Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Will new nutrition labels make us all thinner?

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Not to be negative, but I saw this headline: How much will new nutrition labels help fight obesity and I immediately said “not at all” (in my head because I was at work and our office is open-concept).

I know the new (American) nutrition facts panel is supposed to help curb obesity because they’ve made the calories so damn big but personally I think it’s not going to help anyone to lose any weight. If people are counting calories and trying to lose weight making them bigger isn’t going to make weight loss any easier. If someone’s not counting calories it’s unlikely that a big bold calorie count is going to prompt them to change their minds about their purchases. I also think the emphasis on calories is not beneficial to anyone.

Yes, lots of people find calorie counting helpful when they’re trying to lose weight. I still yearn for a simpler time when we didn’t need this information. When we didn’t rely to heavily on prepackaged foods that managed to jam in so many calories and so few nutrients. Personally, I think that, for the average consumer, the ingredients label is where they should be looking more often than the nutrition facts panel. The NFP doesn’t tell you anything about what’s in the food you’re potentially putting in your mouth. It just tells you about the artful mastery of the manufacturer who wants to make sure you buy into the charade of fortified highly processed products as healthy choices.

Putting calories front and centre puts a negative lens on food. It takes away from food tasting good, being pleasurable, and providing us with energy and puts the emphasis on guilt and shame. Neither of which are things we should be associating with food.

Rather than focusing our efforts on fighting against obesity we should be fighting for health.


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Should alcohol have nutrition labels?

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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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You can make friends with salad

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In the wake of the hate on almonds, kale, and countless other vegetables comes the defamation of salads. And dietitians everywhere wept into their leafy greens.

Now, while the author is proclaiming that “salad vegetables are pitifully low in nutrition” his real points wilt down to derision for two things: lettuce and fast food salads.

The problem with lettuce is that it contains very few nutrients and uses a lot of water to grow. The problem with fast food salads is that they’re often packed with calorific ingredients like candied nuts, deep-fried croutons, and creamy dressings while containing few vitamins and minerals as they’re predominantly lettuce-based. No argument here. Let’s look a little closer at the first claim though.

Yes, lettuce is not exactly an outstanding vegetable in the land of superfoods. That doesn’t mean that we should quit it entirely. It does contain some nutrients and precisely because it contains relatively few calories it can be a great choice for anyone who’s trying to manage their weight. Four cups of romaine lettuce contains only 40 calories! For one of the very reasons that the author eschews lettuce many people choose to eat it. The water in that lettuce also contributes to your hydration; it’s not like it’s just going to waste.

Even if lettuce isn’t the greatest. That’s no reason to dismiss salads entirely. Lettuce is not an essential salad ingredient. If you want some nutrient-packed salad greens go for spinach, kale, or shredded brussels sprouts. Salads can include loads of nutrient-rich vegetables and fruits, everything from apples to zucchini. You can include grains, nuts, seeds, cheese, meat. The salad combinations are endless, delicious, and nutritious. Salads are so much more than just lettuce.


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Google’s new calorie counting app may be dumb but that doesn’t mean counting calories is

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Apparently Google is developing a “smart” food diary that allows you to track calories simply by taking photos of your food. This concept has been around for a little while and is still notoriously inaccurate. From that standpoint, I agree with the reviewer in the verge who called the smart food diary “dumb”. However, I disagree with their reason for calling it dumb.

He states that “calorie counting doesn’t work”. Um. What? Tell that to the countless people who have successfully maintained weight loss with the help of tracking their food intake. Sure, no one thing works for everyone and calorie counting is not 100% accurate. This doesn’t mean that it’s not a useful weight management tool.

You see, the thing about calorie counting is that it’s not really about the calories, or the counting. It does give people a rough idea of how many calories they’re consuming and a sense of how much to increase or decrease depending on whether they want to gain or lose weight. In addition to that, it increases mindfulness. When you have to record everything you eat it makes you pause before you mindlessly snack out of boredom or anxiety or whatever non-hunger related reason that you might be tempted to eat. It can also help you to get a better idea of what and when to eat. If you see that you’re skipping breakfast and then snacking all night then you might be prompted to aim to start your day with a more substantial breakfast to help curb excessive snacking later in the day. Or if you find that you’re always tired in the afternoon you might see that there’s room for improvement at lunch time or that you might need to add a snack and more water to your afternoon routine.

Yes, in the sense that cutting 3, 500 calories does not generally translate to a pound of weight lost over the course of a week, calorie counting “doesn’t work”. However, as a tool to help guide your food choices and timing, food diaries can be invaluable.


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Why I hate the caloric math game

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I have a beef with a lot of the all-in-one fitness/weight management apps. Many people benefit from tracking their calories when they’re trying to lose weight. I’m all for that. What I hate is the inclusion of calories burnt through exercise. I think that a lot of these apps over-estimate the number of calories expended during various activities. This can mean that if you’re looking at the bottom-line to determine how many calories you can eat without gaining weight you’re probably going to eat more than you need. I often tell people to either not track their exercise using these apps or to ignore the additional calories the app then tells them that they can have. Just use the nutrition side of the app. It’s wise to remember that even that’s not going to be 100% accurate, especially if you’re not weighing everything you eat. It’s just another weight management tool in a box of many.

Now for the real beef: I don’t like that these apps try to turn weight loss into a math problem. It’s not. We used to believe that cutting 3500 kcal would result in a pound of weight lost. We now know that it’s much more complicated than that. There are many factors contributing to the weight we are. Yes, how many calories we consume (and expend) are a huge factor in determining how much we weigh, and whether we lose, gain, or maintain our weight. I don’t want to diminish that fact. I’m not going to tell you that if you just ate cleaner you would lose weight. The cleanliness of your calories doesn’t matter when it comes to weight loss. However, adding 350 calories by going for a walk is an oversimplification. It may also lead to an unhealthy way of thinking about food, exercise, and weight management.

Most of us easily consume more calories than we’ve burnt after a workout. Exercise makes you hungry and it’s a whole lot easier to eat 500 calories than it is to expend them during a workout. When we start thinking about exercise as a way to “earn” more calories we’re moving away from healthy eating and healthy fitness. While I’ve said that the cleanliness of your calories doesn’t matter for weight loss, and I’ve also said that there should be no forbidden foods, eating primarily nutrient-rich whole foods is important for your health. A session at the gym shouldn’t be a licence to eat high-calorie, low-nutrient foods for the rest of the day. Focus on gaining health through the food you eat and the physical activity you do, rather than the numbers in an app or on a scale.