Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Nutrition sponsorship scandal

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Excerpt from the Nova Scotia Dietetic Association’s Private Practice Guidelines

In the wake of the Olympics I thought that it would be timely to write about product endorsement. Every time the Olympics roll around there’s much hullabaloo about sponsorship and the promotion of crap food like McDonald’s. But the promotion of food is not just associated with the Olympics. It’s going on all the time and marketers are getting savvier about it. Enter the role of dietitians.

As dietitians we position ourselves as the experts on nutrition and healthy eating. We’re constantly battling misinformation and trendy diets, telling people to come to us for guidance in making better food choices. We are the unsexy voice of reason in a sea of cold-pressed juice and expensive shakes. Who better than dietitians then to promote food, beverages, and supplements?

I see so many Tweets, Instagram photos, and blog posts by dietitians promoting myriad brands of food, drink, and supplements. I took a little scroll through some prominent Canadian media RDs Twitter feeds when I was considering writing about this topic. I found a number of sponsored posts; some obviously so and others not. Because this isn’t about pointing fingers, making enemies, and in-fighting, I’ve decided not to share any of these posts with you. Many of them come from excellent dietitians. Perhaps they truly believe in the products they’re promoting. Is it wrong to make money from promoting a product that you like and believe others could benefit from? It’s also a hard truth that we all need to pay the bills and making a living as a private practice dietitian can be extremely difficult.

The problem with dietitians promoting brands and products is that it churns up the murky conflict of interest waters. There is no way for us to know if the dietitian tweeting about a supplement or posting a photo of their branded snack honestly believes in the value of the product. In promoting a product, ethically, a dietitian needs to believe that it would be beneficial to those they’re promoting it to. When you’re posting things to social media you’re posting them to anyone else using that platform. It’s pretty near impossible to know if the people looking at your posts are going to benefit from the products you’re promoting.

As dietitians, our first responsibility lies with the public. It’s our job to help people meet their nutritional needs and goals. When we promote products we may be undermining those goals. As much as I’m loathe to see athletes and pop stars promoting pop and fast food, they don’t have that same ethical obligation. While it’s true that dietitians aren’t generally promoting such nutritionally void products, we still need to be extra careful about the message that we’re sending to people. Seeing the promotion of a sports supplement or an energy bar by a dietitian sends the message to the public that these things are healthy and they should be consuming them.

I mentioned earlier that some of the sponsored posts were obviously sponsored while others were not so clear. Some dietitians have put a note in their profile that they are spokespersons for certain brands. Others use hashtags like #ad and #spons when posting about a product. Others don’t have any indication that a post is sponsored so maybe they’re just huge fans of a product or maybe they don’t make their affiliation readily apparent. If I, another registered dietitian, can’t tell if a post is sponsored, how can anyone from the public be expected to?

The sad truth is, I’ve gotten to the point where every time I see a post by an RD in which a specific brand is mentioned I automatically assume that it’s sponsored and discount the value of the product. And that’s not good. Not being upfront about our conflicts of interest and potential biases undermines our credibility. We have enough trouble gaining the confidence of the public without undermining ourselves. I’m not saying that all dietitians should stop promoting all products. There are some brands that I genuinely love and could theoretically be convinced to promote. We’ve all got to pay the bills and if you can do so by marketing a product that you believe in then power to you. However, people shouldn’t have to dig to find out if a dietitian is being compensated to promote products. We need to be upfront about our affiliations so that the public has all of the information they need to make an informed decision about whether or not the product they’re seeing posted by their fave dietitians is for them.


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Is having abs incompatible with having a good personality?

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Last week I saw my social media friend Bryan Chung (@DrBryanC if you want to follow him on twitter and you probably do because he also writes the excellent Evidence Based Fitness blog) tweeting at a writer for GQ. The writer had written a column and tweeted it out as: “Stop trying to get a six-pack – try being interesting instead”. Intriguing, no?

Unfortunately(?), the article was didn’t provide any pointers on how to be interesting or how to compensate for your lack of abs with a stellar personality. Instead, it was all about how visible abs are really far too much work for anyone other than a Ryan Gosling or a Zac Efron. Plus, apparently you can’t eat anything good if you want to have a six-pack. Now, I know that having chiseled abs is probably for the minority but they are not impossible to obtain. You don’t have to give up all food and drink and pleasure in life to have abs.

The article seemed to be trying to tell men that they should magically blind women to their absent abs by having charisma. Apparently if you tell some jokes, By the time the T-shirt finally comes up, they’ll be too blown away by your mind to care.” As a woman, I can provide some inside information here: it’s true that most of us don’t give a damn if men have washboard abs or not. A great personality is essential but what defines a great personality (as evidenced by the taste of many of the women on the Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise) is as unique as your body. There is no one perfect personality and there is no one perfect body.

This article reminded me of that meme I saw a while back. Why does it seem like to embrace one body type we have to shun others? Why can’t we be okay with bodies in all shapes and sizes?

If you want to have washboard abs then go for it. If you don’t, then don’t. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that abs and personality are mutually exclusive traits. Just because you care about your physique doesn’t mean that you have a lacklustre personality. Conversely, just because you have a beer belly doesn’t mean you have a “perfectly toned personality”. You can have both abs and personality and you can have neither.


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Skinny people should eat alone

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Last week Cornell Food Lab tweeted the above and I was all like <insert facepalm gif here>.

I think that the research the Cornell Food Lab does is fascinating. My first degree was in psychology and the work they does is pretty much the perfect marriage of nutrition and psychology. However, they really do tweet some questionable things.

On the face of it this seems like some fairly innocent advice. I mean who doesn’t want to ensure they don’t overeat? It’s the subtext of it that bothers me. It’s saying that watching how much you eat is more important than socializing, than friendships, than connecting with others. Hypothetically speaking, if my boyfriend is a delicate bird of an eater then he should probably sit at home with his lettuce leaves while I go out for lunch with friends so that I resist stuffing my face with All of the Things. Or, my light eating (why does this remind me of that woman who was convinced that she could sustain herself via photosynthesis?) co-workers should stealthily scarf their lunches in their cubicles while the rest of us gluttons whoop it up in the lunch room.

The sub-subtext is that thin is good, fat is bad and getting or staying thin should be the focus of all our food decisions. Never mind the fact that mealtimes should be pleasurable occasions. Forget that food and eating is about so much more than controlling how much we cram down our gullets. Never mind that social eating can be emotionally fraught enough for many people. Skinny people should be sure to isolate themselves lest they risk catching the gluttony of people who are overweight. Overweight people should all be forced to consume their food in locations where ever morsel they ingest can be subjected to due public scrutiny so that they’re sure to think twice before they have fries.

Lest you think I’m over thinking this tweet, in response to my retweet (with the comment “oy vey”) they shared this link to the research to clarify their point. Because research where people dined with a person in a fat suit is sooo much better than I thought this was. Sigh.

How about instead of enforcing food hang-ups and weight bias we all start enjoying our meals, be they alone or with others, again.

 

 

 

 

 


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Rocco’s dispiriting diet

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Okay, I have to go and be all unsexy again and tell you that a healthy diet doesn’t have to consist of ridiculously overpriced supplements and complicated recipes made from rare ingredients scavenged by sherpas from the top of mountains in Peru, or whatever. I know that it’s boring and basic but you can eat only easily identifiable foods, available at your local grocery store, simply prepared and be healthy.

What prompted this? Have you seen the news about celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito’s “unbelievable amounts of food” diet? You know what it reminded me of when I was reading it? That moon juice lady’s diet.

I think it’s fantastic that Rocco is feeling healthy on his diet. That doesn’t mean that it’s for everyone. Just because he’s lost weight doesn’t mean he’s suddenly an expert on weight management or nutrition. Just like how everyone who eats seems to fancy themselves nutrition experts, it seems like everyone who’s lost weight fancies themselves to be weight loss gurus. It’s like that time my boyfriend’s knee was mysteriously swollen and I told him it was probably bursitis and he went to emerg and waited a quadrillion hours to have the doctor take a cursory glance at him and reach the same diagnosis. So, basically, I’m a doctor now and if you tell me your ailments I’ll diagnose you. Save you a bunch of time in emerg.*

Anyway… Rocco’s diet honestly doesn’t sound like all that much food to me. I do manage to put away quite a bit myself but if he’s starting his day with an almond milk protein shake (more about this later) he’s probably not starting off with many calories. His next “meal” was cantaloupe with stevia and his homegrown herb puree “sugar-free” of course which is very important when you’re pairing it with a fruit that’s calories pretty much 100% come from sugar. Next was pickled mackerel (fresh from the boat; don’t even bother if you don’t have your own personal fisherperson). Afternoon snack was: Bluefish Tacomole. ‘It’s a taco shell that we make from fiber and protein and it had guacamole and local bluefish made on our 700 degree plancha.'” Second afternoon snack was a bar and a shake (both products available for purchase on his website, more on this later as well). Supper was taste-testing some food he prepared for an event. No wonder he found himself “starving” when he got home at 3 am and promptly scarfed: “Berry Beignets, Stuffed Green Peppers with Turkey and Tomato, Chocolate Protein Bar”. Pretty much the closest thing to a proper meal he ate all day.

Because Rocco has become a weight loss expert simply by shedding 30 pounds he now sells a line of affordable outrageously overpriced nutritional supplements so that we can all benefit from this expertise he can make money. Links in the article (which leave me wondering, is this really an article or a thinly veiled advertisement?) take you to his product website. Naturally, there is no information on the size of each product, nor the nutrition information, but these are minor details when you’re buying the perfect body. Rocco’s “Just Shakes” boast home delivery (which is apparently unique when Internet shopping) and, “contain 28 grams or more protein, are dairy free, sugar free, gluten free, non-GMO, lactose & whey free, soy free and contain at least 8 grams fiber.” A steal at $299 USD ($389.67 CAD plus an arm and a leg and your first born in shipping and duties) for an unspecified quantity. His bars are: “made with only eight 100% all organic ingredients: organic puffed brown rice, cocoa powder, freeze dried strawberries, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, coconut nectar and stevia. No preservatives, stabilizers or additives of any kind. At only 102 calories and a gram of fat THIS BAR IS A REAL TREAT—it is Reduced calorie / Low fat / Saturated fat free / Cholesterol free / Low sodium / No added sugar.” Apparently coconut nectar doesn’t qualify as “sugar” because Rocco and his marketers are hoping we’re too stupid to realize that coconut nectar = sugar. At only $48.95 for a box of 12, $63.79 CAD, that’s $4.08 per bar ($5.32 CAD). That’s a pricey 102 calories.

I think it’s great that Rocco is so pleased with his current diet that he feels the need to share it with the world. I think it’s a shame that he’s profiting from the sale of outrageously overpriced products and that his diet is being packaged as a healthy weight loss choice for all. We’re all different, our nutritional needs, likes, and body shapes and sizes vary considerably. Just because a celebrity, chef or otherwise, has lost weight eating a certain way doesn’t mean that it’s the way we should all be eating.

*Please note, I do not in any way fancy myself to be a doctor. Do not come to me for diagnosis. Go to your family doc or emerg as the situation warrants.


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Is store bought baby food better than home cooked?

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When I saw this article in the Daily Mail (yeah, I know) last week I knew that I had to read the original research to see what it said. As a dietitian I’m always trying to encourage people to cook their own meals. When I talk to mums about introducing their babies to solid foods I suggest that they see it as an opportunity to enjoy balanced meals as a family. Just what I need is headlines and articles proclaiming that pre-made store bought baby food is healthier than what ever they might be preparing at home.

I was frustrated to be unable to see the list of cookbooks the authors used in this study. The link just takes me to Amazon, and the list of the most popular baby food cookbooks they used was complied in 2013 so any results I might find could be considerably different today. Naturally, I worry about the use of baby food cookbooks as a comparison to ready-meals as they tend to be written by people with limited (or no) nutrition credentials (*cough* Pete Evans *cough*. Cookbooks are also quite unlikely to provide a true picture of what parents are feeding their children.

The obvious conclusion to draw from the study is that home cooked meals are superior (from both a cost and nutritional standpoint) to ready meals (at all ages) provided parents are preparing foods without added salt and sauces. The authors didn’t seem to reach this conclusion though. Perhaps the disingenuous comparison between cookbook recipes and ready meals, and the conclusion that ready meals may be better for babies, had something to do with the funding they received from Interface Food and Drink, an organization aimed at connecting the food and drink industry with researchers.

So, we know that home cooked meals can be healthy if parents don’t waste their money on special baby cookbooks. I think that it’s also important to note that the researchers were comparing quantities based on recipe yields and packages, not what babies are actually eating. Even if babies were eating recipes prepared from these cookbooks, they may not be eating every bite. Babies are much better than us adults at knowing when they’re full. If parents are respecting their babies cues and only feeding them as much as they show a desire to eat then it shouldn’t matter how much a recipe makes, or how much is in a package.

The true message from this study should be that you don’t need to waste your money on baby food cookbooks. Nor do you need to waste your money on packaged baby foods. Most babies will thrive on, and enjoy, a variety of simply prepared “normal” foods.

If you’re looking for more information on starting your baby on solids, I recommend visiting Best Start as well as watching this video from Toronto Public Health. If possible, sign-up for an infant feeding class through your local public health office.