Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


Hey food industry, get out of RD conferences! #FNCE


I had a blog post all written for you lovelies, cued-up, ready to go. Then I started seeing the tweets coming out of FNCE (Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo) and I got all annoyed and tweeted what you see above because apparently I’m a masochist. That unleashed a fun afternoon of back-and-forth with fellow RDs on twitter who either don’t see conflict of interest as an issue in our profession or don’t really care.

I keep being about to say “I’m sorry but…” but I’m NOT SORRY DAMMITYou are not immune to marketing. No one is immune. Not me, not you, not anyone and if you think you are then you are the extremely rare exception or you are sorely mistaken. Many dietitians (myself included) regularly bemoan that we can’t get any respect as a profession. Do you really think that showing your influence can be bought with a free sample is helping us to become respected on the same level as other healthcare professionals?

Let me tell you a little tale. Once upon a time I worked in a grocery store (yes, I was an RD at this time). In my position I was responsible for a department, helping customers, teaching classes, providing demos, etc. Myself, and others in the same role at other stores regularly received training, lunch and learns, and samples from vendors. Product knowledge is important if you are talking to customers about food and supplements. The thing is, we didn’t receive training on or samples of all brands. So which products were we more likely to recommend? The ones we’d gotten to try, the ones we felt more connected to. Sure, I never recommended a product that I was morally against (I told people not to buy raspberry ketones if they asked for my opinion)or didn’t genuinely like, but I’m sure that there were equally good alternatives to many products that I didn’t steer people toward because I had no experience with them.

So, when dietitians argue that industry at conferences is fine, I disagree. Sure, walnuts and almonds are great but if they’re the only nuts there what are the chances that dietitians are going to be subconsciously influenced to promote those to their clients over nuts that don’t have representation at the expo? Yoghurt’s great and there are myriad options at grocery stores. If Siggi’s and Chobani are the only yoghurt brands represented at FNCE, which brands do you think that RDs are going to be more likely to choose and recommend?

Some argued that the FNCE is, in part, an expo. True enough, but as a conference organized by the national dietetic organization in the US it’s expected that most attendees will be dietitians. The focus should be on providing them with current evidence-based nutrition information.Having a captive RD audience for marketing at a conference organized by a body that’s meant to represent RDs is reprehensible. It’s time for the FNCE to drop the E.

Lest you still believe that RDs are a higher breed of human and somehow immune to conflicts of interest and marketing tactics, check out the selection of tweets below. Names and handles have been removed because this is not about singling out dietitians, it’s about drawing attention to the larger issue. Kudos to the companies present at FNCE for generating all of these free advertisements. Shame on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for allowing this to occur.





Jamie Oliver and the hypocritical sugar tax

Jamie Oliver's Apple Berry Crisp contains over 5 tsp of sugar in a teensy tiny 100 g serving (i.e. 1/10th of this box)

Jamie Oliver’s Apple Berry Crisp contains over 5 tsp of sugar in a teensy tiny 100 g serving (i.e. 1/10th of this box)

This opinion piece about the proposed sugar tax in the UK left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I agree, Jamie Oliver is an hypocritical patronizing bully (remember that time he said “poor people” could well afford to cook better meals if they all have tellies?). On the other hand, the alternative solutions to the sugar tax offered in the article are quite likely to be even less effective. And I’m not being instilled with confidence by the author’s bio: “Alex Deane is an Executive Board Member of the People Against Sugar Tax campaign. He has a spare tyre, because he’s freely chosen to eat too much.” 

According to their website the PAST don’t receive any funding from food and beverage companies, only from private individuals. Of course, there’s no telling precisely who those individuals are and whether or not they have any ties to the food industry. PAST states that by not seeking money from food or drinks companies, “It means that people can be confident that our campaign has no conflicts of interests, and that we are the voice of the people”. Assuming it’s true, that all their money comes from people who just really don’t want to pay extra for pop, I’m still not sure that makes them the voice of the people. People who have money to burn on campaigns against campaigns against sugar certainly aren’t likely to be your average citizens. Interesting, considering that their central argument against the sugar tax is that it will be most damaging to people living in poverty. Since when do a bunch of conservatives and libertarians care about people who are struggling to make ends meet? I guess when it’s convenient to use them to make their argument sound noble.

I too have said that a sugar tax will unfairly hurt people living on limited incomes. I too don’t believe that a tax on sugar is the answer. However, I don’t think that the so-called solutions proposed by the PAST are any better, in fact, I think they detract from the real problems. Suggesting that improved nutrition labelling and “encouraging children to do more exercise” are far more patronising “solutions to obesity” in my mind than a sugar tax would be. Come on. These solutions once again place the onus on the individual and as a result imply that we all just need to make better choices. If only we could understand nutrition labels and get off our fat lazy asses a little more we would all be slim and fit and healthy. No matter that neither of these solutions addresses their central argument. You think that people living in poverty are going to benefit from improved nutrition labels and being told to exercise more as long as they don’t have to pay extra tax on pop and candy? This makes no sense at all.

The onus needs to stop being placed on the individuals. Sugary treats should be more expensive. Not because a higher tax is placed on them though, but because the food industry is no longer subsidized and offered tax breaks to create these products. Grocery stores could also stop selling these items as “loss leaders”, stop accepting money from the companies making these products to place them in prominent displays, stop giving them the prime eye-level shelves, and selling them at checkouts. Other stores that by all rights should not be selling food (I’m looking at you office supply stores, house-ware shops…) could stop selling candy and other food. Until we start realising that profit is not the be all and end all, and that the abundance of food, particularly “sometimes” foods that should not be consumed on a daily basis, is actually costing us more as a society in healthcare significant change in obesity rates and lifestyle related diseases is unlikely. We need to change our environment and shift our priorities. The presence or absence of a sugar tax is not the answer and arguing about it is taking us farther away from the real problems at hand.


Reverse food snobbery: Who has time to cook lasagna after work?

My friend Meaghan shared the above infographic with me last week to see what I thought. I thought that it was worthy of a blog post.

I think that it’s over simplifying a complex issue. How can you possibly put frozen peas in the same category as a packaged frozen lasagna? Frozen peas (and other frozen vegetables) are picked and frozen at their prime, meaning that they’re often more nutritious than their “fresh” counterparts on grocery store shelves. However, as you can see, even with their selection of lasagna, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find a frozen lasagna that’s as healthy and nutritious as one that’s homemade. Who the heck is cooking lasagna as a weekday supper anyhow? Ain’t nobody got time for that! Let’s see some more realistic comparisons of quick and easy homemade suppers.

I’m not sure what the deal is with the packaged stir-fry pictured on the infographic. It appears to be a box but I would think that they’re referring to a frozen stir-fry mix. Sure, if you’re buying the frozen mixed vegetables without a sauce, they’re going to be easy to turn into a healthy stir-fry. However, if they’re already coated in a sauce you’re probably going to get more sodium, sugar, and fat (possibly trans fat) than you would if you made your own sauce.

Minimally processed packaged foods can be a great healthy time saver. However, you can’t equate buying pre-cut vegetables with a frozen tv dinner. As a dietitian, one of the main messages I hope to impart on people is the importance of cooking their own meals. If you’re trying to lose weight or just to be healthier this is probably the best thing you can do for yourself. And sorry, but taking a box out of the freezer and nuking it doesn’t count as cooking. I’d like to see the true cost of the frozen meals they’re pushing if you also factored in the shortened health-spans due to poor nutrition.

There’s also the not so subtle “reverse snobbery” (I’m stealing that one Meaghan) in the post accompanying the infographic. The implication that the average person doesn’t have time to cook and that their time is far too valuable to be spent *gasp* cooking. Yes, we’re all terribly busy, although we do somehow manage to find time to watch Big Brother or binge watch Orange is the New Black. I think that we, as a society, need to re-evaluate our priorities and put cooking right up near the top. The thing is, cooking doesn’t need to be a long torturous laborious process. There are plenty of healthy and delicious meals that you can whip up in less than half an hour after work. If you’re cooking for more than one, you can also enlist the help of other members of the household. You can prep ingredients the night before or batch cook on your days off. You can make extra portions so that you can have your own homemade nutritious frozen dinners ready to grab when you’re short on time. Cooking is not a luxury. It’s a necessity.


The bigger problem with the cosy relationship between dietitians and the food industry


Lots of drama in the dietetic world last week. No, I’m not talking about the wildly popular Dietitians Day. First, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) in the US brokered a facepalm worthy deal with Kraft to have their logo placed on process cheese slices. Dietitians everywhere (myself included) were outraged, certainly not shocked, but definitely outraged. And rightfully so. How are people supposed to take us seriously when an organization claiming to represent thousands of dietitians is promoting process cheese. A product that the majority of us would neither consume nor recommend to clients. On the defensive, AND released a statement (you may need to scroll down a bit to find the post) claiming that the prominent placement of their logo on the process cheese was not indicative of endorsement. Rather, the logo was indicative of Kraft’s support of AND. Right. We all know that doesn’t matter. It’s the perception that matters and everyone perceived the placement of the AND logo as an endorsement of the questionable product. Especially since the initial accompanying pronouncement stated that AND was proud to have their logo appearing on Kraft singles as many children don’t consume enough calcium and vitamin D. AND will be forming a committee to address the concerns of members regarding this deal with Kraft, in MAY. If you agree that this “partnership” is wrong then please take a minute to sign the Change.org petition asking AND to “repeal the seal”.

Hot on the heels of the AND Kraft debacle was the news that a number of dietitians had promoted mini-Coke cans as “healthy snacks”. These dietitians were likely all paid for selling their souls this work, although one of them couldn’t recall if she was paid by Coke or not. Gee, I wish I was making so much money that I could forget whether or not I was paid for something. While I hate to rag on fellow dietitians, it frustrates me to no end to hear of others doing such a disservice to our profession.

Both of these stories exemplify how the relationship between the food industry and dietetics/dietitians undermines our integrity as health professionals. There is a larger problem here. Dietetic organizations need sources of funding that do not come with conflicts of interest. Dietitians need more and better job opportunities. I understand that it’s a tough job market. Believe me, I’m not raking in the dough and I’m only quasi working as a dietitian. However, I would sooner give-up my status as a registered dietitian than to use it to promote questionable food and beverage choices. With the constantly changing science and messages in nutrition it’s hard enough to convince people to trust us. Is it really worth sacrificing our credibility to make a buck?

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Why McDonald’s hipster cafe is a scary development


Did you know that McDonald’s is running a “hipster” café called The Corner in Australia? Apparently, after failed attempts to add more nutritious items to the regular McDonald’s menu, McDonald’s has decided to make the effort to capture the more health-conscious consumer by starting a new operation.

It’s difficult to say whether or not the food actually is more nutritious than the traditional McDonald’s fare. They don’t have the nutrition information posted online and seem only to have a facebook page. According to reviewers in this article the food is more upscale than that at McDonald’s. However, it still has that mass manufactured quality to it. Nothing truly artisan about it.

Okay, so without knowledge of the nutrition information, what’s my issue with this Corner Café? You know I must have an issue with it or I wouldn’t be blogging about it! My issue is the domination of our food industry by just a few players.

In grocery stores we see more and more small, quality, ethical companies being purchased by the giants. Starbucks is notorious for swooping in, saturating markets, and edging out the competition. We have Monsanto controlling most of the seeds used to grow our food. McDonald’s is already the most ubiquitous “restaurant” in the world. Now we have them masquerading as a local coffee shop. Allowing giant companies to own (read: control) our food is a dangerous road that we’re already pretty far down.

When there aren’t enough players in the game prices can be driven-up and quality can be neglected. We also run the risk of disaster if something happens along the food supply chain if everything’s coming from one place.

Maybe I’m being alarmist; maybe not. Personally, I’d rather err on the side of caution and support a local café rather than McDonald’s.