Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Being thin is not a qualification for providing nutrition advice

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Last week a bunch of crossfitters and meatatarians got all worked up because the former president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the US organization representing registered nutrition professionals) released a video that essentially warned RDs to watch for people without appropriate credentials providing nutrition advice. Some people evidently felt that she was unworthy to issue such a warning as she did not fit their limited definition of an acceptable body size. There are so many things wrong with this assertion that I don’t even know where to begin.

First, I happen to agree with Beseler (the RD in the video). As I’ve argued in the past, dietitians are regulated healthcare professionals which means that we have to complete a number of requirements to maintain our licencing. Being licenced also means that the public has added protection and recourse in the event that we do provide advice that causes harm. Would the video have more credence if it came from someone slimmer? Let me remind you that being young thin and pretty are not qualifications to provide nutrition advice.

Second, just as being young thin and pretty aren’t qualifications to provide nutrition advice, nor is being old large and unattractive a sign that someone is not qualified to provide nutrition advice. An individual’s appearance is not a reflection of their expertise. Personally, I wouldn’t want to receive nutrition advice from someone who judges others based purely on their size.

Third, I can’t tell from the video what size Beseler is anyway. Her size should be irrelevant anyway. Attacking her based on her weight is bullying. The narrow perception of what bodies are acceptable also shows the narrow-mindedness of the attackers. It also shows the pervasiveness of weight bias in our society. That people are more willing to accept advice from someone who has no nutrition education simply because they fit a thin ideal over someone who is highly credentialed but may not have that “perfect” physique is a sad reflection of our ingrained fear of fat.

Healthy bodies come in all different shapes and sizes. Your worth is not related to your size.

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I don’t know why you say Hello (Fresh), I say Goodbye

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One of the items in the swag bags at the conference I attended a few weeks ago was a coupon for Hello Fresh. You know, one of the meal box delivery services that’s a hybrid between home cooking and a ready meal. I figured I may as well give it a try. Considering on my boyfriend’s nights to cook he often says some variation of “what should I make for supper?” I thought it might give him a bit of a break.

Of course, the coupon was tricky and ended up being not quite as good a deal as it first appeared. It was a $50 off coupon but it turned out to work as $25 off two separate weeks. Which, honestly wasn’t all that great a deal. I chose the least expensive option: the pronto box (meals that take about 30 minutes to prepare – more on that later) for two (more on that as well) which still ended up costing me over $50 out of pocket for one week. If you order the box at full price, it’s $11.67 per serving. Less than you would likely spend eating out, but more than you would normally spend for a home cooked meal (and we rarely eat out).

After one week and three meals, I noted many of the things that others have already voiced. Things like: excessive packaging, nutrition, and longer than advertised cooking times. However, I’d like to expand on a couple of them.

The first meal we made was Herby Steak Skewers with Crispy Potato Smash and Feta. This recipe allegedly should have taken 30 minutes to prepare. Perhaps if it had come with the water boiling, skewers soaked, and if I had the recipe memorized it would have. Instead, it took the two of us 50 minutes to prepare. Considering that I’m a pretty confident cook, I can’t help but wonder how long it would take someone who subscribed to this service because they aren’t confident in the kitchen.

The next two meals were a little faster. Partially because I didn’t follow the directions in sequence. Rather, I did them in the way that I knew would be fastest. The Leek and Pea Risotto with Roasted Fennel and Ricotta took me approximately the allotted 35 minutes while the Pan-Seared Chicken Elicoidali (pasta) with Asparagus and Parmesan took about 30 minutes, as promised.

My other major issue as a dietitian, was the nutrition. The portion sizes were all out of wack. We got about four servings out of each meal, and we have appetites. On one hand, this was great, it made the boxes a bit better of a deal and I liked having lunch taken care of the following day. On the other hand, I worry that people believe that these meals are portioned appropriately and thus, may end up eating more food than they need. The other nutrition concern was the vegetable deficiency. The meal with the skewers did not have enough veg. A tiny orange pepper and some bits of red onion are not enough vegetables for a meal. I ended up augmenting the meal with some asparagus from the fridge. The chicken pasta only had a bit of onion and a small quantity of asparagus. Even the vegetarian risotto was a little light on veg (although definitely the best of the three) with a few green peas, pre-sliced leek, and fennel.

Considering that nutrition is one of the major benefits of home cooking, I feel like Hello Fresh may be doing more harm than good but providing meals that don’t have enough vegetables and have excessively large portions.

I also have the impression that many people order these meal kits because they’re short on time and want quick and easy meals. Sure, they save the hassle of going to the store and planning what to make a few nights a week but I don’t think they really save much in the way of cooking time. If I wasn’t already comfortable in the kitchen Hello Fresh would likely have left me with the impression that cooking “healthy” meals is complicated and time-consuming. I mean, if it takes 50 minutes to make a meal that’s already portioned and partially prepared, how long will it take to make a meal with unprepared ingredients? This is not the case. There are many delicious and nutritious meals that can be on the table in under 30 minutes. Rather than encouraging people to cook more at home, I worry that these meal kits may actually discourage people from cooking.


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Are pharmacists the new dietitians?

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The other day I was in a grocery store when a recording came over the PA system encouraging customers to speak to the in-store pharmacist about making healthy food choices. Naturally, I was like “what the fuck??”. People wonder why dietitians are so defensive of our profession. This. This sort of thing is exactly why. Because everyone seems to think that they’re qualified to dole out nutrition advice despite the fact that dietitians are the only professionals who spend over four years studying nutrition in university and must indefinitely continue our education to maintain our licensure.

It’s not cool of the chain to be asking pharmacists to provide dietary counselling. If you want to offer that service, hire yourselves some damn dietitians. It’s also not cool of the pharmacists to accept that added responsibility.

Yes, pharmacists are a wealth of knowledge when it comes to medications and they can be hugely helpful in advising customers about potential drug-nutrient interactions regarding medications that customers are taking. They more often than not, likely have a greater knowledge about nutrients in food than your average person. However, none of this equips them with the expertise to provide nutrition counselling.

The scope of practice for pharmacists in Canada contains no mention of nutrition or dietary counselling. Store owners may not know that this service is outside the scope of practice for pharmacists. Therefore, I believe that the responsibility lies with the pharmacists on-staff to let the company know that they are should not be providing this service to their customers. As allied health professionals they should recognize the limitations of their own scope of practice and defer to RDs in matters of nutrition counselling.

When I worked in a grocery store we had an in-store dietitian as well as pharmacists on-staff and everyone worked together to provide customers with the best service possible. Pharmacists have enough to do without having to get into nutrition counselling with customers, which, when done appropriately, can be quite time-consuming. Do you really want to wait longer to pick up your prescription? Setting aside the issue of expertise, do pharmacists really have the time to devote to counselling customers on nutrition? Let dietitians, who are actually trained to provide individualized dietary advice, provide this service so that pharmacists can focus on their own area of expertise.


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Just because it’s “always delicious” doesn’t mean it’s not a diet book

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Last week I attended the Ambition Nutrition Symposium in Toronto, to which I was fortunate enough to win free tickets. The theme of the conference was “bringing it home” and was intended to help translate nutrition theory into the kitchen and onto client’s plates. While I’m not sure the day really succeeded in that regard, I still found it to be an interesting conference with a variety of speakers and delicious food (thank you George Brown culinary students!). That being said, from my perspective, there was an elephant in the room. That elephant was the tension between professions and dietary dogma.

We started the day with a great presentation by Dr. Kelly Brownell, director of the World Food Policy Centre, among numerous other titles. He spoke about the difficulty we often face when addressing food-related issues through policy as something that benefits one area (e.g. nutrition) may cause unintended harm in another (e.g. agriculture). The goal of his new centre is to bring stakeholders from all the areas together to try to develop policies that will benefit all areas. As an aside, one thing I noticed about the list of stakeholders he shared was the lack of the public. As “end users” I think that it’s essential that the public (or specific groups from the public such as those experiencing food insecurity) are involved in these discussions.

Later in the morning we had an excellent presentation by Nishta Saxena, a dietitian. Maybe I’m a little bit biased as an RD but I felt that she did a fantastic job of presenting the struggles we face in addressing healthy eating with clients when they are constantly bombarded by misinformation in social media. How do we combat “sexy” social media influencers as professionals who must provide evidence-based factual information and are less inclined to posed half naked with overflowing mason jars of green smoothies? Several years later and dietitians still aren’t sexy ;)

We also had Saxena and chef Christine Cushing call out juicing and juice diets (while a new cold pressed juice company presented at one of the breakout sessions and provided samples during food breaks). Cushing mocked the caveman diet and then we had a snack break with “paleo” brownies. Saxena belittled meal kits and our swag bags contained a coupon for Hello Fresh. Hello elephant.

Follow-up Saxena’s fantastic presentation with a discussion with Dr. David Ludwig and his wife chef Dawn Ludwig to promote their new book “Always Delicious” which we all got a copy of in our swag bags. Full disclosure, I have been critical of Ludwig in the past. I tried to come into it with an open mind though, I really did but the elephant would not settle down. Despite their protestations that it was not a diet book, if it talks about weight loss, fat adaptation, is filled with testimonials (from readers who have lost weight), and has a prescriptive DIET with three phases, it’s a goddamn diet book. I’m not going to get into the science of his insulin hypothesis here because my point is not to critique his beliefs but if you want to read more about it I recommend this short article by Stephan Guyenet. I’m also not here to question the “success” people have had on Ludwig’s diet. If people are happier and healthier following this plan, I think that’s great. My issue is with the framing of this diet as the best way to eat for everyone and that the best way of eating is one that promotes weight loss. They talked about “NSVs” (non-scale victories) but the only examples I saw in the book and heard during the talk were a reduction in blood pressure and going down a pant size (which while technically not a weight loss “victory” is still a “victory” over an “unruly” body).

For a day that was meant to promote health through food there was a whole lot of talk about The Obesity Problem which is really not the direction that we want to take if we want to encourage people to have healthy relationships with food and their kitchens. I encourage everyone to read this piece about one woman’s “life as a public health crisis”.  If obesity is a “problem” then food is the enemy. That mindset does not lead to healthy attitudes and behaviours. You don’t need to “retrain” your fat cells, they are not disobedient puppies. Rather, we as a society need to retrain our attitudes toward our bodies and our food so that we can once again be friends with both.


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Are Clif Bars a healthy snack?

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I wanted to write a little about Clif Bars because I think there’s a lot of confusion about them. Before I start though, I should get this out of the way, this is not a sponsored post. I have no affiliation with Clif Bar whatsoever. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to it.

For those who don’t know what Clif Bars are, I’ve linked to their website above. Basically, they are energy dense snack bars designed to fuel athletes before, and depending on the activity and the athlete, during exercise. If you go to their website the first thing you see are a collection of images of people engaged in physical activity from climbing to cycling. Much of their energy density comes from sugar. One bar contains 20+ grams of sugar (that’s about 5 teaspoons) and about 250 calories. This nutritional composition is often a good thing for athletes who are looking for easy to digest snacks that will quickly provide them with fuel. However, for non-athletes, or people who are not looking for a calorically-dense snack, possibly not the best choice.

The reason why I wanted to write about this today is because I think most people who are consuming Clif Bars as a snack are not aware that they’re intended for active people and are operation under the false impression that they’re a “health food”. Anybody else watch the new version of Queer Eye? It was great and I totally want to be the first woman on the show (hook me up!) but I digress. There was an episode in which the man they were making over was talking about how he tries to eat healthy, and then listed off fruit and Clif Bars, as examples of the healthy foods he consumes regularly. And I thought to myself how misguided this belief is that Clif Bars are a “healthy” snack for the average Joe who has a relatively sedentary job. He’s just getting a whole lot of sugar with a few vitamins and minerals thrown in. For comparison’s sake, a Mars bar contains 260 calories and 30 grams of sugar, a Snickers bar has 250 calories and 27 grams of sugar, an Oh Henry! bar has 260 calories and 26 grams of sugar. All quite similar to a Clif bar.

Despite the fact that Clif Bars are clearly intended for athletes and active individuals, I doubt that many people purchasing them are visiting their website and are likely unaware of this intended consumer. They’re sold in grocery stores with all the other snack bars, sometimes at the cash, and sometimes in free-standing displays. Aside from the picture of the man climbing the mountain on the front, there is little reason to believe that they’re not intended for the average individual.

Just for fun, I did a twitter poll to see what people thought (pictured above). Of course, my tweeps are an above average bunch and the results likely reflect that. I got a few comments from people that “it depends”, “with a caveat”, and that the question was a false dichotomy.

Now that I’ve totally ruined Clif Bars for you, I will mention that they have newer products that are actually pretty decent snacks. I always have a stash of snacks in my desk at work and one of my favourites to have on-hand is the nut butter-filled energy bar which has considerably less sugar than the original energy bar, (although the same number of calories – I should add that while I do have a predominantly sedentary job, I also run every day and regularly engage in other physical activity) only about two teaspoons. My favourite is the peanut butter flavour (yum!). Even newer on the market is the whey protein bar which has only about one teaspoon of sugar, 14 grams of protein, and 260 calories (these are good when I have a long day and a long run, otherwise they’re a little higher in calories than I’d normally want in a snack).

I should also mention that ideally a healthy snack contains two food groups, preferably with one of those being vegetables and fruit. Some examples: an apple and a handful of nuts, hummus and veggie sticks, a banana and peanut butter, bell pepper and cheese.

Long story short, are Clif Bars a “healthy” snack? Probably not for the average person but… if you’re an athlete or have a very active job and aren’t consuming many other sources of added sugar then maybe.