Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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A recommended detox for @bonappetit

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I think that Bon Appetit is trolling me now. Why else would they come out with another article about detoxing?? This one about “How Chefs Diet When They Need to Hit the Reset Button” with the subheading: “If you’re going to detox, might as well do it like a chef”. No no no. Would you please cut it out with all the detox bullshit Bon Appetit. I read you for recipes, not for terrible health and nutrition advice. If I wanted that, I would be reading Goop.

What’s my issue here? Well, one: detoxes are a misguided waste of effort (and often money). You are not going to remove toxins from your system by drinking green juice. Your body is equipped to regularly remove toxins from your body through a finely tuned system involving your kidneys and liver. Any toxins remaining in your body are not going to be removed through fasting, juice, laxatives, etc.

Two: why would a chef be uniquely qualified to provide advice on “detoxing”? What training do chefs have on human physiology? Perhaps this lack of knowledge is precisely why some of them are needlessly detoxing and willing to contribute to a ridiculous piece, rife with misinformation, on how chefs detox.

What these chefs are doing is not detoxing, it’s crash dieting. I can understand why the notion that we can put unhealthy foods in our bodies most of the time and then remedy that through a day or week of dietary penance would be appealing. Most people would probably like to eat whatever they wanted most of the time and forsake vegetables for bacon. Unfortunately, that’s not the way the human body works. You can’t just fill yourself with nutrient void foods most of the time, starve yourself, and expect that to balance everything out. Fortunately, nutritious foods can be delicious. You don’t have to choose between flavour and health. You can follow a balanced diet all of the time and skip the unnecessary detoxes.

Bon Appetit, I know that you’re a food magazine so perhaps you’re not aware that detoxing is bullshit and that you’re sharing terrible advice. The trouble is, you have a huge readership who look to you for foodspiration and by publishing drivel like this you’re potentially doing them harm. In the future, I request that you kindly detox yourselves from writing about detoxing.

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How a dietitian does a juice cleanse

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Image by 从峰 陈 on flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence

I really like the idea of Bon Appetit’s Healthyish column because, as I’ve mentioned before, a healthy diet isn’t about bland deprivation. However, a recent column made my blood boil.

I knew that nothing good would come from reading a column titled: How a Food Critic Does a Juice Cleanse but like a moth to a flame I just couldn’t help myself from clicking on the link when it appeared in my inbox. It was even worse than I imagined.

I can understand the difficulty that a food critic would have maintaining a balanced diet. Travelling can do a number on even the most conscientious eaters with the large portions at restaurants and the often insufficient quantities of vegetables, particularly in the States. It must be even more difficult for a food critic who has to sample many dishes and courses. That being said, the article should have ended mid-way through the first sentence: “Step 1: Don’t do it unless you have to” should have read: Don’t do it. Probably not enough words for SEO, but a much better message.

Initially I was pleasantly surprised to see the author, food critic Andrew Knowlton write: “Yes, I’m aware that pretty much every dietician says that juicing is not good for you.” Okay, good, he misspelled dietitian but at least he’s acknowledging that the profession devoted to nutrition and helping people make good food choices is opposed to juice cleanses. Sadly, it was all downhill from there.

It’s not that Knowlton chose to torture himself by consuming only juice for five days. Yes, I think that’s foolish, unhealthy, and unnecessary, but he’s an adult and can make his own decisions. It’s that he did this in front of his daughters. This honestly enraged me. Children learn from what they see others doing and their parents are usually their most powerful role models. Yes, Knowlton continued to cook bacon and actual food for his daughters but they saw him subsisting off juice. What message is that giving them? It’s teaching them that this is normal adult behaviour. That we can’t be healthy by consuming whole foods. That when we believe we’ve overindulged the solution is to starve ourselves. That diets, disordered eating, and self-inflicted punishment are synonymous with health and virtue. That is not a healthy message to be teaching children. Regardless of what Knowlton is telling his girls, actions speak louder than words. He may well be telling them to eat balanced meals and whole foods but if he’s doing that while sipping on a beet-ginger juice the juice is going to speak louder than the words.

If I may be so bold, I’d like to propose a rebuttal column: How a Dietitian Does a Juice Cleanse. Step 1: Don’t do it.


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Detoxify yourself, for real

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Back to that sage magazine for blogspiration… There’s a two page ad for an “herbal cleanse” entitled: Why do we need to cleanse?

It follows a Q & A format. The first question:

Doesn’t my body cleanse itself?

It’s true that our bodies are meant to naturally cleanse themselves…

If only it could have stopped right there and been like, “and they do!” But, that wouldn’t make them any money. Instead, the ad goes on to say that we’re bombarded with so many “toxic chemicals” which can lead to a “toxic overload”. Clearly, our bodies need help removing those toxins from our bodies <insert eye roll here>.

The thing is, your body does cleanse itself. What do you think your kidneys and liver are up to all day? Of course, your body can’t rid itself of all toxins but a cleanse can’t improve upon what your body’s already doing for free.

The ad goes on to instil a little more fear into all of us…

Every second, 310 kilograms of toxic chemicals are released into our air, land and water by industrial factories worldwide. These wastes enter our body, where they undermine its ability to function effectively, leading to symptoms including: fatigue, headache, gas and bloating, body odour, constipation, skin irritation and rashes, and sleeplessness.

Conveniently, these are all conditions that are extremely common and most of us can probably identify with them. This is how they get people to think “I’m tired! It must be toxins! I’d better do a cleanse!” Never stopping to consider that the reason they’re so tired may be as simple as they don’t go to bed early enough or they get woken up during the night by a crying baby, snoring partner, or obnoxious lovely kitty. Far easier to splash out $16 (or whatever the cost is) on a bottle of herbal cleanse than to improve current habits.

How does this magical cleanse purport to work?

Using cleansing herbs helps counteract this accumulation of toxins and wastes… The following “great eight” herbs are excellent for cleansing: Blessed thistle, Burdock, Kelp, Sheep sorrel, Slippery elm, Turkish rhubarb, Red clover and Watercress

Ignoring the fact that these are not all technically herbs, this is still a load of bullshit. Unless you consider pooping to be cleansing, as many of these plants are known for their laxative properties. Others are known for their diuretic properties. I hate to break it to you, going to the bathroom more frequently doesn’t mean you’re expelling more toxins from your body than you otherwise would.

The really great thing about their product is that you don’t have to adjust your lifestyle at all to reap the benefits.

You’ll often hear people say that they’re doing a cleanse or a detox, and then complaining about the difficult meal plan or extreme food restrictions. Cleansing your body doesn’t have to be a chore or disrupt your daily life. It can be as simple as making it a part of a daily ritual of drinking tea.

That’s right, you don’t have to follow some ridiculous diet to “cleanse” or “detox”. You also don’t have to drink an expensive herbal laxative diuretic tea. Of course, you’ll be healthier and probably feel better if you do just make healthy choices like eating more vegetables, getting exercise, going outside, and getting more sleep.

Instead of buying into cleanses, detoxify your life by removing unnecessary products and ignoring false marketing tactics.

 


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Cilantro cleanse

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Oh facebook and your unending perpetuation of useless “cleanses” and weight loss scams. I saw this one about cleaning your kidneys by drinking cilantro or parsley water.

The thing is, toxins don’t accumulate in your kidneys. The kidneys act as filters, removing waste products from your blood, and excreting them in your urine. They don’t hang onto these waste products (1).

Okay, so cilantro and parsley won’t rid your kidneys of toxins, but is there any truth to their use as “detoxifiers”? Well, parsley acts as a diuretic (i.e. it makes you pee more) so, in the sense that it will speed the removal of waste products from your body via urine it’s kind of true. However, it won’t remove any more waste than would be eventually removed if you just waited a little longer to pee.

Years ago, it was reported that a cilantro soup increased excretion of mercury following removal of mercury fillings (2). Since then, cilantro has been popularly touted as a detoxifier via chelation of heavy metals. Unfortunately, since that initial study, there has been little research to support the ability of cilantro to remove heavy metals from the body.

If you like cilantro and parsley water and tea, go ahead, there’s no evidence that consuming it will harm you. However, it’s not going to remove toxins from your kidneys, and it’s unlikely that it will remove toxins from elsewhere in your body.