Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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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.


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Is it possible that chocolate milk actually saved Andrew Scheer’s son’s life?

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The other evening I was alerted to the latest absurdity in politicizing things that should not be politicized by an Instagram story posted by a fellow RD (thanks Pamela). I promptly went on a rant to my poor boyfriend and the fetus who made a valiant effort to escape my rage by pushing through my belly. This is precisely why I’m taking a break from twitter. It took some deep breaths and a chapter of a book to calm me down enough to go to sleep. So, now I’m going to dredge it all up and rant to you.

Okay, so this is probably old news by the time you’re reading this but I still need to get it all out. Did you see the utterly absurd news story about the esteemed federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer speaking at the Dairy Farmers’ of Canada annual meeting? If not, you can check it out for yourself. Highlights include his pledge to review the new Food Guide. Why? Because, according to him, “the process was flawed” and there was a “complete lack of consultation”. Are you shitting me Andrew?!!! There was SO MUCH consultation. I know this because I, like any other Canadian, was able to participate in the process. I’m not sure where he came up with the idea that there was no consultation but I’m pleased to see our Health Minister Ginette Petitpas calling him out for “spreading lies”. Maybe his issue was that industry and lobby groups were not invited to the table. However, they were all perfectly welcome to provide input in the same manner as anyone else in Canada, and boy did they attempt to use their clout to influence the process.

Scheer then proceeded to claim that “chocolate milk saved my son’s life”. I know you want to win over the farmers buddy but that is an utterly absurd comment. Apparently his son was a “picky eater” and somehow the consumption of chocolate milk was the only thing that saved him from imminent death. I mean, come on. If your child is only eating toast, bacon, and “very plain grilled meats” as Scheer claimed then chocolate milk ain’t gonna save his life. This is just another shining example of someone who thinks they’re an expert in nutrition because they eat. If your child is a “picky eater” may I be so bold as to suggest working with a registered dietitian to promote life-long healthy eating habits before stocking up your fridge with chocolate milk.

That’s not even the best part though, he went on to say that, “The idea that these types of products that we’ve been drinking as human beings and eating as human beings for millennia — that now all of a sudden they’re unhealthy — it’s ridiculous.” Um… We haven’t been drinking chocolate milk (at least not as we know it now) for millennia but let’s assume he meant milk in general. Nowhere in the new guide does it advise against drinking milk. No one from Health Canada has claimed that milk is “unhealthy”. Milk, and dairy, are still included in the Food Guide. I’d also like to note that there are many people in the world who are unable to digest the lactose in milk or who suffer from milk allergies or who choose not to consume dairy products and who somehow manage to live long healthy lives without the regular consumption of chocolate milk.

I find it completely enraging that the current brand of Conservative seems to think that the best thing they can do is to undo everything that the previous Liberal government has done before them. In addition, it is unconscionable that politicians are politicizing our health and well-being. Evidence-based measures, policies, and healthcare should be non-partisan issues and politicians should not be sacrificing the welfare of the residents of Canada in order to win votes from industry groups.


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Book Review: @thefuckitdiet

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This review is not going to be as thorough as I like to be. I listened to this book on Audible while I was doing other things like cooking, cleaning, and walking the dog so I didn’t take notes and I wasn’t always paying the closest attention. That being said, for the most part, I thought it was great.

The overall message of the book is that we need to stop being so hard on ourselves for doing something as natural as eating food. That in order to reestablish a healthy relationship with food we need to stop dieting altogether and give ourselves permission to consume food in ways that we have told ourselves is “wrong”. For example, allowing ourselves to eat foods we’ve told ourselves are “bad” and allowing ourselves to overeat. This book is basically about undoing the conditioning we’ve done to ourselves over the years by making eating emotionally fraught.

The only real issue I took with any of the book was with some of the science, which I found to be questionable. I should have taken notes because I can’t remember exactly what Dooner was saying and having listened to the audiobook it’s not like I can easily flip to the references to look things up. I do remember her talking about the causes of candida overgrowth and mention of heavy metals being the cause (not sugar consumption). As far as I’m aware, there is still a lack of quality research in this area, and we really don’t know what causes some women to be prone to yeast infections. Dooner also mentions Chris Kresser as a source at one point (no, not a source of candida, but as an expert on something – again, I should have taken notes). I’m not a fan of Kresser. He’s got something to sell and claims to have the cure for everything that ails us. His website is a trove of red flags when it comes to nutrition information and he’s an acupuncturist and anti-vaxxer who cured his own chronic illness. Not someone I would want to be associated with. Anyway… as long as you don’t get hung-up on the science, I think that a lot of people could benefit from this book.

Dooner offers practical actions for the reader to undertake that should help move them closer to a healthy relationship with food. I think her attitude and approach are refreshing. I mean, her entire “diet” is literally: fuck it. Stop stressing so much about food. Stop trying to force your body to conform to some fucked-up wealthy white patriarchal ideal. Forget everything you’ve learned or told yourself over the years about diet, food, and what you should and shouldn’t be doing. Stop wasting time and energy obsessing about your weight and start living life to the fullest.

If you’re interested, Dooner is running an online book club starting on May 26th (you only have a few more days to enrol – enrolment ends on May 24th – so get off that fence if you’re thinking about it). This will include weekly Q&A sessions, discussion, and more. Check-out thefuckitdiet.com/club to learn more and sign-up. You can also follow Dooner on twitter and instgram @thefuckitdiet where she shares snippets from the book, quotes, and stories of her adorable dog.


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What to eat when you’re pregnant

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By now you may be aware that I’m pregnant. This is great news both personally and for more blog material – apologies if prenatal nutrition is of no interest to you. Now that the word is out, I feel comfortable sharing some of my observations.

First off, take the nutrition advice from apps with a grain of salt. These were likely not developed by registered dietitians and may not contain the greatest information. Aside from those, you might be getting your nutrition recommendations from prenatal classes which you would think would be better but I wasn’t super impressed with some of the information provided in the online class that I did (here’s hoping the in-person class is better!).

The general advice is fine: this is an important time to be getting adequate nutrition as, though technically not, the fetus is pretty damn close to a parasite. It’s going to deplete you of all of your iron and calcium stores if you don’t makes sure you’re consuming enough to replenish them. However, I took exception to some of the outdated advice I saw in the class I completed.

There’s a section on gestational diabetes which is followed-up by the section on prenatal nutrition. In this section there’s a sample meal plan which is whack for anyone, let alone a pregnant woman who is concerned about developing gestational diabetes. Highlights include breakfast: toast, oatmeal with banana, jam, and a glass of milk; snack: vanilla yoghurt and dried apricots; bedtime snack: frozen yoghurt. Hello blood sugar spikes! And I mean honestly, who eats toast and oatmeal for breakfast? Get some damn protein in there (nut butter, nuts, seeds, eggs…). And that snack, smh. Plain or no sugar-added yoghurt with berries would be a better choice or there are loads of other nutritious snack options that don’t contain sugar. I thought we’d moved past recommending frozen yoghurt like a decade ago. It’s generally higher in sugar than ice cream and not nearly as nutritious as regular un-frozen yoghurt. Which leads me to the swap suggestions.

There was a page of “if you’re craving this, try that”. Not that there was anything wrong with the suggestions (things like pretzels instead of potato chips and a grilled chicken burger instead of a regular beef burger) but I’m of the mind that you should listen to your body and give it what it wants. There is nothing wrong with having some chips or a burger when you’re pregnant, or when you’re not. And then there was that freaking frozen yoghurt again! I saw ice cream and groaned and said to my boyfriend, “how much do you want to bet they’re going to say to have froyo instead?” Wisely, not a bet he was willing to take as, of course, it was frozen yoghurt.

At one point they advised to “avoid foods with chemicals” which is meaningless and completely unhelpful advice. All food is comprised of chemicals.

I also wish that they had acknowledged the food aversions, cravings, and nausea/vomiting that many pregnant women experience. For women who are experiencing severe “morning” sickness it can be better to eat what they can stomach when they can stomach it. You can tell women to eat lots of vegetables, fish, and whole grains but if these foods aren’t going to sit well with them then that advice is not helpful. Women who require advice beyond that provided in the online class should ask their doctor for a referral to see a Registered Dietitian. Those living in Ontario can also call Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 Monday-Friday 9-5 to speak with a RD for free.

There should also be recognition that listening to our bodies and our hunger and fullness cues is important. If you want ice cream, eat some ice cream. And if you want frozen yoghurt (to each their own), eat some froyo. Just like you’ll learn when it comes time for infant feeding, you should trust yourself and trust your tummy.