Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Is store bought baby food better than home cooked?

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When I saw this article in the Daily Mail (yeah, I know) last week I knew that I had to read the original research to see what it said. As a dietitian I’m always trying to encourage people to cook their own meals. When I talk to mums about introducing their babies to solid foods I suggest that they see it as an opportunity to enjoy balanced meals as a family. Just what I need is headlines and articles proclaiming that pre-made store bought baby food is healthier than what ever they might be preparing at home.

I was frustrated to be unable to see the list of cookbooks the authors used in this study. The link just takes me to Amazon, and the list of the most popular baby food cookbooks they used was complied in 2013 so any results I might find could be considerably different today. Naturally, I worry about the use of baby food cookbooks as a comparison to ready-meals as they tend to be written by people with limited (or no) nutrition credentials (*cough* Pete Evans *cough*. Cookbooks are also quite unlikely to provide a true picture of what parents are feeding their children.

The obvious conclusion to draw from the study is that home cooked meals are superior (from both a cost and nutritional standpoint) to ready meals (at all ages) provided parents are preparing foods without added salt and sauces. The authors didn’t seem to reach this conclusion though. Perhaps the disingenuous comparison between cookbook recipes and ready meals, and the conclusion that ready meals may be better for babies, had something to do with the funding they received from Interface Food and Drink, an organization aimed at connecting the food and drink industry with researchers.

So, we know that home cooked meals can be healthy if parents don’t waste their money on special baby cookbooks. I think that it’s also important to note that the researchers were comparing quantities based on recipe yields and packages, not what babies are actually eating. Even if babies were eating recipes prepared from these cookbooks, they may not be eating every bite. Babies are much better than us adults at knowing when they’re full. If parents are respecting their babies cues and only feeding them as much as they show a desire to eat then it shouldn’t matter how much a recipe makes, or how much is in a package.

The true message from this study should be that you don’t need to waste your money on baby food cookbooks. Nor do you need to waste your money on packaged baby foods. Most babies will thrive on, and enjoy, a variety of simply prepared “normal” foods.

If you’re looking for more information on starting your baby on solids, I recommend visiting Best Start as well as watching this video from Toronto Public Health. If possible, sign-up for an infant feeding class through your local public health office.

 


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Are prenatal vitamins a waste of money?

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Last week the news that pregnant women don’t need vitamin supplements seemed to be all over social media. The articles were based on this review article published in the Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin. The authors concluded that based on the evidence, much of which was from research in developing nations, that women (in Britain) do not need to take prenatal vitamins.

They reached this conclusion based on examining studies of the effects of folic acid, vitamin D, iron, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin A supplementation on birth outcomes. While they concluded that multivitamin supplements are unnecessary for women during pregnancy, they stated that there was strong evidence to support women taking folic acid supplements and vitamin D supplements during pregnancy.

The message that came across most strongly (from the news articles) to me was that women are being shamed into purchasing vitamins that they can ill-afford, and don’t need, under the guise of wanting the best for their baby. The implications of these news articles concern me.

Firstly, women should be aware that many pharmacies (in Canada at least) have prenatal programs through which pregnant women can receive free multivitamin supplements, amongst other things. An inability to afford multivitamins should not prevent women from receiving them. Let’s not make this about drug companies trying to make money from poor women desperate to do the best for their unborn children. This should be about doing the best for women and their unborn children.

Okay, now that, that’s out of the way… I worry that the message that women should still be taking folic acid supplements and vitamin D supplements (and not just pregnant women I should add as most women of childbearing age should be taking folic acid supplements and most women in North America at least, should be taking vitamin D during the winter months) will be lost amid the cry that multivitamins are unnecessary. The message is not that all vitamin supplements are unnecessary for most Western women during pregnancy, just that the current evidence doesn’t support the use of multivitamins.

I’d also like to note that the researchers were focussing on birth outcomes. The conclusion that multivitamins are unnecessary was based on whether or not mums gave birth to healthy full-term babies. The authors did not take into consideration any potential long-term benefits maternal supplementation might have on their children. The authors did not take into consideration benefits that multivitamin supplementation might provide to mums. They did note that multivitamins can lower the mums risk of anemia, but as that didn’t seem to affect birth outcomes iron supplementation was deemed unnecessary. There are many other vitamins and minerals in multivitamins that the authors didn’t look at. Quite likely there’s not enough research on them to make a call either way. Regardless, the needs of pregnant women, not just their babies, should be taken into consideration when determining whether or not supplements are needed. Not all mums are going to get all the nutrients they need from food. Especially if they’re suffering from “morning” sickness. Perhaps not all mums will benefit from taking multivitamins. However, some very well may, and I think it would be a shame to tell them that they’re “wasting their money”.

Finally, as my friend Mark (who asked me to write about this topic) mentioned, taking two pills is more effort than taking just one. If it’s still being recommended that women take folic acid and vitamin D during pregnancy then they may as well just get those nutrients from a prenatal multivitamin rather than buying separate bottles of two supplements and having to remember to take both pills. It may be ever so slightly less expensive to buy vitamin D and folic acid instead of a multivitamin but I can’t even be certain of this because there was no folic acid for sale at my local grocery store when I went to price them all out. Which raises the issue of availability as well.

Women shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about not being able to afford a prenatal multivitamin. They also shouldn’t be made to feel like they’re wasting their money by buying them.

 


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Follow Friday: @sawsnht

Back to sharing cool food art with you. I saw this article on artist Seiji Kawasaki and was amazed by his realistic wood carvings of food.

If he didn’t leave some raw wood showing on this asparagus you’d think it was real. Or how about these potato chips?

Follow Kawasaki on Instagram or check out his website.


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Is this good for me?

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Oh man, this NYT article: Is Sushi “Heathy”? What About Granola? Where Americans and Nutritionists DisagreeHow many other dietitians wanted to scream when they saw the lovely little scatter plot of food? “Is X or Y or Z good for me or healthy?” has to be one of the top questions I get asked as an RD, and one of my most hated.

Why is this not a good question? Well, because there are very few foods that are entirely “good” or entirely “bad” for you. I mean sure, we all agree that Coke is not a nutritious choice. We also all agree that oranges are. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have a nutritious diet and drink the occasional pop. It also doesn’t mean that you can’t be extremely healthy and never eat oranges.

I’ve blogged before about food having virtue so there’s really no sense in repeating myself. Although even I can’t find the old post to link to so maybe I should (if you can find it, let me know and I’ll link back). For now, suffice to say that the point was that food doesn’t have moral value and labelling foods as “good” or “bad” only promotes unhealthy relationships with food.

Individually appraising foods as either good or bad, healthy or unhealthy is a fruitless exercise. When looking at a diet to determine if it’s healthy/nutritious you need to look at the big picture. What does it matter if you have a cookie while you’re blogging (just for example) if the rest of the day you ate mostly whole, minimally processed, nutrient-dense foods? It doesn’t. Conversely, if you ate a head of kale while you were blogging after eating highly processed, nutrient-light foods all day then you’re still not consuming the most nutritious diet.

We all need to lighten up a little. Stop obsessing over whether quinoa is “healthier” than rice. A healthy diet is a diet that provides nutrients and pleasure from a variety of foods.


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Follow Friday: @thelindywest’s book Shrill

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After hearing a couple of great pieces by Lindy West on This American Life, particularly the latest on the episode Tell Me I’m Fat, I had to check out her book.

I recently discovered audiobooks. I mean, I’ve known for a long time that they existed but I never bothered to listen to any. I like to read, so why listen to a book? Well, I listened to Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance which was so much better than that Netflix series he did. Then I powered through Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me? which was also much better than her last book, although not quite as good as The Mindy Project. Anyway… I digress. I downloaded Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman and listened to it over the weekend while I was cooking, cleaning, running.

Everyone should listen to that episode of TAL and listen to (or read) Lindy’s book. It’s an honest, witty, and somewhat brutal story about weight, growing-up, living in the public eye, and being a feminist.

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