Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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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.


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Follow Friday: @EWG’s Food Scores

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Interested in finding out how your food stacks up? Now you can check its “score” with a quick search on the Environmental Working Group’s Food Score page. Foods are rated based on three criteria: nutrition concerns, ingredient concerns, and processing concerns. They also have an iphone app available in the app store, an android app is coming soon. It’s an easy way to find out more information about your food.


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Why you should read the ingredients

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A couple of weeks ago, a study of packaged foods in the US showed that many of them listing 0% trans-fat on the labels actually still contained trans-fat. Many dietitians said, “No shit”. This is why reading the ingredients is often more valuable than reading the nutrition facts panel.

Many manufacturers use trans-fat in their food products but also use a serving size that allows them to report the amount of trans-fat per serving as being 0%. Until trans-fats are banned, what can you do about this? One, you can read the ingredient list. Look for the words “partially hydrogenated”. That’s your trans-fat. Avoid foods containing any partially hydrogenated ingredients. Two, make your own food. When you make it yourself you can decide what goes into your food. Use as few highly-processed packaged foods as possible. I know that it’s not realistic to expect that everyone is going to start cooking and baking everything at home. Be savvy. Do what you can. Aim for packaged foods with as few ingredients as possible. And remember that while you may be saving time in the short-term by buying frozen dinners, you’ll likely lose time in the long-run.


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Grocery Store Lessons: Labelling lies (Part 2)

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A few weeks ago I attended a webinar on “gluten-related disorders”. The first part was pretty much a rehash of things I already knew. However, I learned some interesting things about food labelling in the second part.

I’ve noticed a few purportedly gluten-free products on the market that also state: “made in a facility that processes wheat”. Now, I’ve always advised clients with celiac disease to avoid products that have that disclaimer on the label. It turns out that these products may still be perfectly safe. However, I know that the “new” labelling laws (weren’t they released a couple of years ago now?) in Canada were meant to remove that confusion. Products are not supposed to include statements like the above and “may contain x” unless there is a reasonable risk that they may in fact contain the ingredient in question. This is because so many manufacturers were including these statements just to cover their butts in the event that a customer experienced an adverse reaction. However, it made it extremely difficult for people with allergies and celiac disease to find products that were safe for consumption. Despite their apparent inability to adherence to the labelling laws, products that are labelled “gluten-free” but that are “made in a facility that processes wheat” may truly be gluten-free (or at least within the 20 ppm that’s permissible in a gluten-free food).

The even more interesting thing that I learned is that companies proclaiming their products to be “gluten-free” don’t have to test for gluten during any stage of the manufacturing process. Yep, that’s right. Manufacturers are under no obligation to test the raw ingredients, nor the final product, for gluten-contamination before the food hits the stores. Of course, if a company is proclaiming a food to be gluten-free then it’s in their best interest not to sicken their customers and they most likely will test their product for gluten. However, there are probably some naive manufacturers (witness the product mentioned in my last post) who don’t realize the potential of cross-contamination nor the risks to their customers associated with such contamination. There are also instances of suppliers changing or corners being cut and it is entirely possible that a formerly gluten-free product may become glutenous. If you are concerned that a product labelled gluten-free may contain gluten you can contact the Gluten Free Watchdog which is basically the site of the gluten police. Unfortunately, as gluten testing is costly reports can only be viewed with a subscription ($4.99/mo). If you have celiac disease or work with a number of clients with celiac disease or wheat allergies this subscription could be life-saving.

 


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Grocery store lessons: flour

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When the Internet exploded a little while back with the news that Subway (and a number of other fast food restaurants) included the ingredient azodicarbonamide (a chemical also found in things such as yoga mats) I felt a little smug. After all, it’s extremely rare for me to eat at Subway, and even more rare for me to eat at the other places mentioned. Then I saw a post by a friend of mine on facebook indicating that azodicarbonamide can be found in flours on grocery store shelves. That lead me to take a look through my cupboards.

Lo and behold, there it was in the ingredient list for my healthy whole wheat flour. Interestingly, not for my unbleached all-purpose white flour, nor for my organic gluten-free flours. It turns out that perhaps the fast food companies aren’t to blame for this one. This goes back to the ingredient suppliers.

Now, azodicarbonamide may be safe for us to consume in the quantities that it’s present in our flour. It may not be. I don’t know. Personally, I’d rather avoid consuming unnecessary additives regardless. I know that in the future I’ll be checking the ingredients in my flour before I buy it. I’m also feeling a whole lot less smug about baking my own bread.