Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Follow Friday: @CaraAnselmo

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In the wake of the election results I feel like we could all use a little ray of sunshine in our lives. Cara is always a ray of sunshine in my twitter feed. Even when she’s having a bad day, she always manages to find the positive. It makes sense that she’s a member of Earthathon‘s Runshine team and is always dedicating her miles to her tweeps.

As an RDN, Cara specializes in oncology nutrition and has blogged about related topics on her website. She’s also a certified yoga instructor which may be of interest to those of you in NY.


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Of logical fallacies and opinion pieces

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I wrote the following in response to this Postmedia opinion piece that was published a couple of weeks ago. I did send it to them in the hopes that they would publish it. Unfortunately, I never received a response so onto the blog it goes!

In reading the Point of View Focus on food costs, not advertising bans from Postmedia Network I couldn’t help but wonder if it was written solely to elicit reaction. After all, who could genuinely be opposed to revamping Canada’s Food Guide so that it’s more user-friendly and based on the most current scientific evidence? Who could be opposed to banning advertising of unhealthy foods to children?

The writer sets-up the issue as a false dichotomy. The reader is left feeling that in order to be supportive of efforts to improve food access in the North that they must be opposed to efforts to improve nutrition labelling across Canada, revise the Food Guide, and ban food advertising to children. This is not the case. These are all important issues facing our country and to support some of them does not mean that you are opposed to others. Bringing up the lack of access to affordable food in Northern Canada is a logical fallacy. It’s irrelevant to the matter at hand and only serves to derail the conversation. 

Despite what the author says, the government would not be “pre-empting the work parents have traditionally done, which is watching their children’s diets all by themselves” by implementing a ban on advertising of unhealthy food to children. In fact, the government would simply be supporting parental efforts to foster healthy eating habits in their children through such a ban. With the majority of Canadian children not meeting current minimum recommendations for consumption of vegetables and fruit, clearly the current method of allowing food companies to market to children while parents attempt to fend off the never-ending flow of food marketing is not working. The effectiveness of the advertising ban in Quebec shows that such bans can encourage healthier eating habits in children. Such a ban does not remove the role of parents; it simply supports their efforts to raise healthy eaters.

As for Canada’s Food Guide, many criticisms have been launched against it over the years. However, it’s an important tool for dietitians and teachers to promote healthy eating patterns in children and adults. Unfortunately, the criticisms of The Guide have served to cause many to disregard all of the guidance contained within. Revising The Guide to reflect the most current scientific evidence and responding to public and educator concerns will help to make it a more effective tool, and thus, improve the eating habits of Canadians.

As a registered dietitian, I applaud the efforts of our government to provide a healthier food environment for Canadian children and to promote healthy eating habits among Canadians of all ages. I also encourage the government to address issues of food access and affordability across the country through measures such as increased access to affordable fresh vegetables and fruit, basic income guarantee, and living wages.


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Why I’m not down with #SUBWAYSandwish Day

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Bonus post this week because it’s National Sandwich Day and I’m ranty. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against sandwiches, or a day to celebrate them. I love a good sandwich. It’s something else that’s co-opting the celebration of bread and fillings that’s leaving a bad taste in my mouth.

I feel like a super-grinch for writing this but I think that it needs to be said, if only to give people pause for thought. You see, this National Sandwich Day, Subway restaurants across Canada will be making a donation of a sandwich to Food Banks of Canada for every sandwich and drink sold. All I’m seeing in response to this is jubilation. It’s a “win-win”. Sandwiches for everyone, even the poor!

Why do I have to go and rain on this parade? Well, there’s the same issue that I raised when talking about fast food fundraisers for health organizations. This is just a marketing ploy for Subway. They come out looking like heroes for donating sandwiches to food banks while we all give them great press on social media and flood their stores with business for the day.

Because the beneficiary of this day of charity is Food Banks Canada, and the fast food company is Subway, I have some different concerns than I do with the fast food for health charitable model. Okay, Subway is not quite as “bad” as many fast food chains. That being said, processed meat and cheese are not foods that I would consider particularly healthful. The food banks also aren’t (technically) health organizations. Not in the same sense that hospitals and the MS Society are. This means that my objection is not so much with the issue of benefiting the health of some at the cost of others.

My issue here is the model of food charity. While food banks play an essential role in our country the truth is, they shouldn’t. When they first appeared on the scene in the 80s their mandate was to put themselves out of business. They’re a bandaid that’s being used to reattach a limb. Encouraging days like this Sandwish Day only serves to perpetuate the belief that food banks are solving the problem of hunger, food insecurity, and poverty. They are not.

If Subway truly wanted to help “fight hunger” they would pledge to pay all of their employees a living wage. They would offer more full-time positions and provide benefits to all their employees. One day of charity is not even a drop in the bucket. If we want reduce food insecurity then we need a Basic Income Guarantee and Living Wages across the country. Forget the subs.


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Can you cure cancer by cutting sugar?

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After a conversation with a reader about ludicrous nutrition advice he was given after receiving a cancer diagnosis I felt the need to address the issue. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by people that cancer cells feed on sugar so people with cancer shouldn’t eat sugar. There are so many things wrong with this.

Sure, cancer cells use sugar in the same way that ALL cells in your body do. Sugar, in the form of glucose, is the energy source for all of your cells. If you have cancer and eat sugar you are not “feeding” the cancer. Conversely, if you stop eating sugar, you’re not going to be able to starve your cancer to death. You get glucose from more sources than table sugar and sugary snacks and if you’re not consuming enough glucose to fuel your body it will start making it for you.

I’m sure that most people who believe that consuming sugar helps cancer grow are simply well-meaning misguided individuals. Unfortunately, there’s a whole industry built on preying on people’s desperation. When someone is diagnosed with cancer, in many cases they’ll turn to whatever cure or treatment they can. As food is “natural” it’s not surprising that people would want to look for dietary treatments. That’s where the predatory wellness warriors come in telling people to cut all sugar from their diets amongst other nutritional “cures’ with absolutely no scientific basis.

A google search for “food cure for cancer” yielded the following results:

Vegetables Juices. The RAW vegetables you should focus on are carrots, cabbage, green asparagus, broccoli, red beets (i.e. beetroot), beet tops, cauliflower and related vegetables. Peppers also have cancer-fighting substances. The spice turmeric can be added as well.

Brussels sprouts, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower all contain sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinols (I3Cs), two potent anticancer molecules. These molecules help the body detoxify certain carcinogenic substances and can help prevent precancerous cells from developing into malignant tumors.

6 Cancer-Fighting Superfoods

A change of diet cured my cancer

How I used the raw vegan diet to beat cancer naturally

Heal all cancer with this diet

It’s all bullshit. If cancer could be miraculously cured by eating “superfoods” or “raw food” or having intravenous mega-doses of vitamins no one would be dying of cancer anymore. Scientists would have stopped researching cancer cures years ago.

Nutrition and your overall diet certainly play a role in cancer risk but it’s not the only risk factor. If you have cancer, I recommend working with a dietitian who specializes in nutrition for cancer patients to optimize your nutrition while you undergo appropriate treatment overseen by an oncologist.


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Follow Friday: Canada’s Food Guide Revision

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FINALLY Health Canada has announced plans to update Canada’s Food Guide. I know that you all have opinions about it so now’s your chance to make them heard. Go complete their survey now so that your thoughts will be considered.

There are many criticisms of the Food Guide but it really is a useful tool for group nutrition education. Let’s make it a better, evidence-based tool to guide Canadians in making healthy food choices in the future.