Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


4 Comments

Has healthy eating jumped the shark?

61fRxt98suL._AA436_QL65_

My colleague and I were recently looking for cookbooks for children and families. I was a bit surprised by what’s available. We were looking for something that used basic, affordable ingredients. Recipes that would be easy to prepare, nutritious, and tasty. What we found was a limited number of children’s cookbooks. Some which met our criteria but many that didn’t. Often they featured recipes that weren’t the healthiest. Lots of sweets and not many vegetables. Things that might appeal to kids but that weren’t going to simultaneously promote healthy eating.

The family cookbooks were the most shocking. There were lots that touted themselves as being “healthy” but they featured obscure and expensive ingredients. Recipes that were heavy on the “superfoods” and light on simplicity. While these might appeal to a certain “foodie” subset of the population, they certainly aren’t going to encourage people who shy away from home cooking because they’re intimidated by the prospect.

It makes me wonder if we’ve put “healthy eating” on such a pedestal that it’s become the sole purview of the culinary elite. Has the “wellness” movement made healthy eating seem unattainable to many people by convincing them that they need to prepare chia lemonade, mushroom jerky, and spirulina chapati (yes, these are actual recipes from an actual children’s cookbook)? Are people throwing in the towel and assuming that healthy eating isn’t for them because they think it means having to spend hours in the kitchen every day activating almonds for gluten-free, refined sugar-free, vegan pancakes?

Some of the top cookbooks that came up when I searched Amazon for “family cookbooks” included: Forks Over Knives: Ever Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy, Kids on a Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet; The Happy Family Organic Superfoods Cookbook for Baby & Toddler; and several other vegan cookbooks. I also came across a paleo for families cookbook and a low-carb for families cookbook.

I’m not criticizing anyone’s decision to feed their families in what ever way they see fit. My concern is that by making it seem that healthy eating can only be achieved by following a very specific, often complicated, and costly diet, that the wellness industry is actually pushing people away from healthy eating. Sure, many of these diets and foods can be a part of a healthy diet. The point is that they don’t need to be. You don’t need to eat chia seeds and tempeh to be healthy. Classics like carrots and broccoli are still nutritious. Don’t buy into the hype. Healthy eating can be simple, affordable, and delicious.

 

Advertisements


3 Comments

Why industry shouldn’t have special input into the food guide

Screen Shot 2017-08-19 at 2.18.38 PM.png

With the recent public consultation on the new Canadian “food guide” just coming to an end I’ve been noticing a lot of push-back from industry. There was a letter from a MP voicing concern about the new food guide as the new guiding principles seem to be steering people away from animal-based sources of protein and encouraging the consumption of more plant-based proteins. “I am concerned that the guiding principles released by Health Canada for Canada’s new food guide may have significant negative impacts on Canada’s meat and dairy sectors, and also the health of Canadians,” said Miller.

There was also a news clip featuring a spokesman from the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association voicing “concern” that Canadians will be nutrient deficient if they replace meat with chickpeas.

There’s been an entire website set-up by Canadian Dairy Farmers entitled “Keep Canadians Healthy” with the message being that people need to drink more (cow’s) milk and that the new food guide is going to “discourage Canadians from consuming dairy and meat products”. They go on to say that, “Left unchecked, Health Canada’s recommendations will not only cripple an important Canadian industry, but have long-term health consequences for all Canadians.” 

These examples are exactly why so many of us dietitians, doctors, and others have been complaining about the direct involvement of industry in developing previous iterations of the food guide. I can understand why those whose livelihood depends on the sale of dairy and beef would be concerned that the new food guide will (likely) not continue to serve as free advertising of their products. Although nobody really pays the food guide much heed anyway when they’re deciding what to put in their mouths.

The purpose of the food guide is to help Canadians to eat healthy. The food guide should be based on the best possible evidence. If you think that the dairy and beef (or any other food industry for that matter) has your health at heart you are sorely mistaken. Their goal is to make more money by selling more product.

As a dietitian, it’s my professional goal to help people to eat better. I don’t have any products to sell. I consume dairy products and meat (although I don’t consume much meat). I’m not trying to destroy the beef or dairy industries. I can honestly tell you that most Canadians would benefit from consuming less meat and that it’s not necessary to drink milk to meet specific nutrient needs. Most of us could stand to consume more plants and more plant sources of protein. It’s highly unlikely that anyone in Canada is going to suffer from nutrient deficiencies because Health Canada finally grew a backbone and stopped allowing industries to shape the food guide. Also, the food guide is not going to be telling people to become vegan or vegetarian, it’s hopefully (and rightfully) going to encourage people to consume less meat and more plants.

No food guide is ever going to be perfect. It’s never going to satisfy everyone and I’m sure that I’ll find something wrong with it when it’s released. However, as I’ve said before, it’s a guide, not a bible. It’s a tool to help people to make healthier choices. By using current evidence to inform the content, we’re already a step closer to a better tool.


Leave a comment

Buzz off with having a personal trainer “debunk” nutrition myths buzzfeed

personal-1277392_1920.jpg

What the hell, buzzfeed??? Why would you choose a personal trainer to debunk “diet and nutrition myths”? Sure, not everything he said was inaccurate but his training does not lend itself to providing evidence-informed nutrition information. As a celebrity trainer, it’s his job to help people lose weight and get buff. The advice given to people in that circumstance is likely quite different from the nutrition advice given to people with other health and nutrition concerns. Diets are not one-size-fits-all. What works (i.e. a way of eating that they are happy and healthy consuming for life) for one person will not work for another. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s take a quick look at some of the “myths” that this trainer “debunked”.

1. Full cream milk is actually a better choice over its skim and low-fat counterparts.

This is dangerous advice, in my opinion. When I used to work at a coffee shop I had one customer who would regularly order 20-oz lattes made from heavy cream. That’s just shy of 1600 calories and 88 grams of fat (135% of the maximum recommended daily intake for fat). While the research on milk products and nutrition is mixed, there is little doubt that full-fat dairy products contribute more calories to a person’s diet than reduced-fat products. While a glass of whole milk may be perfectly healthy for many people, a glass of 1% may be a better choice for others. A little cream in one coffee a day is unlikely to have a negative impact on anyone’s health. However, there are very very few people for whom a glass of heavy cream would be a good choice.

2. And be wary of products labelled “low-fat”.

Ostensibly because these products are often higher in sugar. This may be true in some cases. I certainly think that we went overboard with the fear of fat in the ’80s. However, best to read the label before judging a product based on any front-of-package nutrition claims.

3. No, coconut oil isn’t THAT bad for you.

“The recent stuff around coconut oil is categorically wrong. It’s a natural fat, and fat doesn’t make you fat. It will be disproven in the near future, I promise you!”

Well, my thoughts on fats and oils are that we shouldn’t but all of our eggs in one basket. It’s best to use a variety and use them all sparingly. Of course, people with specific health concerns may have different needs and should work with a registered dietitian to determine the best choices for them.

4. Skipping breakfast may not completely “ruin” your metabolism, but it will make you prone to eating worse for the rest of the day.

Getting that first meal in does kickstart your metabolism, and the benefits of eating breakfast definitely outweigh not eating it.

I have mixed feeling about this one. I’m personally a big fan of breakfast, and it can be difficult to meet your nutrient needs if you skip it, but evidence has shown that it doesn’t actually impact your metabolism (whether you eat it or not) and you’re not necessarily going to make poor food choices throughout the day if you’re not a breakfast person.

5. And you definitely are damaging your metabolism with fad diets and juice cleanses.

I’m glad to see he’s opposed to fad diets and juice cleanses. I’m not sure that damaged metabolism is the best of reasons to oppose them but there are plenty of other good reasons.

6. Buying organic is technically better for you – but as long as you’re eating non-processed foods, you’re on the right track.

Yes, organic products are more often than not slightly better for us. There’s less human interference, less chemicals, and less pesticides. But as long as you’re eating ‘real’ food and not processed food, that’s the most important thing. The kind of rules you should go by are if you’re in a supermarket and a product has more than five ingredients, then be wary.

Actually, there’s no evidence to show that eating organic is any healthier than conventional. There are pesticides used on organic crops and plenty of chemicals on (and in) both. There may be other reasons to choose organic (environmental and biodiversity, for example) but health and nutrition is not one of them.

Processing can actually enhance the nutrients in some foods (e.g. tomato sauce) and make other foods edible (e.g. legumes). It’s ultra-processed ready-to-eat foods that we need to reduce our consumption of.

That five ingredients rule is ridiculous. Plain potato chips only have 3 ingredients.

7. Many store-bought protein drinks aren’t actually that great for you.

I’d go a step further and say that most people don’t need any protein supplementation.

8. And be wary of the protein bars too.

True, many of these are like candy bars. And again, most of us don’t need protein supplements.

9. Some superfoods aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

“Tumeric is a really good ‘superfood’ because it has anti-inflammatory qualities, and is great for bloating and if you don’t sleep well. I think kale is a bit overrated! I don’t think it’s that much difference to just having spinach, you know? I think the key message there is just because a food is ‘in vogue’ doesn’t necessarily make it any better or more magical than similar foods in the same family.”

There is no such thing as a “superfood”. Actually, it’s turmeric and research has shown that it does not live up to the hype. It’s still great in curries and lovely with ginger in a tea. Kale is great. Spinach is great. Don’t buy the hype is a good message about any food. No one food is going to make or break your diet.

10. You can actually train your body to need less food.

That is, if you’re currently consuming more calories than you need. Most of us are definitely out of touch with our innate hunger and satiety cues and could benefit from following some mindful eating principles.

11. Eating pasta for dinner (occasionally) won’t necessarily set you back.

If you have pasta for dinner, and that’s in balance with a high-protein and low-carb breakfast and lunch, then it’s probably going to be fine.

Yes, pasta is fine and delicious. Yes, it’s all about balance (and portion sizes). I don’t think you need to go so far as to go low-carb at lunch if you’re having pasta for supper though. Just make sure you’re plate is half veg and you’ve got some protein there too and you’ll survive regular pasta meals.

12. Don’t believe any myths about eggs being bad for you.

Yep, eggs are good. On this we can agree.

13. There’s no real thing as a “calorie negative” food.

Man, two in a row!

14. It’s not a choice between choosing a healthy diet, or choosing to workout – the most effective way to lose weight or stay healthy is by doing BOTH.

Again, true. Although what you eat is more likely to affect a person’s weight than their level of activity. Both are important for health and weight is not necessarily a good measure of health.

15. And it can be good for your mental health to have a piece or two of chocolate!

Again, agreed. Deprivation is probably the top reason why people don’t maintain healthy dietary habits.

I’m glad we could end on a positive note but I’d like to reiterate that personal trainers are not nutrition experts. If you want accurate evidence-informed nutrition information, trust a dietitian. If you want a new workout routine, visit a personal trainer.

 

 

 

 


8 Comments

You won’t need a meal plan in the nanny state

90737a6c65589d8d33e8a1eb36fa5d0b--shopping-lists-sport

You know what I find ironic? And not Alanis ironic, which is really just crap luck, but genuinely ironic. How vehemently opposed to government “interference” in their lives many people are and how many people ask me to give them meal plans. I’ve had people say to me “just tell me what to eat” (if you’d like to know why I don’t do that, check out this old post). Which is voluntarily completely relinquishing control of what they put in their mouths and people are willing to pay for this service. Yet, people rail on and on about the “nanny state” and how the government should stay out of our kitchens when all public health wants to do is help make it easier for you to make healthier choices.

No one in government wants to tell you exactly what to eat at every meal. Through legislation public health dietitians would like to make nutritionally void foods (like pop and candy) less accessible. We would like to ensure that fast food joints can’t open across the street from schools so that your children aren’t eating shakes and fries every day. We would like to make sure that local food systems are strengthened so that farmers are making living wages and produce is affordable and accessible.

Unlike what people want from a meal plan, we want to make it easy for people to make healthy choices. We don’t want to forbid you from buying pop or chips, we just want to make it easier for you to buy carrots or to fill-up your water bottle.

Why is it that people are so ready to relinquish all control over their diets to a dietitian or nutritionist but when it comes to creating an environment in which making healthy choices would be easier suddenly everyone’s all up in arms?


3 Comments

Universal nutrition documentary review

Screenshot_20170627-153122.jpg

Do you care about food and nutrition? Do you want to learn more about what you’re putting in your body? Where you food comes from? How it’s killing us all and destroying the planet? Then this is the film for you.

I really enjoyed the way that the film makers turned their opinions into facts by interviewing “experts” for their documentary. It was refreshing to see that no experts were brought in to provide an alternate viewpoint as they were presenting only indisputable facts. Seeing these effusive self-styled experts with no credentials to speak of, or expertise in a vaguely related field left me feeling empowered to start my own wellness guru enterprise.

After eating gluten/wheat/grains/sugar/dairy/food for all of my life I found it incredibly eye opening to learn that I may as well have been mainlining heroin or injecting fat directly into my organs and veins. Why is big dietetics/pharma/food trying to hide this from us? The people have a right to know that they’re feeding their children toxins hidden in the guise of sandwiches.

The manipulative use of innocent children along with the soundtrack and cinematography really drove home the horror of the food we eat every day. It’s always nice to see film makers preying on our fears and manipulating our emotions to sell their agendas.

Without having seen this film I would have foolishly continued to eat gluten/wheat/grains/sugar/dairy/food and lived my life never having known that I was regularly ingesting deadly substances. Thank goodness it came up in my Netflix recommendations. Now I can be sure to preach the follies of eating gluten/wheat/grains/sugar/dairy/food to anyone who makes the mistake of speaking to me in the lunch room, on social media, or who stands nearby me in the grocery store. So many lives to save.