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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Burger King rules in New Brunswick schools

Burger King image by Mike Mozart on flickr used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Burger King image by Mike Mozart on flickr used under a Creative Commons Licence.

A few weeks ago it hit the news that Burger King has the contract to provide hot lunches for the Anglophone East School District in New Brunswick. Some people were upset that a fast food restaurant is being paid to provide children with lunches. Others defended the program by stating that the foods provided meet the provincial school nutrition policy.

Without knowing exactly what foods are being provided through this program, I would be remiss in dismissing the program as unhealthy. The article simply states that burgers can’t be served more than twice a week, fries aren’t served at all, and they also offer salads and apple sauce. I admit that these claims don’t instil me with much confidence that the offerings are truly healthy, balanced, varied choices. After all, a healthy diet isn’t the absence of the least healthy foods. Offering burgers “only” twice a week isn’t exactly a paradigm of health. Nor is apple sauce and what I’m speculating would be an iceberg lettuce-heavy salad. But that’s just speculation. Perhaps BK is offering a variety of nutritious salad options.

I do think that it’s unfortunate that the decision as to which company receives the RFP to provide schools with lunches is made based on what company can meet the guidelines for the lowest price. Instead of looking at what other hot lunch providers can offer by way of variety and nutrition above and beyond foods permitted, it’s all about the money. Far be it for schools to consider the import of good nutrition on health, behaviour, and the ability of students to learn.

The issue goes beyond the nutritional value of the food being served. Having Burger King provide the hot lunches also allows them to advertise within the schools and build life-long customers out of young children. BK may be providing the food at a lower cost than other providers could but that’s because they’re a huge corporation that sells relatively inexpensive mass-produced food products. They’re also getting more than their money’s worth by being allowed to advertise in schools in this manner, and don’t think for a second that this isn’t exactly why they’re doing it.

In an ideal world, schools would have their own cafeterias with staff and nutritious food prepared for all students at lunch. Unfortunately, our world isn’t ideal. At the very least, school boards could be ensuring that RFPs give preference to local companies rather than large multinational fast food conglomerates.


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Unsatisfied with Satisfries

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I’m sure you’ve heard about Burger King’s new “Satisfries” by now. They’ve been all over the papers and my twitterfeed and chances are, two days later, I’m the last dietitian to blog about them. But even if the topic’s been blogged to death how can I not address it?

My first thought was “I don’t know how I feel about these fries”. At 20% fewer calories and 30% less fat than BK’s standard fries they do provide a slightly less unhealthy option for fry-lovers. As many of us dietitians like to suggest making small initial changes (e.g. milk instead of cream in coffee) to help clients with weight loss goals I thought, “well, maybe these have a place”. But then I thought about it some more…

I said that the Satisfries are slightly less  unhealthy because, despite what BK would like you to believe, they are still not actually healthy. They are still deep-fried potatoes. How did they reduce the fat and calories? Apparently they changed the proportions of the breading they use on the potatoes so that they absorb less of the oil in the deep-fryer. Awesome. Because we all love secret breading recipes on our fries, right? They still don’t have much in the way of nutrients other than calories from simple carbohydrates and fat. They have no vitamins to speak of and the only real mineral is about a third of your daily sodium.

I also started having visions of the fat-free frenzy in the 80s, and the current sugar-free and gluten-free frenzies. Did the reduction of any of these nutrients in the food supply have any effect on the obesity rates? Is our population any healthier as a result of these initiatives? Nope and nope. All it is, is clever marketing by companies to have us feel better about the crappy food they’re peddling. Odds are, as with the other initiatives, if one orders these Satisfries they’ll end-up over-indulging in something else and undermine  their efforts to eat better. The Satisfries will sit on the tray, just like the diet pop, with the 1, 250 calories Triple Whopper with Cheese because, after all,  they’re having the healthy fries. As far as efforts to curb obesity rates go, reformulating processed food is going to do little or nothing. What we really need is a complete overhaul of the current food and education systems, as well as our physical environment.

My final issue with these fries is the implication of the name. What exactly about a french fry with fewer calories and less fat than a regular fry makes them satisfying? Wouldn’t they be less satisfying than regular fries?

French fries, unless they are oven-baked from whole potatoes with olive oil and spices, are undeserving of a health halo regardless of how you slice (or bread) them.