Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


7 Comments

If children are the future we may be in trouble

Screen Shot 2017-12-16 at 6.11.01 PM.png

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.

Advertisements


2 Comments

It ain’t easy feeding greens

11138922.jpg
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”.


2 Comments

Grocery Store Lessons: Mott’s Fruitsations Rolls

20170923_164513.jpg

It’s has recently come to my attention that some moms are blithely sending their kids to school with these new “fruit roll-ups” as the result of a mistaken belief that they are “healthy”.

Before I start dissecting these “fruit” snacks, let me first get this out of the way: healthy eating is complicated. Food is not “bad” or “good”; it has no moral value. And no one food is going to make or break a nutritious balanced diet.

Now that, that’s done, let’s take a closer look at these “healthy” fruit roll-ups, shall we? Ingredient #1: Pear puree. Ingredient #1 in “traditional” fruit roll-ups?: Apple puree. For those who are not aware, ingredients are listed by weight, from most to least. Therefore, the first ingredient in a product is going to be the ingredient that’s present in the greatest quantity. Ingredient #2 in the Mott’s fruit rolls: sugar and/or golden sugar. Ingredient #2 in your “traditional” fruit roll-up: corn syrup. The lists go on from there in a similar fashion. See for yourself:

20170923_164716

 

20170923_164910

It’s difficult to compare the nutrition information for the two products as the serving size for the Mott’s product is 21 grams while the serving size for the classic fruit roll-up is 14 grams. However, (spoiler alert) they are both essentially sugar. Actually, in a surprise twist, the “traditional” fruit roll-up is actually slightly more nutritious than the new “healthy” Mott’s version. It’s has about two grams less of sugar per 7 gram serving and has 2 grams of fibre, whereas the Mott’s roll has no fibre. For further comparisons, again, see for yourself:

20170923_165215.jpg

The moral of the story here is not that Fruit Roll-Ups are a nutritious snack. They are not comparable to whole fruit. They are still just sticky concentrated sugar, ideal for literally rotting kids teeth. It’s that food companies are fantastic at marketing and convincing us that their products are far better for us (and our children in many cases) are better for us than they truly are. What can you do to arm yourself against their clever marketing tactics? Increase your food literacy. Learn how to read nutrition facts labels, and check ingredient lists.


5 Comments

Has healthy eating jumped the shark?

61fRxt98suL._AA436_QL65_

My colleague and I were recently looking for cookbooks for children and families. I was a bit surprised by what’s available. We were looking for something that used basic, affordable ingredients. Recipes that would be easy to prepare, nutritious, and tasty. What we found was a limited number of children’s cookbooks. Some which met our criteria but many that didn’t. Often they featured recipes that weren’t the healthiest. Lots of sweets and not many vegetables. Things that might appeal to kids but that weren’t going to simultaneously promote healthy eating.

The family cookbooks were the most shocking. There were lots that touted themselves as being “healthy” but they featured obscure and expensive ingredients. Recipes that were heavy on the “superfoods” and light on simplicity. While these might appeal to a certain “foodie” subset of the population, they certainly aren’t going to encourage people who shy away from home cooking because they’re intimidated by the prospect.

It makes me wonder if we’ve put “healthy eating” on such a pedestal that it’s become the sole purview of the culinary elite. Has the “wellness” movement made healthy eating seem unattainable to many people by convincing them that they need to prepare chia lemonade, mushroom jerky, and spirulina chapati (yes, these are actual recipes from an actual children’s cookbook)? Are people throwing in the towel and assuming that healthy eating isn’t for them because they think it means having to spend hours in the kitchen every day activating almonds for gluten-free, refined sugar-free, vegan pancakes?

Some of the top cookbooks that came up when I searched Amazon for “family cookbooks” included: Forks Over Knives: Ever Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy, Kids on a Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet; The Happy Family Organic Superfoods Cookbook for Baby & Toddler; and several other vegan cookbooks. I also came across a paleo for families cookbook and a low-carb for families cookbook.

I’m not criticizing anyone’s decision to feed their families in what ever way they see fit. My concern is that by making it seem that healthy eating can only be achieved by following a very specific, often complicated, and costly diet, that the wellness industry is actually pushing people away from healthy eating. Sure, many of these diets and foods can be a part of a healthy diet. The point is that they don’t need to be. You don’t need to eat chia seeds and tempeh to be healthy. Classics like carrots and broccoli are still nutritious. Don’t buy into the hype. Healthy eating can be simple, affordable, and delicious.

 


Leave a comment

Should the government allow industry to market to kids in schools?

 

30947956812_761a3c6cc9_b

Last week I found out about a new food literacy initiative. According to the introduction to their online survey (which unfortunately only wants input from teachers, principals, and board of education consultants) this initiative will involve visits to schools to provide hands-on healthy eating education opportunities. This initiative is an undertaking of the Dairy Farmers of Canada.

I am all for getting food literacy education back into schools. I think that by educating children from a young age about growing, harvesting, preparing, and enjoying food we could prevent a lot of the unhealthy eating habits and chronic diseases that are so prevalent in our society. However, I don’t think that this should be done by any means necessary, and I see the provision of food literacy education by industry as highly problematic.

This is nothing against milk, or the Dairy Farmers of Canada. Milk is a nutritious food and can (although it doesn’t have to) be part of a healthy diet. I love lots of dairy products. I still don’t think that it’s appropriate for Dairy Farmers of Canada to be providing nutrition education in public schools.

From the Dairy Farmers of Canada website:

Run for farmers by farmers, Dairy Farmers of Canada is the voice of Canadian dairy farmers.

Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) is the national policy, lobbying and promotional organization representing Canada’s farmers living on approximately 12,000 dairy farms. DFC strives to create stable conditions for the Canadian dairy industry, today and in the future. It works to maintain policies that foster the viability of Canadian dairy farmers and promote dairy products and their health benefits.

Dairy farmers fund its operations, including promotional activities.

I think that makes it pretty clear what their mandate is. It’s not to provide unbiased nutrition education to children. It’s to promote their products to consumers. Make no mistake about it, that’s what they would be doing by providing food literacy education to children in schools. They would be marketing to the next generation of consumers.

Would it be appropriate for Coca Cola, McDonald’s, or Frito-Lay to provide food literacy education to a captive group of school children? Just imagine if KFC announced that it would be providing food literacy education to children in schools. Parents and the public would be freaking out. It’s no more acceptable for the dairy industry to be given access to children in schools just because some dairy products are nutritious. It’s highly inappropriate, not to mention ironic, for any food industry lobby group to be marketing to children in schools whether it be under the guise of food literacy education or not.