Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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What does “healthy” look like?

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A little while ago I wrote about the importance of representation and how the health care industry is failing at it. Of course, it’s not quite as simple as saying “we’re going to use more diverse images in our marketing and materials”. Most organizations don’t take their own photos. Instead, most use stock photography sites from which staff select images. It’s not just health care that has a problem, it’s all media, and it’s the sites from which we source our images.

So many of the images I come across on the stock photo site we use at work are problematic. I’m not going to name the site because it really doesn’t matter which one it is, they’re all the same. Search the word “healthy” and you’ll likely come up with a lot of smiling, slim, glowing, youthful white people outdoors wearing athletic clothing or eating salad. Of course there might be one older person, a black person, and a “normal” (i.e. not model thin) person in the mix but these are the exceptions that prove the rule. Fitness returns more of the same, minus the salad shots. On the other hand, when you search “fat” you come back with a bunch of headless torsos clutching their bellies, larger people drooling over fries, large people looking miserable, and a few “good” fat people engaging in physical activity – again, the exceptions that prove the rule. Then there’s the images of “healthy choices” in which the ubiquitous glowing youthful white woman is weighing a doughnut in one hand and an apple in the other as if this is all that healthy eating is about. Or how about the images of large women kicking “junk food” solidly away? How virtuous. Or the woman literally taking a pair of scissors to her stomach? Horrifying.

All these images do is serve to reinforce the popular beliefs that we hold around body size, health, and personal responsibility. To reinforce the stigma against larger bodies and the false assumption that smaller bodies are always healthy bodies and the result of healthy personal choices. It takes a lot of effort and consideration for people to choose images from these stock photo sites that don’t contribute to stereotypes. It’s worth that extra effort though to show that all bodies are good bodies and that your organization is for everyone, not just people who look a certain way.


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Is this good for me?

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Oh man, this NYT article: Is Sushi “Heathy”? What About Granola? Where Americans and Nutritionists DisagreeHow many other dietitians wanted to scream when they saw the lovely little scatter plot of food? “Is X or Y or Z good for me or healthy?” has to be one of the top questions I get asked as an RD, and one of my most hated.

Why is this not a good question? Well, because there are very few foods that are entirely “good” or entirely “bad” for you. I mean sure, we all agree that Coke is not a nutritious choice. We also all agree that oranges are. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have a nutritious diet and drink the occasional pop. It also doesn’t mean that you can’t be extremely healthy and never eat oranges.

I’ve blogged before about food having virtue so there’s really no sense in repeating myself. Although even I can’t find the old post to link to so maybe I should (if you can find it, let me know and I’ll link back). For now, suffice to say that the point was that food doesn’t have moral value and labelling foods as “good” or “bad” only promotes unhealthy relationships with food.

Individually appraising foods as either good or bad, healthy or unhealthy is a fruitless exercise. When looking at a diet to determine if it’s healthy/nutritious you need to look at the big picture. What does it matter if you have a cookie while you’re blogging (just for example) if the rest of the day you ate mostly whole, minimally processed, nutrient-dense foods? It doesn’t. Conversely, if you ate a head of kale while you were blogging after eating highly processed, nutrient-light foods all day then you’re still not consuming the most nutritious diet.

We all need to lighten up a little. Stop obsessing over whether quinoa is “healthier” than rice. A healthy diet is a diet that provides nutrients and pleasure from a variety of foods.


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Showing a little KINDness to KIND bars

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Last week everyone got all in a kerfuffle because KIND bars were told that they were not allowed to use the term “healthy” to market their snacks by the FDA. Since I’ve promoted KIND bars on here in the past (my first, and only, giveaway) I felt that I should weigh in on the subject.

In my opinion, as far as snack bars go, many KIND bars are a damn sight better than the alternatives. Many of them contain only about a teaspoon of sugar, compare that to upwards of six teaspoons in other snack bars. They are all nut-based, which is a nice change from the refined ingredients in many granola bars. The packaging on KIND bars doesn’t actually state “healthy”. This was a claim made on the KIND website. If you want to see some misleading packaging, just take a walk down the granola bar aisle. Here are just a few examples that I found:

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I understand that the FDA and CFIA need to ensure that food manufacturers aren’t using terms willy nilly. Otherwise you’d have every bottle of pop, chocolate bar, and bag of chips claiming some sort of health promoting abilities or ingredient. But really, really? I think that all this incident does is to highlight the difficulty with food marketing and health and nutrition claims. “Healthy” is a relative term and the criteria the FDA has used to define it may not fit for everyone. As you know, the negative effect of dietary saturated fat (especially from plant sources) has recently been called into question. Using specific nutrient quantities to determine whether or not a product can be marketed as “healthy” is tricky, and frankly not all that useful. You’re far better off reading the ingredients and making your own decision as to whether or not you want to include a particular food in your diet.