Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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NS school food policy is a sham and a shame

I was so proud of the Nova Scotia school food and beverage policy. It came out years before most other provinces and still seemed superior to the policy which came out in Ontario just last year. Since returning to Nova Scotia I have become increasingly disillusioned. Several people have told me about issues with foods that are currently available in schools. While it seems that some schools are adhering to the policy others are not or are at least doing so to the loosest degree possible.

The above photo was kindly provided to me by Drew Moore as evidence of the current state of school lunches. Pretty much all I see in this photo are carbs and fat. This is exactly the sort of lunch that’s going to lead children to be lethargic and inattentive in the afternoon. Another friend of mine (the one who prompted this post) asked me if there was anyway that I could get into schools and do some work with the cafeterias as the food choices are dismal. I was puzzled because of the school nutrition policy but apparently this has fallen by the wayside. She told me that large bags of popcorn are always available as well as cookies and fruit and vegetables are scarce. One of her students forgot a lunch one day so she went down to the cafeteria to get him something and came back with an orange and a piece of toast as those were the only two remotely healthy options available. Another parent told me that there’s no cafeteria in his children’s school but the snack shack doesn’t sell soda or chocolate. Upon further questioning it was revealed that there are “questionable alternatives” such as Sun Chips, fruit gummies, chocolate milk, baked chips, and chocolate granola bars. None of these seem like optimal choices to me. Just because something isn’t completely unhealthy doesn’t mean that it’s healthy. Replacing regular chips with baked chips may provide children with less fat but it’s not actually providing them with more nutrients.

Why do we even bother having a nutrition policy if we’re not going to follow it? We’re not teaching students to make healthy choices. We’re definitely not making the “healthy choice the easy choice” as the slogan goes. It seems to me that the only things we’re teaching students is that it’s not necessary to follow through and enforce policies and that baked chips are nutritious.


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If you like alcoholic energy drinks raise a glass to Health Canada

According to a recent article on Canada.com, Health Canada is being slow to move against alcoholic energy drinks. Considering that these caffeine infused alcoholic beverages have been readily available in liquor stores throughout the country for a number of years now the slowness of Health Canada to make a move seems pretty evident. Health Canada is notoriously slow to adopt and incorporate new scientific evidence in their recommendations and policies. That’s one thing that was frustrating as a public health dietitian as you should be giving advice that’s in-line with the advice given by Health Canada. However, you should also be providing advice based on the latest advances in nutrition knowledge. Those two things were often out of sync. Still, it’s not new or surprising information that beverages containing both alcohol and caffeine can be dangerous. The caffeine can mask the effects of the alcohol leading to excess consumption, the caffeine can also have negative health consequences independent of the alcohol as can be seen in cases of people who have consumed too many energy drinks and suffered seizures or even died as a result. It’s a little bit puzzling to me as to why bartenders have always been obligated to serve a shot of alcohol separately from an energy drink but liquor stores can sell pre-mixed drinks that contain alcohol and an energy drink. Why is Health Canada being so slow to address this? What negative repercussions could they face by doing the right thing and banning these alcoholic energy drinks? What repercussions could be worse than the awareness that they are knowingly putting Canadian’s lives in danger?

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Are all Canadians deserving of a healthy diet?

UN special rapporteur for food Olivier De Schutter recently came to Canada and pissed off the Canadian government. He was in Canada to spark conversation about food security in our country. Why was our government so pissed off? Well, De Schutter had the gall to point out that Canada has a shamefully high level of food insecurity for such a wealthy nation. He also drew attention to the fact that the gap between the rich and the poor is widening in our country and that means that the number of Canadians struggling to afford a nutritious diet will only continue to grow. The Conservative Canadian government pointed out that we spend loads of money on food aid for developing nations and that De Schutter should be focusing on these good deeds and the needs of those impoverished countries. How nice that, when faced with criticism about poverty and food insecurity at home, our government tries to take the heat off by pointing out that we help poorer nations. That’s just lovely, we can’t afford to pay Canadian citizens enough money to afford a nutritious diet but we can spend billions on aid for other nations. Not that I begrudge those other nations, far from it. I just think that we need to stop turning a blind eye to the situation at home and start coming up with real solutions. Every year we assess the cost of a basic nutritious diet in most provinces, every year we find that many people (e.g. those on social assistance, seniors dependent on Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, and those making minimum wage) are unable to afford even the most basic of nutritious diets. And what do we do about it? We write reports and send them to government officials and then we do it all again the next year. No wonder the UN wouldn’t have us as a member of the Security Council.

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Would you like fries with that gold medal?

Props to the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges for calling out the London Olympics for their inappropriate sponsors. Much like, hmm… oh, a dietetic association accepting sponsorship from PepsiCo, the London Olympics is being sponsored by McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and Heinekin. Pairing such nutritionally void types of food with highly skilled and fit athletes sends a terrible message to the average person, in particular, the average child. It implies that these world-class athletes regularly dine on such foods which, in most cases, is highly unlikely. Even if olympic athletes are consuming poor diets they are burning far more calories than most of us could ever imagine burning due to their intense training regimes. There is also the implication that poor diet can be compensated for by exercise. This is blatantly untrue, even if you are burning off the excess calories from a big mac combo (and let’s be realistic, you’re probably not) you’re still not going to be as healthy as you would be if you were fuelling your body with nutrient-dense foods. The association being drawn between nutritionally inferior foods and athleticism is disturbing. If the Olympics can’t find sponsors who don’t sell crap food then perhaps it’s time for the Olympics to rethink their entire operation.

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Beet Greens

It’s still a while until beets will be in season but beet greens are good to go this time of year. Most people will use the beet and toss the greens but the greens are great in salads and stirfries, especially when they’re tender and new as they are at this time of year. They’re also really good for you. Super high in calcuim: 47 mg per cup (raw). They also have lots of potassium, magnesium, and beta carotene. All that, and they only contain 9 calories per cup!

Try this simple Sesame Wilted Beet Greens recipe from Canadian Living as an intro to beet greens.