Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Does eating breakfast make you racist?

Image by alsis35 on flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Image by alsis35 on flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Man, Mother Jones sure does love the ire-inducing click-bait headlines. The latest: Why you should stop eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner: Dogmatic adherence to mealtimes is anti-science, racist, and might actually be making you sick. Melodramatic much?

Why anti-science you might ask? Well, fasted mice apparently have more “robust” brain cells, live longer, and are skinnier than non-fasted mice. Reminder: mice are not humans and what applies to rodents may not (and often doesn’t) apply to humans. The other science was a tiny study (16 participants, 8 in each treatment group) that found no significant differences between those who ate three meals a day and those who ate three meals and snacks (both groups consumed the same number of calories). And a study of 24 women who ate either two or five meals a day (again, the same number of calories). The researchers found that both groups burned the same number of calories. Does this mean that we should all start intermittent fasting? I’m going with no.

While some people can be content following an intermittent fasting diet, not everyone will be happy going for long periods without food. Firstly, these studies didn’t show that there was a benefit to eating more meals every day, but they also didn’t show a benefit to eating fewer meals. Secondly, these studies didn’t address the qualitative aspects associated with meal frequency. To me, this suggests that if you’re happy and healthy eating three square a day, or more, or less, then that’s what you should do.

Why racist? Well, apparently the Europeans scorned Native Americans for not eating three square meals a day. Obviously not cool. However, it’s a little absurd to suggest that eating breakfast makes you a racist.

Why making you sick? So far as I can tell, the only reference to this in the article is regarding people eating too many calories for their sedentary lifestyles, particularly “large country breakfasts” which anecdotally lead to increased reports of indigestion.

After all of this incendiary information, the article concludes with some reasonable advice:

Instead of obsessing about meal size and frequency, Ochner recommends something simpler: Don’t eat when it’s time for a meal; eat when you feel hungry. That, he says, is a lost art.

While I agree that we shouldn’t obsess too much about meal size and frequency I don’t think that the majority of us are ready for eating only when we’re hungry. For most of us that leads to overeating. Preventative eating, and front-loading the day can be key for people struggling with weight management issues and mindless eating in the evening. For many of us, eating on a schedule works great. The key is to figuring out what works best for you rather than adhering to patterns of eating recommended in a magazine article. There are no hard and fast rules.


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When it comes to lunches do parents always know best?

School Food - Chicken Nuggets

A few months ago a study claimed to show that school lunches (in the US) were healthier than lunches brought from home. At the time, I considered blogging about it but I really wasn’t sure what to say. It’s such a problematic subject. However, when I came across this article I knew that I had to comment.

For anyone who hasn’t seen the article, or can’t be bothered to read it just now, it’s the story of a dad who fights back against the nanny state at his daughter’s school. She was sent home with a note that read:

Dr. and Mrs. Puckett, The cafeteria reported to me that Alia’s lunch today included four chocolate bars, a bag of marshmallows, Ritz crackers and a pickle. Please see that she packs a proper lunch tomorrow

Upon the line requesting a parental signature, the father wrote “request declined”. The father also states that his daughter did not have four chocolate bars, rather, she had three squares of dark chocolate (two of which were for others). He also denied that she had any Ritz crackers, stating that she had some lunch meat. Because that makes this packed lunch oh so much better.

I understand parents desires not to allow schools and dietitians into their children’s home made lunches. I know that if I had children I would feel much better sending them to school with packed lunches than allowing them to eat the school lunches at which pizza has magically become a vegetable.

My concern with the first study is that it’s very difficult to quantify lunch quality. I’ve worked with school boards and teachers to implement provincial school nutrition policy and I’ve had concerns with such policies. There is something wrong with a chocolate chip granola bar meets school standards, but the same brand of bar with added almonds fails to meet the policy due to excessive fat content. When policies present with issues such as this, I wonder how much healthier the school lunches truly were. If children are bringing lunches which are mostly nutritious but contain one treat would this automatically doom them to failure in comparison to the school lunches? Are the packed lunches consisting of chips and candy skewing the results in the favour of the school lunches? If students dislike the school lunches and don’t eat them, should they still be concluded to be more nutritious than home made lunches?

The issue of the father refusing to sign off on the request that his daughter bring “a proper lunch” is another matter. The teacher who sent the note certainly overstepped his or her bounds. However, a lunch consisting of chocolate, marshmallows, lunch meat, and pickles is certainly not a nutritious balanced meal. I’ve heard stories from teachers in which parents are sending young children to school with large bags of chips and king-sized chocolate bars for recess, with more of the same for lunch. Part of the problem with the angry dad story is that he’s allowing his young daughter to pack her own lunches. As independent as she may be, she is clearly not equipped to be preparing her own lunches. Ideally, she would be working with her parents to determine the contents of her lunch bag. No young child should have free reign over their lunch bag contents. But what should be done about parents who pack their children off to school with chips, candy bars, and pop? Anything? I wish I had a good answer. Some parents don’t have the money, time, education, etc to prepare nutritious lunches for their children. Should we have a mandatory school lunch program for all children who stay at school for lunch?


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The argument against school box lunch police

go-green-lunch-box-2

A school in Ontario has decided to ban students from eating “junk” food on school property. This means that any student sent to school with a chocolate bar or other banned food will be asked to take it home with them to consume. Unfortunately, there’s no list of criteria, or banned foods, available online. The principal does say that there will be some exceptions around holidays and while chocolate bars are a no-no, granola bars are fine. Sigh. There are a few issues I have with this policy. No, I am not concerned about the Nanny State. Honestly, considering our inability to care for ourselves properly as a society I think that we would all benefit from a little nannying.

My primary concern is the seeming lack of understanding of food insecurity. No matter how many celebrity chefs will publicly state that healthy eating is cheaper than eating “junk” there are still going to be a disproportionate number of food insecure families relying on packaged, processed foods. This is partially because of the perception that healthy food is expensive, and in some cases this is true. It’s also because food insecurity is a complex issue. Many people lack food skills to prepare healthy meals and snacks for their families. There may also be a lack of access to kitchen tools and appliances necessary for the preparation of many healthy options. There may also be a lack of time available to prepare healthy snacks, or a means to transport fresh vegetables home from the grocery store. To ban children from bringing “junk” food to school is an act of privilege which will only serve to ostracize children from less privileged families.

My second concern is with how this ban might affect eating habits later in life. Teaching children that some foods are forbidden, but then sending them home to eat them could potentially contribute to disordered eating later in life. While I don’t support the sale of nutritionally void foods at schools – schools should be providing children with the best possible nutrition for learning and growth and should not be turning a profit from selling them “junk” – I don’t think that policing lunch boxes is healthy. Imagine being a 6 year-old child sent to school with a cookie and being told you weren’t allowed to eat it at school. What lesson is this instilling? Is it teaching the child to make healthy choices. I don’t think so. I think it’s instilling a sense of shame and promoting “secret” eating. Children are extremely impressionable and this is when we should be ensuring that they develop lifelong healthy relationships with food.

My final concern is more with the practicality of implementing this policy. Who is going to be responsible for searching students’ lunches, backpacks, coat pockets for contraband? How much time will this take away from the ever deteriorating curriculum? How will it be decided which foods fit and which foods are banished? As many granola bars are essentially chocolate bars in disguise as health food is there really much point in implementing a ban on chocolate bars but allowing granola bars? What about home-made treats? How will the teacher (or other food policer) know if a muffin is healthy or essentially an un-iced cupcake?

I really do think that we need to be feeding children better diets and teaching them to enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods. However, I don’t think that policing children’s lunches is going to do anything to achieve these objectives. In fact, I think it’s liable to do more harm than good.