Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


Leave a comment

Have you ever “undone” all your hard work at the gym with a burger? This post is for you.

untitled-design

Have you ever said, or thought, something along the lines of “I cancelled out my workout by eating doughnuts”? How about “I just undid all my work at the gym by having pizza for supper”? Or, “I earned this treat because I ran today”? I’m pretty sure I’ve been guilty of saying those sorts of things. Many of us probably have. For some reason I seem to have become acutely aware of it recently.

I see articles, blog posts, tweets, overheard conversations, where people make statements like those in the examples above all the time. Since it’s the New Year, I expect that a lot of people are making health and fitness related resolutions. I’ve shat all over such resolutions in the past so I won’t do that again today. Instead of resolving to lose weight, exercise more, eat healthier, undergo metamorphosis, perhaps we should consider resolving to shift our mindsets.

The thing is, you’re never cancelling out, undoing, or negating physical activity by eating too much or eating foods that aren’t super healthy. You’re also never earning them by putting in time on the dreadmill. We need to separate the two. Remember when I talked about my problem with many food tracking apps and websites? We often overestimate how many calories we’ve burned during a workout. It’s more than that though. It’s that both exercise and nutrition contribute to our health and well-being but they are both completely separate entities and we need to stop thinking of them as two sides of a scale.

Regardless of what you eat, exercise is still beneficial. Exercise can improve your sleep quality and duration, it can help reduce stress, it’s important for both physical and mental health and can reduce the risk of many diseases. Conversely, regardless of how much you move, a healthy diet is still beneficial. Good nutrition can reduce the risk of many diseases, provide you with energy, can help you recover from injury… Obviously, the two are important contributors to good health. Obviously, you’re going to reap greater benefits if you are both physically active and eat a nutritious diet. However, if you workout and eat a cheeseburger you haven’t then cancelled out your workout. You’ll still be getting some benefits from being active. You’ll still be better off than if you sat on your butt all day and then ate a cheeseburger.

So, stop being so hard on yourself. Stop thinking you’ve failed if you haven’t done an hour of spin and followed that up with a kale salad. Try to separate your thoughts about exercise and your thoughts about nutrition. Your workout happened no matter what you ate afterward. A burger and fries doesn’t erase a swim.


Leave a comment

Magical fat burning snacks

fire-1053657_960_720.jpg

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.

 


6 Comments

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.


7 Comments

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

 

8038626076_ffba45dcdd_z

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.


Leave a comment

Granola: breakfast or dessert?

granola-787997_960_720

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.