Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Magical fat burning snacks

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As long as there continue to be articles about fat-burning foods I’m going to have to continue to write blog posts to counteract them. The latest to enter my radar was 20 Snacks That Burn Fat on health.com. A website that seems to be almost entirely devoted to magical food beliefs.

Without even looking at what these snacks are I can tell you that there is no such thing as a “fat burning” food. Food (with a few rare exceptions that some would argue are not actually food) contains calories. Calories provide us with energy to move and function and survive. Despite what diet gurus would have us believe, they are essential to life. Without sufficient calories we will starve to death. Of course, eating more than we need to perform daily activities will result in the storage of that excess energy as fat. This will occur with the overconsumption of any food. Yes, even those foods touted as “fat burning”.

What makes people believe that some foods have the magical ability to result in net energy loss? Generally it’s based on the misinterpretation of the thermic effect of food (TEF) and the indigestibility of some components of certain foods. TEF is higher for some foods, such as those high in protein and hot spices, than in others. Basically, all it means is that a greater amount of energy is needed to digest those foods than others with lower thermic effects. For example, if you eat a butter cookie, you’re going to absorb a greater percentage of the calories in that cookie than you would if you ate a bunch of nuts because your digestive system needs to expend more energy to digest nuts than it does to digest simple carbs and fat.

Regardless of the level of spice in a food, protein, or the quantity of indigestible components, such as cellulose and some types of fibre, no food is going to result in negative net calories and no food is going to specifically target and deplete fat stores in your body. Instead of forcing yourself to scarf a bunch of celery because you want to lose weight and then eating a box of cookies because you’re hungry and miserable, try focusing on nourishing your body and enjoying your food. Think less about weight and more about how you feel. There are no magic weight loss foods but it’s pretty amazing how much better you feel when you eat mostly whole foods and break free from the diet mindset.

 


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What foods will dietitians never eat?

One of my social media friends, and a regular reader, sent me a link to a list of 16 Foods Dietitians Won’t Touch because he knows how much I love loathe those sorts of lists. To be fair, there are a number of foods on there that I don’t usually eat. However, there are some that I do, bad RD that I am. I could go through the entire list and debate the merits and faults of each product but that’s tedious and beside the point.

The real point is that lists like this are unhelpful at best and harmful at worst. What’s the harm in telling people that dietitians never eat fibre bars or fried foods, you might ask. Well, a healthy diet is a diet that involves a pattern of healthy food consumption. It’s also one that allows for flexibility and occasional treats. What those treats are depends on the person. When we say we “never touch” certain foods we’re often having the opposite effect from what we want. We’re making those foods more desirable. You know, forbidden fruit (candy, smoked meat, fast food…) and all that. Once you tell yourself that you’re not allowed to have a particular food you’re basically setting the timer on your diet (I know, the dreaded d-word). Once you “cave” and have that forbidden food all bets are off. You’re more likely to abandon all of your healthy habits because after all, what’s the point, you’re a failure.

Contrast that with a diet in which you generally consume a variety of nutritious foods but in which no foods are off-limits. If you choose to eat one of those “16 foods dietitians won’t touch” it’s no big deal. You might (probably won’t) eat a lot of those foods regularly but you’ll enjoy them when you do because you never forbade yourself from eating them. You know that part of a healthy eating pattern is allowing yourself to have treats and not putting any foods entirely off-limits no matter what ridiculous articles like the one that prompted this post may tell you.


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What good can come out of teachers acting as food police?

 

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School lunch in Korea photo by Cali4Beach on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Last week I read an article in the Toronto Star about Toronto-area parents outrage at teachers allegedly policing children’s lunches. Of course, this sort of thing is contrary to school nutrition policies which apply only to food served in schools (and from what I’ve heard are rarely adhered to anyway which is a whole other kettle of fish). Teachers should never be policing students lunches. That sort of behaviour is completely inappropriate and could easily lead to disordered eating in children. Fellow RD Abby Langer covers more of the concerns in her column in the Huffington Post.

I’m sure that teachers weren’t allowed to speak to the press about the issue and that’s why the article only quoted parents and school board administration. I do think that’s a shame because I can’t help but wonder if at least some of these situations were simply a lack of communication. We are talking about young children telling their parents what their teachers allegedly said to them. There could be some distortion like you see in the telephone game that we played as children. The message starts as one thing at the beginning and by the time it reaches the end of the “line” it doesn’t even remotely resemble the original message. I’d like to see the teachers be given at least a little bit of the benefit of the doubt and I think it’s a real shame that we didn’t get to hear their side of the story.

Regardless of what’s been happening here I think this provides a great opportunity to talk about how this situation could be improved. We know that many kids are going to school with nutritionally lacking lunches and snacks. We know that school nutrition policies aren’t working. Why not start talking about implementing a national school lunch program? As one parent in the Star article said, “Unless the school wants to provide lunches, I don’t really think it’s their business.” Why not have the schools provide lunches for all the children? A national publicly funded school lunch program could provide children with nutritious, balanced lunches as well as an opportunity for education.

My boyfriend showed me a portion of Michael Moore’s latest documentary on Netflix, Who to Invade Next. In it we saw children in France being served lunch as if they were in a restaurant. Each school had a chef who planned the menus (I think with the input of a dietitian) and prepared the food. The children had a full hour for lunch and it was treated in the same manner as any other subject at school. Learning to appreciate food and interacting with fellow students and cafeteria staff was seen as just as valuable as math and science.

If every school treated lunch as an educational opportunity and provided students with nutritious lunches then this issue of teachers acting as food police would be moot. It would also help to provide a degree of equity to students so that no matter the circumstances at home every student would have the same balanced lunch.


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Granola: breakfast or dessert?

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I love granola. It’s part of most of my breakfasts. This despite the recent article in which dietitians decreed granola to be a dessert. Whatever. I love breakfast for supper and, apparently, dessert for breakfast. That being said, I do think that granola can be a part of a healthy breakfast just as it can be an rather unhealthy start to the day.

There are a couple of factors that come to play in making granola a part of a healthy breakfast. One is the sad fact that most commercially available granolas are just oats and sugar held together by fat. Homemade granola can be the same. It can also be loaded with healthy nuts and seeds. It all depends on what you put in it. The key is that you get to decide what goes into it. Of course, it’s still going to be calorically dense and probably will have a fair amount of sugar and/or fat in it, depending on the recipe.

This is where the second factor comes into play. It’s all about serving size. Rather than having a bowlful of granola you should be treating granola as a topping. Adding a bit of granola to a bowl of shredded wheat with some blueberries or sliced banana makes it taste a whole lot better and adds the protein, fibre, vitamins, and minerals from the nuts and seeds. Granola also adds a bit of crunch to a smoothie bowl or some fruit and yoghurt. I’ve even had roasted sweet potato topped with peanut butter, yogurt, and granola.

Granola can be a healthy choice. It’s all about how you treat it.

One of my current favourite granola recipes is a modified version of Angela Liddon’s recipe in her Oh She Glows cookbook.

Feel free to share your favourite granola recipes below or your favourite ways to include granola as a part of a nutritious breakfast.


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Childhood obesity is not something to be battled

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Image by Mike Mozart on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

“Disappointed” doesn’t cover how I felt reading this article from the CBC. I’m used to hearing people blame individuals for being overweight. It’s always frustrating. However, it’s enraging to see a director of a Childhood Obesity Foundation laying the blame squarely on the shoulders of parents. He should know better than that.

In the article he says that the government should assume some responsibility for “combating childhood obesity” but that “the buck sort of does stop with the family”. So much no.

Obviously parents want to raise healthy children. Yes, it’s the parents who buy and prepare the food for the household. That doesn’t mean that the onus for “combating childhood obesity” should lie with them.

Our society is designed in such a manner as to make healthy choices incredibly difficult. Forget about combating obesity – can I just say how much I hate that wording? We should be talking about fostering health. The proliferation of cheap calorically dense and nutrient light quick and easy meal options makes the unhealthy choice all too easy. The lack of value on time spent cooking and the over-emphasis on time spent at work makes these options all too appealing. There are myriad reasons that children are overweight and/or unhealthy. Most of which stem from societal issues; not from lack of parents caring and trying to do the best for their children.

Tom Warshawski, the director of the Childhood Obesity Foundation gives three tips for parents to “fight childhood obesity”. The first tip is to “take authority”. Stand-up to the Lunchables and big sodas. Fair enough, until our government stand-up for its citizens and makes these types of food less heavily marketed, affordable and available, it really is down to the parents to try to swim against the tide and limit purchases of such items.

Tip number two, sticking to a recommended diet, is one that makes me cringe a little. It’s that damn four-letter word. Sure, ensuring your child, and you, follow a nutritious diet is important for good health. That doesn’t mean that any specific diet regime need be enforced. Being overly strict about food may backfire and lead to disordered eating later in life. Go for nutritious meals that the family enjoys and let there be treats. Try not to take the pleasure out of eating.

Tip number three is that it’s a family battle. While I wholeheartedly agree that the entire family should be making the same healthy choices, I disagree with the way that this is framed. This is not a battle. If you think about food as a battle then you are always going to lose. Food is not the enemy. Healthy eating isn’t an all or nothing scenario. You don’t all have to give-up chips and pop to be healthy. Parents should lead by example and role model healthy eating behaviours and attitudes. Leading their children into battle against food is not doing this.