two in together even though they’re not strictly the same, although it seems that they frequently go hand-in-hand. Here the risk lies in B vitamin deficiency. Yes, many B vitamins are available from animal foods. However, folic acid (which I blogged about a few weeks ago) was added to refined flour and cereals as a public health measure to prevent neural tube defects during pregnancy in 1998 (1). Eliminating grains from the diet may lead to increased risk of spina bifida, and other neural tube defects, in infants of mothers following these diets. It’s recommended that all women of childbearing age take a multivitamin containing 400 mcg of folic acid daily. Women who are following the above diets should be sure to follow this recommendation. The crucial window for neural tube formation is within the first 21-28 days of pregnancy. This means that if you wait to start taking a prenatal multivitamin once you find out you’re pregnant you may have already missed this window.

What’s the harm in a vegan diet?

While touted as one of the healthiest diets, a vegan diet can easily be deficient in essential nutrients. As with the low-carb diets above, a vegan diet may be low in some B vitamins. In this case, vitamin B12 is more likely to be the B vitamin of concern than is folic acid.

Vitamin B12 is important for many reasons. We need B12 for blood cell formation, nerve function, and brain function.

Vitamin D is also a concern in vegan diets as it’s primarily found in milk, fish, and eggs. During the winter months it’s difficult for most of us, vegans and non-vegans alike, to get enough vitamin D from food alone.

What’s the harm in a low-sodium diet?

This isn’t even so much a risk of low-sodium diet but of a diet that eschews table salt in particular. Now that sea salt is the salt selection of foodies and many of us are avoiding salt shakers there is potential for insufficient iodine consumption. Table salt is fortified with iodine, sea salt is not.

Iodine deficiency during pregnancy can result in poor mental development. Iodine is important in thyroid function and deficiency may result in the development of a goiter.

Now, to be fair, when consideration of balance, variety, and nutrients is taken into consideration all of these diets may be healthy. I think that it’s also worth mentioning that the average Western diet is probably less nutritious than all of the above diets. Most people consume too few vegetables and fruits, too much sodium, sugar, and fat. Most of us, even those of us consuming relatively healthy diets, don’t get enough potassium, vitamin D, magnesium, and fibre. While the focus should definitely be on whole food, it’s worth considering what nutrients your diet may be low in and making an effort to consume more foods rich in those nutrients or even considering taking a supplement if you’re finding it hard to meet your nutrient needs through food alone.

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Children of the Quorn


I found this post by CSPI (the Centre for Science in the Public Interest) calling for the ban of Quorn products in the US a little puzzling.

For those wondering, apparently Quorn is a “vat grown fungus” used in vegetarian meat product substitutes. Yes, I know, it sounds revolting to us omnivores. Personally, I think that plants (and I suppose fungi) should be proud to be themselves and not masquerade as meat. Putting that aside, apparently it’s quite popular. It’s not available in Canada because the CFIA has not tested, and therefore, not approved it for sale, as far as I can tell.

The FDA has approved the sale of Quorn products in the US but, based on reports of allergic reactions, the CSPI is calling for retailers to stop selling Quorn and for people who have experienced allergic reactions to report them to CSPI. If Quorn is toxic then, yes, it should not be sold. However, I can’t quite comprehend limiting the sale of a food simply because some people are allergic to it. Why not call for grocery stores to stop carrying peanut butter, soy, scallops, or any other common allergen?

Consumers should be aware that consuming Quorn may cause them to have an adverse reaction. They can make their own decisions from there. Unless there is more reason than this to believe that Quorn poses a significant risk, I say let the vegetarians eat their Quorn.

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30+ bananas a day is bananas


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.


Milk myths and vegan propaganda


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.