Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


You say nitrate I say nitrite: the perils of processed meat

The other day my colleague brought me in a lovely brochure entitled: What you should know about Nitrate, Nitrite and a Healthy Balanced Diet. This brochure extols the importance of nitrates for a “healthy metabolism” and point out that there are more nitrates in many vegetables than in processed meats. Naturally they fail to make a distinction between nitrates and nitrites. Now, I get confused about this and I learned about it in school so I’m sure that it probably confuses many of you as well. I did a little research and even though nitrates are naturally occurring in our diets we have increased their levels with our use of fertilizers. Neither nitrates nor nitrites are particularly good for us to consume. However, nitrites are considerably worse for us, and nitrates convert to nitrites when we consume them. Now, the brochure points out that vegetables contain more nitrates than processed meats but conveniently fails to comment on the fact that processed meats contain more nitrites than vegetables do.
The new “natural” processed meats contain celery extract. Guess what that’s full of? Yep, nitrates and nitrites. So, if you think you’re being healthier by consuming the “natural” deli meats, think again. Just because something is “natural” does not mean that it is healthy.
Why are nitrates and nitrites such a big deal? Because they can form cancer-causing compounds in our bodies and increase our risk of developing colon and rectal cancer.
Why do meat processors use nitrites? Both as a food preservative and to add a pink colour to our meat. That’s right, apparently we would rather get cancer than to eat pale meat.
Now, this lovely brochure, produced by Maple Leaf Foods, would have you believe that processed meats can be consumed as part of a healthy diet. It just doesn’t say how often you can consume these foods as part of your healthy diet. According to the latest evidence from PEN (Practice-Based Evidence Nutrition) “If you choose to eat processed meat at all, save it for special occasions like ham at Christmas or the occasional hot dog at a hockey game.” To me, that means a few times a year, not daily, weekly, or even monthly; maybe quarterly or biannually.
If you’d like to read more about nitrates and nitrites, visit: http://www.ead.anl.gov/pub/doc/nitrate-ite.pdf

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Smarties sandwiches, part of a balanced lunch

I received a link to this article in my twitter feed today from @yonifreedhoff. It’s about a child being sent to school with a Smarties sandwich for lunch prompting a free school nutrition program. I think lunch programs are great and whatever it takes to initiate one is fine by me. I just think it’s a little sad, and absurd, that a Smarties sandwich was the impetus. For decades now children have been sent to school with utter crap for lunches. Now, I was one of the lucky ones who got to go home for lunch every day, up until high school, and have a balanced lunch courtesy of my mum waiting for me on the table. Other kids were not so lucky (although at the time I was pretty envious). Lunchables? Very little in the way of nutrient content there apart from calories and sodium. How about sandwiches made with cheesewhiz? Or grape jelly? Or “Fluff”? Or… NUTELLA? How many kids did you know growing-up that had “chocolate” sandwiches at lunch? I bet, if you weren’t one of them, that you at least knew one. And really, what’s the difference between a sandwich made with Nutella and a sandwich made with Smarties? I’d say candy coating is pretty much the sole distinguishing feature. We need to be taking a closer look at the marketing of foods and what’s really in them. Just because Smarties are marketed as a candy treat and Nutella is marketed as “part of a balanced breakfast” doesn’t mean that they’re all that different.

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Liven up your water

I often hear people comment on their disdain for water as a beverage. Personally, it’s my go-to beverage, but even I get a little bored of it at times. If you want to liven it up just infuse it with another flavour. Try adding slices of citrus fruit like lemon, lime, or orange. Pop in a sprig of mint or sliced cucumber. Use your imagination. You can add pretty much any fruit you’d like for a flavour burst without any artificial flavours or dyes, very little sugar or calories. Delicious hydration.


Vegan oatcakes

I’ve had some success in substituting coconut oil and apple sauce for butter when baking. Coconut oil has been shown to increase LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) less than butter does. Many people will extol the health benefits of consuming coconut oil. However, to date, there has been very little scientific research to back the various health claims. Despite the lack of scientific evidence, coconut oil can still have a place in a healthy diet and can be especially useful when baking vegan recipes. I based the following recipe on the Scottish Oatcake recipe available from epicurious. Feel free to make your own modifications.

Vegan Oatcakes

1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup coconut oil, warmed slightly

1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce

~1/4 cup water

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two heavy large baking sheets with parchment paper. Place oats in large bowl. Sift flour, sugar, baking soda and salt into same bowl. Using fingertips, rub in coconut oil until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add applesauce and water; stir until dough forms. Transfer dough to floured surface. Roll out dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Using 2 1/2-inch round cookie or biscuit cutter, cut out rounds. Arrange on prepared sheets, spacing apart. Gather scraps, re-roll and cut out additional rounds.

Bake oatcakes until edges are pale golden, about 12 minutes. Transfer baking sheets to racks and cool 5 minutes. Transfer oatcakes to racks; cool completely. (Can be prepared 3 days ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature.)