Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


Is your “green monster” a nutritional nightmare?


I recently came across a blog post decreeing green smoothies to be a nutritional no-no. Great, so people finally find a way that works for them to get a bunch of veg and fruit in one go and now we tell them that these drinks might be the death of them.

Green smoothies seem like a no-brainer. If you’re making them at home you can easily control what goes into them and ensure that they’re packed with nutritious foods and not calories from things like frozen yoghurt. I know a lot of people who find it difficult to eat breakfast in the morning; smoothies can be a great way to get breakfast in as liquids may be more readily tolerated than solid foods first thing in the morning.

Now that people are hooked on green smoothies the fearmongering begins. Why should you fear your green smoothie? Well, raw cruciferous vegetables, such as kale, a staple in many green smoothies, contain goitrogens. These are substances that interfere with thyroid gland metabolism by inhibiting the absorption of iodide. When consumed in large quantities, they may cause goiters. Goitrogens are also found in turnips, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, and water.

Iodide (not to be confused with the toxic iodine, despite “iodine” being used interchangeably with iodide) deficiency hasn’t been a significant health concern in developed countries in many years because we generally cook cruciferous vegetables before eating them. In Canada, fortification of table salt with iodide is also mandatory. However, with the diminished use of the salt shaker and the popularization of sea salt (which is not fortified and loses iodide during processing) it’s likely that iodide will become a nutrient of greater concern in countries such as Canada.

Before you start reaching for the iodide supplements (which, by the way, you’ll find as kelp or bladderwrack, not as iodide/iodine) you should be aware that at very high amounts (more than 1.1 mg per day), iodide consumption can inhibit thyroid hormone synthesis. Even without consuming fortified table salt, most North Americans consume more than enough iodide per day as iodide is used as a sterilizing agent in dairies and restaurants, a conditioner for dough in bakeries, and in food colourings. Iodide is also found in saltwater fish (both fin and shell), molasses, seaweed, plain yoghurt, milk, and eggs. Some protein bars and multivitamins also contain iodide.

Back to your green smoothie. Should you be concerned about the effect your daily smoothie might have on your thyroid gland? Probably not. Unless you’re guzzling green smoothies for breakfast lunch and dinner, are consuming a cruciferious vegetable-heavy raw-diet, and have an existing thyroid condition it’s unlikely that a green smoothie once a day, or less, is going to have anything but a positive impact on your health. The most important feature of a healthy diet is variety. Consuming too much of anything be it green smoothies, potato chips, bread, or bananas, is unhealthy. Eating a balanced diet containing a variety of foods helps to ensure that you’re getting all of the nutrients you need. And yes, a green smoothies can be a part of a balanced diet.

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Fear of fat

Last week an article in the Globe and Mail discussed recent research indicating that saturated fat is not the heart attack waiting to happen that we believed it to be for the last couple of decades. Great news for butter lovers! As an aside, my original tag-line for this blog was going to be “real dietitians eat butter”. Bad news for many health promoting organizations and for many consumers.

I say it’s bad news for many organizations because messages need to be updated and when you’re dealing with slow-moving bureaucracies such as Health Canada, this often takes some time to occur. In the meantime, this becomes bad for consumers because it’s difficult to know which messages to believe. When the government is telling you to choose margarine and others are telling you to put several tablespoons of butter in your coffee, who to believe?

Personally, I’ve always taken the stance that just because a little of something is good for you it doesn’t necessarily follow that a lot of it is better. Too much of anything is bad for you. Just because we’ve figured out that saturated fats are not likely to cause heart disease doesn’t mean that you should make all of the fat in your diet saturated. Variety is both the spice of life and the foundation of a healthy diet. Go ahead, use butter in that recipe, spread a little on your roll, but also continue to include other fats such as olive oil, nuts, and seeds.

We also need to remember that just because fat doesn’t automatically turn to fat in your body doesn’t mean that it won’t. Fats still have more calories by weight (9 kcal per gram) than other macronutrients. If you consume more calories than your body needs you will gain weight and consuming calorie dense foods (such as those high in fat) makes this easier to do.

There’s no need to fear the fat, be it saturated or unsaturated, but there’s also danger to embracing it to the exclusion of other nutrients.