Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Cruciferous crusaders or (not so) superfoods? The truth about veggies & cancer

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Did you hear the news? Last week it was announced that there’s no evidence of a link between vegetable and fruit consumption and risk of developing cancer. This proclamation was based on the results of a large-scale analysis of data from cohort studies in Japan.

Before everyone rejoices and throws the contents of their crispers in the compost, opting instead to have ice cream for supper maybe we should take a closer look at the original research.

The first caution I’d make is that this is based on a study of people in Japan. Because the average Japanese diet and lifestyle differs significantly from our North American diet and lifestyle we can’t conclude that results seen in people in Japan will apply to people in Canada or the US, or pretty much any other country.

The second caution, and this is the big one, is that the frequency of consumption of vegetables and fruit used in the study was very different from what’s recommended here. The greatest consumption of veg and fruit recorded in the study was “almost daily”. Compare that to the recommended 8-10 servings per day in Canada’s Food Guide. Stating daily consumption of veg and fruit tells us very little about the true picture of veg and fruit consumption. This categorization allows a person who eats one apple a day (and no other veg or fruit) to be viewed as the same as a person who eats veg and/or fruit at every meal and snack and consumes a wide variety of produce. The method of categorization in this study really only allows us to conclude that at minimal consumption levels, eating vegetables and fruit doesn’t appear to provide protection against cancer when compared to eating vegetables and fruit infrequently (or almost never??). The fact that almost never is even an option makes me wonder about the accuracy of self-reporting and the possibility that people in that group could be more likely to succumb to ailments such as scurvy before cancer would have a chance to get to them.

The third point to mention (although hopefully I don’t need to) is that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Just because this study didn’t find a relationship between the consumption of vegetables and fruit and the development (or prevention) of cancer doesn’t mean that there isn’t a connection between the two. It’s possible that using different parameters might show that a greater consumption of vegetables is linked to a decreased risk of certain types of cancer.

The final point that I think is important to make is that we don’t eat food in order to prevent cancer. Even if this study is showing us that eating vegetables and fruit doesn’t confer protection against cancer upon us (and I’m not even remotely convinced that it does) there are plenty of other good reasons to eat vegetables and fruit. Vegetables and fruit provide us with many vitamins and minerals that are vital to the function of our bodies. They provide us with fibre which is essential for gut health. They provide us with water and energy, which are both necessary for our survival. They also add flavour, colour, and variety to our diets making meals and snacks enjoyable. All this to say that while cookies are delicious they still aren’t a balanced nutritious meal. Vegetables and fruit still have important roles to play in keeping us healthy.


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The defence of juice

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I find the ability of people to rationalise things astounding. We all do it in some manner in our lives. But it still amazes me to see people staunchly defending illogical stances. Take for example juice.

I’m not opposed to juice per se. I grew up during a time when orange juice was a standard at breakfast. I drank juice boxes at school. Juice wasn’t the nutritional pariah it’s become. Of course, we now know that juice is essentially liquid sugar, with a few vitamins thrown in for good measure. Drinking a glass of apple juice is nowhere near as nutritious as eating an actual apple. I would never recommend that someone consume more juice but if you’re enjoying a glass of juice a day, or an occasional glass of juice, it’s the same as any other sweet treat and I’m not going to take that away.

What I don’t get are the people who say that juice contains “naturally occurring” sugar so it’s somehow healthier than any other food containing “unnaturally occurring” sugar. Nope. Not buying it. Sugar is sugar. This is not demonizing sugar. This is not demonizing juice. It’s just a fact. Where do people think that refined and added sugars come from? They’re not made from chemicals in a lab. They’re made by processing plants that naturally contain sugar. There’s nothing nutritionally superior about the sugar in juice. It’s no better (or worse) for you than the sugar in a handful of jujubes.

Let’s stop sugarcoating juice and face the facts. Juice is liquid sugar with better PR than other sugary beverages.


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30+ bananas a day is bananas

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Originally, I wasn’t going to comment on a recent article spouting nutrition nonsense. As fired-up as I was, I felt that addressing the article would only provide more publicity for the individual featured in the article. I was torn between commenting on her ridiculous (and dangerous) assertions and leaving it alone because I think that giving this woman more coverage may do more harm than good. After mulling it over, I’ve decided to comment on the article without linking to it and without naming the woman featured. If you’ve already heard of her, I’m sure that you’ll have no trouble figuring out to whom I’m referring, even if you haven’t, you can likely google her quite easily. Still, I don’t want to assist anyone in accessing her foolishness.

Getting to the point… The article begins by discussing her belief that chemotherapy is deadly and that a raw vegan diet “will heal your body”. Yes, chemotherapy is dangerous and extremely hard on your body. It’s basically about finding the balance between the amount of toxins that will kill the cancer but not the patient. And yes, good nutrition is important for health. However, the notion that a raw vegan diet will cure cancer is total bunk and telling people to choose this over medical treatment is potentially harmful.

She also insists that losing her period on her raw vegan diet was healthy because “my feeling at the time that it felt good. At the time I think it need to happen for my body to balance out”. Since then, she has resumed having her period but they are very light. She alleges that having a period is your body ridding itself of toxicity. Umm… Actually, your period is your body shedding the unused uterine lining prepped for pregnancy every month. Not having your period (amenorrhea) is the opposite of evidence of good health. It’s an indication that your body is lacking in nutrients as it is unable to support a pregnancy. Suggesting that women who experience painful and heavy periods are consuming unhealthy diets is both incorrect and unfair to women who suffer from endometriosis.

The article mentions that she suffered from anorexia and bulimia before finding health with the raw food vegan diet. She prides herself on eating massive quantities of fruit (sometimes 50 bananas in a day!) as part of this diet, which is nearly all carbohydrate, very low in fat and protein. To me, this appears to be just another manifestation of an eating disorder. She mentions the weight loss she experienced after starting this diet and posts many photos of herself that look like those you would see on proana or fitspo sites. This bizarre eating pattern and obsession with food is not indicative of a healthy lifestyle. Yes, her figure may make her diet tempting for those who wish to be very thin. However, it is not healthy, and her advice is woefully incorrect and not based in scientific fact. Please do not be drawn in by internet sensations who promote dangerous self-serving agendas.


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Leave the veg for the rabbits, you’re going to die anyway

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A few weeks ago, Dr Sharma shared this article (on twitter and on facebook), without comment. It’s an article by the dreaded Zoe Harcombe about why we shouldn’t be striving for at least five servings a day of fruit and vegetables. No, it’s not what you think. She’s not suggesting that people should have more than 5 servings of veg and fruit a day, she’s suggesting that people should have fewer servings of veg and fruit a day. “Great,” I thought, “Zoe strikes again“.

After working myself up into a bit of a rage about the article I noticed the date on it. January 2011. When I first saw that I thought that I wouldn’t blog about it after all as it’s not current. My second thought was, “whatever”. If I’m only seeing this for the first time there are probably others only seeing it for the first time as well.

Harcombe argues that recent research showing the lack of protection against myriad chronic diseases through increased vegetable and fruit consumption means that we should cease encouraging people to eat more vegetables and fruits. And everyone rejoiced and ate doughnuts for dinner and lived long and healthy lives dying peacefully from old age in their sleep! Dietitians, nutritionists, and other health professionals were suddenly out of work as there was no more chronic disease to contend with. If only.

In the article, Harcombe states, “no doubt some dieticians and nutritionists will reject my arguments. But science backs me up.”
Well, she got the first part of that statement right, at least.

A great deal of Harcombe’s hypothesis centres around the assertion that vegetables and fruit don’t contain many vitamins or minerals. She concedes that vegetables do contain vitamin C and some A and K. Fruit apparently is only good for potassium. According to Harcombe, meat and other animal products are superior sources of most vitamins and minerals. This truly is a load of nonsense. Veg and fruit can be good sources of many vitamins and minerals. Not to mention the fact that they are usually good sources of water and can provide greater volume to your meal with few calories. Food is not just about individual nutrients. It’s about taste and texture and pleasure. Imagine eating a salad without vegetables. Think about the pleasure of eating a fresh blackberry off the brambles. How dull food would become if we didn’t have vegetables and fruit in our diets.

Harcombe moves on from her argument about the lack of vitamins and minerals in vegetables and fruit to say that some dietitians will argue that they are a source of antioxidants. She doesn’t object to this statement but instead says that she would rather not ingest oxidants in the first place. What was it that she said earlier? Oh yeah, “Science backs me up.” Might be time for a review of the oxidizing process, Zoe. If she’s avoiding oxidizing agents I want to know how she’s managed to survive without breathing air or drinking water. Our environment is chockfull of oxidizers. We should certainly avoid adding to them ourselves by avoiding smoking, excessive sun exposure, excessive alcohol consumption, etc. However, avoiding “chemicals” as Harcombe suggests is both ridiculous and impossible. Everything is chemicals. We are chemicals.

There is too much in this article to address it all. I mean, I could, but it’s too nice out as I’m typing this, and would you really keep reading if I went on and on? I just want to touch on one more issue with Harcombe’s vendetta against vegetables and fruit.

Harcombe takes issue with the belief that vegetables and fruit are important sources of fibre in our diets.

“The fact is, we can’t digest fibre. How can something we can’t even digest be so important to us, nutritionally?”

Apparently Harcombe doesn’t mind being constipated. Nor does she recognise the importance of fibre in prevention of heart disease. The desire to feel satisfied after a meal? Also not important. Even if these things are not important to her fibre serves other important organisms inside our bodies. That indigestible fibre is food for the bacteria living in our digestive tracts. Those same bacteria that provide us with things like vitamin B12, protect us against GI upset and harmful micro-organisms. We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of the importance of our gut bacteria but it seems that they do a lot more for us than we ever realised.

So, if we are to listen to Harcombe and throw those five-a-day away, what are we to eat? Her top five foods: liver, sardines, eggs, sunflower seeds, and dark-green vegetables. That’s right. After telling us that vegetables and fruit are overrated and should be left for the rabbits, Harcombe then turns around and recommends vegetables in her top five foods. I rest my case.