Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Gwyneth Paltrow and the Seven Limes

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Photo (7) Seven limes by Wikioticslan on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

A few weeks ago everyone was mocking Gwyneth Paltrow’s food choices for a week-long food stamp challenge. Admittedly, they were a little ridiculous. I mean, it was nice to see that she chose things like dried beans, frozen peas, eggs, and some fresh vegetables. However, along with everyone else, I thought “seven limes??!“. Unless she got an amazing deal on those limes they seem like a nutritionally foolish expense. I saw some people posting their superior $29 selections. When Gwyneth failed to last more than four days on the challenge it seemed like everyone was more than a little gleeful. I saw others bragging about their success.

As much as we all like to take pleasure in Gwyn’s failures, I think that we may have lost the point. The point of this food stamp challenge is to show people how difficult it is to survive on such a limited food budget. To that end, it’s a good thing that Gwyneth failed. If she had happily lived on that little food budget then that would mean that all people living on food stamps should be able to contentedly survive on $29 of food a week.

Regardless of the choices that Gwyneth made, there’s little room for pleasure or flavour in such a meagre food budget. Note that there was no money for cooking oil, condiments, spices, or staples like flour and sugar. No coffee, tea, no chocolate! It’s nigh on impossible for someone to feed a family a basic nutritious diet when they are forced to rely on food stamps. More important here than Gwyneth’s failure to do so is the failure of the government to provide its citizens with the means to afford healthy, palatable food.


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Let’s deactivate the activated charcoal detox trend

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Photo by Ken Fager on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

A friend recently alerted me to the latest detox trend: charcoal infused beverages. What?? I haven’t seen any around here (thankfully), it tends to take a little while for trends to make their way to Nova Scotia. All of my fingers are crossed that this will fizzle out before it can catch on here.

The argument for these activated charcoal containing beverages, made by beauty bloggers, good old vagina steaming Gwyneth, and the purveyors of these burnt beverages, is that the charcoal will bind any toxins in your body and remove them. Supposedly they’re great for avoiding hangovers and blessing you with glowing skin. Sandwiched in between these arguments in the article linked above is the sensible advice put forth by a registered dietitian:

She notes that adding charcoal to vegetable juice doesn’t make sense because the charcoal — not the drinker’s body — will absorb the juice’s nutrients.

“I don’t really see a purpose,” she says. “I think it’s going on the fad of ‘detox, detox, detox.’ ”

It’s important to be aware that the human body is designed to filter toxins using the liver and kidneys. Most of these detox beverages are a waste of money at best, some are dangerous at worst. Regular consumption of charcoal beverages could actually leave you nutrient deficient, not so great for your skin and other organs. It also won’t remove bacteria, as mentioned by one proponent.

Activated charcoal has been used for years in hospitals (and prior to that by indigenous populations) to help treat drug overdoses and poisonings. The activated charcoal binds to these substances, removing them from the body. Extremely useful in the case of an overdose. Not so useful on a regular basis. If you’re consuming any medication the charcoal will happily bind to that and remove it from your body. The charcoal will also only remove toxins and drugs that have not already been absorbed from the digestive system. Drinking one of these the morning after over-indulging will not cure your hangover. In fact, activated charcoal is not useful in treating alcohol poisoning, nor a number of other poisonings. There are also some medications that activated charcoal can interact with and cause electrolyte imbalances.

While this trend is quite new, it’s hard to say what many of the long-term effects of charcoal ingestion might be. As we know that burnt food, and foods cooked at high temperatures may increase the risk of some cancers, it’s quite possible that charcoal ingestion could pose a similar risk.

Novel idea: How about instead of trying to rid our bodies of toxins, we put nutritious nourishing foods into them in the first place.


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Follow Friday: Julia vs Gwyneth

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Lots of talk on the twitterverse about Gwyneth Paltrow’s new cookbook It’s All Good. While I haven’t seen it myself, and the recipes therein may be perfectly tasty and nutritious, she’s been slammed for including quackery in her forward. Julia Belluz has an article in MacLean’s detailing what aspects of Gwynnie’s advice are pseudoscience and why these statements are potentially damaging to readers. As I’ve mentioned before, I find it exceedingly frustrating that nearly everyone thinks they’re a nutrition expert and people readily latch on to ideas extolled by celebs. Just because you eat (and seemingly in Gwyneth’s case, this may be an overstatement) does not make you a dietitian.