Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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How a dietitian does a juice cleanse

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Image by 从峰 陈 on flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence

I really like the idea of Bon Appetit’s Healthyish column because, as I’ve mentioned before, a healthy diet isn’t about bland deprivation. However, a recent column made my blood boil.

I knew that nothing good would come from reading a column titled: How a Food Critic Does a Juice Cleanse but like a moth to a flame I just couldn’t help myself from clicking on the link when it appeared in my inbox. It was even worse than I imagined.

I can understand the difficulty that a food critic would have maintaining a balanced diet. Travelling can do a number on even the most conscientious eaters with the large portions at restaurants and the often insufficient quantities of vegetables, particularly in the States. It must be even more difficult for a food critic who has to sample many dishes and courses. That being said, the article should have ended mid-way through the first sentence: “Step 1: Don’t do it unless you have to” should have read: Don’t do it. Probably not enough words for SEO, but a much better message.

Initially I was pleasantly surprised to see the author, food critic Andrew Knowlton write: “Yes, I’m aware that pretty much every dietician says that juicing is not good for you.” Okay, good, he misspelled dietitian but at least he’s acknowledging that the profession devoted to nutrition and helping people make good food choices is opposed to juice cleanses. Sadly, it was all downhill from there.

It’s not that Knowlton chose to torture himself by consuming only juice for five days. Yes, I think that’s foolish, unhealthy, and unnecessary, but he’s an adult and can make his own decisions. It’s that he did this in front of his daughters. This honestly enraged me. Children learn from what they see others doing and their parents are usually their most powerful role models. Yes, Knowlton continued to cook bacon and actual food for his daughters but they saw him subsisting off juice. What message is that giving them? It’s teaching them that this is normal adult behaviour. That we can’t be healthy by consuming whole foods. That when we believe we’ve overindulged the solution is to starve ourselves. That diets, disordered eating, and self-inflicted punishment are synonymous with health and virtue. That is not a healthy message to be teaching children. Regardless of what Knowlton is telling his girls, actions speak louder than words. He may well be telling them to eat balanced meals and whole foods but if he’s doing that while sipping on a beet-ginger juice the juice is going to speak louder than the words.

If I may be so bold, I’d like to propose a rebuttal column: How a Dietitian Does a Juice Cleanse. Step 1: Don’t do it.

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The defence of juice

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I find the ability of people to rationalise things astounding. We all do it in some manner in our lives. But it still amazes me to see people staunchly defending illogical stances. Take for example juice.

I’m not opposed to juice per se. I grew up during a time when orange juice was a standard at breakfast. I drank juice boxes at school. Juice wasn’t the nutritional pariah it’s become. Of course, we now know that juice is essentially liquid sugar, with a few vitamins thrown in for good measure. Drinking a glass of apple juice is nowhere near as nutritious as eating an actual apple. I would never recommend that someone consume more juice but if you’re enjoying a glass of juice a day, or an occasional glass of juice, it’s the same as any other sweet treat and I’m not going to take that away.

What I don’t get are the people who say that juice contains “naturally occurring” sugar so it’s somehow healthier than any other food containing “unnaturally occurring” sugar. Nope. Not buying it. Sugar is sugar. This is not demonizing sugar. This is not demonizing juice. It’s just a fact. Where do people think that refined and added sugars come from? They’re not made from chemicals in a lab. They’re made by processing plants that naturally contain sugar. There’s nothing nutritionally superior about the sugar in juice. It’s no better (or worse) for you than the sugar in a handful of jujubes.

Let’s stop sugarcoating juice and face the facts. Juice is liquid sugar with better PR than other sugary beverages.


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Is 63 grams of liquid sugar the answer to high cholesterol?

A friend recently shared this tweet with me:

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She had asked the tweeter for more details but hadn’t received a response. My response: “Ugh. No wonder so many people don’t trust us as dietitians”.

Of course, it’s Florida orange juice that imparts these benefits. Because oranges from other locales couldn’t possibly impart the same benefits (<— please note this should be written in the yet to be developed sarcasm font). Even so, is the benefit even all that meaningful? I’d argue no.

While I can’t be certain that the study I found is the one the tweeter was referring to it was the top hit and was sponsored by Tropicana orange juice so it fits the bill. The study looked at a very small group of individuals with elevated cholesterol. There were only 25 participants, 16 healthy men, and 9 post-menopausal women. This means that the results cannot be extended to apply to pre-menopausal women or “unhealthy” individuals. There were additional strict criteria that participants had to meet: 1. have initial fasting plasma triacylglycerol (blood lipid) concentrations in the normal range, 2. be habitual or occasional orange juice drinkers, 3. be free of thyroid disorders, kidney disease, and diabetes, 4. have an alcohol intake of ≤2 drinks/d, 5. not be receiving hormone replacement therapy if female. With such a small sample size of people meeting such precise criteria, no concrete conclusions can be drawn from this study.

However, the researchers still drew conclusions. Namely that three cups of orange juice a day can lower LDL and increase HDL blood levels. They found that HDL levels were increased by 21% and the HDL-LDL ratio was decreased by 16%. That sounds fairly impressive but is it really? Well, no, not really. The average HDL level increased from 1.0 to 1.3. Anything over 1.0 is good anyway so they weren’t all that badly off to begin with. The HDL-LDL ratio really only changed because of the increase in HDL as LDL levels went from an average of 3.6 to 3.5. Not a significant change.

What the study doesn’t tell you is that cholesterol recommendations are only made in relation to risk of cardiovascular disease. If your risk level is low then an LDL of under 5.0 is fine. If your risk is high then an LDL of less than 2.0 is ideal. Risk level is determined by family and medical history. None of these factors were discussed in the current study despite the fact that the cholesterol levels measured are essentially meaningless without being placed in the context of CVD risk.

Can we just go back to that THREE cups of OJ a day again? The researchers found no significant change in cholesterol levels at one or two cups of OJ a day. Only at three cups a day. That’s a considerable amount of orange juice. Considering that a serving size of juice is 1/2 cup and most dietitians recommend no more than one serving per day I find it hard to fathom recommending 6 servings of juice every day for a slight increase in HDL levels. The researchers note that as OJ increased fibre intake decreased. They didn’t mention any other aspects of diet. There was no comparison to consumption of whole oranges, other fruit or vegetable juices, or any other dietary changes. Based on this study alone I would absolutely not advise anyone wishing to improve their blood cholesterol levels to drink 63 grams (more than 15 teaspoons) of liquid sugar daily.


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Chocolate milk, juice, and marketing untruths

 

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After I wrote about how sugar’s not inherently evil on Monday, I’d now like to take exception (again) to the marketing of chocolate milk as a healthy beverage choice.

As I’ve mentioned before, just because there’s nothing wrong with having some sugar in our diets, that doesn’t mean we can’t have too much. Just because sugar’s not bad for you doesn’t mean it’s good either and it certainly doesn’t mean that most of us couldn’t stand to cut back on it a bit.

So… My best friend sent me the above photo (taken from a Dairy Farmers of Canada booklet) last week. It’s a great example of the food industry twisting the facts. Sure, a glass of chocolate milk has the same amount of sugar as a glass of apple juice. That doesn’t lead to the conclusion that chocolate milk is a nutritious choice. Both beverages have 24 grams of sugar per cup. That’s 6 teaspoons of sugar! That’s a lot of sugar in something that’s not going to fill you up. The conclusion should really be that neither chocolate milk nor apple juice is a healthy choice. Both are liquid candy, with a few added nutrients, and should be treated as treats.

I also would like to add my annoyance at the chocolate milk sponsored half marathon I ran on Sunday. The only beverages I could find at the end of the race were chocolate milk, juice, and coffee. Now, if anyone deserves chocolate milk, it’s probably someone who just finished a long run. However, sweetness doesn’t appeal to me after a race and all I wanted was a drink of water. I ended up settling for a cup of black coffee until I got home. As we were exiting the finish area, someone on the sound system was extolling the benefits of chocolate milk as the ultimate post-race rehydrator. Actually, no. If you missed it before, here are my thoughts on that. I get that the race needs sponsors, and I don’t mind there being chocolate milk available. However, I don’t think that it should necessitate the exclusion of water.


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Would you “do the dew” for breakfast?

Well, I honestly didn’t see this one coming: Pepsi has launched a new Mountain Dew breakfast beverage called Kickstart. In the official press release the company states: “Kickstart presents a fresh alternative to the age-old morning question of “coffee or juice,” by offering the best of all worlds. It combines the great taste of Mountain Dew with five percent real fruit juice and just the right amount of caffeine.” Ummm… what? This sounds like neither coffee nor juice to me. Coffee is so much more than caffeine and 5% juice does not sound much like orange juice to me.

Clearly I’m out of touch with the average Pepsi consumers who told the company “they are looking for an alternative to traditional morning beverages”. Even if this is what they were asking for, I’m not sure that 5% juice and 92 mg of caffeine in a soda were exactly what they had in mind.

Kickstart will be available in stores (at least in the US, I’m not sure about Canada) toward the end of the month in both orange citrus and fruit punch flavours. Personally, I plan to stick with my coffee.