Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Will the Impossible Burger give you boobs?

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I saw this article making the rounds on Twitter and I couldn’t resist blogging about it. For those who haven’t seen it, and can’t be bothered to click the link (honestly, it’s not worthy of your clicks) it’s some sort of “Big Meat” propaganda. The headline reads: DOCTOR: Burger King’s ‘Impossible Burger’ has 18 Million Times More Estrogen Than Regular Whopper: Burger King’s Impossible Burger may cause men to grow breasts. Total clickbait and I, for one, could not resist it.

According to the article, the Impossible Burger has 44 mg of estrogen while the Whopper has a mere 2.5 ng. Allegedly this means that if a hypothetical man were to eat four Impossible Burgers a day (for some indeterminate number of days which I feel is a pretty huge omission) he would grow breasts.  Apparently, eating four Impossible Burgers a day is the same as drinking six glasses of soy milk a day which is well known to be the magic number of glasses of soy milk at which men will spontaneously grow breasts. Except, I can find absolutely no evidence that this is true. According to Harvard, there are a number of reasons why men may grow breasts including certain medications and medical conditions but there is no mention of soy (which is the source of the phytoestrogens in the Impossible Burger). Fellow RD, Andy has also dispelled many of the myths around soy consumption including claims that it can have a detrimental effect on men’s health in this article.

You may also have noticed that the doctor who wrote the original smear piece on the Impossible Burger refers to estrogen while I’m talking about phytoestrogens. Despite what you may have heard, these are not the same things. Estrogen is the hormone found in humans and other animals while phytoestrogens are the plant-based forms of estrogen. Phytoestrogens do not have the same effect on us as estrogen does. I think it’s also worth pointing out that all of these men who are now afraid to eat the Impossible Burger because they might get boobs that there is already a LOT of soy in many foods that you’re probably eating every day. There is soy in many processed meats (yep, your good old manly hot dogs, deli meats, and many beef burgers) contain TVP (textured vegetable protein, aka soy, as a cheap filler); many of your sports supplements like bars, shakes, and protein powders contain soy; breakfast cereals, etc.

The article I referenced above was from a publication called National File which purports to be “America’s newest conservative news source”. This automatically raises red flags for me. As it’s pretty much proclaiming to be fake news. The original article by Dr Stangle was published in Tri-State Livestock News. Hmm…. could such a publication possibly have any bias? Surely they would never want to paint beef burgers in a more favourable light than plant-based burgers. And not that this means that he’s not knowledgeable about human nutrition but the doctor who wrote the article is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. This doesn’t instil great confidence in me that he’s an authority on human nutrition. I also wonder about where he gets his money from; certainly not soybean farmers but perhaps cattle ranchers? I can’t find much about him online but I did find an article that mentions he’s a member of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners.

All this to say: sorry everyone who’s been scarfing down four Impossible Burgers daily in the hopes of growing breasts, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. I still wouldn’t recommend eating that many burgers a day (Impossible or otherwise) but they’re not going to give you breasts.


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Why industry shouldn’t have special input into the food guide

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With the recent public consultation on the new Canadian “food guide” just coming to an end I’ve been noticing a lot of push-back from industry. There was a letter from a MP voicing concern about the new food guide as the new guiding principles seem to be steering people away from animal-based sources of protein and encouraging the consumption of more plant-based proteins. “I am concerned that the guiding principles released by Health Canada for Canada’s new food guide may have significant negative impacts on Canada’s meat and dairy sectors, and also the health of Canadians,” said Miller.

There was also a news clip featuring a spokesman from the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association voicing “concern” that Canadians will be nutrient deficient if they replace meat with chickpeas.

There’s been an entire website set-up by Canadian Dairy Farmers entitled “Keep Canadians Healthy” with the message being that people need to drink more (cow’s) milk and that the new food guide is going to “discourage Canadians from consuming dairy and meat products”. They go on to say that, “Left unchecked, Health Canada’s recommendations will not only cripple an important Canadian industry, but have long-term health consequences for all Canadians.” 

These examples are exactly why so many of us dietitians, doctors, and others have been complaining about the direct involvement of industry in developing previous iterations of the food guide. I can understand why those whose livelihood depends on the sale of dairy and beef would be concerned that the new food guide will (likely) not continue to serve as free advertising of their products. Although nobody really pays the food guide much heed anyway when they’re deciding what to put in their mouths.

The purpose of the food guide is to help Canadians to eat healthy. The food guide should be based on the best possible evidence. If you think that the dairy and beef (or any other food industry for that matter) has your health at heart you are sorely mistaken. Their goal is to make more money by selling more product.

As a dietitian, it’s my professional goal to help people to eat better. I don’t have any products to sell. I consume dairy products and meat (although I don’t consume much meat). I’m not trying to destroy the beef or dairy industries. I can honestly tell you that most Canadians would benefit from consuming less meat and that it’s not necessary to drink milk to meet specific nutrient needs. Most of us could stand to consume more plants and more plant sources of protein. It’s highly unlikely that anyone in Canada is going to suffer from nutrient deficiencies because Health Canada finally grew a backbone and stopped allowing industries to shape the food guide. Also, the food guide is not going to be telling people to become vegan or vegetarian, it’s hopefully (and rightfully) going to encourage people to consume less meat and more plants.

No food guide is ever going to be perfect. It’s never going to satisfy everyone and I’m sure that I’ll find something wrong with it when it’s released. However, as I’ve said before, it’s a guide, not a bible. It’s a tool to help people to make healthier choices. By using current evidence to inform the content, we’re already a step closer to a better tool.


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Putting the “twit” in twitter: a look at kale

I was taking a break from trying to figure out what to blog about and reading my twitter feed when I was inspired by a tweet: “Fun stat: Kale has more iron in it than beef and Kale chips are YUM. Also a good source of protein,calcium,and fibre. More calcium than milk”. Was this tweeted by someone with any sort of nutrition background. Nope. I love that the Internet gives everyone a voice. Unfortunately, that’s also the downfall of the Internet. Misinformation is easily spread with the click of a button. What’s wrong with this tweet in particular? It’s not that kale isn’t great. Kale is awesome and probably the most nutritious of all the leafy greens. The problem is that the facts provided in this tweet are misleading. Let’s look at a comparison of the iron in kale and beef: one serving of kale (1/2 cup cooked) contains 0.62 mg of iron, one serving of beef (75 g cooked steak) contains 2.06 mg of iron. You don’t have to be a math whiz to figure out that the beef clearly has considerably more iron than the kale. It’s also important to bear in mind that the form of iron in meat (i.e. heme iron) is more easily absorbed than the non-heme iron found in plants. That means that you’ll absorb a greater percentage of the iron in the beef than you will of the iron in the kale (or any other plant-based source of iron). Now what about the other nutrient claims in this tweet… Is kale a good source of protein? 1.3 g. Not too bad, also important to keep in mind that it’s not a complete protein, it doesn’t contain all of the essential amino acids. That means that you need to include other sources of protein to get all of the amino acids your body needs. Is kale a good source of calcium? 49 mg. Not too shabby, right? Well, the recommended daily intake of calcium for adults between 19-50 years of age is 1, 000 mg so you still need a LOT more sources of calcium in your diet. Is it more calcium than milk? One cup of milk has 316 mg of calcium. Even if we go measure for measure, milk has way more calcium in it than kale does. How about fibre then? 1.4 g. That’s okay. At the lowest end of fibre recommendations it’s about 6% of what an adult should be getting in a day.

I don’t want to come across all down on kale. I truly love kale and I think it’s a great food. I just don’t want people to read one misinformed tweet and think that kale is a magic food providing them with practically all of the nutrients they need. As I’ve said before; there are NO super foods! You need to consume a variety of foods to obtain all of the nutrients that your body needs to function at its best.