Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Boston Marathon Recap

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Me at the race expo in my snazzy new finishers jacket. Photo taken by Randall Andrews

After a week away, I’m back! But… Not to rant about nutrition (althoughI will touch on some nutrition-related stuff). Last week at this time I was hanging out in the athletes’ village, anxiously waiting to run the Boston Marathon. Instead of my usual blog post, here’s my race recap.

I ran the Boston Marathon for the first time in 2014, the year after the bombings. It was only my second full marathon and it did not go well. A couple of years later I decided that I needed to run Boston again so that I could soak up the experience and finish on my own. My brother qualified too so it was a family affair this year. It was good to have someone to sit with on the long bus ride to the athletes’ village. Even if we did mostly sit in anxiety tinged silence.

I figured that I had made five mistakes the last time I ran Boston: 1. we walked A LOT the day before the race, 2. I skipped breakfast, as I usually do before long runs but I usually finish running around the time that I started running, 3. I wore long-sleeves, 4. I ran too fast for sunny weather and long-sleeves, 5. I didn’t hydrate properly.  I did my best to learn from my mistakes.

This time around, we only walked as much as necessary the day before the race. Although my boyfriend and I walked around quite a bit, at a leisurely pace, the day before that.

I attempted to eat a small bowl of cocoa shredded wheat with half a sliced banana before leaving for the village. My nerves weren’t keen on it though so I ate the banana slices out of it, and had a few bites of the cereal. I downed a glass of coconut water because there was still plenty of time before the race started to go pee. Side note: I like coconut water but despite what some people believe it’s not a good sports recovery beverage. It’s high in potassium but low in sodium which is the electrolyte that really needs replacing after copious perspiration. I had one of the new peanut butter-filled Clif bars (no, this is not sponsored, I really like these bars because I love peanut butter and they’re not sickeningly sweet like the original Clif bars tend to be) as soon as I got to the athletes’ village and grabbed a bottle of water. Also got in line for the porta-potty as I knew that soon it would be as much as an hour-long wait. There was a girl in front of me in line wearing a Maritimes Race shirt so I asked if she was from Nova Scotia. She wasn’t, she was from PEI and showed no interest in befriending me. Oh well. I had my brother there (until he set out with his fellow speedsters in the first wave).

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Selfie of my brother and me in the athletes’ village

It was a lot warmer in the village than I had remembered it being the last time I ran. It had been 30C the day before and hadn’t cooled off as much overnight as we would have liked. So, I ditched my extra layers early (this year I worse a tank top and shorts) and got some sunscreen from the medical tent. Unfortunately, I only put it on my face and the tops of my ears so I got nicely burnt on my chest and on my right side where the sun was beating down during the race. Ditching the layers early was a mistake I realised as I sat in the cool shade of a tent after my brother left for the corrals. I did make friends with a lovey woman from Florida who was running for the third time and had run the 5k with her daughter the day before. We were in the same corral (6) in the second wave so we headed to the parking lot together, queued for the porta-potties near the corrals, and hung-out together in our corral. I’m not sure how she did and I didn’t get her last name so I can’t look her up. On the off chance that you’re reading this Claudia, let me know how you did!

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Queues for the porta-potties near the start corrals

When you’re setting out with so many other runners it’s pretty much impossible to pick-up the pace. I decided just to settle into the pace of the crowd and only move ahead into open space. Some people took the fact that it was a race a little more literally and were darting in in front of other runners and jostling a little. I saw one guy get tripped up by another runner and nearly fall over and there were a few times that I had to slam on the brakes to avoid running into people who cut in front of me. Kind of annoying but I guess that’s what happens when you have so many runners together. Most people were just trying to find their strides and soak up the experience, like I was.

It was in the low 20s (Celsius, that’s mid-70s for you chowdah heads) for the race but there were few clouds and the sun was deadly. Normally I don’t bring water on runs. Even during a race I would probably only grab water from a few stations. This time I skipped the first hydration station and then hit every subsequent one. I was so warm and thirsty. My race strategy became “make it to the next hydration station”. They were at every mile so it made the 26 miles pretty doable. Even though the sweetness of the Gatorade was not nearly as refreshing as the plain water I knew that I need the sodium that it was giving me so I alternated beverages at each station, taking a couple of sips every time. When I got water I would take my sips and dump the remainder over my head. It was a lifesaver. I was also hugely grateful to the people who had sprinklers and freezies. I had three gu energy gels for the race. Blackberry with caffeine at the start, salted watermelon with caffeine at 10 miles (my favourite), and lemon without caffeine at 19 miles. My mouth was so parched that I couldn’t finished either of the gels during the race, especially the lemon.

Once again, I nearly missed Heartbreak Hill thinking that it was later in the race. I was running up it thinking “I might have to walk up Heartbreak Hill” and then got to the top and was pleasantly surprised to realise that was Heartbreak Hill and there were just a couple of slight inclines to follow.

I always listen to podcasts while I run and music during races. However, I remembered how loud the crowds were last time, drowning out my music, so this time I didn’t listen to any tunes. People basting music and cheering nearly all the way along the route were so energizing. The best was near the start line where they had Sweet Caroline going and everyone sang along to the chorus as we ran past.

With the warmth of the sun after a cold winter of training, I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to stick with my usual pace. I would have liked to have done better than last time but it was even more important not to collapse. I thought that maybe I would have some energy left in the tank for a push at the finish but there was nothing there. I kept going, slow and steady, through the last mile which was the longest frigging mile of my life until I crossed the finish line in 3:38:56. A personal worst that I’m totally happy with. As great a story and experience it was to have Anne help me across the finish in 2014, it was a much better feeling to be able to walk and talk and not feel like I had the flu and hangover all at once. One of the first things I said to anyone was “now I need a beer”. The volunteer was like “yes! My kind of runner.”

Of course, my brother didn’t back off the pace until he absolutely had to so I found him looking grey in the family meeting area. He had finished in 3:15:23 which was even further off his usual pace than my run was but still way faster than I’ve ever run a full marathon, and fantastic given the conditions.

So, that was how I spent my 39th birthday. I said that I was done with full marathons, I’d had enough. But I meant that I’m done for now. I’m sure I’ll run Boston again someday.

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Grocery store lessons: Baby food pouches

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Sometimes I have loads of things to blog about and other times I struggle to find a topic that I feel like ranting about. This was one of those weeks where nothing noteworthy caught my attention. Thankfully, my friend who runs a day-home suggested I write about baby food pouches which seem to have crept from being food for babies to being food for school-aged children.

If you’re not a parent of young children you may ask (as I did) “what are food pouches”? They’re basically pureed baby food but in a squeezable pouch. Generally they’re more expensive than your traditional jarred baby food and they come in fancy flavours like “wildberry, rhubarb, kale, & quinoa”. Parents like them because there’s no need for a spoon so they’re handy when you’re on the go. Just twist off the top and let your kid squeeze and suck away at it while you’re running errands. But, what’s the best feature of these newfangled baby foods is also the worst feature.

While there’s no disputing the fact that these are handy in a pinch, that’s really how these pouches should be used. Ideally, you’d want to be squeezing these pouches out into a bowl and feeding the to your baby (or letting them feed themselves) with a spoon. When babies are learning how to eat (at about six months of age) there’s this window of opportunity during which they learn things like chewing, appreciation for various textures, and how to put food in their mouths. Gone are the days when purees were the mainstay for babies for month on end. Now parents may use them for a short period, start baby with a variety of textures, or skip the purees altogether. The concern with children receiving all of their food from squeeze pouches is that their mouths may not develop properly and they may also be unaccepting of different textures when they are finally introduced. There’s also a missed opportunity for infants to develop hand-eye coordination when feeding themselves. These pouches really shouldn’t be considered a meal for a toddler or older child.

Something else I’ve wondered about when it comes to these fancy baby food pouches is the gourmet ingredients themselves. Introducing babies to a variety of foods and flavours is important but what about food allergies? When you’re giving your baby new foods, generally you would introduce one new food at a time so that if there’s an allergic reaction it’s easy to pinpoint the source. When you’re giving your baby “yumberries and plum with ancient grains” what are the odds that he or she has had at least two out of three of those ingredients before? I mean heck, I’ve never had yumberries. I’m not even sure what they are. I feel like by marketing these as baby foods that provides parents with a potentially false sense of safety when it comes to giving them to their children.

Speaking of safety, I’ve seen a number of recalls of these baby food pouches in recent years. When I worked in a grocery store, I also came across one that was bulging (a common sign of bacterial growth). I think that it’s a lot easier for these packages to be opened and closed and put back on the shelf without anyone noticing that the seal’s been broken than it is with jarred baby food where there’s usually a plastic wrap around the lid as well as the popped down seal of the jar lid. Not to fearmonger. I just think that it would be easier for a child (or adult) to be curious about a flavour, twist the top, and put it back on the shelf without the fact that it had been opened being obvious.

Back to the issue of price. Many of these retail for around $2 (some a bit less, some more). Which can add up quickly if they’re the primary source of food for your little one. Jarred baby food is generally less than a dollar. Even more affordable though, is to give your baby an unseasoned version of what you’re eating. You can puree it or mince it for younger infants, or provide finger friendly options as they’re ready. There’s a lot more that can be said about infant feeding and starting babies on solid foods. If you have questions, there’s a great resource from Best Start. If you’re in Canada, you can also contact your local public health unit to find out if they offer infant feeding classes.


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What is healthy eating?

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Lately I’ve been thinking about what healthy eating is and why so many people struggle with it so much. I think it all comes down to the false dichotomy; where if you have healthy eating on one side, you have unhealthy on the other with no overlap between the two.

I was looking at stock photos for a presentation and my search for “food choices” returned a similar array of images as you see in the screen grab above. As you can see, you have “healthy” eating on one hand, generally consisting of a pile of vegetables or a piece of fruit. On the “unhealthy” eating side you have fast food and not a vegetable in sight. You also see the “healthy” choice emphasized as virtuous by the presence of an angel, and the “unhealthy” choice literally demonized by the presence of a devil. It’s no wonder that people falsely attribute virtue to some foods and shame to others when we see this as the common dialogue about healthy eating.

The thing is, while vegetables are certainly healthy, a diet consisting entirely of leafy greens or apples most certainly would not be. Variety is one of the most important factors in a healthy diet. This is for a couple of reasons. One being that, in order to meet our nutrient needs, we need to consume a variety of foods. The other being that, without variety we get bored, making us far more likely to give up entirely  on the whole “healthy eating” kick and scarf a bag of chips for supper.

I all too often see people posting their meal prep for the week on social media, or talking about their “healthy” snacks for work and it’s the same sad options every day. Fellow RD, Andrea Hardy put it so well on Instagram recently,

It drives me BANANAS when people say foods that are healthy don’t taste as good. What I find is lack of cooking knowledge, the weird societal belief that ‘baked chicken breast, broccoli, and rice’ is what constitutes healthy, and lack of confidence in the kitchen is why people struggle SO much with healthy eating.

I mean, man, if “healthy” eating actually entailed eating plain chicken breast, steamed broccoli, and plain rice every damn day then I sure as heck wouldn’t be eating healthfully either!

Healthy eating can include so many different things and it can be so different for different people. Vegan, omnivorous, paleo, gluten-free, sugar-free, whatever, can all be healthy. The important thing is to include a variety of foods and flavours to meet both your nutrient and palate needs. Healthy foods can be delicious. They can be as simple as fresh figs with yoghurt or a handful of nuts, or a more complicated chili packed with spices, beans, and vegetables. A healthy diet can also include less nutritious foods, you know, the ones the devil is taunting the stock photo people with. One meal or snack does not a diet make (or break). It’s about the overall pattern of food intake and enjoyment. Life is too short (or too long) to spend it eating bland food.


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Follow Friday: @swaleNY and @space10_journal

 

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Growroom photo by Designmilk on flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

 

No people to follow today. Just a couple of cool food growing ideas I’ve seen recently.

The first is a “floating food forest” on a barge in NYC. The barge, named Swale, will be stopping in ports along the Husdon throughout the summer. Allowing people to board it to experience it as both an art installation and as an opportunity to score some fresh produce.

The second is a “Growroom“; a spherical structure in which plants are grown along all the walls. The idea originated in Denmark and a team of students at the University of Alberta built the first one in Canada recently. It looks so lush inside and could be a fairly affordable and space economizing way to grow a number of vegetables and herbs.

If you want to build your own growroom, Space 10 (the originators of the concept) have made the plans open source.

 


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Top 10 food and medicine myths brought to you by Big Food and Big Pharma

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Image by publik15 on flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

I know that everyone was rejoicing recently because Natural News was blacklisted from Google search results. However, it seems that such jubilation was a tad premature. Natural News wasn’t disappeared because of its propensity for propagating fake news and it’s right back in Google searches less than a month later. So, I feel that it’s worthwhile to respond to some of the nonsense that they’re spouting.

This article on the Top 10 Food and Medicine Myths You Probably Fell for at Some Point  particularly amused me due to the suggestion that “Big Food” and “Big Pharma” are in bed together. As if somehow there’s a conspiracy in which farmers, food manufacturers, and pharmaceutical companies have some sort of stone-cutters type secret society. At their top secret meetings they’re supposedly conspiring to make us all sick while cramming more of our hard earned dollars into their overflowing deep pockets.

Let’s take a look at each of the ten myths…

  1. Milk… It does a body good. According to Natural News, drinking milk is bad because we’re the only species to drink it past infancy, and from (gasp) another animal; it’s just “not natural”. The truth: I think I’ve made this point before, but it bears repeating that we’re the only species to do a LOT of things: cook our food, wear clothes, watch tv, etc.
  2. Red meat is worse for your body than chicken, turkey, or pig. Their argument being that ALL meat is bad for us. The truth: Plant-based diets may be healthier, but not all meats are created equal. Processed and red meat are linked with slightly higher cancer rates than is poultry. Not all meat is raised and slaughtered under inhumane conditions. This is just fear mongering. If you’re concerned about the origins of your meat, know your farmer.
  3. Organic canola is a healthy choice. I’ll concede that they make a good point here by saying that “everything is organic is not healthy”. However, the arguments canola comes from “toxic” rapeseed and canola contains trans-fat from processing don’t hold weight. The truth: Canola is bred to be low in erucic acid (the toxic component of rapeseed). It’s also high in mono- and poly-unsaturated fats (1). Liquid oils do not contain trans-fat.
  4. Organic soy (that’s unfermented) is good for you. The arguments here are so out-to-lunch that I’m not even sure how to address them. Supposedly, big food and big pharma are pushing organic soy products on us for some undisclosed nefarious reason. Supposedly soy contributes to a whole host of health problems. The truth: Unless you have a soy allergy, or are on thyroid medication, there’s no reason to worry about soy. Despite the prevalent belief that soy causes breast cancer, the evidence shows that soy consumption is actually more likely to decrease risk, than to increase it (2).
  5. Vaccines no longer contain mercury (thimerosal), and the CDC even says so. The truth: Thimerosal is still used in flu vaccines, but no routine childhood vaccines. It’s outside my scope as a dietitian to provide advice about vaccines but I’m fairly confident that having polio or small pox would be much worse than any risk of being vaccinated.
  6. Chemotherapy is the best chance to beat cancer once you’ve been diagnosed. According to Natural News, your chance of survival is 2.3% on chemo and there are loads of successful natural remedies such as garlic and baking soda. The truth: your chance of survival depends on many factors such as the type of cancer and early diagnosis. Chemo and radiation may be awful but they are the most effective treatments to date. Natural “remedies” are not effective.
  7. Many cancer cases are inherited in our genes from our parents or their parents. Supposedly we’re told this to prevent us from seeking out natural remedies. The truth: Why would the cause influence the treatment? Regardless of the source, natural “remedies” are not effective.
  8. There is no cure for cancer. More of the same. The truth: STOP FALLING FOR THIS BULLSHIT. THERE IS NO BIG CONSPIRACY HIDING THE CURE FOR CANCER.
  9. The FDA and CDC function in the best interest of American consumers by inspecting food and medicine for dangerous substances. Again, there is a big conspiracy and Big Pharma is running the show. The truth: Sure, the FDA and CDC may not always be effective but there is no larger conspiracy against Americans.
  10. Fluoride in toothpaste and tap water helps humans keep their teeth strong and free of decay. We’re supposed to watch some video that will tell us “the truth”. The truth: fluoride is effective in reducing tooth decay.