Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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What foods will dietitians never eat?

One of my social media friends, and a regular reader, sent me a link to a list of 16 Foods Dietitians Won’t Touch because he knows how much I love loathe those sorts of lists. To be fair, there are a number of foods on there that I don’t usually eat. However, there are some that I do, bad RD that I am. I could go through the entire list and debate the merits and faults of each product but that’s tedious and beside the point.

The real point is that lists like this are unhelpful at best and harmful at worst. What’s the harm in telling people that dietitians never eat fibre bars or fried foods, you might ask. Well, a healthy diet is a diet that involves a pattern of healthy food consumption. It’s also one that allows for flexibility and occasional treats. What those treats are depends on the person. When we say we “never touch” certain foods we’re often having the opposite effect from what we want. We’re making those foods more desirable. You know, forbidden fruit (candy, smoked meat, fast food…) and all that. Once you tell yourself that you’re not allowed to have a particular food you’re basically setting the timer on your diet (I know, the dreaded d-word). Once you “cave” and have that forbidden food all bets are off. You’re more likely to abandon all of your healthy habits because after all, what’s the point, you’re a failure.

Contrast that with a diet in which you generally consume a variety of nutritious foods but in which no foods are off-limits. If you choose to eat one of those “16 foods dietitians won’t touch” it’s no big deal. You might (probably won’t) eat a lot of those foods regularly but you’ll enjoy them when you do because you never forbade yourself from eating them. You know that part of a healthy eating pattern is allowing yourself to have treats and not putting any foods entirely off-limits no matter what ridiculous articles like the one that prompted this post may tell you.


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Big gay baby formula?

 

 

 

Google alerted me to this article: Got milk? Indonesian mayor says infant formula leads to homosexualityI hardly know where to begin with this. It’s one of those things where you kind of just sit and stare in shock.

I’m not going to get into the breastfeeding debate. We know that breastfeeding is optimal for babies for many reasons. However, we also know that there are many reasons why mothers can’t or choose not to breastfeed their babies. That choice should be informed and should be the mum’s alone.

Okay, let’s say the mum decides not to breastfeed. That has no bearing on what the child’s sexuality will be. That’s decided before birth. Sorry mums, you can’t do anything to change the fact that your child is going to prefer partners of the same or opposite sex, or both. You can certainly make them feel ashamed of their innate preference, you can maybe even drive them to hide it or deny it from themselves. That’s not going to change their sexual identity nor is whether or not you breastfeed them.

It’s crazy to think that this is even an issue. Sometimes I see things like this and realise that even though we live in such a globalized society somethings are very very different in other parts of the world. It makes me feel so fortunate that I live in a country where the big debates are whether craisins should be considered fruit or candy or if paleo/vegan/low-carb is the best or worst ever diet. Where there’s still a long way to go regarding discrimination but no one (please oh please don’t prove me wrong) would tell mums that choosing not to breastfeed their babies will “turn them homosexual”.

Seeing the article, I feel this strange combination of great fortune and deep sadness. Great fortune to have been lucky enough to have been born to educated parents in Canada. Deep sadness knowing that most people are not so fortunate.


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16 cancer causing foods: What THEY don’t want you to know

Oh Natural News with your fear mongering. Here’s the truth about the 16 foods you say cause cancer.

  1. Canned tomatoes. According to the article, it’s not just canned tomatoes, it’s any canned foods. Although, canned tomatoes are allegedly worse because of their high acidity. It’s not the tomatoes per se, it’s the BPA that leaches from the lining of the can.

TRUTH: We don’t know if BPA causes cancer or not. We know that it’s an endocrine disruptor and it may cause cancer but we don’t know for certain that it does.

Some canned goods are available in cans with BPA-free lining. Although rumour has it, what ever’s in the lining of those may be just as bad as the BPA one. You can also buy some brands of tomatoes in glass jars, or just go for fresh if you’re truly concerned. I would never want to discourage anyone from consuming vegetables.

2. Soda pop. They take a convoluted route to cancer causation by saying that soda increases the risk of reflux which can cause ulcers which are linked to an increased risk of cancer.

TRUTH: There are so many good reasons not to drink pop; tooth decay, weight gain, type 2 diabetes, but cancer’s probably not one of them. Even the article talks about other health problems correlated with (i.e. not necessarily caused by) soda consumption. So, even if pop doesn’t cause cancer it’s still advisable to minimize your consumption of it.

3. Farmed salmon. Farmed salmon often contains sea lice and are raised in confined contaminated conditions.

TRUTH: This is statement is true but has nothing to do with cancer. There is no link to farmed salmon causing cancer. There are also some clean humane salmon farms. As with anything, if you’re concerned about the conditions in which your food was raised/grown, get to know your farmer.

4. Processed meats. These contain preservatives that may cause cancer. Smoked meat contains tar from the smoking process that may cause cancer.

TRUTH: This one is true. However, it doesn’t mean that your will get cancer if you eat processed meat. It just means that the more processed meat you consume the greater your risk of developing cancer in comparison to someone who never eats processed meat. It doesn’t mean that you should never consume processed meat but you should definitely consume it less often than every day. A safe amount has not been set so you’re kind of on your own to decide how often you want to eat processed meat. I’d try to limit it to no more than once a month.

5. Microwave popcorn. A chemical used to line the bag has been linked to cancer. Also the GMO popcorn kernels may cause cancer.

TRUTH: The GMO thing is bogus but the bag liner is legit (see above note re: risk from eating processed meat). What are you doing eating microwave popcorn every day anyway? How about some variety? Have popcorn occasionally but when you do, make air popped or stovetop or even use the brown paper bag method.

6. Potato chips. Cooking potato chips at a high temperature creates acrylamide which is a known carcinogen.

TRUTH: Sniff. Unfortunately, this is true (again, that whole increased risk thing applies; eating potato chips occasionally does not mean you’re guaranteed to get cancer). You can make your own or make home made kale chips instead. Or, just eat them once in a while as a treat. You shouldn’t be eating them on the daily anyway.

7. Hydrogenated oils. “Hydrogenated oils influence our cell membranes’ structure and flexibility, which is linked to cancer.”

TRUTH: Partially hydrogenated oils are bad. Partial hydrogenation creates trans-fats but the harm from consuming them is an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, not cancer.

8. Foods that are highly salted, pickled, or smoked. “There is overwhelming evidence that eating these types of foods greatly increases the risk of colorectal cancer and higher rates of stomach cancer.”

TRUTH: Well, the preservative and smoked issue was covered under number four. Little bit of overlap here. Too much salt can lead to hypertension and heart disease. Again, not related to cancer risk.

9. Highly processed white flours. White flour is bleached with chlorine gas. White flour increases blood sugar which feeds tumour cells.

TRUTH: Bleached flour is usually whitened using peroxide, although some flours use chlorine gas. Did you know that chlorine is used to kill pathogens in drinking water and it’s one of the components of table salt (sodium + chlorine)? Not a significant cancer risk. Even so, you can always get unbleached flour.

I don’t know what minimally processed white flours would be. Flour is flour. You gotta process grain to get it.

It is better to consume complex carbohydrates to obtain more nutrients. However, eating a croissant isn’t going to increase your cancer risk. Glucose is fuel for all of your cells, not just cancer cells. Cutting out white flour won’t prevent or cure cancer.

10. GMOs. Just read the section yourself. It’s too hard to tease out anything from this convoluted web.

TRUTH: I think that there are many risks associated with genetic modification. Primarily to biodiversity and the environment. It’s unlikely that cancer is one of them (although pesticides used to treat GM crops, and other crops, quite likely do cause cancer). This whole section is pretty misinformed bullshit.

There are very few GMO crops in the US at the moment (and despite what the article says, they have been approved by the FDA). If you are concerned about GM then try to buy organic versions of common GM crops.

11. Refined sugars. (see number 9)

12. Artificial sweeteners. “There is mounting evidence that the chemicals that make up these sweeteners, especially aspartame, break down in the body into a deadly toxin called DKP. When your stomach processes this chemical, it in turn produces chemicals that can cause cancer, especially brain tumors.”

TRUTH: Artificial sweeteners have been proven safe in MANY MANY studies. That being said, they may affect your perception of sweetness and there’s always the possibility that there is some other harm that they’re causing. I’m of the opinion that they taste weird and you’re probably better off having a little of the real thing (yes, sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup…).

13. Diet anything. “All “diet” food is chemically processed and made from super refined ingredients, excessive sodium levels, as well as artificial colors and flavors to make it taste good.”

TRUTH: I’m not a fan of “diet” foods because it’s better to have minimally processed whole foods and fat. However, there is no evidence that “diet” foods cause cancer. Frustration and hunger maybe, but not cancer.

14. Alcohol. Alcohol use is the second leading cause of cancer, right behind tobacco use.”

TRUTH: Yes. This is true. Alcohol is a toxin. However, there are also heart health benefit associated with moderate alcohol consumption (i.e. approximately one drink a day for women and 1-2 a day per men). Pick your risk factor.

15. Red meat. Increases cancer risk; especially colorectal.

TRUTH: Yes, there is an increased correlation between red meat consumption and cancer diagnosis. However, it’s a very slight risk. As the article, surprisingly rationally suggests, you can still enjoy an occasional steak, it just shouldn’t be an every day food.

16. Non-organic fruits. The pesticides on them are toxic.

TRUTH: No mention of cancer here (just had to point that out). Still, many pesticides are likely harmful to humans and while some can be removed by washing, not all can. The thing is, you’ll find pesticides on organic fruit too, maybe in smaller quantities but some nevertheless. The health benefits you reap from eating fruit are likely greater than any cancer risk or other health risks the pesticides on them may pose.

The ultimate truth: We live in a carcinogenic environment. There are many things that we come in contact with on a regular basis that may cause cancer. Inciting fear in people about common foods is not going to help anyone avoid cancer. Continue to make mindful food and lifestyle choices and hope for the best. It’s all any of us can do.


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Protein: the latest killer lurking in your food

Image by noodles and beef on flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Image by noodles and beef on flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Oh good, just what we all need, more fear mongering. That’s one thing we certainly don’t get enough of as part of our current diet. So, what’s the latest to spark fear into the tummies of eaters everywhere? Protein. Yep, apparently, our “obsession” with protein is actually making us sick. This according to Garth Davis, a surgeon, and author of the forthcoming book Proteinaholics. Cute name, no? Right up there with Grain Brain and Wheat Belly.

Davis proposes that we’re all eating too much protein and that it’s having dire health consequences. According to the article an average 150 lb adult in the US consumes the equivalent of more than 6 eggs worth of protein in a day. I’m not sure how the math was done to obtain this conclusion (I guess that “more than” must be integral) as I have six large eggs clocking in at 6 grams of protein a piece which would be 36 grams of protein for the day which is actually less than the recommended 0.8 g/kg of body weight per day. In fact, it leaves our “average adult” about 18 grams of protein shy of the recommended adequate intake. Not to mention the fact that while the AI is expected to meet, or exceed, the needs of most individuals, it doesn’t account for those who have increased nutrient needs such as athletes, those who are injured (particularly people suffering from burns), pregnant women, the elderly, etc. To the article author’s credit, she does go on to mention that there are some researchers who believe that the AI for protein should be increased, providing some balance to the article if you manage to read the whole piece.

Another good point made in the article is that we get protein from many foods, particularly foods that people don’t think of as protein sources. Things like grains and vegetables. However, this is undermined by the example provided comparing the protein content of a packet of Mr Noodles with the protein in a Clif Bar. An unfortunate choice because your standard Clif Bar isn’t a protein bar, it’s an energy bar. This may sound like a minor quibble but when most protein supplements provide around 20 grams of protein per serving, comparing an energy bar with 11 grams of protein (still nothing to sniff at) to Mr Noodles (which have 10 grams in the chicken flavour used for comparison but as few as 4 grams in some other flavours) is rather foolish. To digress from protein for a moment… While the Clif Bar is also high in sugar (about 5 teaspoons!) it does contain other vitamins and minerals and fibre while your packet of Mr Noodles will give you more than half a day’s worth of sodium. I know that the focus of the article was protein but it’s important not to make the focus of nutritional comparisons single nutrients.

Onto the dangers of our proteinaholic diets. Ketosis. Which, based on the article, you would think occurs after consuming a single protein supplement (sans carbs) and leads to nausea, fatigue, and headaches. Apparently feeling miserable is why you lose weight, you’re simply less inclined to eat. While I’m not a supporter of ketosis for weight loss (I love carbs and I don’t think that very-low carb diets are sustainable) I think that there may be some confusion between ketosis and ketoacidosis here. Ketosis is the result of following a low-carb diet (not necessarily a high-protein diet) and may initially result in symptoms such as frequent urination, dry mouth, and headache. People who are in ketosis often report a sense of euphoria and a lack of hunger once these initial symptoms pass. Nausea and vomiting may occur in the case of ketoacidosis which is when ketones build-up in the blood, making it acidic. This can happen to people with diabetes, during starvation, and in conjunction with other medical condition, not on a low-carb diet.

Animal proteins apparently also make you fat, cause cancer and diabetes. Also, the amino acids (which are building blocks of proteins) leach calcium from muscles and bones. To address the first statement: animal protein might cause you to gain weight, if you consume too much of it. So might cookies. Consuming excessive calories from any source can lead to weight gain. Animal protein might be a factor in cancer development, certainly processed meats and burnt meat have been identified as risk factors. As for diabetes, there has been an association noted between higher consumption of meat and type 2 diabetes; however, there has been no causal link made to date. To address the second statement: this myth has been around for a number of years. Recent research indicates that protein consumption does not reduce bone density, in fact, it may actually help to boost calcium retention.

“Although it’s necessary for us to grow, it also helps grow cancer cells. It’s instructive that breast milk, which humans consume during the fastest growing period of our lives, derives just five per cent of its calories from protein.”

Funny, I thought it was sugar that was feeding cancer. If you believed all of the fear mongering out there you wouldn’t be able to eat anything. Do I really need to tell you that infants are different than adults? If breastmilk was the optimal way for humans beyond the age of 2 years to obtain nutrition then we’d all be drinking breastmilk on the daily. As we age, our nutrient needs change; in connection with increased caloric needs we also see increased protein needs.

We’ve seen so many diets purporting that this or that macronutrient is evil. I’m not saying eat more meat, most Canadians could certainly benefit from consuming less. However, it seems to me that people like Davis are conflating protein with meat. You can’t paint all protein-containing foods with the same brush and his message only serves to scare people away from protein in general. In my mind, this is not promoting a healthy way of eating. Nor am I saying that protein supplements are necessary, sorry Vega, they’re really not.

Davis says, “If I can’t convince you that protein is bad for you, I can’t convince you that water is wet.” Awesome. I’m looking forward to no longer having to towel off after I shower.


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If children were plants

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I cannot believe the absurdity of things like this. While the message is good, don’t give your children sugary drinks, the approach is ridiculous. Are they sincerely suggesting that human children are comparable to plants? If I still had photoshop I would change it to show the plant being offered fertilizer (or sunshine) and the child being offered salad. Or replace the plant with a pet cat or dog being offered pet food. I can’t imagine any parent (except possibly if the guy who made soylent has kids) thinking that it’s a good idea to give their children exactly the same food at every meal.

Let’s stop making silly comparisons that undermine messages. Children are not plants.