Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


Breathing vs raw food. Should we be getting our oxygen from our diet?


Does everyone remember when that Australian “health coach” told everyone that cancer is actually good for you (see above)? And then everyone piled on and she relented and removed the post and made a sort-of apology video. I was thinking about that recently after reading this article about a naturopath in Montreal who espoused similar views in her blog. I decided to see what Olivia was up to these days on her Instagram.

Her most recent post was extolling the benefits of an “oxygen-rich diet”. According to her post, people who are oxygen deficient, “are nervous, stubborn, hypersensitive, and have an increased amount of bacterial and fungal infections, as well as disease. Low oxygen creates decreased brain function, congestion, bleeding, and a decrease in sexuality.” At this point you’re probably wondering if you’re oxygen deficient and how you can boost your oxygen levels through an oxygen–rich diet. I mean, nobody wants to be a diseased stubborn dim-wit. Fortunately, Olivia has the answer:

Raw foods are full of oxygen, especially dark green leafy vegetables which contain an abundance of chlorophyll. The chemical structure of chlorophyll is almost identical to the haemoglobin in our red blood cells. The only difference is that the haemoglobin molecule has iron in its nucleus and the chlorophyll molecule has magnesium. The bloodstream then delivers this oxygen to every cell in your body. When you eat greens in blended form, such as a smoothie, this process is even more efficient.

Naturally, this tome is accompanied by a sweet doe-eyed photo of Olivia holding a massive bowl of lettuce. Sadly, contrary to popular opinion, being young and pretty are not qualifications for providing nutrition advice.

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The subtext being that you too can become a more glowing, more vital, blonder bluer-eyed version of yourself if you follow her advice. Of course, none of it’s true.

Let’s start with oxygen deficiency. What is oxygen deficiency? Could we all be silently suffering from insufficient oxygen in our blood? Oxygen deficiency is when your body doesn’t get enough oxygen. This can be caused by health conditions such as asthma, COPD and other lung diseases, and anemia. Most of these are treated with medications and/or supplemental oxygen. Of these, only anemia can be related to diet (more on that later). It’s important to note that when your body doesn’t get enough oxygen you may experience hypoxemia (low blood oxygen) which can quickly lead to hypoxia (low tissue oxygen) which can result in symptoms such as changes in skin colour, coughing, wheezing, confusion, and shortness of breath. It’s important to seek immediate medical attention if this should occur as organ damage can occur within minutes of the onset of symptoms. In other words, a salad is not the recommended course of treatment.

Okay, back to anemia. While there are many forms of anemia with many causes, anemia is when your body doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to your organs. Among the many causes of anemia are iron deficiency and vitamin deficiency (B12 or folate). Generally, if you have reached the point of anemia you’ll need supplements to adequately increase your levels (as always, this blog is not to be taken as medical advice and if you think you may be experiencing anemia you should consult with your doctor). To obtain sufficient quantities of these nutrients it’s important to include food sources of them in your diet. Iron-rich foods include: meat, fish, poultry, legumes, eggs, tofu, spinach, and marmite. The form of iron found in plant-based foods is not as readily absorbed by the body as that found in animal foods. Consuming these foods with vitamin C rich foods can help to increase the absorption. Natural sources of vitamin B12 are only found in animal foods (and nutritional yeast). These include: yoghurt, meat, fish, eggs, and cheese. So far, most of these foods are very different from those Olivia is recommending. Finally, folate is found in dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, and fortified flour (in Canada). These foods may help to increase your blood oxygen levels if your red blood cells are low by increasing the hemoglobin in your blood. There is no direct relationship between consumption of “oxygen-rich” foods and oxygen levels in your blood. The metabolic process is not that simple and the quantity of oxygen that you would consume from food is minuscule in comparison to the quantity of oxygen you obtain from breathing.

This all to say, eating a variety of foods including many plant-based foods can form the basis of a healthy diet but that has nothing to do with the amount of oxygen in said foods.

I’ll leave you with the one sensible comment on the post:

danielparasiliti I think you are getting confused… someone who is oxygen deficient Is not stubborn… but more than likely unconscious or dead…



Healthspan app review


I read this article about a “new app that identifies your nutrition gap” a little while ago. According to the article, the app (Healthspan) will make individualized supplement recommendations that you can order in-app based on your diet. Naturally, I was concerned. Ideally, we should be aiming to obtain the majority of our nutrients from food. I envisioned an app designed to push supplement sales and was concerned about the safety and accuracy of recommendations made through an app. I figured I shouldn’t knock it until I tried it though so I downloaded the free app and tried it out for a week.

Healthspan is very similar to other food and activity tracking apps in that you enter your daily food consumption and your physical activity. I’ve written about some of the pitfalls of these apps before, in particular their accuracy when it comes to calories burned and the notion of “earning” more food with exercise.

When you first download Healthspan you enter your weight, height, age, etc and it gives you your daily caloric intake to attain your goal. According to the app, for me to maintain my current weight I should consume 1143 calories a day. This is quite low and certainly lower than the number of calories I actually consume every day. Of course, I “earn” more calories through my regular exercise. Just for fun I changed my goal to see what my daily caloric allotment would be if I wanted to lose two kilos. I now have a measly 914 calories per day to work with. To put that in perspective that’s roughly the calories in a Big Mac and medium fries. A 900 calorie per day diet is generally considered to be a very low calorie diet and not recommended to be undertaken without medical supervision. The app however, provided me with no warning. It just readily lowered my daily calorie goal. Interestingly, when I further decreased my goal weight to 44 kg (which would render me significantly underweight for my height) my calorie goal remained at 914/day.

Healthspan does offer you the opportunity to obtain free supplement samples when you register. Unfortunately, they’re only available to those in the UK so I was unable to determine what the samples were. Following that, you can order supplements through the app but the description of this process given in the original article is a little off-base. The app doesn’t make recommendations based on your recorded dietary intake. Rather, you complete a questionnaire and based on your responses it recommends a multivitamin supplement. The recommendation seemed pretty generic for any woman of my age (see below). Despite this, it still concerns me that supplements are available through the app given the questionable quality and safety of many supplements available on the market.


Aside from this, another rather significant issue I had with the app was logging my food intake. While it was quite user-friendly to enter foods and beverages I’d consumed, the selection was extremely limited and there was no way to determine ingredients in mixed dishes, nor to enter your own recipes or nutrition information. For example, I made a vegetable curry for supper one evening. There was a vegetable curry option I could add but there was no way of knowing if the ingredients were similar to the curry I ate and for anyone who’s ever had curry, you know that the recipes can vary considerably. The same held for other dishes such as smoothies, lasagna, granola, stir-fry, and so on. There was also a number of foods that I couldn’t find at all in the database and had to make my best guess at what would be most similar. Based on this, I question the ability of the app to record calorie and nutrient intake even remotely accurately.

Each day, the app gives you a score out of 100 that appears to be based on your physical activity and calorie consumption. However, participation in challenges also counts toward this score. Without participating in these optional challenges, I was never able to achieve better than a 60 on any one day. On most days, I was even lower than this. Personally, even though I wasn’t using the app to genuinely achieve any goal, I found this really discouraging. If I was actually trying to reach personal nutrition and physical activity goals I can imagine this score would be off-putting.

I know that people really like apps to track things like food and exercise but I’d give Healthspan a pass if you’re looking for an app for these things.





Kid-friendly foods aren’t doing kids any favours

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Not being a parent I hadn’t realized the excess of unhealthy recipes on the Internet promoted as “kid-friendly”. That is, until last week when I was searching for recipes to update the selection we offer at our children’s cooking classes at work.

I was searching for “kid-friendly recipes” and “kids cooking” and similar terms thinking that the results would quickly yield some new promising recipes to try. Boy was I wrong. Nearly every recipe was either unhealthy or a bizarre offering for a child. For example, a slide show of recipes would go from donut hole kebabs and “spider burgers” (umm… ew) to “semolina and sun-dried tomato waffle pizzas” or banana split bites and any number of variations of chicken fingers to “pappardelle with leeks and corn”.

Most of the recipes were intended to appeal to children, not so much to involve them in the kitchen, unfortunately. Even more unfortunate was the fact that most of the recipes were high in sugar, salt, or fat (or some combination thereof). Pappardelle and sun-dried tomato pizza notwithstanding, I don’t think we often give kids enough credit as adults. Just as I’ve discussed before, when it comes to kids menus and family cookbooks, the assumption seems to be that children innately dislike anything nutritious (or they need to follow our personal dietary beliefs despite the potential inadequacy of nutrition and promotion of future disordered eating, but I digress). For the most part, kid friendly recipes seem to comprise one of two categories: completely lacking (or minimally containing) vegetables or fruit or vegetables or fruit made to look like adorable animals or something else. Fruit animals are fine and all, although I would hate to be the parent who had to spend ages styling my child’s food every day to get them to eat something green. The real issue here is that most of the offerings were not nutritious balanced meals. Most of them consisted of only two food groups: meat (no alternatives) and grains. Oh, and fries which I refuse to count as a vegetable, sorry. I think that most people agree that nutrition is important for children’s growth, development, and health. And yet, there seems to be some cognitive dissonance because even as people are saying this, they’re sitting their children down to a meal of chicken fingers and fries.

We adults need to stop assuming that children won’t like foods that are nutritious and assuming that there are “kid foods” and “adult foods”. Presenting these unhealthy options as “kid-friendly” and not exposing children to a variety of foods simply results in a self-fulfilling prophecy. If children are never given the chance to try new foods, they will never learn to like them. Give kids a chance.


Weight Watchers, SNAP, Ultra-processed food, and Front-of package labels: a few short rants


I have a few things I want to rant about that aren’t really sufficient for full blog posts on their own so I thought I’d do a few mini-posts today.

Weight Watchers

As you’ve probably heard, Weight Watchers announced that they’ll offer free services for teens a few weeks ago. The backlash in the RD community was pretty powerful (check out #wakeupweightwatchers on Twitter). Despite that, I did see a few RDs defending the organization with the argument that overweight and obesity is a health concern for teens and that Weight Watchers has been proven to be effective. While obesity can certainly be a risk factor for a number of chronic diseases, I still don’t think that Weight Watchers is appropriate for teens. While it has been shown to be effective for some adults, there is no evidence to support its efficacy or safety for teens and weight is not the only measure of health (and is not in any manner a measure of worth). I don’t think that it teaches a healthy relationship with food to be considering it in terms of points and weight and I worry that the impact of enrolling a teen in Weight Watchers may be more harmful psychologically and physiologically than beneficial.


Apparently the GOP wants to replace some food stamps with a “Harvest Box” that will force “nutritious” foods on recipients. There are soooo many things wrong with this idea. 1. it does not increase food security as providing pre-selected foods to those in need is not allowing them to access food with dignity; 2. dietary needs and preferences vary widely. Will the foods in these boxes be appropriate for men and women and children of all ages and walks of life? Will there be sufficient calories for all ages and lifestyles? What about people who need to consume special diets due to certain conditions (e.g. celiac disease), allergies or intolerances? What about various cultural preferences, religious preferences, or personal preferences? People always complain about “liberals” creating a nanny state but this, this is a true nanny state telling people they are not capable of making their own food choices; 3. This is supposed to save the government money. But when you will now have to source food, package it, and distribute it, as opposed to reloading a debit card I’m really not sure how that will result in any cost savings; 4. What kind of quality will the food be if the point is to save money? I suspect it will not end-up being an improvement over choices people make on their own and there will likely be more food waste due to delivery of unsuitable foods; 5. While assuming the government knows best regarding what people living on limited incomes need the government is perhaps forgetting that people relying on assistance may not have access to all of the kitchen equipment and tools necessary to cook foods provided in these boxes. Not everyone has a full kitchen, power, gas, pots pans, knives, can openers, etc. Time is also often a barrier for people on limited incomes making foods that require lengthy preparation impractical; 6. Has the government consulted with those using SNAP if they would like to receive boxes of preselected food or how they think the system could be improved? A significant issue with many government programs (and many things in general) is that the end user is not consulted making for ineffective and poorly designed services.

Ultra-processed Food

Everyone’s all mad that the classification system for what makes a food ultra-processed isn’t perfect. Yet, we can’t call food “junk food” anymore because that’s offensive even though I don’t think anyone really takes offence to the term and everyone knows what it means. We need some sort of way to categorize food to be able to have meaningful research and discussion. We also need to realise that nothing is perfect and maybe just settle the fuck down and say, “yes, this method has flaws but it’s better than nothing and we will acknowledge that it’s not perfect and deal with it until we have a better way to do things”. Or should we just say eff-it, let the people eat snack cakes?

New Front-of-Package Labels in Canada

Health Canada is currently in the second phase of FOP consultation and you should go have your say. It will only take a few minutes. While they caved to industry and lost the stop sign option, there’s still an opportunity to add your thoughts at the end so, if you want, you can tell them they should make the image more powerful.


Help me tell the government that we need @EatRightOntario

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Last week I received some upsetting news: EatRight Ontario is shutting down at the end of March due to a loss of government funding. This is sad news for the dietitians who currently work there who will be losing their jobs, for dietitians across the country who use their resources, and not least of all, for Ontarians who will lose free remote access to the services of Registered Dietitians.

I was still mulling over how to approach this on the blog when I attended a webinar today. It was hosted by Food Secure Canada and was about effective lobbying for food system transformation. As the Members of Parliament were talking about how important it is to copy your local representatives on letters to Minsters I realized that this was just what I needed to do about ERO. I didn’t want to have a big pointless bitchfest on here. I wanted to do something with the potential to make a real difference. My solution: I decided to write a letter to Eric Hoskins, the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care (the department responsible for the now withdrawn funding for ERO) and to cc my local MPP so they’re aware of the huge loss that the termination of this service is going to have on Ontarians and Canadians. I thought that I would share my letter with you so that you can copy and paste it, make it your own if you want, and send it to your MPP and Dr Hoskins. After all, if we don’t let our representatives know what our concerns are, how can be expect them to effectively represent us?

Dear Dr. Hoskins,

It has recently come to my attention that the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care will no longer be providing funding for EatRight Ontario. As you are aware, ERO is a provider of evidence-based nutrition resources and tools which are used across the country, and beyond. ERO also enables Ontarians who might not otherwise have access to a Registered Dietitian to call or email a RD for free. The loss of these services as of the end of March is going to be a huge blow to these individuals as well as to healthcare professionals, particularly Registered Dietitians, who use these resources and who refer people to their services.

ERO had 22,198 contacts between January 2017 and December 2017. These consisted of 11,562 telephone calls and 10,636 emails. This does not include the millions of visits to the website every year. ERO was also the recent recipient of an internationally recognized eHealthcare Leadership gold medal for Best Overall Internet Site. At a time when other provinces, such as Newfoundland and Saskatchewan are just starting telehealth dietetic services it is a step backward for Ontario to be terminating an established service.

Chronic diseases are the leading causes of preventable death and disability in Canada. Poor diet is a major contributor to risk of chronic disease and is a modifiable risk factor. RDs are the only regulated source of credible nutrition information in Canada. Unfortunately, many Canadians who would benefit from nutrition counselling do not have access to a RD as a result of limited services available in their area and/or a lack of coverage for RD services. A telehealth service such as ERO enables Ontarians, regardless of location or financial means, to access the services of a RD, thus promoting health equity across Ontario. Teledietetics is proven to provide positive outcomes in a number of areas. Such a service saves healthcare dollars by relieving some of the burden on emergency and local healthcare providers by reducing the need for these services. It also allows RDs, particularly those in public health, to focus their efforts on population health interventions as they can direct the public to a central credible source of nutrition information rather than spending time duplicating efforts by all creating similar factsheets and resources.

The loss of ERO will mean a loss of access to credible nutrition information for Ontarians, and Canadians, at a time when it is vital to combat the misinformation widely available on the Internet and peddled by self-styled nutrition “experts”. I urge you to reconsider the decision to terminate the funding for EatRight Ontario. If this is not an option, I ask that you continue to keep the ERO website live until an alternative site can be arranged to house and maintain the resources. I also ask that you include access to Registered Dietitians as part of your consolidated telehealth services.