Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


If men got pregnant…


Today I just want to rant a little bit about the patriarchy and research, particularly in relation to mothers and pregnant women. You’ve likely all heard about the difference between men and women when it comes to heart attacks, leading to missed diagnoses in many women, and how most drug trials are done using men so that we have very little evidence regarding the efficacy and side effects of many medications on women across their lifespan.

Then you see results of studies like this one which, despite the cognitive effects of alcohol consumed during breastfeeding no longer being evident when children are 10 years of age, provides the message that breastfeeding women should not consume alcohol. This despite the fact that alcohol is removed from breastmilk at the same rate as it is from the bloodstream. This means that while pumping and dumping is an ineffective measure to prevent infants from consuming alcohol via breastmilk that mothers can still safely consume alcohol and breastfeed provided they allow for adequate time for alcohol to clear from the milk. If you’re a breastfeeding mum, you can use this table to determine how long you’ll need to wait after drinking before you can breastfeed your baby (unfortunately, it might be longer than you would think).

Women who are of childbearing age are often told not to consume alcohol at all. Just on the off chance that they might get knocked up and damage the fetus before they realize that they’re pregnant. Women who are pregnant should definitely never consume any alcohol at all because their baby might end up suffering the effects of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). And yet, many perfectly healthy babies are born to women who consume alcohol during pregnancy, indicating that there is likely a window (or windows) during which a certain amount of alcohol may be consumed without affecting the development of the fetus.

Pregnant women are shamed for drinking coffee, and some have even been refused coffee by baristas (and they say dietitians are the food police!). This despite the fact that pregnant women can safely consume up to 300 mg of caffeine a day (about the amount you’d get from a grande coffee). And the fact that the research on caffeine consumption during pregnancy is mixed.

Pregnant women are not allowed to eat: soft cheese, deli meat, sushi (unless it’s veggie), raw eggs, tuna (and other large fish), organ meat, raw sprouts, paté, unpasteurized juice or cider, store-made salads, and packaged salads, many herbal teas.

Naturally we want to exhibit an abundance of caution when the health of the woman and the fetus/infant are potentially at risk. However, I bet that if men were the ones giving birth that we would know exactly how much of all these things could be safely consumed during pregnancy and breastfeeding and the precise windows during which they needed to be avoided. But because (cis) men don’t give birth or breastfeed but they generally conduct most of the scientific research we are told to err on the side of caution. I mean what do they care if we can’t have a beer for 30 or so years because we might get pregnant at some point during that time, or enjoy some lovely brie because there is a teensy risk that we might get listeriosis and miscarry. As long as we are protecting their offspring that’s all that matters. And if a woman dares to defy all of the dietary restrictions placed on her during pregnancy societal shaming will cause her to toe the line. After all, questioning these restrictions shows that you are an unfit mother and selfishly putting your enjoyment of bruschetta ahead of your own child for whom you should be enthusiastically giving up everything for while your husband is out drinking with his buddies.

Please note: I am not suggesting that women who are pregnant reject all of this dietary advice. There are very real risks to consuming these foods and beverages during pregnancy. I am however suggesting that we reject the unquestioning acceptance of these restrictions because you know that if men were the ones getting pregnant there would already be a body of research into precisely what could be consumed when.


Should alcohol have nutrition labels?


I absolutely think that alcoholic beverages should have nutrition information on the labels, and not just calories. Sure the calories are relevant, although I do wonder how useful that information is to most of the population. Perhaps there needs to be more education about what calories mean and how to use nutrition labels. Anyway… That’s another rant. Including more nutrition information than calories would make nutrition labels on alcoholic beverages far more useful. For people with diabetes, for instance, who need to count carbohydrates to ensure effectiveness of medication having this information on bottles would be hugely beneficial.

The argument made by the Health Canada employee in this article is extremely disappointing. Saying that putting a nutrition label on alcoholic beverages shouldn’t be done because it implies that “it can be included as part of a healthy eating plan” is rich. For one thing, low-risk drinking guidelines (supported by many public health and other governmental and health organizations) would suggest that alcohol, when consumed within the guidelines, can be included as part of a healthy diet. If this is the argument being made then shouldn’t nutrition labels be removed from candy, sugar, lard, deli meats, and any other foods that are viewed as “unhealthy”. I think we can all agree that, that’s a ridiculous suggestion.

People have a right to know what they’re ingesting. Alcohol is sold as a beverage. People drink it. Why on earth shouldn’t we be able to access the nutrition information for these beverages? For the people who have specific health concerns and need to have that information to manage their health appropriately. For the people who are constantly trying to lose weight but downing a bottle of wine every night. For those who just want to know what they’re consuming, that information should be directly available on the bottle.

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The latest superfood: Beer

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I saw the tweet (above) yesterday. While it may be true that beer contains all 13 essential minerals (I say “may” because the nutrient profile only lists 11 minerals) I still think that this tweet is misleading. Oh sure, it’s all fun and games, until someone loses a liver. I enjoy a good beer as much as the next person, but I hate to think that anyone would believe that they can obtain all the nutrition that they need from beer.

Let’s assume that the two minerals not listed in the nutrient profile are indeed present in beer. There is certainly not enough of each of these minerals (some are present in extremely small quantities) to meet your daily requirements. For example, a female between the ages of 19 and 51 needs 18 mg of iron a day. One bottle of beer provides 0.7 mg of iron. That’s about 3.8% of the recommended intake for iron. Just for fun, that would mean drinking nearly 26 bottles of beer to meet your daily requirement.

The tweet also neglects to mention that there are other substances required for human life; such as, vitamins and macronutrients (carbohydrate, fat, and protein). Beer is lacking in all of these areas, aside from carbohydrate. Most of beers calories come from alcohol, which, unsurprisingly, is not an essential nutrient.

Another factor to consider: alcoholics tend to be one of the highest risk groups for nutrient deficiency (in the Western world). This is due to lack of consumption of nutrients from food, a need for more nutrients to repair the damage caused by excessive alcohol consumption, and impairment of digestion caused by alcohol consumption.


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The true weight of alcohol

As much as I love fitocracy I was annoyed when they tweeted the link to this blog post: 20 Nutrition Myths I Used to Believe Were True. Come on fito! Couldn’t you tweet a link to an article posted by someone with some sort of credibility and nutrition education? I know that there are lots of dietitians using your site and app and following you on twitter. Why tweet a post by someone who has just managed to lose weight? Sure, some of what he has to say is true but not all of it and just because it worked for him doesn’t mean it’s going to work for everyone.

I’m not going to go through all 20 “myths” because that’s way too much work. And as I mentioned, there is a bit of truth in there. Unfortunately, it just had to be the first one that pissed me off the most. The myth: Alcohol makes you fat. According to the author this is untrue because alcohol is absorbed first over other nutrients and “if your macronutrient for your drinking day is almost purely protein and you keep pounding shots of tequila (not chugging beer or cocktails), then you will not gain that much fat at all”. Huh? Yes, alcohol is more readily absorbed than other nutrients. That doesn’t mean that you won’t gain weight if you eat your poutine and pizza or whatever after you’ve been out drinking.

Alcohol itself has more calories (about 7) per gram than carbs and protein (both about 4). Just having two glasses of wine a night can lead to about 30 pounds of weight gain in a year. Unless your exercising lots to compensate for those calories, you will gain weight. Also, alcohol tends to reduce your inhibition and cloud your judgement. You’re much more likely to over eat after consuming a few glasses of alcohol than you are in a sober state.

I’m also sorry to report that alcohol does not contain all of the nutrients that your body needs. You can’t just replace food with booze. Did you know that alcoholics are actually the group most likely to be at risk of nutrient deficiencies? This is for two reasons: 1. alcohol interferes with the absorption of many essential nutrients, 2. alcohol often displaces nutritious foods.

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Summer drink make-overs

What with the fact that we actually seem to be getting summer in Halifax this year, I keep being asked about healthy summer beverages. If you’re taking advantage of a patio downtown or sitting out on your deck at home, or like me, simply sweating in the sauna that your flat has become, you probably want a nice cold refreshing beverage to enjoy. A lot of these beverages can pack in a lot of calories. Obviously your best bet is to go non-alcoholic but if that’s not really your thing, there are still ways to make your drink a little healthier. If you’re using hard liquor check the “proof”. The lower the number, the lower the calories. It’s not a huge difference (97 calories in 80 proof versus 110 calories in 90 proof) but it’s still a difference.

Traditional Mojito:

Mint, limes, simple syrup or superfine sugar, rum, club soda

Made-over Mojito:

Mint, limes, rum or vodka, club soda (try experimenting with muddling different kinds of fruit, any sort of berry is yummy, plus if you eat the muddled fruit you get the added nutrients from it).

Traditional Pina Colada:

Rum, cream of coconut, pineapple juice, crushed ice

Made-over Pina Colada:

Rum, light coconut milk and coconut water, pineapple juice, crushed ice. Try upping the ice content and reducing the coconut milk and juice content.

Traditional Margarita:

Tequila, lime juice, orange-flavoured liquor, ice, rimming salt.

Made-over Margarita:

Tequila (use less!), lime juice, try using a dash of orange extract instead of the orange-flavoured liquor, bump up the ice content, forego the rimming salt.

Traditional Sangria:

Cabernet sauvignon, white zinfandel, orange juice, pineapple juice, sprite, grand marnier, fruit chopped or sliced (e.g. oranges, apples, pears, limes, plums, pineapple, pretty much anything goes).

Made-over Sangria:

Cut back on the wine and juice and replace the sprite with an increased quantity of club soda (sodium-free). Serve over plenty of ice. I like to use so much fruit in my sangria that people ask if I’m drinking fruit salad. Make sure you actually eat the delicious fruit.

Traditional Shandy:

Beer mixed with some kind of pop, usually citrus-flavoured or gingerale.

Made-over Shandy:

Beer mixed with soda water (again, low or no sodium) and lemon and/or lime wedges.

I really don’t want to get into messing with beer and wine (beyond the suggestions above, obviously). You all know that there are low-calorie beers available, right? Try a few varieties, see if you like them. With wine, make sure that your glass is not actually 2-3 glasses in one. A serving of wine is only 5-oz. That’s a little over 1/2 cup. Many wine glasses hold much more than that and should only be filled about a third of the way for one serving. If you’re drinking a full large glass of wine don’t kid yourself into thinking that you’re only having one glass.

For every drink that you have, drink a glass of water either before or after. Keep in mind that current health recommendations are that women have no more than two drinks per day, men no more than three. If you do over-indulge please, please, PLEASE don’t drink and drive!