Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Is healthy food cheaper? Is that even the question?

 

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Continuing on with my ranting discussion about food security, I can’t help but comment on a study out of England that was getting huge media attention over the past couple of weeks. The study showed that “pound for pound” it was less expensive to eat healthy foods than to eat ultra-processed foods. The majority of the news stories concluded that poor people could be eating healthfully they just prefer to pay more for “taste and convenience”, according to one of the study’s authors. To which I say, check your privilege.

As I’ve said before, food insecurity is not a matter of simple math. While there are certainly myriad factors that contribute to our decisions about what to eat, lack of income is the root cause of food insecurity. Dismissing money as a concern on the basis of this study is wishful thinking more than anything. It’s also an insult to people who are struggling to make ends meet and feed themselves and their families.

Because some researchers went to the store and found that a pound of carrots is cheaper than a pound of french fries, the logical conclusion is that everyone should be able to afford to eat nutritious meals prepared from minimally processed ingredients? That seems like quite the leap to me. There’s no accounting for calories or ease of preparation in this comparison. Sure, a pound of vegetables may be less expensive than a pound of frozen ready-meals but I think that most people would agree that carrots do not make a balanced meal on their own. To make a nutritionally balanced meal, you’d need to round those carrots out with some dark green leafy veg, some protein like meat, fish, beans, or tofu (the authors acknowledge that meat and fish are the exception to their affordability rule), and a grain such as rice, quinoa, or whole grain bread. As most of these items need to be purchased in quantities greater than those needed for a single meal, it can quickly become more expensive to buy ingredients for a home cooked meal than it is to buy something already, or nearly, prepared. Yes, pound for pound, a bag of rice will be less expensive than frozen dinners but a bag of rice doesn’t make for much of a meal.

Stop trying to use your research to “prove” that poor people are choosing to feed their children junk. Take a good hard look at your own privilege and ask yourself how you can make this a more equitable society in which we try to help those who are struggling rather than shaming and blaming them.

 


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I DoughNOT recommend the Krispy Kreme Challenge

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Box pile at the Krispy Kreme Challenge. Photo by Dan Block. Used under a Creative Commons Licence

I feel like I’ve heard about the Krispy Kreme Challenge before but I’d never really paid it much attention. The other day, a post by Canadian Running caught my attention. It was about the challenge and I clicked on the link to read the full article. I have to admit that I actually had a feeling of revulsion as I read that participants in this challenge must consume 2, 400 calories worth of doughnuts and run 8k to complete the challenge which is a fundraiser for a children’s hospital (#facepalm). In case you missed my earlier rants about fast food charity, here’s a taste.

A someone who loves to run (I’ve run over 400 days in a row and am currently training for the Boston Marathon) and who loves to eat doughnuts, and sometimes even combines the two, I am not opposed to doughnuts. But the idea of eating 12 doughnuts, equivalent to 2, 400 calories, whether during a run or not seems like too much of a good thing. Considering that I would probably burn just over 400 calories on an 8k run, I would be ingesting an excess 2, 000 calories, essentially all of my calories for the day with none of the other important nutrients. In fact, I would have to run a full marathon (42.2k) to use the energy from all of those doughnuts. Curious how many calories you would burn during the Krispy Kreme Challenge? Check-out this calculator.

This sort of challenge just feeds into the (false) notion that you can compensate for whatever you eat through exercise. Because it’s for charity, you’re left feeling good about feeling ill from eating far too many doughnuts and running a relatively short distance. If you want to support the hospital, make a donation. This challenge is a total doughNOT.


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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.