Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Got lactose intolerance? More dairy is the answer! (The role of industry in education)

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Last week I participated in a webinar about “dairy’s role in lactose intolerance”. It was presented by Today’s Dietitian and sponsored by Danone. This is a shining example of why industry should not have a place at the table in nutrition education and policy.

The first part of the presentation was fine. It was a review of lactose intolerance prevalence, methods of diagnosing lactose intolerance, symptoms, and so on. Of course, the importance of dairy products in a nutritious diet was impressed upon us. This, despite the fact that they aren’t truly necessary. Yes, dairy can be an easy source of protein, calcium, B12, and vitamin D (this because it’s added, not naturally occurring in dairy) but it’s still possible to obtain these nutrients from other foods.

The second part was where I started to get really annoyed. I should have expected it. It was a webinar developed by dietitians working for Danone but the blatant bias still irritated me. It was discussed how much lactose could be tolerated by those who are lactose intolerant (apparently about 12 grams in a sitting). Recommendations by the NMA (National Medical Association) apparently state that even those suffering from lactose intolerance should still aim to consume three servings of dairy products each day. Their recommendations include: gradually increasing exposure to lactose-containing foods, including low-lactose dairy products such as yoghurt and lactose-free milk, and using lactase enzyme supplements. No suggestion of alternative sources of the nutrients that are available in dairy products. Nope.

I think my favourite slide was the one listing a number of milk alternatives; such as, almond, coconut, soy, and rice “milks”. Descriptions that make them all sounds ever so appealing were used. Soy milk “Off-white/yellowish color”, rice milk “watery texture”. No mention of the nutritional aspects of the milk alternatives. Funny, as in at least one aspect, they are inferior, they all contain significantly less protein than cow’s milk. I think that presenting the nutrition information would have been much more informative than presenting subjective descriptions. I’m of the mind that it’s much better to let people make up their own minds as to whether or not they like a food and I’m pretty disappointed that a presentation by a fellow dietitian would disparage foods based on their own subjective opinion.

Finally, there’s part three of the presentation “lactose-intolerant friendly dishes”. Every single one of these dishes contain dairy. Good grief. My personal fave, “cheesy guacamole” containing both cottage cheese and cheddar cheese. Um… Since when does guacamole contain cheese??? Why on earth would suggested recipes for lactose-intolerant individuals take a naturally lactose-free dish and add lactose? And this is why many people don’t take dietitians seriously. Sigh.


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Don’t cry over chocolate milk

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I know that I just recently blogged about flavoured milk in schools but I can’t resist commenting on this Masters Thesis on Flavored Milk Consumption in School Systems and its Effect on the BodyThis topic really gets under my skin and it especially annoyed me to see a dietetic maters thesis supporting the dairy industry and their propaganda.

The thesis looked at milk consumption of students in one school who were obligated to have a carton of milk on their trays at lunchtime. On the first day students were offered both white and flavoured (chocolate and strawberry) milks, as was presumably the norm. On the second day they were offered only white milk. The third day was the same as the first. Milk consumption was measured by weighing the milk remaining in the cartons at the end of each meal. It was found that milk consumption was about 9% less on the second day than it was on the first. Thus, it was argued that students were missing out on consuming calcium, and other essential nutrients, as a result of only being offered white milk.

Firstly, we have no idea what the students were consuming throughout the rest of the day. All we have is milk consumption at lunchtime over three days. There is no way we can conclude from this information that students were consuming inadequate calcium when they were only offered white milk. We also can not conclude that they were consuming sufficient calcium when they were offered both flavoured and white milk.

Secondly, of course children are going to choose chocolate milk over white milk when it’s offered. Chocolate milk is far tastier than white milk.

Thirdly, a 9% decrease in milk consumption isn’t really that much. When you think about it, this was after one day. What might happen if children were only offered white milk over a longer period of time? Perhaps their consumption of white milk would increase.

Why is it always argued that children need to have flavoured milk for them to drink it? Should we be sweetening everything to make it more palatable to them? If we never offered them chocolate milk in the first place we wouldn’t have this problem.

 

The paper indicates that many people believe that chocolate milk is contributing to the obesity epidemic and this is why we must stop serving it in schools. Chocolate milk is not single-handedly making children obese. I think the problem is more that we are constantly feeding children products that are filled with added sweeteners, sodium, and flavouring to get them to eat them. This is setting them up for a lifetime of dependence on the food industry trifecta of sugar, salt, and fat. We need to break the cycle. We need to be grown-ups and start deciding what our children eat and drink rather than letting the food industry make that decision for us.


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Is chocolate milk essential to good nutrition?

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This article: Impact of milk consumption and nutrient intakes from eliminating flavored milk in elementary schools really got under my skin. According to the study of 49 elementary schools, milk sales dropped by 26% and there was an 11.4% increase in discarded milk, suggesting a 37.4% decrease in milk consumption at school when flavoured milks were no longer available. The researchers then calculated replacement of the lost nutrients and determined that 3-4 more foods would need to be consumed (increasing calorie and fat consumption) in order to replace the nutrients lost from the decrease in milk consumption. This would also result in an increase cost of $4, 600 per 100 students per school year.

Interestingly, a little Internet searching revealed that these “findings” were nothing new. In fact, pretty much identical findings were released back in 2009 in research funded by MilkPEP (Milk Processors Education Program). There was actually quite the proliferation of propaganda produced as “educational” tools for teachers, school principals, and health care professionals. Here are just a few links: The National Dairy Council, Milk Delivers, Healthy Eating (Milk Delivers alias apparently). All of these materials suggest that keeping flavoured milks in schools is essential to the health of the students. Are you kidding me??!

First of all, why the heck should we be letting young children “choose” chocolate and strawberry milk? They are children they do not have the decision-making ability to determine that chocolate milk is not a healthy choice. As adults we have a responsibility to provide children with the best nutrition possible. Lost profits for the milk industry should not be a factor in determining what type(s) of milk are made available to students. Nor should the threat of increased costs for school cafeterias. Let them have good old-fashioned white milk or an unsweetened fortified milk alternative. Secondly, school is not the only place that these children are eating. Alleged lost nutrients from the decrease in milk consumption at school don’t necessarily have to be compensated for at school. Children should be eating breakfast and supper, as well as another snack or two, outside of school hours. Sufficient nutrients should easily be obtained throughout the day. Lastly, there are plenty of foods other than milk that provide children (and adults) with the nutrients present in milk. Milk is not the be all and end all for protein, calcium, and vitamin D that the dairy industry would have you believe. There are other dairy products such as yoghurt and kefir which can provide superior nutrition to milk. There are also many other foods that contain protein (e.g. fish, poultry, eggs, beans, tofu, etc.) and many other foods that contain calcium (e.g. canned salmon with the bone-in, yoghurt, almonds, figs, cherries, some tofu, fortified milk alternatives, etc.). As for vitamin D, it’s not naturally occurring in many foods (it’s added to milk) and even with milk consumption it can be difficult to meet the recommended intake. It’s present in fatty fish, egg yolks, fortified milk and milk alternatives, and other fortified foods such as cereals and yoghurt.

Eliminating flavoured milks from schools is not going to cause children to become malnourished. We shouldn’t pander to the industry and allow them to convince us that children will only drink their milk if it’s full of added sugar (really, is their product so bad that it’s unpalatable without added sugar and flavour?). Nor should we believe that milk is an essential food for adequate nutrition. Don’t fall for propaganda masquerading as research.


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Aspartame in milk: sweet or bitter drink to swallow?

By now you’ve probably heard about the dairy industry in the US petitioning the FDA to allow them to use artificial (or non-nutritive) sweeteners in flavoured milks. The current legislation will not allow artificially sweetened beverages to be called milk. The dairy industry feels that milk is falling victim to low-cal beverages and in order to remain popular with school children believes that they need to change the added sugar to a low or no-calorie option.

A part of me think “good” we don’t need sugar sweetened milk. We consume far too much sugar as a society anyway. Another part of me is concerned about the dairy industry’s desire to not make the non-nutritive sweetener visible of the front of the label. However, presumably, the ingredients would have to be listed as usual on the packaging. It’s not like the change in sweetener would be hidden from the consumer.

Another part of me thinks that none of these beverages should be available in schools anyway. School kids shouldn’t be given milk sweetened with sugar or non-nutritive sweetener. They also shouldn’t be sold pop, sports drinks, or even juice. Why do we need to teach our kids that beverages can only be enjoyed if they’re sweet?

I think that making milk sweetened with non-nutritive sweeteners is actually a pretty great idea for adults to choose at the grocery store. Yes, personally, I’m not a fan of these sweeteners, but I think that it would be a better option than diet pop for many people. I don’t think that any flavoured milks should be being pushed on children at school.


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The chocolate milk and exercise myth

You know what really drives me nuts? Lots of things, it’s true, but right up there is the myth of chocolate milk as a great post-workout recovery beverage. Those chocolate milk marketers really did great with this one. Chocolate milk is delicious so it’s not a hard-sell to convince many casual gym-goers, as well as more hardcore athletes, that it’s an ideal post-workout beverage.

Research has shown that protein consumed shortly after a workout is better absorbed and used to repair and build muscles than protein before a workout or at a more distal time from a workout. Chocolate milk contains protein. Chocolate milk also contains carbohydrate which is useful in post-workout recovery. It’s also a fluid so it can help with rehydration and is more easily consumed by those who find it difficult to eat shortly after a workout. The thing is, lots of foods contain protein and lots of foods contain carbohydrate and water is the best (and cheapest) way to hydrate.

The most widely cited article I could find about chocolate milk and exercise recovery was Chocolate Milk as a Post-Exercise Recovery AidSurprise, surprise, this research was sponsored by the Dairy and Nutrition Council (red flag number one). The participants used in the study were all elite endurance athletes (red flag number two – will the results really be applicable to the average gym-goer?). The number of participants in the study was nine (red flag number three – that’s a very small sample size). Ignoring these red flags for a minute, the study focussed on a comparison of three recovery beverages: chocolate milk, a fluid replacement drink (like Gatorade), and a carbohydrate replacement drink (like CeraSport – yeah, I’d never heard of it either). They found that the athletes recovered better from exercise when they consumed the chocolate milk or the fluid replacement drink than they did when they consumed the carb replacement drink. However, they actually performed slightly better on the fluid replacement drink than they did on the chocolate milk. So, even if this was a great study (which it’s not based on the aforementioned red flags) it still only shows that chocolate milk is nearly as good as Gatorade in post exercise recovery for elite endurance athletes.

I’d be interested to see how other forms of protein and carbohydrates rank in post exercise recovery. I’d also be interested to see how white milk compares to chocolate, or better yet, a nut milk; is the extra sugar in the chocolate milk really necessary? Another thing that’s important to note is that the vast majority of studies pushing the use of chocolate milk as a post workout recovery beverage examined athletes performance after having the recovery beverage shortly after an initial workout (basically two back-to-back workouts). I seriously doubt that the average person is going to the gym, having a recovery beverage, and then doing another workout. Most people, at best, are not working out again until the following day. So, what should you be consuming post workout? Plenty of water and a small snack that preferably contains both protein and carbohydrate or if it’s meal time and you can handle a full meal then just go ahead and eat that. You should be consuming a meal within about two hours of working out anyway. Chocolate milk is fine as an occasional treat, like cookies and chocolate bars. However, the people benefiting the most from you consuming chocolate milk post workout are those in the dairy industry, not you.