Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Is mom the TA for calling out her sister for buying her daughter a food scale?

I don’t have much to blog about lately. All of my usual sources of inspiration have been dominated by covid-19 for the past few months. My life revolves around my baby and we don’t go anywhere. I can’t even glean inspiration from the grocery store because I haven’t been there in over 10 weeks (11 weeks? I’ve lost count). I pretty much only check Twitter now to read posts from AITA (am I the asshole?) and Reddit relationships because it’s otherwise just an unending torrent of horror and frustration. So, I’ve now reached the stage of social isolation where I start to write about AITA posts. The one above really stuck with me.

Obviously the mom is TA (the asshole), as is the aunt. I started out on the mom’s side. Of course I would be super pissed if I had a teenaged daughter and someone bought her a food scale so that she can weigh everything she’s eating. And I 100% love the messaging that she can be healthy regardless of body size, not tying self-worth up with what her body looks like, and engaging in physical activities that she enjoys, not as a means to lose weight. However, I think both the mom and the aunt are giving the poor girl messages that are likely to lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and her body.

In the comments the mother says that she only cooks three kinds of vegetables, and only sometimes, because no one in their family likes vegetables. She states that they’re healthy but her comments indicate that the household engages in very little physical activity and doesn’t eat a balanced diet. She seems to be under the misguided impression that just because she’s preparing meals at home that they are de facto nutritious. Obviously, if she’s not including vegetables or fruit at every meal then they are nutritionally lacking (the current recommendation from Health Canada is to make half your plate vegetables and fruit). She also seems to think that vigorous exercise is unhealthy as she expressed concern that her daughter was sweating and out of breath from her home workouts. The current physical activity guidelines for children and youth (ages 5-17) start with a recommendation to “sweat” by accumulating at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a day.

I think it’s extremely sad that the mother would discourage her daughter from engaging in physical activity and prevent her from eating a healthy diet. Let’s not let the aunt off the hook either though. Given the mother’s strange perception of what’s healthy and unhealthy I’m not sure that we can trust her assessment that the aunt has an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise. Whether she does or not, it was completely inappropriate for her to provide a 14 year old child with a scale to portion her food. Teenagers are growing rapidly and need sufficient calories and nutrients to support this growth. In addition, if she is weighing her food, the daughter is not learning to trust her own hunger and satiety cues. Teaching her that food is something to be restricted to attain a certain body size is only going to lead to longterm hang-ups when it comes to food.

Both the mother and the aunt are pushing their own agendas on this girl. If they truly had her best interests at heart they would support her efforts to eat a healthier diet and to safely engage in physical activity. Ideally, the mother would lead by example by role modelling a positive relationship with food, physical activity, and her body, but if she can’t bring herself to eat a green vegetable, the very least she can do is to provide them to her daughter as she’s asking.


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Will the Impossible Burger give you boobs?

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I saw this article making the rounds on Twitter and I couldn’t resist blogging about it. For those who haven’t seen it, and can’t be bothered to click the link (honestly, it’s not worthy of your clicks) it’s some sort of “Big Meat” propaganda. The headline reads: DOCTOR: Burger King’s ‘Impossible Burger’ has 18 Million Times More Estrogen Than Regular Whopper: Burger King’s Impossible Burger may cause men to grow breasts. Total clickbait and I, for one, could not resist it.

According to the article, the Impossible Burger has 44 mg of estrogen while the Whopper has a mere 2.5 ng. Allegedly this means that if a hypothetical man were to eat four Impossible Burgers a day (for some indeterminate number of days which I feel is a pretty huge omission) he would grow breasts.  Apparently, eating four Impossible Burgers a day is the same as drinking six glasses of soy milk a day which is well known to be the magic number of glasses of soy milk at which men will spontaneously grow breasts. Except, I can find absolutely no evidence that this is true. According to Harvard, there are a number of reasons why men may grow breasts including certain medications and medical conditions but there is no mention of soy (which is the source of the phytoestrogens in the Impossible Burger). Fellow RD, Andy has also dispelled many of the myths around soy consumption including claims that it can have a detrimental effect on men’s health in this article.

You may also have noticed that the doctor who wrote the original smear piece on the Impossible Burger refers to estrogen while I’m talking about phytoestrogens. Despite what you may have heard, these are not the same things. Estrogen is the hormone found in humans and other animals while phytoestrogens are the plant-based forms of estrogen. Phytoestrogens do not have the same effect on us as estrogen does. I think it’s also worth pointing out that all of these men who are now afraid to eat the Impossible Burger because they might get boobs that there is already a LOT of soy in many foods that you’re probably eating every day. There is soy in many processed meats (yep, your good old manly hot dogs, deli meats, and many beef burgers) contain TVP (textured vegetable protein, aka soy, as a cheap filler); many of your sports supplements like bars, shakes, and protein powders contain soy; breakfast cereals, etc.

The article I referenced above was from a publication called National File which purports to be “America’s newest conservative news source”. This automatically raises red flags for me. As it’s pretty much proclaiming to be fake news. The original article by Dr Stangle was published in Tri-State Livestock News. Hmm…. could such a publication possibly have any bias? Surely they would never want to paint beef burgers in a more favourable light than plant-based burgers. And not that this means that he’s not knowledgeable about human nutrition but the doctor who wrote the article is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. This doesn’t instil great confidence in me that he’s an authority on human nutrition. I also wonder about where he gets his money from; certainly not soybean farmers but perhaps cattle ranchers? I can’t find much about him online but I did find an article that mentions he’s a member of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners.

All this to say: sorry everyone who’s been scarfing down four Impossible Burgers daily in the hopes of growing breasts, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. I still wouldn’t recommend eating that many burgers a day (Impossible or otherwise) but they’re not going to give you breasts.


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Does removing gluten make foods healthy?

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Based on some suggestions I’ve seen recently for “healthy” muffins and recipe searches for various baked goods I feel that a refresher on gluten is in order. I’m just going to put it right out there: the absence of gluten in a recipe has absolutely no bearing on how healthy it is.

For those who are unaware, gluten is a protein found in certain grains, the most common of which is wheat. Gluten helps to provide structure and texture in baked goods such as breads. Gluten is neither inherently healthy or unhealthy. Now, some people do have to avoid gluten in their diets if they have celiac disease, an allergy, or an intolerance, for that small percentage of the population, eating food containing gluten can make them sick. For the other 90-something percent of us though, gluten is perfectly healthy and safe for us to consume. In fact, some research has shown that a gluten-free diet may actually be less healthy than a glutenous diet. A gluten free diet may be low in fibre and some vitamins and minerals.

In addition, gluten free flours and packaged foods aren’t cheap. You’ll spend considerably more for gluten free products than you will for their gluten-full or potentially gluten contaminated counterparts. And while gluten free options have come a long way over the past few years, many of them are still inferior in taste and texture to regular gluten containing versions.

So, unless you have a medical condition which precludes you from eating gluten there is no health (or flavour, or financial) benefit to avoiding it. Be grateful that you don’t have to live your life in fear of being “glutened” and enjoy your gluten-filled baked goods.


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What came first: the fried chicken or the heart disease?

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Last month a study was published about fried food consumption and the risk of coronary artery disease. The study was conducted with US military veterans and concluded that: “In a large national cohort of U.S. Veterans, fried food consumption has a positive, dose-dependent association with CAD.” Meaning that the more fried food a veteran consumed, the more likely they were to have heart disease. But what does this mean for the average person?

It’s important to note that the vast majority of study participants were men (90%) and the average age was 64. It’s well known that heart disease in women is poorly researched and important to acknowledge that the results of this study don’t necessarily apply to women. There are also many factors that contribute to the risk of developing heart disease and the researchers took the following into account: race (insofar as to categorize participants as black, white, or other), BMI, alcohol use, education status, exercise, smoking status, pre-existing type 2 diabetes, consumption of fish, fruit, and vegetables. After controlling for these factors, the researchers still found a relationship between fried food consumption and CAD.

However, the authors neglected to control for one important factor: poverty. Poverty is a significant risk factor for many so-called “lifestyle-related diseases”, including CAD. Other lifestyle factors are often also enmeshed with poverty making it nearly impossible to determine true contributing factors. People who live in poverty often have poorer diet quality than those with higher incomes and may rely on fast food, including fried foods. If poverty is indeed a greater risk factor than fried food consumption, or if fried food consumption is a result of poverty, this means that simply telling people to consume less fried food may not be the most helpful advice. It takes a certain level of privilege to be able to “choose” to consume the recommended diet. It means having the financial means, time, access, and facilities necessary to prepare nutritious meals.

While the findings of this study support the common belief that fried food is not a healthy choice they also serve to entrench the belief that diet is all about choice when for many people it is not. We need to look further than fried food to determine the root causes of illnesses such as coronary artery disease if we truly want to work to reduce incidence of these diseases.


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Lose the Weight Watchers

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Last year Weight Watchers rebranded as WW because they wanted to pretend that they were about healthy lifestyles and not just weight loss. This week they announced the release of their new weight loss app for kids (as young as eight!) and teens. They’re trying to frame it as “helping kids and teens build healthy habits” but when the central feature of the app is food tracking don’t be fooled; this is Weight Watchers points for kids and creating a “bad food” “good food” dichotomy is likely to do anything but help these kids build life-long healthy habits.

An eight year old tracking every morsel of food they eat with the sole aim of losing weight is pretty much the antithesis of a healthy habit. Rather than help kids develop healthy habits this app is far more likely to instil them with an unhealthy relationship with food and their bodies. And while I personally ascribe to the belief that weight is not indicative of health, I hope that all healthcare providers and parents can see why an app like this could be damaging to children whether or not they view “overweight” and “obesity” as a “problem”. Weight is not a modifiable behaviour and focusing on weight loss as an end goal doesn’t promote the adoption of healthy behaviours. Rather, it promotes restricted eating and quite probably disordered eating habits in order to attain that goal.

Given that very few adults successfully maintain intentional long-term weight loss, I find it baffling that WW claims that their new app is “evidence-based” and will somehow be more successful (if you are measuring success by pounds lost) in children and youth than similar programs have been in adults. It also makes me sad to see the quotes around “stopping arguments about food” so that parents and children get along better. Placing the responsibility for food choices in the hands of an app rather than working on fostering a healthy food environment at home may seem ideal but this doesn’t truly promote healthy behaviours. I know not everyone can afford to work with a registered dietitian (and not all RDs ascribe to the same school of thought when it comes to body weight); however, I recommend Ellyn Satter’s books which can be found at your public library if you want to help your child attain a healthy relationship with food.

It’s also important to keep in mind that WW is a for-profit business. They are not doing this out of the goodness of their hearts. They are doing this because there’s money to be made – one month use of the app is $69 USD. They’re doing this because a “fun” app is an easier sell to parents who are concerned about their children’s weight than working on the division of responsibility, role modelling healthy behaviours and positive relationships with food, and cooking and eating nutritious balanced meals together as a family. They’re doing this because weight bias is so rampant in our society that many people can think of few things worse than being fat and parents are desperate to save their children from that plight. I get that. Parents just want their children to be healthy. Unfortunately, an app that encourages a restrictive diet mentality is likely to achieve the opposite of health promotion.