Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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An open letter to police departments

To Whom it May Concern,

I see that the Ontario Provincial Police, and I’m sure many other police departments across North America, are offering “positive tickets” to youth this summer. These tickets are coupons for free “frosters” a slushie/slurpee beverage from a convenience store chain.

I applaud the police for endeavouring to create positive relationships with children and youth. Police provide an essential service to our communities that is often overshadowed by newsworthy acts of violence, aggression, and intimidation. By fostering positive connections to young people it is more likely that these youth will continue to maintain good relationships with police into adulthood. A good relationship between the police and the community better serves everyone.

A 12oz Mac’s froster contains approximately 222 calories all of which come from its 52 grams (13 teaspoons) of sugar. There are no other nutrients in this beverage. The World Health Organization recommends that consumption of “free sugars” (i.e. added sugars and those found in beverages like fruit juice) be limited to 5% of total calorie consumption per day. This equates to about 5-8 teaspoons of sugar per day for preteens and teenagers. As you can see, just that one froster alone contains about twice the daily recommended limit for free sugars. Excess free sugar can contribute to dental caries. Inadequate consumption of nutrients, due to displacement by nutrient lacking sugary foods and beverages, or excessive consumption of calories resulting from frequent consumption of sugary beverages may result in malnutrition, including obesity, and contribute to the development of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

In addition, using food as a reward can lead to a life-long unhealthy relationship with food. Tying behaviour and emotion to food can result in children using food as a maladaptive coping mechanism as they get older.

I urge you to consider offering a healthier (non-food) alternative to these “positive tickets”. Why not partner with a local community centre to offer free swimming passes? Or a local park to offer free entry? Other options include: movie tickets, tickets to see a local sports team. I’m sure that with a little promotion that many local businesses would be happy to offer rewards in the region(s) you serve. This initiative provides both positive publicity for the police and for the organization donating the “prizes”. Do the health of the youth a favour and support local businesses while you’re at it. This would truly be a positive direction for the police and the community.

Thank you for your consideration.

A concerned dietitian

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Is feminism making us fat?

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I know that paying any heed to articles on The Rebel is the same as reading Breitbart or repeatedly lighting myself on fire but I just can’t resist responding to this article purporting that feminism has “fuelled the obesity crisis” because come fucking on. And who knows, maybe there is a small segment of the population who reads my blog and that site and maybe, just maybe, I can get them (you?) to reconsider their opposition to feminism.

Perhaps we should begin with a refresher about what feminism is. Feminism is the “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.” Feminism is the belief that men and women should receive equal pay for work of equal value. Feminism is not the belief that men are inferior to women. Feminists are not a bunch of man-hating female nationalists. We are men and women who do not believe that people should be denied opportunities on the basis of gender. Feminism is not about putting men down but about lifting women up so that we can all attain our goals.

Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about the connection between feminism and obesity. Supposedly, because women are working at paid jobs more than we did in the glory days of the patriarchy we’re not slaving away in the kitchen to put nourishing meals on the table for our families. Hence, we are reliant on fast food and ready-meals that are making our families fat.

There’s little doubt that we are (as a nation) far too reliant on take-out and highly processed foods. I don’t believe that this is the consequence of feminism though. Nor do I believe that taking away women’s jobs and relegating them to the kitchen is the solution. This suggestion that women are to blame for obesity only serves to make working mums feel guilty and sexists to feel vindicated. Sorry but I’m not buying it. Correlation does not equal causation. Women working more outside the home may correlate with rising obesity rates but so do lots of other things like hydro bill rates, college tuition rates, drug poisoning rates, etc. Just because two things are correlated doesn’t mean that there’s any relationship between the two. Reliance on processed food is likely a factor in developing obesity but it’s not the only factor. Obesity is a complex multi-factoral issue with no single cause.

I might add that men are perfectly capable of cooking as well. You want me to believe that men are superior and yet they can’t manage to boil a pot of water or cut up some vegetables? Come on now. I know I’m only a woman but even I can see the flaw in this logic. Everyone can, and should, get cooking and women should continue to do whatever jobs they damn well please.


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Should the government allow industry to market to kids in schools?

 

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Last week I found out about a new food literacy initiative. According to the introduction to their online survey (which unfortunately only wants input from teachers, principals, and board of education consultants) this initiative will involve visits to schools to provide hands-on healthy eating education opportunities. This initiative is an undertaking of the Dairy Farmers of Canada.

I am all for getting food literacy education back into schools. I think that by educating children from a young age about growing, harvesting, preparing, and enjoying food we could prevent a lot of the unhealthy eating habits and chronic diseases that are so prevalent in our society. However, I don’t think that this should be done by any means necessary, and I see the provision of food literacy education by industry as highly problematic.

This is nothing against milk, or the Dairy Farmers of Canada. Milk is a nutritious food and can (although it doesn’t have to) be part of a healthy diet. I love lots of dairy products. I still don’t think that it’s appropriate for Dairy Farmers of Canada to be providing nutrition education in public schools.

From the Dairy Farmers of Canada website:

Run for farmers by farmers, Dairy Farmers of Canada is the voice of Canadian dairy farmers.

Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) is the national policy, lobbying and promotional organization representing Canada’s farmers living on approximately 12,000 dairy farms. DFC strives to create stable conditions for the Canadian dairy industry, today and in the future. It works to maintain policies that foster the viability of Canadian dairy farmers and promote dairy products and their health benefits.

Dairy farmers fund its operations, including promotional activities.

I think that makes it pretty clear what their mandate is. It’s not to provide unbiased nutrition education to children. It’s to promote their products to consumers. Make no mistake about it, that’s what they would be doing by providing food literacy education to children in schools. They would be marketing to the next generation of consumers.

Would it be appropriate for Coca Cola, McDonald’s, or Frito-Lay to provide food literacy education to a captive group of school children? Just imagine if KFC announced that it would be providing food literacy education to children in schools. Parents and the public would be freaking out. It’s no more acceptable for the dairy industry to be given access to children in schools just because some dairy products are nutritious. It’s highly inappropriate, not to mention ironic, for any food industry lobby group to be marketing to children in schools whether it be under the guise of food literacy education or not.

 


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What does a dietitian do?

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As a dietitian I feel like I’m constantly shouting into a void. I can repeat myself a hundred times and then a (white male) doctor says the same thing and suddenly it’s all over my twitter feed or the news. And while of course I’m always glad for people to be receiving credible nutrition information there’s a huge part of me that resents the fact that I feel like I don’t get any respect. Is it because dietetics is such a female dominated profession? Is it because people think that all we do is tell people what to eat and run around slapping hotdogs out of their hands? Is it because there is often a lack of consensus when it comes to nutrition and there’s a lot of vocal charlatans profiting from selling people extreme ideas and diets? Maybe all of these. I do know one thing and it’s that nearly everyone thinks that they know all about nutrition simply because they eat and they like to share that “expertise” with others (usually unsolicited) in person, on social media, or by lecturing dietitians in the comments on their blogs.

I would never be so presumptuous as to refer to myself as an expert. While I think that my four years of studying nutrition at university and the nearly seven years (where does the time go??) of self-study since then do give me an edge-up on the average individual, I know that there’s loads more that I don’t know and loads more to be discovered. Unfortunately, those who know the least tend to be the most vocal and the most certain. You only have to check-out any self-styled wellness guru to see this in full effect. There’s also the weird assumption that many people have that doctors (and scientists) are experts in all areas, including nutrition. Most doctors are not and those who are have become so in spite of their standard education, not because of it. Nutrition is not standard education for doctors. Scientists also  have fields of study and just because someone is an astrophysicist does not mean they know the first thing about human nutrition. Any doctor or scientist worth his or her salt will be aware of the limits to their own knowledge and adhere to their scope of practice, deferring to those in other areas of study as applicable.

If this lack of respect for dietitians comes from a lack of awareness of what we do, perhaps I can help with that. Even though the dominant view of dietitians is that we counsel people on food, nutrition, and diet, that’s only one of many different avenues that we can take. Also, those who work in clinical nutrition may focus on very different areas from pediatrics to diabetes to eating disorders to cardiac rehab, etc. Dietitians working in private practice also counsel people for a wide range of nutritional concerns and some may specialize in specific topics as well; for example, one dietitian might only work with athletes while another might only work with clients looking to manage their weight. Many dietitians work with the food industry in various roles ranging from spokespeople to product development and nutrient analysis. There are dietitians who work in grocery stores helping customers to make healthy choices, try new foods and recipes, and boosting store sales. There are also dietitians who work in various aspects of nutrition research. Others of us work in public health and in the government with the goal of improving the health of the population. Rather than working with individuals we try to improve health and nutrition through policy and large-scale initiatives. Many dietitians work in longterm care; some in administrative roles with food services and some in a clinical capacity helping residents meet their dietary needs (and wants). Some dietitians work in the community with organizations such as community health teams providing counselling and classes for clients. Some dietitians provide food skills education for clients through nutrition-focused cooking classes. Yet other dietitians work with sports teams to ensure optimal health and performance of all the athletes. And the list goes on. If you’re a dietitian reading this and I missed your area of employment please feel free to share in the comments!

My point being that we all have a strong knowledge of nutrition but we all do different things with that knowledge. We don’t just tell people what to eat (in fact, most of us don’t) and while we can tell you what’s “good for you” in spinach that’s not the real focus of what we do – unless you’re a dietitian with the spinach growers association ;) We are all trying to help people make healthier choices (directly or indirectly) in our own ways.


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Will avocado toast truly be society’s downfall?

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A couple of news items last week got me wondering when it became elitist to eat healthfully. The first was an article about Trump’s dietary predilections. The article talked about how his fast food requests were catered to and mentioned Obama’s “seven lightly salted almonds” and how he was “very disciplined with food”. The subtext here being that Trump is more akin to the “average Joe, salt of the earth American” while Obama fancies himself better than the rest of us. I don’t actually think that this was the intended message of the article, but I think that it helps to demonstrate the strange socially fraught world of food we’ve created for ourselves. A world in which healthy eating is considered a luxury that only the “elites” can afford.

The second item that tied in nicely with this was the outrage generated by a billionaire telling Millennials that the reason they can’t afford houses is their avocado toast habit. As if eating toast with mashed avocado is a huge money sucking vice that all Millennials are guilty of. Full disclosure: I am not a Millennial, nor am I a home owner, and I do enjoy the occasional serving of avocado toast. Anyway, of all the things to get hung-up on, this guy chooses avocado freaking toast?? If a slice of bread with a bit of fruit (yes, avocado is a fruit) on it is the common vice of Millennials than I’d say they’re doing pretty damn good compared to previous generations with their cigarettes and alcohol. We’re really going to highlight a relatively benign, fairly healthy breakfast food as the downfall of a generation? What would you have them eat? Dry cornflakes? There’s a lot more ranting I could get into about the fallacies of the argument but I’d be digressing and I’m fairly certain others have already voiced them all in rebuttals and on social media. More to the point, yet again, we’re seeing healthy eating being framed as elitist, something that needs to be earned, rather than the human right that it is.

As with placing moral value on food, we should not begrudge anyone a nutritious diet. Healthy food is not synonymous with elitism. Nor is it something to be earned with age or money. Everyone of all ages, financial circumstances, and walks of life, has a right to healthy food. And just to be clear, that doesn’t mean everyone has to, or should, eat avocado toast.