Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Will avocado toast truly be society’s downfall?

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A couple of news items last week got me wondering when it became elitist to eat healthfully. The first was an article about Trump’s dietary predilections. The article talked about how his fast food requests were catered to and mentioned Obama’s “seven lightly salted almonds” and how he was “very disciplined with food”. The subtext here being that Trump is more akin to the “average Joe, salt of the earth American” while Obama fancies himself better than the rest of us. I don’t actually think that this was the intended message of the article, but I think that it helps to demonstrate the strange socially fraught world of food we’ve created for ourselves. A world in which healthy eating is considered a luxury that only the “elites” can afford.

The second item that tied in nicely with this was the outrage generated by a billionaire telling Millennials that the reason they can’t afford houses is their avocado toast habit. As if eating toast with mashed avocado is a huge money sucking vice that all Millennials are guilty of. Full disclosure: I am not a Millennial, nor am I a home owner, and I do enjoy the occasional serving of avocado toast. Anyway, of all the things to get hung-up on, this guy chooses avocado freaking toast?? If a slice of bread with a bit of fruit (yes, avocado is a fruit) on it is the common vice of Millennials than I’d say they’re doing pretty damn good compared to previous generations with their cigarettes and alcohol. We’re really going to highlight a relatively benign, fairly healthy breakfast food as the downfall of a generation? What would you have them eat? Dry cornflakes? There’s a lot more ranting I could get into about the fallacies of the argument but I’d be digressing and I’m fairly certain others have already voiced them all in rebuttals and on social media. More to the point, yet again, we’re seeing healthy eating being framed as elitist, something that needs to be earned, rather than the human right that it is.

As with placing moral value on food, we should not begrudge anyone a nutritious diet. Healthy food is not synonymous with elitism. Nor is it something to be earned with age or money. Everyone of all ages, financial circumstances, and walks of life, has a right to healthy food. And just to be clear, that doesn’t mean everyone has to, or should, eat avocado toast.

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A recommended detox for @bonappetit

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I think that Bon Appetit is trolling me now. Why else would they come out with another article about detoxing?? This one about “How Chefs Diet When They Need to Hit the Reset Button” with the subheading: “If you’re going to detox, might as well do it like a chef”. No no no. Would you please cut it out with all the detox bullshit Bon Appetit. I read you for recipes, not for terrible health and nutrition advice. If I wanted that, I would be reading Goop.

What’s my issue here? Well, one: detoxes are a misguided waste of effort (and often money). You are not going to remove toxins from your system by drinking green juice. Your body is equipped to regularly remove toxins from your body through a finely tuned system involving your kidneys and liver. Any toxins remaining in your body are not going to be removed through fasting, juice, laxatives, etc.

Two: why would a chef be uniquely qualified to provide advice on “detoxing”? What training do chefs have on human physiology? Perhaps this lack of knowledge is precisely why some of them are needlessly detoxing and willing to contribute to a ridiculous piece, rife with misinformation, on how chefs detox.

What these chefs are doing is not detoxing, it’s crash dieting. I can understand why the notion that we can put unhealthy foods in our bodies most of the time and then remedy that through a day or week of dietary penance would be appealing. Most people would probably like to eat whatever they wanted most of the time and forsake vegetables for bacon. Unfortunately, that’s not the way the human body works. You can’t just fill yourself with nutrient void foods most of the time, starve yourself, and expect that to balance everything out. Fortunately, nutritious foods can be delicious. You don’t have to choose between flavour and health. You can follow a balanced diet all of the time and skip the unnecessary detoxes.

Bon Appetit, I know that you’re a food magazine so perhaps you’re not aware that detoxing is bullshit and that you’re sharing terrible advice. The trouble is, you have a huge readership who look to you for foodspiration and by publishing drivel like this you’re potentially doing them harm. In the future, I request that you kindly detox yourselves from writing about detoxing.


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How a dietitian does a juice cleanse

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Image by 从峰 陈 on flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence

I really like the idea of Bon Appetit’s Healthyish column because, as I’ve mentioned before, a healthy diet isn’t about bland deprivation. However, a recent column made my blood boil.

I knew that nothing good would come from reading a column titled: How a Food Critic Does a Juice Cleanse but like a moth to a flame I just couldn’t help myself from clicking on the link when it appeared in my inbox. It was even worse than I imagined.

I can understand the difficulty that a food critic would have maintaining a balanced diet. Travelling can do a number on even the most conscientious eaters with the large portions at restaurants and the often insufficient quantities of vegetables, particularly in the States. It must be even more difficult for a food critic who has to sample many dishes and courses. That being said, the article should have ended mid-way through the first sentence: “Step 1: Don’t do it unless you have to” should have read: Don’t do it. Probably not enough words for SEO, but a much better message.

Initially I was pleasantly surprised to see the author, food critic Andrew Knowlton write: “Yes, I’m aware that pretty much every dietician says that juicing is not good for you.” Okay, good, he misspelled dietitian but at least he’s acknowledging that the profession devoted to nutrition and helping people make good food choices is opposed to juice cleanses. Sadly, it was all downhill from there.

It’s not that Knowlton chose to torture himself by consuming only juice for five days. Yes, I think that’s foolish, unhealthy, and unnecessary, but he’s an adult and can make his own decisions. It’s that he did this in front of his daughters. This honestly enraged me. Children learn from what they see others doing and their parents are usually their most powerful role models. Yes, Knowlton continued to cook bacon and actual food for his daughters but they saw him subsisting off juice. What message is that giving them? It’s teaching them that this is normal adult behaviour. That we can’t be healthy by consuming whole foods. That when we believe we’ve overindulged the solution is to starve ourselves. That diets, disordered eating, and self-inflicted punishment are synonymous with health and virtue. That is not a healthy message to be teaching children. Regardless of what Knowlton is telling his girls, actions speak louder than words. He may well be telling them to eat balanced meals and whole foods but if he’s doing that while sipping on a beet-ginger juice the juice is going to speak louder than the words.

If I may be so bold, I’d like to propose a rebuttal column: How a Dietitian Does a Juice Cleanse. Step 1: Don’t do it.


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Grocery store lessons: Baby food pouches

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Sometimes I have loads of things to blog about and other times I struggle to find a topic that I feel like ranting about. This was one of those weeks where nothing noteworthy caught my attention. Thankfully, my friend who runs a day-home suggested I write about baby food pouches which seem to have crept from being food for babies to being food for school-aged children.

If you’re not a parent of young children you may ask (as I did) “what are food pouches”? They’re basically pureed baby food but in a squeezable pouch. Generally they’re more expensive than your traditional jarred baby food and they come in fancy flavours like “wildberry, rhubarb, kale, & quinoa”. Parents like them because there’s no need for a spoon so they’re handy when you’re on the go. Just twist off the top and let your kid squeeze and suck away at it while you’re running errands. But, what’s the best feature of these newfangled baby foods is also the worst feature.

While there’s no disputing the fact that these are handy in a pinch, that’s really how these pouches should be used. Ideally, you’d want to be squeezing these pouches out into a bowl and feeding the to your baby (or letting them feed themselves) with a spoon. When babies are learning how to eat (at about six months of age) there’s this window of opportunity during which they learn things like chewing, appreciation for various textures, and how to put food in their mouths. Gone are the days when purees were the mainstay for babies for month on end. Now parents may use them for a short period, start baby with a variety of textures, or skip the purees altogether. The concern with children receiving all of their food from squeeze pouches is that their mouths may not develop properly and they may also be unaccepting of different textures when they are finally introduced. There’s also a missed opportunity for infants to develop hand-eye coordination when feeding themselves. These pouches really shouldn’t be considered a meal for a toddler or older child.

Something else I’ve wondered about when it comes to these fancy baby food pouches is the gourmet ingredients themselves. Introducing babies to a variety of foods and flavours is important but what about food allergies? When you’re giving your baby new foods, generally you would introduce one new food at a time so that if there’s an allergic reaction it’s easy to pinpoint the source. When you’re giving your baby “yumberries and plum with ancient grains” what are the odds that he or she has had at least two out of three of those ingredients before? I mean heck, I’ve never had yumberries. I’m not even sure what they are. I feel like by marketing these as baby foods that provides parents with a potentially false sense of safety when it comes to giving them to their children.

Speaking of safety, I’ve seen a number of recalls of these baby food pouches in recent years. When I worked in a grocery store, I also came across one that was bulging (a common sign of bacterial growth). I think that it’s a lot easier for these packages to be opened and closed and put back on the shelf without anyone noticing that the seal’s been broken than it is with jarred baby food where there’s usually a plastic wrap around the lid as well as the popped down seal of the jar lid. Not to fearmonger. I just think that it would be easier for a child (or adult) to be curious about a flavour, twist the top, and put it back on the shelf without the fact that it had been opened being obvious.

Back to the issue of price. Many of these retail for around $2 (some a bit less, some more). Which can add up quickly if they’re the primary source of food for your little one. Jarred baby food is generally less than a dollar. Even more affordable though, is to give your baby an unseasoned version of what you’re eating. You can puree it or mince it for younger infants, or provide finger friendly options as they’re ready. There’s a lot more that can be said about infant feeding and starting babies on solid foods. If you have questions, there’s a great resource from Best Start. If you’re in Canada, you can also contact your local public health unit to find out if they offer infant feeding classes.


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What is healthy eating?

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Lately I’ve been thinking about what healthy eating is and why so many people struggle with it so much. I think it all comes down to the false dichotomy; where if you have healthy eating on one side, you have unhealthy on the other with no overlap between the two.

I was looking at stock photos for a presentation and my search for “food choices” returned a similar array of images as you see in the screen grab above. As you can see, you have “healthy” eating on one hand, generally consisting of a pile of vegetables or a piece of fruit. On the “unhealthy” eating side you have fast food and not a vegetable in sight. You also see the “healthy” choice emphasized as virtuous by the presence of an angel, and the “unhealthy” choice literally demonized by the presence of a devil. It’s no wonder that people falsely attribute virtue to some foods and shame to others when we see this as the common dialogue about healthy eating.

The thing is, while vegetables are certainly healthy, a diet consisting entirely of leafy greens or apples most certainly would not be. Variety is one of the most important factors in a healthy diet. This is for a couple of reasons. One being that, in order to meet our nutrient needs, we need to consume a variety of foods. The other being that, without variety we get bored, making us far more likely to give up entirely  on the whole “healthy eating” kick and scarf a bag of chips for supper.

I all too often see people posting their meal prep for the week on social media, or talking about their “healthy” snacks for work and it’s the same sad options every day. Fellow RD, Andrea Hardy put it so well on Instagram recently,

It drives me BANANAS when people say foods that are healthy don’t taste as good. What I find is lack of cooking knowledge, the weird societal belief that ‘baked chicken breast, broccoli, and rice’ is what constitutes healthy, and lack of confidence in the kitchen is why people struggle SO much with healthy eating.

I mean, man, if “healthy” eating actually entailed eating plain chicken breast, steamed broccoli, and plain rice every damn day then I sure as heck wouldn’t be eating healthfully either!

Healthy eating can include so many different things and it can be so different for different people. Vegan, omnivorous, paleo, gluten-free, sugar-free, whatever, can all be healthy. The important thing is to include a variety of foods and flavours to meet both your nutrient and palate needs. Healthy foods can be delicious. They can be as simple as fresh figs with yoghurt or a handful of nuts, or a more complicated chili packed with spices, beans, and vegetables. A healthy diet can also include less nutritious foods, you know, the ones the devil is taunting the stock photo people with. One meal or snack does not a diet make (or break). It’s about the overall pattern of food intake and enjoyment. Life is too short (or too long) to spend it eating bland food.