Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Who would you rather have as your nanny: Ronald McDonald or Justin Trudeau?

I just read an article about the proposed revisions to Canada’s Food Guide and an article about the predatory tactics of the food industry in Brazil back-to-back and was duly infuriated by both.

I was annoyed by the Food Guide article’s pitting of vegans against dairy farmers and the creation of drama where none is needed. The new Guide is going to be based on science, not industry, not special diet groups. There is nothing to indicate that dairy will be removed from the guide. Just relax. And so what if it takes the environment into account? The original food guide was intended to help prevent nutrient deficiencies during wartime rationing. Why not try to protect our planet while trying to promote healthy eating habits? After all, if we destroy the earth, nutrition won’t really be all that much of a concern. But I digress…

I read the comments on the divisive Food Guide article. I know, I know I should never read the comments. As a dietitian though, I like to know what I’m up against and what the public response is to a tool that I will likely have to promote and use in a professional capacity. Here are a few of them:

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There were people refuting this nonsense but the fact that so many people think that the government should play no role in promoting a healthy diet is baffling to me. Most people agree that diet-related chronic diseases are a significant concern in Canada but think that the government should do nothing to help people prevent them.

Then we have Nestle and other major food companies promoting unhealthy choices everywhere we go. The story of Brazil is particularly egregious but if you think that these companies care any more about residents of Canada, the US, or any other country, you’re sorely mistaken. Junk food marketing is ubiquitous, and it’s everywhere. From use of fast food as fundraisers for health charities to cartoon mascots on food products, to product placement in movies and tv shows, to sponsorship by food companies of athletic teams and events, to paid product placements in stores, and so on.

People complain bitterly about not wanting the government in their grocery carts or kitchens yet they gladly throw open their doors for the food industry. So many would rather have a company that only cares about profits telling them what to eat than a government that cares about improving the health of its citizens. The government isn’t forcing people to eat certain foods and never eat others. Even if milk was removed from the food guide entirely, it’s not like you’d have to start buying black market milk on the dark web. It’s just trying to provide guidance to people to help them make healthy choices.

You’re opposed to the nanny state are you? Well, we already have a nanny state and the food industry is running the show. It’s time for the government to take back some control and put industry in time-out.

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

 

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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.

 


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Meet the happy couple: Domino’s and Dairy Farmers of Canada

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Domino’s and Dairy Farmers of Canada were the happy new couple yesterday. Domino’s proudly proclaimed their new commitment to use only 100% Canadian cheese on their pizzas. Dairy Farmers of Canada was overjoyed by the marriage. We can only speculate that DFC came with a hefty dowry.

Obviously this is a win-win. Domino’s gets to look good for using only “local” cheese. Hush now, don’t question the fact that Canada is a HUGE country and “local” doesn’t quite encompass all of its cheese products. And don’t even bother to question the fact that Domino’s (an American chain) is hardly a local business. Dairy Farmers of Canada gets the certainty that at least one pizza chain will use only Canadian cheese on their Canadian pizzas. Of course, Domino’s made the same commitment to the US Dairy Association several years ago. Not to mention the publicity that both parties get out of this partnership.

Those more skeptical among us might question the motives behind this union. Although the details are not readily available, I can’t help but to speculate that this relationship is similar to that in the US. For those who haven’t read the second link above, the USDA bailed out a floundering Domino’s in return for promised use of more of their cheese, and only their cheese.

Dairy Farmers of Canada, you know that you don’t have to marry the first corporation that wants to get in bed with you, right? You could have done so much better than this. You could have committed to an initiative that would have garnered positive publicity such as working with schools or food banks to provide milk or yoghurt to those in need. You could have chosen a more nutritious product to attach your name to. Yes, good pizza is delicious but Domino’s is far from good and putting more cheese on it isn’t going to hide that fact (nor, let’s face it, is it going to make it any more nutritious). At the very least you could have joined forces with a Canadian company to promote your Canadian cheese. You know that Domino’s only wants you for your money, right?


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Does chocolate milk help improve diet quality for children?

I received an email today inviting me to the Dairy Farmers of Canada 2012 Symposium. I decided to check out the link to see what it was all about. No surprise, the website featured a wealth of propaganda. I was especially intrigued by the tab for Scientific Evidence which included such gems as “Healthy Weight” and “Chocolate Milk and Health”. I’m sure that I could find enough stuff on here to fuel a week’s worth of blog posts, maybe more, if I delved into every statement that they made. That might be a little excessive though. I’d like to draw your attention to their section on “chocolate milk, other flavoured milk, health and diet quality”. According to this section drinking chocolate milk improves the health of children because they get more nutrients, particularly calcium, than children who drink no milk or even regular milk. Apparently it’s okay to give kids sugar-sweetened beverages if they include calcium, protein, and vitamin D. Maybe even better than giving them unsweetened milk because they’ll drink more milk if it’s flavoured. Call me old-fashioned but when I was growing up chocolate milk was not on the menu. Ignoring the fact that milk is not necessary for a healthy diet, why do we need to sweeten milk and add other ingredients as emulsifiers in order to get children to drink it? Even if, as the Dairy Farmers allege, these sweetened beverages are not contributing to obesity, I don’t think encouraging the consumption of sweetened beverages by any age group, but especially by children, is appropriate. Their argument is akin to saying that adding flavour and sugar to any food that contains some nutritional value is a good idea if it will get kids to consume more of it. Just because a beverage contains some nutrients doesn’t mean that it’s a healthy choice.