Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Are pharmacists the new dietitians?

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The other day I was in a grocery store when a recording came over the PA system encouraging customers to speak to the in-store pharmacist about making healthy food choices. Naturally, I was like “what the fuck??”. People wonder why dietitians are so defensive of our profession. This. This sort of thing is exactly why. Because everyone seems to think that they’re qualified to dole out nutrition advice despite the fact that dietitians are the only professionals who spend over four years studying nutrition in university and must indefinitely continue our education to maintain our licensure.

It’s not cool of the chain to be asking pharmacists to provide dietary counselling. If you want to offer that service, hire yourselves some damn dietitians. It’s also not cool of the pharmacists to accept that added responsibility.

Yes, pharmacists are a wealth of knowledge when it comes to medications and they can be hugely helpful in advising customers about potential drug-nutrient interactions regarding medications that customers are taking. They more often than not, likely have a greater knowledge about nutrients in food than your average person. However, none of this equips them with the expertise to provide nutrition counselling.

The scope of practice for pharmacists in Canada contains no mention of nutrition or dietary counselling. Store owners may not know that this service is outside the scope of practice for pharmacists. Therefore, I believe that the responsibility lies with the pharmacists on-staff to let the company know that they are should not be providing this service to their customers. As allied health professionals they should recognize the limitations of their own scope of practice and defer to RDs in matters of nutrition counselling.

When I worked in a grocery store we had an in-store dietitian as well as pharmacists on-staff and everyone worked together to provide customers with the best service possible. Pharmacists have enough to do without having to get into nutrition counselling with customers, which, when done appropriately, can be quite time-consuming. Do you really want to wait longer to pick up your prescription? Setting aside the issue of expertise, do pharmacists really have the time to devote to counselling customers on nutrition? Let dietitians, who are actually trained to provide individualized dietary advice, provide this service so that pharmacists can focus on their own area of expertise.

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Just because it’s “always delicious” doesn’t mean it’s not a diet book

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Last week I attended the Ambition Nutrition Symposium in Toronto, to which I was fortunate enough to win free tickets. The theme of the conference was “bringing it home” and was intended to help translate nutrition theory into the kitchen and onto client’s plates. While I’m not sure the day really succeeded in that regard, I still found it to be an interesting conference with a variety of speakers and delicious food (thank you George Brown culinary students!). That being said, from my perspective, there was an elephant in the room. That elephant was the tension between professions and dietary dogma.

We started the day with a great presentation by Dr. Kelly Brownell, director of the World Food Policy Centre, among numerous other titles. He spoke about the difficulty we often face when addressing food-related issues through policy as something that benefits one area (e.g. nutrition) may cause unintended harm in another (e.g. agriculture). The goal of his new centre is to bring stakeholders from all the areas together to try to develop policies that will benefit all areas. As an aside, one thing I noticed about the list of stakeholders he shared was the lack of the public. As “end users” I think that it’s essential that the public (or specific groups from the public such as those experiencing food insecurity) are involved in these discussions.

Later in the morning we had an excellent presentation by Nishta Saxena, a dietitian. Maybe I’m a little bit biased as an RD but I felt that she did a fantastic job of presenting the struggles we face in addressing healthy eating with clients when they are constantly bombarded by misinformation in social media. How do we combat “sexy” social media influencers as professionals who must provide evidence-based factual information and are less inclined to posed half naked with overflowing mason jars of green smoothies? Several years later and dietitians still aren’t sexy ;)

We also had Saxena and chef Christine Cushing call out juicing and juice diets (while a new cold pressed juice company presented at one of the breakout sessions and provided samples during food breaks). Cushing mocked the caveman diet and then we had a snack break with “paleo” brownies. Saxena belittled meal kits and our swag bags contained a coupon for Hello Fresh. Hello elephant.

Follow-up Saxena’s fantastic presentation with a discussion with Dr. David Ludwig and his wife chef Dawn Ludwig to promote their new book “Always Delicious” which we all got a copy of in our swag bags. Full disclosure, I have been critical of Ludwig in the past. I tried to come into it with an open mind though, I really did but the elephant would not settle down. Despite their protestations that it was not a diet book, if it talks about weight loss, fat adaptation, is filled with testimonials (from readers who have lost weight), and has a prescriptive DIET with three phases, it’s a goddamn diet book. I’m not going to get into the science of his insulin hypothesis here because my point is not to critique his beliefs but if you want to read more about it I recommend this short article by Stephan Guyenet. I’m also not here to question the “success” people have had on Ludwig’s diet. If people are happier and healthier following this plan, I think that’s great. My issue is with the framing of this diet as the best way to eat for everyone and that the best way of eating is one that promotes weight loss. They talked about “NSVs” (non-scale victories) but the only examples I saw in the book and heard during the talk were a reduction in blood pressure and going down a pant size (which while technically not a weight loss “victory” is still a “victory” over an “unruly” body).

For a day that was meant to promote health through food there was a whole lot of talk about The Obesity Problem which is really not the direction that we want to take if we want to encourage people to have healthy relationships with food and their kitchens. I encourage everyone to read this piece about one woman’s “life as a public health crisis”.  If obesity is a “problem” then food is the enemy. That mindset does not lead to healthy attitudes and behaviours. You don’t need to “retrain” your fat cells, they are not disobedient puppies. Rather, we as a society need to retrain our attitudes toward our bodies and our food so that we can once again be friends with both.


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Why you shouldn’t eat like an athlete

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Aside from a sort of general curiosity I don’t see the point of articles about the diets of elite athletes. Honestly, I think sharing them as if they’re nutrition tips for the masses is potentially harmful. Unless you’re a professional athlete yourself, which the vast majority of us are not, most of their nutrition advice is not going to translate to your life. You’re probably not burning 10, 000 calories a day and I’m sorry but an hour at the gym is not comparable to the rigorous training that professional athletes undertake.

It also seems to me that many athletes undertake questionable dietary regimens (ahem, Tom Brady) in the hopes of being the best of the best. The article I linked to above has some fairly benign advice but there are loads of athletes that are following bizarre advice in an effort to hack their genes and optimize performance. When your career depends on it, it’s kind of understandable that you’d be willing to try something a little extreme. The danger lies in attributing your success to drinking alkaline water or avoiding mushrooms and encouraging us common folk to jump on your nutrition bandwagon.

The dietary needs of athletes also vary significantly depending on their sport, as well as their sex and size. The perfect diet for a marathoner is going to be quite different from the perfect diet for a shot putter. You can’t just assume that what works for one athlete nutritionally will work for another. Even more so, you can’t assume that what works for a pro athlete (or for anyone else for that matter) is going to work for you. In fact, if you tried to eat like most professional athletes you’d probably be consuming significantly more food than you need.

Go ahead and be amazed by the number of calories consumed by athletes in the Tour de France. Indulge your natural curiosity by reading about Michael Phelp’s massive training diet and other wild diets of athletes. Just don’t try these at home.


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Making people feel like shit about what they eat isn’t an effective tactic to get them to change

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At some point someone came up with the brilliant idea to use scare tactics, guilt, and shame to convince people to do (or stop doing) certain behaviours. I think it may have originated with smoking cessation where people thought that showing people videos of people smoking through holes in their throats and with horrible mouth cancers would convince people to quit. And then people thought, “hey, it worked for tobacco, let’s try it with food”.

Unfortunately, while these tactics may work in some situations, and with some individuals, as a general rule, making people feel like shit about their choices isn’t a terribly effective strategy to convince them to change.

I see so many (possibly well-meaning) people sharing shaming messages in an effort to get people to follow their dietary regimes that essentially every food is now laden with guilt and dolloped with fear.

There are popular memes trying to make people feel guilty for not being vegan or to make people feel guilty for being vegan.

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There are headlines like “There is no conspiracy: Gluten really is evil”, “7 reasons why you should stop eating meat immediately”, “Eating bananas at breakfast is bad for you”. Books like: 141 Reasons Sugar Ruins Your Health  and The Hidden Dangers of Soy. Not to mention all of the vloggers, bloggers, and Instagram nutritionistas pushing their agendas. Seriously, go to google and type in “why you should never eat ____” and insert pretty much any food in there. You’re pretty much guaranteed to get at least one hit telling you why practically every food is going to kill you.

This isn’t healthy. We should not be afraid of something that is essential to life. Something that should be pleasurable. We shouldn’t be loading every food up with fear.

For those using these fear-based messages to try to convince people to join your diet, you’re probably not having the effect you intended. Rather than convincing people to change you’re quite likely just making them feel like what they’re doing is shameful. Maybe they’ll secretly try to change because they’re embarrassed about their shameful food choices and then just feel even worse if they fail. Maybe they’ll just ingest a little bit more guilt every time they eat something they’ve been told is evil.

The nutrition world has become like some sort of twisted religious cult where once you’ve been “saved” you need to spread the gospel and indoctrinate as many heathen eaters as possible. Instead, how about we stop trying to push our person beliefs onto everyone else? How about accepting that there is no one and only diet? That what works for you and is enjoyable for you might not work for everyone else. Let everyone else enjoy their food in peace unless they ask for your opinion.


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How not to be the next Tom Brady

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So you want to be the next Tom Brady. Sorry to burst your bubble but buying his latest book on nutrition and training (out this September) is not going to help you.

I haven’t read his book. Can you believe his publisher didn’t send me a a free copy for review?? As such, it’s really not fair for me to comment on its content but given his notoriously wacky nutrition beliefs, imma go right ahead and tell you that it’s going to be a whole lot of nonsense.

As ridiculous as I think Brady’s nutrition regimen is, as long as he’s happy and healthy adhering to it, I say “power to him”. What I take exception to is promoting this as The Way to eat healthy and be a star athlete. As if what works for Tom Brady will work for everyone. The same for the fitness training component of his book. This book is purported to be an “‘athlete’s bible’ that reveals Brady’s revolutionary approach to sustained peak performance for athletes of all kinds and of all ages.” How many Ironman competitions has Brady completed? Is he a star tennis player? Curler? Gymnast? What does Brady know about female athlete triad? The needs of children and seniors? People from different ethnicities? I mean, come on now. What works for Tom Brady when it comes to fitness and nutrition is not going to work for everyone. There is no way that this book can address the wide-ranging needs of athletes (and aspiring athletes) of all ages and sexes and from all sports. Even for male football players the content of this book may not apply.

Tom Brady writing a book for all athletes is like the person who’s lost a bunch of weight counselling people on weight loss. Just because he’s had success does not make him an expert. What works for one person, even Tom Brady, is not going to work for everyone. Save your money, Tom Brady doesn’t need it.