Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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If children are the future we may be in trouble

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After coming across a few teacher resources I’ve started to wonder about what lessons we’re really teaching children in schools.

The first example was actually a list of nutrition curriculum supports for teachers compiled by dietitians. Most of them were great but a few that really stood out to me were ones produced by companies whose m.o. is to sell products, not to educate. I found it concerning that nutrition professionals would consider promoting self-esteem resources from Dove and videos about farming from companies like Kashi to students would be appropriate. Considering the clear lack of media literacy and nutrition literacy in our society, I think it’s vital that as nutrition professionals we do our utmost to promote credible, unbiased (or at least as unbiased as possible) sources of nutrition information to the public and particularly to children and youth.

So, there was that. Then I came across a (US-based) website of “food resources” for teachers with a number of activities featuring candy to teach kids lessons about various subjects such as math and science. For example, we have: gummy bear genetics, gummy worm measurements, the history of marshmallows, math with candies, and chocolate and solvents. Why exactly do we need to use sugary treats to teach children in school? Is this the norm? Is the prevailing perception that children need to be bribed to learn anything in school?

There’s lesson plans on the website including things like “Juice Nutrition 101” which one might reasonably assume would be about the pros and cons of juice. If so, you would be incorrect. It’s actually only about the alleged benefits of juice and was (get this) used with permission from Ocean Spray Cranberries, inc. I shit you not.

What kind of lessons do these sorts of things actually teach children? Not critical thinking, I’m sure. Nor do they teach children accurate unbiased nutrition information. They also normalize and encourage the regular consumption of candy and treats that should really be “sometimes” foods. We need to have more dietitians involved with the development of educational resources. We need to ensure that teachers are nutrition and media literate so that they don’t use resources such as those mentioned above in their classrooms. If children are the future we need to do better at equipping them with the skills to navigate and emerge from this “post truth” era.

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Don’t eat this, not that!

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Ever notice the proliferation of magazine articles telling you what to eat instead of something else? It’s almost always one crappy food versus another somewhat less crappy (but much less desirable) food so that you’re left feeling guilty if you choose the “not that” and resentful if you choose the “eat this”. And evidently people eat this shit up because I see articles with some variation of this format pretty much weekly (and I don’t even read magazines). There’s even a whole website devoted to the premise with actual books you can buy. Yes, people will pay money to have people tell them what to eat but heaven forbid the government try to simply make it easier for them to make healthier choices.

Despite their “no-diet weight loss solution!” twitter bio, it seems to me that the “eat this, not that!” is all about restriction and food selection based purely on calories. Their website is literally a compendium of terrible trendy nutrition and fitness click-bait. You’ve got everything from “20 ways to boost your metabolism” to “how to lose weight while doing every day tasks” to the following header:

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Oh okay, that sure sounds like a “no-diet weight loss solution”. I mean, at least make the effort to not put the freaking D-word in there if “no-diet” is your shtick.

I spent sometime the other evening scrolling through their twitter feed and I’m convinced that much of what they post is sponsored content. They’ve got things like Dunkin’ Donuts vs Krispy Kreme, fat burning supplements that actually work, how to eat McDonald’s fries without damaging your body, the best and worst Subway sandwiches, almond milk is bad (no protein) but drink this brand not that brand (even though they both only have 1 gram of protein per cup), yay Starbucks (for – I kid you not – having nut “milk” options) but also boo Starbucks (for having high calorie baked goods). Alongside these there’s also lots of your standard: drink more wine, eat more coconut oil, buy these overpriced so-called paleo superfood snacks.

How about we stop shoving shame-laden food down people’s throats and instead promote healthful choices, ways to get people in the kitchen, and the pleasure of eating.


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National Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast and other unnecessary food holidays

Last week someone shared this tweet from the Cleveland Clinic:

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Not ideal from a provider of healthcare. I’m sure many children are getting more sugar from breakfast cereal and juice in the morning but that doesn’t excuse the fact that ice cream is not a balanced breakfast and the Cleveland Clinic should know better.

That got me to thinking about food holidays. It seems to me that most of these holidays promote unhealthy foods, foods that really need no promotion. I decided to do a little number crunching.

Based on the food holidays listed on Foodimentary, I added up all of the food holidays, all of the holidays promoting unhealthy choices, and all of the holidays promoting healthy foods. Out of 475 food holidays, 250 were for unhealthy foods (e.g. candy, doughnuts), and 81 were for healthy foods (e.g. kale, almonds). Do we really need all of these days devoted to promoting treats? How about we start a new calendar of food holidays promoting a different whole food every day? We don’t need to encourage anyone to eat ice cream, especially not for breakfast.


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Don’t let them eat KD; only the best for the poor

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I had a mixed reaction reading this article about a food bank rejecting “unhealthy” food items last week. Of course, I think that they should reject opened packages and half-eaten items. It’s extremely insulting that anyone would “donate” things like a package of opened pepperoni sticks to the food bank. A donation box is not synonymous with a garbage can. However, removing items such as Kraft dinner or candy is not right.

 

It’s understandable that the food bank staffer(s) doing this think that people relying on food banks deserve to have healthy food. I’m sure that this culling of donations is done with the best of intentions. However, it’s not the place of the food bank staff to decide what food items are suitable for patrons. They should certainly remove any potentially hazardous expired, damaged, or opened items. They should not remove items based on perceived nutritional shortcomings.

 

Everyone, including those in need, are deserving of a treat now and then. The food bank patrons can decide whether or not they wish to take a package of Swedish Berries. That’s not a decision to be made by anyone else. Removing these items in advance (and what’s being done with them? Are they just being pitched?) reeks of elitism. Also, considering that most donation boxes are only able to accept non-perishable food items, this leaves limited donation options. People who are donating may not be wealthy either, but they may be able to afford an extra box of Kraft Dinner to donate when it goes on special.

 

Another problem with the proclamation that food bank patrons deserve healthy food is that many people to not have the facilities or abilities to cook even basic meals at home. Do you know what to do with a turnip? A can of chickpeas? (Okay, I know that you’re not the masses). Many people don’t. Donating many of these items to food banks simply leads to more waste. I don’t want to discourage you from donating these things. Unfortunately, the reality is that these are often the last items to go.

 

If you really want to make a donation that will help, donate money or time to your local food bank or community kitchen.


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More on fat tax

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Recent research showed that a combination of factors was best at discouraging purchasing of “junk” foods. It also showed that, on their own, cheaper healthy options, anti-obesity advertising, and healthy food advertising were ineffective at dissuading “customers” from purchasing the junk food. However, increasing the price of the “junk” by 20% was persuasion enough for customers to select the healthier options.

While an interesting result, there are a number of problems with applying these findings in the real world. The research was done with participants in a laboratory. Thus, their economical means and purchasing behaviours may not have been representative of how they would act in “reality”. Also, were participants representative of the population? I worry the most about the impact of jacking up prices on “junk” food on those who are experiencing food insecurity. Increasing the cost of these foods may cause more harm than good.

In addition, as mentioned in the article we’ve already seen the failure of the “fat tax” in Denmark. Why would we think that increasing the price of “junk” food would be any more effective in North America? And who will decide what foods are healthy and what foods are unhealthy and deserving of taxation. I’ve seen granola bars that were not permitted under school nutrition policies that (in my opinion) were healthier than those that were permitted. The ones that were permitted contained chocolate chips. The ones that weren’t contained almonds, causing the fat content to be too high to meet criteria! Research is always evolving and even within the dietetic world there isn’t consensus on some matters. Some dietitians would rule out butter in favour of margarine. Some would be okay with added sugars, while others would eschew them. Most would say that all foods are okay, with some being everyday foods and others being occasional foods.

Also, what would happen with the increased revenue from “junk” foods? Would it go to the food industry? Would it go to the government? Or would it go to subsidise vegetables and fruits or create community food initiatives?

Yes, this research provides some insight into human behaviour. However, I’m not sure that it’s all that useful of a weapon in the war against obesity.