Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Is it #NutritionMonth2019 or #DairyFarmersofCanadaMonth and #AvocadosofMexicoMonth?

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We need to talk about Nutrition Month. More specifically, we need to talk about Dietitians of Canada’s Nutrition Month recipes. It’s been a long time (back in 2012 to be specific) since I wrote about the issue of sponsorship in regard to DC’s Nutrition Month materials. To be honest, I feel like a bit of a traitor doing it (DC does many great things to advocate for dietitians), but I think that it’s a real issue. Accepting sponsorship for Nutrition Month is undermining DC’s (and by association all Canadian dietitian’s) credibility.

When DC first released their Nutrition Month recipes I was disappointed, but not surprised, to see that they were sponsored by Dairy Farmers of Canada and Avocados from Mexico. Don’t get me wrong, I consume both dairy and avocados. This is not to cast aspersions on either of those foods. However, I think that a dietetic organization accepting sponsorship from the food industry (no matter what the foods are) creates a conflict of interest. I also think that there are additional reasons why featuring these particular foods in DC resources is problematic. I’ll get into that a little later. So, as I said, I wasn’t surprised. This is nothing new for DC. I had a little rant with my RD colleagues (one of whom also happened to point out that the content of the handouts, aside from the recipes was simply duplicated from last year, sigh) and then let it go.

My frustration was reignited last week when fellow RD, Pamela Fergusson voiced her concern about the industry sponsorship of Nutrition Month on Instagram last week. She’s also written an excellent blog post about this issue that you should read.

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That got me curious so I went on the Nutrition Month website and counted how many times dairy and avocados appear in their featured recipes. Out of ten recipes, eight include dairy and four include avocados. There are 12 additional recipes on their handouts, eleven of these include dairy and six include avocados. That’s a lot of dairy and avocados!

While I love avocados, they are freaking expensive. They’re usually about $2 a piece at the grocery store here. Given that food insecurity is an issue across Canada, DC even has position papers on both individual and household and community food insecurity, it struck me as a little inappropriate for them to so prominently feature a food that’s not within the budget for many Canadians. Even for those who don’t struggle with food insecurity, avocados are often more of a luxury item than a staple food. The same goes for many dairy products, particularly cheese, which is featured in many of the DC Nutrition Month recipes. Realistically, who’s making a “crab and remoulade sandwich” for lunch??

In addition to the issue of cost, there’s the lack of alignment with the new Food Guide. Despite what many people would have you believe, milk (and dairy products) have not been removed from the new Food Guide. They’ve simply been incorporated into the new “protein foods” grouping. However, there is a strong emphasis on choosing plant-based sources of protein more often. I realize that DC would have already developed their resources before the new Food Guide came out. Even so, the old Food Guide only recommended two servings of milk (and alternatives) daily for adults. No matter which Food Guide you look at, it doesn’t make sense that DC would feature dairy in the majority of their Nutrition Month recipes.

This takes me to one last issue that I stumbled upon while tallying up the recipes featuring dairy and/or avocados. That issue is the nutrition information for the Turmeric Basil Roasted Turkey Burger. This burger contains 936 calories, 48 grams of fat (9.1 g of which are saturated), and 773 mg of sodium. To put that in perspective, that’s 416 more calories and 20 grams more fat than are in a big mac (177 mg less sodium though). It’s about 3/4 of a day’s recommended maximum intake of fat and over 1/3 of the maximum recommended intake for sodium. That’s just in one burger! I thought for sure this had to be a mistake so I tweeted at DC to ask them about it. This is the reply I received:

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A “hearty” burger indeed! As much as I believe that all foods fit and that having treats is part of a healthy diet, I really don’t think that a recipe like this is appropriate for a dietetic organization to be promoting. When people are looking for recipes from Dietitians of Canada they’re looking for recipes that meet certain nutrition criteria. They’re looking for recipes that are going to provide them with a reasonable number of calories, not too much fat or salt or sugar and plenty of vitamins and minerals. I think it undermines their credibility as an organization when they allow sponsors (such as Avocados of Mexico who developed this recipe) to be put ahead of the public who rely on dietitians for unbiased nutrition information.


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Is milk out?

I’ve been hearing a number of complaints and concerns about the new Food Guide. The one I’ve been hearing the most is that “dairy is out”. I’d like to dispel that. No, dairy is not “out”. Yes, the “milk and alternatives” food group is gone; as is “meat and alternatives” but milk and dairy products still fit within the protein group in the new guide.

The Food Guide now recommends a proportion-based approach to eating, rather than a more prescriptive portion-based approach. Rather than telling you how many servings of each food group to have every day, and how big a serving is, the new guide simply advises you make half your plate vegetables (and fruit), one quarter protein foods, and the other quarter whole grains. It promotes consuming plant-based protein foods “more often”. This is pretty subjective and should – in theory – make it a lot easier for people to adopt. For some people this may mean consuming plant-based protein foods in larger amounts than animal-based proteins. For others, this may mean consuming plant-based sources of protein more often than they usually do. In a country that’s extremely meat-centric this could mean something as simple as adding more beans to a chili and cutting back on the meat slightly.

I’d also like to point out that given that a quarter of your plate should be devoted to protein foods you can easily mix and match to your heart’s content. This might mean that you have lentils and salmon (like I did last night), cheese and bean casserole, tofu and chicken, etc. It might mean that at one meal your protein comes from milk or meat but that at another it comes from legumes or nuts. Snacks can (and generally should) also include a source of protein. If you eat three meals and two snacks a day this means that there are ample opportunities for you to consume protein from a variety of foods, including milk products if you desire.

Personally, I think that having a food group specifically for milk (and alternatives) was unwarranted and I’m glad to see it go. There are many people who can’t consume milk products (due to lactose intolerance or an allergy) as well as those who choose not to and it is entirely possible to consume a nutritious diet without the inclusion of milk. For those who are concerned about where people will get their vitamin D and calcium from without milk products there are other food sources of these nutrients.

Vitamin D is pretty near impossible to consume enough of through food sources alone anyway, at least during the winter months in Canada and Health Canada recommends all adults over the age of 50 take a supplement of 400 IU/d. I’d also like to point out that milk is fortified with vitamin D as are most plant-based milk alternatives (always check the label to be sure). Other food sources of vitamin D include: egg yolks, salmon and other fatty fish, some meats, and other fortified foods which may include things such as orange juice and cereal.

Non-dairy food sources of calcium include: dark leafy greens (like spinach, collards, and kale), soy beverage, canned fish (eat those bones!), tofu (if prepared with calcium), beans, nuts, seeds, and even blackstrap molasses.

If you are concerned that you may not be meeting your nutrient needs through your diet I recommend keeping a food journal and making an appointment with a registered dietitian.


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Another hot take on Canada’s new food guide

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You all know that I can always find something to bitch about. I’m that girl who’s always the one to find a bug in her freshly picked raspberries or the bone in her piece of fish. My mum will attest to that. It was a running joke in my family that if there was anything weird to be found in the food, I would be the one to find it. So, it should come as no surprise that I have lots to say about the new food guide. But… it may come as a surprise that I don’t actually have anything negative to say about it! In fact, I think it’s pretty fucking great.

In no particular order, here are the changes that I’m most excited about:

  • The addition of food skills (and food literacy). This is literally 85% of my job and it feels really good to have Health Canada supporting it as an important part of healthy eating.
  • The removal of juice as a serving of fruit. It’s going to be so nice not to have to deal with that terrible piece of advice anymore.
  • The removal of serving sizes and recommended number of servings. They confused people and it’s impossible to make recommendations that will work for the entire population. I can’t wait to no longer hear “I can’t eat ALL that” again.
  • I’m glad they got rid of the meat and alternatives and milk and alternatives food groups and lumped them into a proteins group from which they encourage plant-based sources of protein.
  • I appreciate the inclusion of Indigenous foods and ways of eating and the acknowledgement that many people in remote communities and on reserves may struggle to meet the recommendations in the food guide.
  • Following from that, I also appreciate the recognition that external factors, in particular, many social determinants of health, can affect the ability of people to follow a healthy diet.
  • I’m glad that water is recommended as the beverage of choice, again bye bye juice and chocolate milk 👋🏻👋🏻👋🏻
  • I like that the emphasis is on promoting health and only once is weight mentioned. As I’ve ranted about in the past, the food guide is not supposed to be a weight loss diet plan.
  • The photos included in the guide are really appealing. They look way more appetizing to me than the old cartoonish images did. Plus, they’re all about full meals and not just random foods.
  • The overall focus is on a healthy pattern of eating, not just individual nutrients. Much more in-line with how we actually eat. Plus it’s advised that we enjoy (wow!) our food.

My one concern (aside from a couple of very minor things) is that apparently Health Canada does not plan on making the resources for the general public available in print. I think this is a huge mistake. Not everyone has ready Internet access. Also, the old food guide was used in schools and other educational settings (including the food literacy classes I teach) as a teaching tool. I work in public health and we get MANY requests from schools, organizations, and individuals for copies of the food guide. I’m not sure how we’re going to educate people and incorporate the food guide into our programs if we don’t have a print resource available. I hope that Health Canada will reconsider this decision so that everyone has equal opportunity to benefit from the new food guide.


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Top 10 Holiday Survival Tips

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It’s that time of year when food is abundant, there is a seemingly never ending succession of holiday parties and events, all of which feature food. It’s also that time of year when you start to see a proliferation of articles about the average weight gain over the holidays and how you can save yourself from looking like the poor unfortunate headless woman in the photo by preloading your purse with celery sticks and doing 20 burpees every time you take a drink of rum and eggnog. This is not one of those lists.

The holidays should be fun. A time to connect with family and friends, have a reprieve from work, and yes, even eat delicious baked goods. If the holidays for you are a time to feel full of chocolate and regret, a time filled with anxiety about all of the “bad” food you’re going to be faced with, then these 10 tips should help get you through the holiday season without guilt.

  1. Stop imbuing food with moral value. There are no good or bad foods and you are not good or bad for eating certain foods.
  2. Don’t feel guilty for enjoying delicious foods or for eating food for reasons other than hunger.
  3. Don’t confuse the number on the scale with your personal worth or a measure of your health. Consider not weighing yourself.
  4. Ignore or call-out people who make judgemental comments about what you are (or aren’t) eating. Try to focus on your internal cues when deciding whether or not to eat or what to eat. It’s nobody else’s business what you put on your plate.
  5. Don’t let food-pushers pressure you into eating things you don’t want to eat. Conversely, if you’re someone who tends to show their love by pushing food on people please consider that someone declining your offer of food is not a reflection of their feelings toward you. Try just putting food out and not pressuring anyone to eat it.
  6. Don’t make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight/eat healthy/go on a diet.
  7. Wear clothes that make you comfortable and happy.
  8. Remember to nourish your body. Yes, it’s okay to eat cookies and chocolate but you won’t feel at your best if you’re eating these foods exclusively.
  9. Don’t read (other) articles about “surviving” the holidays.
  10. If you’re struggling with body acceptance, don’t feel like you have to go through it alone. Find a Registered Dietitian who specializes in a HAES or weight-neutral approach.


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Are calories an enemy?

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I would like to propose that we stop demonizing calories. All too often I see products promoted as “low-calorie” or “calorie-free”. I hear jokes about things like it’s okay to eat a broken cookie because the calories all leak out. Consuming as few calories as possible is considered virtuous. This despite the fact that we need calories to live.

Just in case you need a quick refresher on calories, despite what many people will have you believe, a calorie is a calorie. The definition of a calorie is, “the heat energy required to raise the temperature of one kilogram (rather than a gram) of water by one degree Celsius”. Calories provide us with energy. Energy to get through each day but also energy for your body’s systems and cells to function. Without a source of calories you will die.

So, why do we think that calories are bad and something to avoid? Because we’ve learned that excess calories, those we don’t use up, are often stored by our bodies for later use in the form of fat. And fat is bad because our society has rather arbitrarily decided that being thin is more attractive. Regardless of your body shape or size though your body still needs calories to function.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we lived in a world and mental space where instead of choosing 100 calorie snacks or avoiding foods because they contain “too many calories” we could look at food as a pleasurable way to nourish our bodies? Not just to think of food as fuel but as an essential component of self-care. Calories are not the enemy, they are vital to life.