Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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It ain’t easy feeding greens

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Last week this article: Don’t Make Children Eat Their Greens caught my eye, mainly because of the headline. Great dietitian click-bait Guardian ;)

The article is actually much better than the headline makes it appear but I still have to throw my two-cents into the ring. As the author concedes (near the end of the article and prior to launching into his own advice) he is not a dietitian. It reminded me of a photo I’d seen on Instagram recently. It was a page from a book with a quote along the lines of “Not everyone who eats imagines themselves to be a dietitian”. Which I’m sure will amuse my fellow RDs because, in my experience, nearly everyone who eats does fancy themselves to be dietitians. While lived experience can certainly be valuable, it’s not exactly the gold standard of scientific evidence. I appreciate that the author incorporated viewpoints from professionals, such as a dietitian and psychologist, but I actually found some of the comments he included from them to be a little odd.

According to the RD source for the article, “The human body is very clever and can adapt over generations. It can use what resources it has available”. Which is all well and fine but really has no bearing on feeding children in the here and now. Adapting over generations is not the same as adapting over one’s own lifespan. I can personally decide that I’m going to forego certain essential nutrients and expect that my body will just adapt. Without a source of vitamin C, for example, I would invariably eventually develop scurvy.

The other issue I take with the article comes from a seemingly throw-away comment. The author’s (adult) daughter says that she refused to eat peas (and other green vegetables) growing up because “they don’t taste good”. To which the author writes “They don’t”. And this is an issue that the author misses in much of his advice. That issue is role modelling behaviour. Children learn by watching and if they are watching parents who don’t eat or show displeasure with certain foods they’re quite likely to adopt similar attitudes themselves. I can’t help but wonder, if the author’s attitude was more positive toward peas if his daughter might have developed a more favourable attitude toward them as well.

Much of the other advice in the article is spot-on based on current recommendations. Food should not be used as a reward or punishment, mealtimes should not become battlegrounds, caregivers should respect children’s appetites. It’s unfortunate that the headline gives the impression that vegetables are an unnecessary part of a healthy diet. While I’m sure that many meatetarians would be overjoyed with this stance, it’s not really the point of the article, nor is it the correct message. While not nearly as catchy of click-baity, a more accurate headline would be something like “Give Your Children Nutritious Meals and Snacks and Allow Them to Decide How Much to Eat”.

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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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Grocery store lessons: Big Slice apples

Oh hai. Did you miss me? Well, I missed you! Sorry for the hiatus. We were moving and I was starting a new job (eeee!!!) and we had no internets. But, now it’s the weekend (no, sorry, it’s Monday, sit back down) as I write this and it’s a beautiful day for blogging on the balcony with a Beau’s. I’d like to thank my friend Hannah for the blogspiration, making it easy for me to jump right back into it.

Have you seen this Big Slice product? I hadn’t, but Hannah wanted me to confirm her suspicions that it was essentially health washing (and certainly price jacking) of apple pie filling.

Let’s do a little comparison shall we?

Here’s the nutrition info for the Big Slice cinnamon french toast flavour:

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And here’s the nutrition info for a standard serving of apple pie filling:

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Naturally one would have to be by weight and the other by volume but let’s assume they’re similar serving sizes. They both clock in at 80 calories, contain pretty much the same amounts of carbs (20 g in the pie filling versus 21 in the “snack”) which consist of mostly sugar (16 g in the pie filling and 17 g in the “snack” – that’s roughly four teaspoons of sugar in that little pouch!). They also both contain essentially no other nutrients although the “snack” does contain a whole whack of vitamin C (because it’s used as a preservative). The ingredients are strikingly similar as well; don’t be fooled by the “snack” listing “apple and/or white grape juice concentrate” that’s just sugar by another name.

So, now that we know that these apple “slices” are basically over-packaged, over-priced apple pie filling, just for fun, let’s look at how they compare to an actual apple. One medium apple is approximately 180 grams (more than twice as much as the apple “snack”) but only contains about 95 calories. It does contain more sugar than the apple “snack” (about 1/2 teaspoon more) but none of that is added sugar and for more than twice the serving size it’s a much better choice. It also has a bit more than twice the fibre of the apple “snack” making it a good source of fibre rather than a middling one. It’s convenient, coming with it’s own protective packaging (aka skin) and affordable (generally about 80 cents at the store), and environmentally friendly (the core is biodegradable). All told, a much better choice than the Big Slice apple snacks.

Don’t buy the hype. Big Slice apples are not a “healthy snack”. If you want to send your child to school with a processed apple coated in sickly sweet sauce then consider portioning out a can of apple pie filling into Tupperware containers. You might not be saving your child from cavities and poor eating habits but at least you’d be doing your bank account and the environment a favour.


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Grocery store lessons: Chef Boyardee

Whole grain has become one of those nutrition buzzwords alleging nutritional quality. Unfortunately, adding whole grains to an otherwise unhealthy product does not a healthy product make. This is the case with Chef Boyardee’s “Whole Grain Mini ABC’s and 123’s”. On a non-nutrition note: can’t they even get the punctuation correct? No apostrophes necessary chef!

Okay, I’d like to think that people would be savvy enough to realise that Chef Boyardee is not a healthy food choice to give to their children. However, when products are health-washed with prominent labelling such as “Whole Grain” and “No Preservatives” perhaps the desire to believe that good nutrition can be had by simply opening a can is too overwhelming for some to ignore.

First, let’s take a look at those nutrition claims. Whole Grain: The pasta used is made from both whole grain wheat flour and non-whole grain flour. So yes, there is whole grain used but it’s not 100% whole grain. No Preservatives: Really? Then why is there so much salt added? 540 mg of sodium (in half a can) and the ingredients list sea salt and salt back-to-back, a sneaky way to move salt  further down the ingredient list. That’s still nearly half the amount of sodium an adult should be having in one day.

Aside from the ridiculous amount of sodium, this really isn’t the worst premade product on the market. It’s got 230 calories, 10 g fat (3.5 saturated), 590 mg potassium, 3 g fibre, and 8 g protein. However, you’d still be better off making spaghetti and sauce yourself. Even if you use a jar or can of sauce you can choose one that’s got more vegetables (the Chef Boyardee only has tomato puree so it essentially has none) and add some yourself. Don’t let labels mislead you; they are marketing, not educational, tools.