Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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If children are the future we may be in trouble

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After coming across a few teacher resources I’ve started to wonder about what lessons we’re really teaching children in schools.

The first example was actually a list of nutrition curriculum supports for teachers compiled by dietitians. Most of them were great but a few that really stood out to me were ones produced by companies whose m.o. is to sell products, not to educate. I found it concerning that nutrition professionals would consider promoting self-esteem resources from Dove and videos about farming from companies like Kashi to students would be appropriate. Considering the clear lack of media literacy and nutrition literacy in our society, I think it’s vital that as nutrition professionals we do our utmost to promote credible, unbiased (or at least as unbiased as possible) sources of nutrition information to the public and particularly to children and youth.

So, there was that. Then I came across a (US-based) website of “food resources” for teachers with a number of activities featuring candy to teach kids lessons about various subjects such as math and science. For example, we have: gummy bear genetics, gummy worm measurements, the history of marshmallows, math with candies, and chocolate and solvents. Why exactly do we need to use sugary treats to teach children in school? Is this the norm? Is the prevailing perception that children need to be bribed to learn anything in school?

There’s lesson plans on the website including things like “Juice Nutrition 101” which one might reasonably assume would be about the pros and cons of juice. If so, you would be incorrect. It’s actually only about the alleged benefits of juice and was (get this) used with permission from Ocean Spray Cranberries, inc. I shit you not.

What kind of lessons do these sorts of things actually teach children? Not critical thinking, I’m sure. Nor do they teach children accurate unbiased nutrition information. They also normalize and encourage the regular consumption of candy and treats that should really be “sometimes” foods. We need to have more dietitians involved with the development of educational resources. We need to ensure that teachers are nutrition and media literate so that they don’t use resources such as those mentioned above in their classrooms. If children are the future we need to do better at equipping them with the skills to navigate and emerge from this “post truth” era.

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Craisin a little hell #craisingate 2016

Earlier this week Dr. Yoni Freedhoff wrote about why he considers craisins to be better classified as candy than as fruit. I retweeted his post and posed the question on twitter: Should craisins be considered candy or fruit?

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As you can see from the results, people were overwhelming in favour of treating craisins as candy rather than as fruit. However, the results don’t tell the full story.

There was a surprising amount of vitriol expressed by some of my fellow dietitians. Apparently this topic touched on a nerve. Personally, I don’t feel all that strongly about the subject but I do take exception when people suggest that I’m causing eating disorders by daring to suggest that we should treat craisins (and perhaps other dried fruit) as we would candy, and not as we would fruit. I don’t see the need to attack each other’s professional ability over such a minor disagreement. Just because I disagree with dietitians who believe that craisins should be treated as fruit doesn’t mean that I think they’re incompetent. We don’t have to agree on everything and in the big scheme of nutrition this is pretty minor.

Anyway… A loaf of other strawmen brought to the party. Apparently I also hate camping because I think craisins are like candy. Somehow I was also implying that craisins are causing obesity (yes, I don’t get it either). I was “demonizing” craisins. Really? Really? I had no idea that people were so passionate about dried up sugary cranberries.

Let’s look at the facts. While Yoni drew some comparisons between craisins and candy, I think we should also take a moment to compare craisins and cranberries.

Dried Cranberries (60ml) Fresh Cranberries (125ml)
95 kcal 23 kcal
25.32 g carbohydrate 6.12 g carbohydrate
1.8 g fibre 2.3 g fibre
19.98 g sugar 2.03 g sugar
3 mg calcium 4 mg calcium
0 mcg vitamin A 18 mcg vitamin A (beta carotene)
0 mcg folate 1 mcg folate
0 mcg vitamin B12 0 mcg vitamin B12
0.1 mg vitamin C 6.7 mg vitamin C
1.2 mcg vitamin K 2.6 mcg vitamin K
4.92 g moisture 50 g moisture

As you can see, craisins do lose some nutrients when they’re dehydrated. They also gain a whole lotta sugar (both because the sugar is more concentrated and because a lot of sugar is added to make them tasty).

The sugar is certainly one of the reasons that I think we should treat craisins more like candy than like fruit. It’s like any sweet treat, apple pie, chocolate milk. Sure there are some redeeming qualities but just because it was once a berry, fruit, or white milk doesn’t mean that it’s equal to what that food was in it’s original state.

Why else should we consider craisins to be more akin to candy than to fruit? They’re lacking the water that’s present in whole fruit. This has three effects: 1. you’re not getting the water that you would eating whole cranberries that you do from dried, 2. the calories are far more concentrated so you only need a small portion to get the same calories that you would from eating fresh cranberries, 3. craisins are very sticky which makes them excellent contributors to the formation of dental caries.

After I had written this post, another RD (who wisely chooses to remain nameless, wanting to avoid getting caught in the fray) shared this with me:

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Sorry, for the poor resolution. Hopefully it’s clear enough for you to see that these national guidelines recommend dried fruit be included as “sometimes” foods. Which, as you can see below, is exactly what I’ve been saying.

I’m not saying that craisins are bad. Heck, I sprinkled some in my pancake batter for Pancake Tuesday (much as I might chocolate chips). I don’t think that candy is “bad” either. I don’t believe in labelling foods as “good” or “bad”. All foods fit. We should simply consume some more regularly than others and I would put craisins firmly in the “sometimes” food category.

*Thanks to my friend and fellow RD Mark McGill for the title suggestion and tweep Amanda McLaren for coining the now infamous craisingate hashtag


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Some thoughts on M&Ms and natural dyes

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An American mum has started a crusade to have artificial food dyes removed from M&Ms. Apparently, in Europe, natural plant-based dyes are used to provide the colour for the candy shells of M&Ms. As there is potential that some of these artificial food dyes have negative effects on health I can get behind the demand to have these ingredients removed from food products.

Some of my comments on the petition to remove food dyes from Kraft Dinner in the US apply to this matter as well. I think that it’s important to bear in mind that regardless of the source of colour, we’re still talking about candy here. Changing the source of the colour is not going to make M&Ms any healthier. M&Ms should still be regarded as a treat; not as a regular part of a diet.

In addition, I’d also like to take the time to remind people that “natural” doesn’t necessarily make a food superior. It’s actually a pretty meaningless marketing term. Remember that “natural vanilla flavour” might come from beaver anal glands and sometimes ground insects are used to colour foods.


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Rehealthifying Hallowe’en

This is a slightly edited repost of a blog post from last year.

I’m sure that all of you who are giving out Hallowe’en treats to trick-or-treaters this year have already made your purchases but perhaps this will be helpful for next year.

There’s been a number of articles about handing out healthier or non-food treats on Hallowe’en. I remember one year my mum purchased multi-packs of sugar-free gum every time she went grocery shopping and we gave those out. We were the coolest house on the block. I think being creative and giving out healthier treats is a great idea, however, I’m not down with some of the suggestions.

Naturally, I’m disappointed with the You Docs (i.e. Oz and Roizen). Their suggestions: “Make up goodie bags that contain some combination of pre-packaged treats: organic gummy bears; dried fruits and pretzels dipped in dark chocolate; amazing dark-chocolate edamame; and non-food treats like animal-shaped erasers or rub-on temporary tattoos.” While I like the non-food suggestions (much better than the lame HB pencils given out by one of my neighbours when I was growing up) I don’t think the food ones are all that great. Organic gummy bears are still sugary treats and aren’t going to be nutritionally superior to regular gummy bears. I’m also not keen on the dried fruit idea. Sure, dried fruit is more nutritious than candy but it’s still terrible from an oral health perspective and because it’s dried, the sugar and calories are highly concentrated. And chocolate covered edamame? I’m sure that’s readily available in affordable treat-sized baggies for kids.

Then there’s the article on Yahoo featuring the 10 Worst Halloween Candies as determined by dentists and nutritionists. Honestly, I’m not sure how these candies are worse than any of the others out there. As an aside, since when is there candy corn M&Ms?? The arguments about the mini chocolate bars could be made about nearly every brand, not just those featured. It’s nice of Yahoo to provide alternative suggestions but they’re really not much better than the original treats (e.g. an “airier” chocolate bar or organic peanut butter cups). Hello, organic does not equal healthy!

My suggestion: let kids enjoy Hallowe’en but take responsibility. If you’re a parent, ensure that treats are rationed so that Hallowe’en doesn’t turn into a sugary night of gluttony and make sure that your kids practice good oral hygiene. If you’re giving out treats consider giving out soemthing inedible but fun like the suggestions above, or something that might spur activity or creativity like art supplies, stickers, playing cards, or bouncy balls. You could also give out free-passes to a local swimming pool or skating rink.


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Healthifying Hallowe’en

I’m sure that all of you who are giving out Hallowe’en treats to trick-or-treaters this year have already made your purchases but perhaps this will be helpful for next year.

There’s been a number of articles about handing out healthier or non-food treats on Hallowe’en. I remember one year my mum purchased multi-packs of sugar-free gum   she went grocery shopping and we gave those out. We were the coolest house on the block. I think being creative and giving out healthier treats is a great idea, however, I’m not down with some of the suggestions.

Naturally, I’m disappointed with the You Docs (i.e. Oz and Roizen). Their suggestions: “Make up goodie bags that contain some combination of pre-packaged treats: organic gummy bears; dried fruits and pretzels dipped in dark chocolate; amazing dark-chocolate edamame; and non-food treats like animal-shaped erasers or rub-on temporary tattoos.” While I like the non-food suggestions (much better than the lame HB pencils given out by one of my neighbours when I was growing up) I don’t think the food ones are all that great. Organic gummy bears are still sugary treats and aren’t going to be nutritionally superior to regular gummy bears. I’m also not keen on the dried fruit idea. Sure, dried fruit is more nutritious than candy but it’s still terrible from an oral health perspective and because it’s dried, the sugar and calories are highly concentrated.

Then there’s the article on Yahoo featuring the 10 Worst Halloween Candies as determined by dentists and nutritionists. Honestly, I’m not sure how these candies are worse than any of the others out there. As an aside, since when is there candy corn M&Ms?? The arguments about the mini chocolate bars could be made about nearly every brand, not just those featured. It’s nice of Yahoo to provide alternative suggestions but they’re really not much better than the original treats (e.g. an “airier” chocolate bar or organic peanut butter cups). Hello, organic does not equal healthy!

My suggestion: let kids enjoy Hallowe’en but take responsibility. If you’re a parent, ensure that treats are rationed so that Hallowe’en doesn’t turn into a sugary night of gluttony and make sure that your kids practice good oral hygiene. If you’re giving out treats consider giving out soemthing inedible but fun like the suggestions above or something that might spur activity or creativity like art supplies, playing cards, or bouncy balls.