Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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No big fat surprise that butter is being touted as the next Superfood

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Why, oh why must we take everything to the extreme? Is it because simple healthy eating is boring? We have to have “clean eating”, “superfoods”, “low-fat”, “low-carb”, “cleanses”, “high-protein”, yada yada. The latest mantra to irk me “slather on the butter”. I know, I know, I said it first “real dietitians eat butter”. But this doesn’t mean that we have to eat it to excess. What am I on about now? An article in the Daily Mail that I came across on the weekend: Can eating fatty meat, whole milk and lashings of butter help you LOSE weight?

Okay, most of us in the nutrition world have accepted that low-fat was a grievous error. Taking anything to the extreme is a nutritional error. Just because something is not “bad” for you, or even good for you, doesn’t mean that you should consume more of it. The logic seems to go: apples are delicious and nutritious; therefore, an entire bag of them must be even better. In this case, we’re not even referring to foods that we know to be healthy when consumed regularly. We’re referring to foods that were unfairly demonized but have not been shown to lead to good health when consumed daily.

Perhaps, the article in the Daily Mail does not accurately portray Nina Teicholz’s book The Big Fat Surprise. I haven’t read the book, so I can only comment on the news article. Encouraging people to eat more cream, high-fat red meat, butter, and other foods high in saturated fat is not the solution to the obesity epidemic that the Daily Mail would have you believe. Yes, you can lose weight eating anything; remember the Twinkie Doctor? This doesn’t mean that you’re healthier (especially in the long-term).

Apparently Teicholz claims that removing the fat from milk means adding more carbohydrates. No. When you remove fat, you are not adding anything. Yes, an equivalent quantity of skim milk will be higher in carbohydrate (not sugar though) than whole milk. That’s simply a result of what’s left behind when you remove the fat. It’s also higher in protein, minerals, and vitamins. We wrongly vilified saturated fat, let’s blame carbs.

Health and the battle against obesity should not be a nutrient blame-game. How about we stop demonizing and glorifying foods and nutrients and accept that there is a place for bread and a place for butter in a healthy diet.


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Fear of fat

Last week an article in the Globe and Mail discussed recent research indicating that saturated fat is not the heart attack waiting to happen that we believed it to be for the last couple of decades. Great news for butter lovers! As an aside, my original tag-line for this blog was going to be “real dietitians eat butter”. Bad news for many health promoting organizations and for many consumers.

I say it’s bad news for many organizations because messages need to be updated and when you’re dealing with slow-moving bureaucracies such as Health Canada, this often takes some time to occur. In the meantime, this becomes bad for consumers because it’s difficult to know which messages to believe. When the government is telling you to choose margarine and others are telling you to put several tablespoons of butter in your coffee, who to believe?

Personally, I’ve always taken the stance that just because a little of something is good for you it doesn’t necessarily follow that a lot of it is better. Too much of anything is bad for you. Just because we’ve figured out that saturated fats are not likely to cause heart disease doesn’t mean that you should make all of the fat in your diet saturated. Variety is both the spice of life and the foundation of a healthy diet. Go ahead, use butter in that recipe, spread a little on your roll, but also continue to include other fats such as olive oil, nuts, and seeds.

We also need to remember that just because fat doesn’t automatically turn to fat in your body doesn’t mean that it won’t. Fats still have more calories by weight (9 kcal per gram) than other macronutrients. If you consume more calories than your body needs you will gain weight and consuming calorie dense foods (such as those high in fat) makes this easier to do.

There’s no need to fear the fat, be it saturated or unsaturated, but there’s also danger to embracing it to the exclusion of other nutrients.


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Just because an account has a blue checkmark doesn’t mean it knows all

I don’t follow this twitter account but after a seeing a retweet of this (fortunately not in a complimentary manner):

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Yes, many of us have experienced workouts where we felt like we were going to vomit. However, that’s no reason to push your body beyond its limits. Listen to your body. Enjoy exercise!

I had to peruse the timeline… I found an interesting mix of decent advice and misinformation. Here are just a few of the worst offenders I found in a quick scroll:

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There is nothing wrong with using butter sparingly. Yes, extra virgin olive oil is a healthy choice. However, at high temperatures it breaks down, making it less healthy for us. Also, consuming too much of any type of fat (or food) ignores one of the most important edicts of a healthy diet: variety.

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Again, red meat can be a part of a healthy diet. But… It doesn’t have to be. We should consume a variety of sources of protein and red meat is wholly unnecessary.

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Common myth. Previously written about here.


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More about butter and coffee and so-called experiments

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After seeing Mondays blog post on buttered coffee, a friend sent me a link to another blog post about adding butter to coffee. Unfortunately for me, I was reading the post on my phone, skimmed through the middle, and read the end conclusion that you should “TRY IT!  You won’t be sorry.” As it turned out, that quote was from an earlier post, which in my haste and on my iphone, appeared to be a continuation of the first post. This lead to a long and painful “discussion” on twitter with the author of the original post.

The author actually did reach a (somewhat) similar conclusion to that reached by Lindsey: “I think that the potential long term increase in cholesterol-related counts, despite my low carb diet, would ultimately be unsustainably unhealthy…for me.” This was on the basis of a personal case study in which he maintained his regular diet and changed nothing other than the addition of four tablespoons of grass-fed butter to his morning coffee.

Now, the author also states that he leads a healthy active lifestyle: eats mainly paleo, strength trains, and does and jiu jitsu. After removing the butter from his coffee he saw an improvement in his blood work. Even though I’m glad that his results supported our conviction that adding copious amounts of butter to one’s morning coffee is a nutritional nightmare, I still don’t think his experiment holds much credence. He admits that this was not a double-blind study. However, I don’t see this as being the issue here. The issue is that it’s an experiment with one participant. Yes, the results are interesting but they’re unlikely to be applicable to the vast majority of the population. Most people don’t consume diets similar to his. Nor do they exercise regularly. Imagine what the results of the blood panel of the average North American drinking Bulletproof coffee in an effort to lose weight would be after a month!

The only people I can see experiencing any benefit from consuming coffee with butter would be those suffering from anorexia or other conditions leading to excessive weight-loss.


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Ignorance does not make a food unhealthy

I was reading this article on margarine vs butter the other day and one line jumped out at me: “Cons: Margarine is a processed food with a long list of ingredients, some of which are unrecognizable.” While I tend to agree that foods should, as often as possible, be consumed close to their natural state and the fewer ingredients usually the better, I’m sick of the assumption that just because you don’t recognise an ingredient it must follow that it’s bad for you.

For example, alpha-tocopherol acetate is just vitamin E. Potassium sorbate is the potassium salt of sorbic acid and is a widely used food preservative. Riboflavin is vitamin B2 and is often added to breads and cereals. I could go on and on.

My point is not that margarine is superior to butter. Personally, my preference is for butter. I find that smaller quantities are needed to provide superior flavour and I don’t use it particularly often. My point is that ignorance is not a valid reason for condemning a food. If you’re not sure what all of the ingredients are, look them up.

*The above tongue-in-cheek flowchart from Summer Tomato is a permanent fixture on my fridge. Despite the fact that I am essentially arguing against it in this post I find it amusing.