Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Are calories an enemy?

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I would like to propose that we stop demonizing calories. All too often I see products promoted as “low-calorie” or “calorie-free”. I hear jokes about things like it’s okay to eat a broken cookie because the calories all leak out. Consuming as few calories as possible is considered virtuous. This despite the fact that we need calories to live.

Just in case you need a quick refresher on calories, despite what many people will have you believe, a calorie is a calorie. The definition of a calorie is, “the heat energy required to raise the temperature of one kilogram (rather than a gram) of water by one degree Celsius”. Calories provide us with energy. Energy to get through each day but also energy for your body’s systems and cells to function. Without a source of calories you will die.

So, why do we think that calories are bad and something to avoid? Because we’ve learned that excess calories, those we don’t use up, are often stored by our bodies for later use in the form of fat. And fat is bad because our society has rather arbitrarily decided that being thin is more attractive. Regardless of your body shape or size though your body still needs calories to function.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we lived in a world and mental space where instead of choosing 100 calorie snacks or avoiding foods because they contain “too many calories” we could look at food as a pleasurable way to nourish our bodies? Not just to think of food as fuel but as an essential component of self-care. Calories are not the enemy, they are vital to life.


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Grocery store lessons: Vitamin Water

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I never blogged about Vitamin Water before because I assumed that everyone knew that it wasn’t a healthy choice. On the off-chance that I was mistaken I thought that I’d write a quick post to let you know that Vitamin Water is not a healthy choice.

Long before I started studying nutrition I loved Vitamin Water. I discovered it while on a trip to New York with my family. I didn’t read nutrition labels back then. I was young and assumed that the promises made (e.g. energy, immunity, focus) were legitimate. Plus, the stuff was delicious (to my unrefined teenage palette). Anytime someone I knew was headed to the States I would ask them to bring me back a bottle or two. I even contacted the company to try to get them to distribute to Canada. Of course, by the time they finally did, I had figured out that they were just fortified sugar water.

The benefits that the beverage names imply are incongruous with the actual ingredients. Take focus for example, which is suggested for afternoon or late night consumption. What does that name mean to you? To me it suggests that it will help you to focus on a task at hand when you’re mentally and possibly physically drained. But the medicinal ingredients: vitamin A, lutein, vitamin C, vitamin B3, vitamin B5, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 are not known to contribute to mental focus. Admittedly, a deficiency in B vitamins (especially B12) may leave you feeling sluggish. Regardless, there aren’t enough of any of the vitamins present to have an effect on your heath, positive or negative. The 32 grams of sugar (about 8 teaspoons!) on the other hand, is certainly not going to do you any good.

Next time you’re tempted by a Vitamin Water try to think of it as expensive Kool Aid. Your body and mind (not to mention your wallet) will be much better off with a glass of water.


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What to do if you’re tired

My recent decision to start following Dr Oz on twitter for blog fodder is now paying off. Yesterday I saw a tweet from him suggesting that if you were feeling tired that you might be suffering from a magnesium deficiency. While this is plausible (most North Americans don’t get enough magnesium – the above photo shows some good sources of magnesium), it’s certainly not the first avenue I would explore when someone complains of being tired. It’s funny how many of us seem to have forgotten about sleep as the most important contributor to preventing and alleviating fatigue. I’ve had people complain to me about feeling tired and then ask me things like “should I eliminate wheat?” Good nutrition definitely plays a role in how you feel and your energy levels but if you’re feeling fatigued and lethargic there are probably other avenues you should explore before nutrition, and definitely other nutrients you should explore before magnesium.

Here’s the line of questioning I would employ when feeling tired: How much sleep did I get last night? If I got less than eight hours I would attribute much of my fatigue to that. If you’re not getting enough sleep try quitting all electronics an hour before bed. Try getting into bed with a book at least half an hour before you actually want to fall asleep. Make sure that your room is as dark as possible. You may need to employ ear plugs and/or an eye mask to block out distractions, sexy no? There are lots of other tips for getting a good nights sleep. I googled some for you here. If duration or quality of sleep are not the culprits I would next ask how much exercise you’re getting? I know it sounds kind of counter intuitive but exercise can actually boost your energy, it can also help improve your sleep. Nutritionally, I would next ask if you’re getting enough water. I always keep a water bottle at my desk and when I get the post-lunch-sleepies I make sure to turn to the water before getting another coffee or tea. Nutrient-wise, I would first wonder if you’re getting enough iron, vitamin B12, and protein. Failing all that then I might explore magnesium, among other nutrients.

If you’re always feeling tired and this is a concern to you then you should probably see your doctor to determine the cause. While many of us don’t get enough magnesium this is rarely the primary cause of fatigue. Don’t diagnose yourself from a television personality.