Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Why this dietitian hates Nutrition Month

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It’s March and that means it’s Nutrition Month. The time of year when dietitians post a whole bunch of the same social media messages that were created by Dietitians of Canada and a whole bunch of people probably mute the hashtag “NutritionMonth2020” to stop the onslaught. And I have to confess, even as a dietitian, that impulse is strong. But, the bombardment of generic healthy eating messages aside, there’s another reason why I hate Nutrition Month and that’s the fact that it’s more of a vehicle for Big Food to promote their products than it is an opportunity for dietitians to promote nutrition and our profession.

Every year Dietitians of Canada releases a suite of Nutrition Month tools and resources. And every year I find myself feeling frustrated by the obvious bias they exhibit for their sponsors. Let’s see if you can guess the two sponsors this year just by the recipes in their free recipe booklet: Hearty Manitoba Vegetable Soup, Avocado and Fruit Salad with Basil and Honey, Proudly Canadian Beet and Barley Salad, Roasted Cauliflower Farro and Avocado Salad, Avocado and Tuna Salad Sandwich, Easy Red Lentil Dhal, Grilled Vegetable Bean and Avocado Tacos, Mexican Squash and Bean Salad, Super Easy Chicken Parm, Chewy Ginger Pecan Cookies, Peach Strawberry and Almond Muesli, Yoghurt Bark. To help you out a little, I’ve bolded the recipes that were supplied by the sponsors. One is obvious: Avocados from Mexico. The other may be a little trickier: Dairy Farmers of Canada.

Dietitians are supposed to be an unbiased, evidence-based source of nutrition information and yet how can we expect people to believe that when a national dietetic organization accepts sponsorship from food companies and exhibits clear preference for those foods as a result?

Don’t get me wrong, I love avocados as much as a Millennial and I consume plenty of dairy products. However, both of these foods are problematic and should probably not be so heavily promoted by Dietitians of Canada. There are ethical concerns about both avocados and dairy (e.g. methane gas, land use, animal welfare). In addition, these are both fairly high-ticket grocery items, at least in Canada. A single avocado often goes for $1.99 at my local grocery store while a modest block of cheese is at least $7.99. Considering that about one in eight households in Canada is food insecure is it really appropriate for DC to be promoting such costly items as part of national Nutrition Month? I mean, considering that an annual DC membership costs $496 and DC has roughly 6000 members, surely to goodness they could develop a few recipes on their own, or even have members submit them so that they didn’t have to resort to corporate sponsorship.

All this to say, I hate Nutrition Month. Nutrition Month could be great. Dietitians of Canada has a fantastic opportunity to promote nutrition, dietitians, and all that we do. However, as it stands, Nutrition Month does nothing more than to undermine our credibility as nutrition professionals.


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Is it #NutritionMonth2019 or #DairyFarmersofCanadaMonth and #AvocadosofMexicoMonth?

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We need to talk about Nutrition Month. More specifically, we need to talk about Dietitians of Canada’s Nutrition Month recipes. It’s been a long time (back in 2012 to be specific) since I wrote about the issue of sponsorship in regard to DC’s Nutrition Month materials. To be honest, I feel like a bit of a traitor doing it (DC does many great things to advocate for dietitians), but I think that it’s a real issue. Accepting sponsorship for Nutrition Month is undermining DC’s (and by association all Canadian dietitian’s) credibility.

When DC first released their Nutrition Month recipes I was disappointed, but not surprised, to see that they were sponsored by Dairy Farmers of Canada and Avocados from Mexico. Don’t get me wrong, I consume both dairy and avocados. This is not to cast aspersions on either of those foods. However, I think that a dietetic organization accepting sponsorship from the food industry (no matter what the foods are) creates a conflict of interest. I also think that there are additional reasons why featuring these particular foods in DC resources is problematic. I’ll get into that a little later. So, as I said, I wasn’t surprised. This is nothing new for DC. I had a little rant with my RD colleagues (one of whom also happened to point out that the content of the handouts, aside from the recipes was simply duplicated from last year, sigh) and then let it go.

My frustration was reignited last week when fellow RD, Pamela Fergusson voiced her concern about the industry sponsorship of Nutrition Month on Instagram last week. She’s also written an excellent blog post about this issue that you should read.

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That got me curious so I went on the Nutrition Month website and counted how many times dairy and avocados appear in their featured recipes. Out of ten recipes, eight include dairy and four include avocados. There are 12 additional recipes on their handouts, eleven of these include dairy and six include avocados. That’s a lot of dairy and avocados!

While I love avocados, they are freaking expensive. They’re usually about $2 a piece at the grocery store here. Given that food insecurity is an issue across Canada, DC even has position papers on both individual and household and community food insecurity, it struck me as a little inappropriate for them to so prominently feature a food that’s not within the budget for many Canadians. Even for those who don’t struggle with food insecurity, avocados are often more of a luxury item than a staple food. The same goes for many dairy products, particularly cheese, which is featured in many of the DC Nutrition Month recipes. Realistically, who’s making a “crab and remoulade sandwich” for lunch??

In addition to the issue of cost, there’s the lack of alignment with the new Food Guide. Despite what many people would have you believe, milk (and dairy products) have not been removed from the new Food Guide. They’ve simply been incorporated into the new “protein foods” grouping. However, there is a strong emphasis on choosing plant-based sources of protein more often. I realize that DC would have already developed their resources before the new Food Guide came out. Even so, the old Food Guide only recommended two servings of milk (and alternatives) daily for adults. No matter which Food Guide you look at, it doesn’t make sense that DC would feature dairy in the majority of their Nutrition Month recipes.

This takes me to one last issue that I stumbled upon while tallying up the recipes featuring dairy and/or avocados. That issue is the nutrition information for the Turmeric Basil Roasted Turkey Burger. This burger contains 936 calories, 48 grams of fat (9.1 g of which are saturated), and 773 mg of sodium. To put that in perspective, that’s 416 more calories and 20 grams more fat than are in a big mac (177 mg less sodium though). It’s about 3/4 of a day’s recommended maximum intake of fat and over 1/3 of the maximum recommended intake for sodium. That’s just in one burger! I thought for sure this had to be a mistake so I tweeted at DC to ask them about it. This is the reply I received:

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A “hearty” burger indeed! As much as I believe that all foods fit and that having treats is part of a healthy diet, I really don’t think that a recipe like this is appropriate for a dietetic organization to be promoting. When people are looking for recipes from Dietitians of Canada they’re looking for recipes that meet certain nutrition criteria. They’re looking for recipes that are going to provide them with a reasonable number of calories, not too much fat or salt or sugar and plenty of vitamins and minerals. I think it undermines their credibility as an organization when they allow sponsors (such as Avocados of Mexico who developed this recipe) to be put ahead of the public who rely on dietitians for unbiased nutrition information.


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Are dietitians getting too sexy?

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A few years ago I wrote a blog post that really hit a nerve with other dietitians. It was about how dietitians just aren’t sexy. This was in the sense that we don’t hop on trends (unlike other unregulated professionals) and instead are moored in evidence-based practice. Unfortunately, I’m noticing a disturbing trend in dietetics and I’m concerned about the future of my profession.

There have always been some dietitians who believe in unproven practices such as detox, fad diets, and questionable supplements. It’s a shame to see others promoting such nonsense as I feel it reflects poorly on all of us but it’s always been the minority. It’s also been somewhat understandable because it can be a tough field in which to find a secure job. And we probably all have some beliefs that aren’t based in evidence. Experience is important in combination with scientific evidence. However, I feel like in this age of fake news where nothing means anything anymore, that this is infiltrating dietetics at a higher level.

Recently there’s been the introduction of “integrative functional nutrition” which sounds very scientific and pretty great, “A central theme of IFNA training is learning to identify “root causes” of disease in a methodical and systematic fashion rather than the mundane prescription of medical nutrition protocols based on a diagnosis”. Who doesn’t want to get to the root causes of illnesses? I think the main frustration with Western medicine is that there’s often a failure to dig deeper to find the root cause for ailments and simply a treating of symptoms. This is why so many people turn to unscientific alternative health practitioners for help. Unfortunately, “integrative functional nutrition/medicine” tends to be code for the smooshing together evidence-based practices and unproven unscientific practices. The creation of bodies of dietetics incorporating these practices lends false credibility to them.

Last week I attended a nutrition conference. It was generally a really great conference with presenters sharing a variety of perspectives and evidence. There were also presentations by people with lived experience. I think there’s a great deal of value in learning from people who have experience with various conditions, circumstances, illnesses, etc. However, the final presenter was by an individual who had “cured” a severe mental illness through nutrition and supplements with the aid of a Christian doctor in the US. I’m not in a position to question this person’s experience but the presentation made me extremely uncomfortable. I don’t doubt that nutrition plays an important role in supporting mental health. Although I do doubt that we can cure most cases of mental illness through nutrition.

As dietitians, we are always trying to promote ourselves as credible sources of nutrition information. Yet here we are, welcoming a presentation from an individual who was treated by a doctor whom would be dubbed as a quack by most. This guy readily fails Dietitians of Canada’s “Five tips to help you spot misinformation“.

1. Is the person or product promising a quick fix like fast weight-loss or a miracle cure? Check!

2. Are they trying to sell you products such as special foods or supplements? Check!

3. Do they provide information based on personal stories rather than on facts? Check!

4. Is their claim based on a single study or a few research studies? Not sure if the claims are based on any research so yeah, Check!

5. What are the person’s qualifications? Unfortunately, he’s a medical doctor which makes it sound like he’s a qualified professional. But we all know that doesn’t stop Dr Oz from operating outside of his scope of practice. Being a MD doesn’t necessarily mean that an individual is qualified to be providing nutrition services (most doctors receive very little nutrition education during medical school). As far as I can discern, he hasn’t received any specialized nutrition education so… CHECK!

Inviting people who are promoting such quackery to professional conferences undermines our credibility as nutrition professionals. It lends false credibility to their practices and allows these unproven beliefs to infiltrate dietetics. It makes it harder for us to present ourselves as credible nutrition professionals and undermines the ability of the public to trust us.

It’s discouraging to see people seeking out healthcare from unregulated professionals with questionable credentials and practices. But I don’t think the solution lies in taking the attitude that if you can’t beat them, join them. It’s important for us to continue to ground our advice in the best possible scientific evidence if we want to remain trusted healthcare professionals. Otherwise we may as well all burn our degrees and licences because they’ll become as meaningless as the credentials of all the self-styled nutrition gurus.


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Follow Friday: Dietitians of Canada

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It makes me so happy to see that Dietitians of Canada are taking a more active advocacy role. With the (eventually) upcoming federal election in the fall they’ve called on all federal party leaders to commit to a national strategy to reduce food insecurity and increased access to dietitian services.

If you’re interested in supporting their efforts or want to see the party responses, just click on the link above.


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Follow Friday: Dietitian services

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Did you know that many employers don’t offer dietitian services as part of their employee health plans? Considering that food and nutrition are vital to good health and productive employees our services should be covered by health plans. If your employer doesn’t cover our services please let them know that you’d like them too!