Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Are Clif Bars a healthy snack?

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I wanted to write a little about Clif Bars because I think there’s a lot of confusion about them. Before I start though, I should get this out of the way, this is not a sponsored post. I have no affiliation with Clif Bar whatsoever. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to it.

For those who don’t know what Clif Bars are, I’ve linked to their website above. Basically, they are energy dense snack bars designed to fuel athletes before, and depending on the activity and the athlete, during exercise. If you go to their website the first thing you see are a collection of images of people engaged in physical activity from climbing to cycling. Much of their energy density comes from sugar. One bar contains 20+ grams of sugar (that’s about 5 teaspoons) and about 250 calories. This nutritional composition is often a good thing for athletes who are looking for easy to digest snacks that will quickly provide them with fuel. However, for non-athletes, or people who are not looking for a calorically-dense snack, possibly not the best choice.

The reason why I wanted to write about this today is because I think most people who are consuming Clif Bars as a snack are not aware that they’re intended for active people and are operation under the false impression that they’re a “health food”. Anybody else watch the new version of Queer Eye? It was great and I totally want to be the first woman on the show (hook me up!) but I digress. There was an episode in which the man they were making over was talking about how he tries to eat healthy, and then listed off fruit and Clif Bars, as examples of the healthy foods he consumes regularly. And I thought to myself how misguided this belief is that Clif Bars are a “healthy” snack for the average Joe who has a relatively sedentary job. He’s just getting a whole lot of sugar with a few vitamins and minerals thrown in. For comparison’s sake, a Mars bar contains 260 calories and 30 grams of sugar, a Snickers bar has 250 calories and 27 grams of sugar, an Oh Henry! bar has 260 calories and 26 grams of sugar. All quite similar to a Clif bar.

Despite the fact that Clif Bars are clearly intended for athletes and active individuals, I doubt that many people purchasing them are visiting their website and are likely unaware of this intended consumer. They’re sold in grocery stores with all the other snack bars, sometimes at the cash, and sometimes in free-standing displays. Aside from the picture of the man climbing the mountain on the front, there is little reason to believe that they’re not intended for the average individual.

Just for fun, I did a twitter poll to see what people thought (pictured above). Of course, my tweeps are an above average bunch and the results likely reflect that. I got a few comments from people that “it depends”, “with a caveat”, and that the question was a false dichotomy.

Now that I’ve totally ruined Clif Bars for you, I will mention that they have newer products that are actually pretty decent snacks. I always have a stash of snacks in my desk at work and one of my favourites to have on-hand is the nut butter-filled energy bar which has considerably less sugar than the original energy bar, (although the same number of calories – I should add that while I do have a predominantly sedentary job, I also run every day and regularly engage in other physical activity) only about two teaspoons. My favourite is the peanut butter flavour (yum!). Even newer on the market is the whey protein bar which has only about one teaspoon of sugar, 14 grams of protein, and 260 calories (these are good when I have a long day and a long run, otherwise they’re a little higher in calories than I’d normally want in a snack).

I should also mention that ideally a healthy snack contains two food groups, preferably with one of those being vegetables and fruit. Some examples: an apple and a handful of nuts, hummus and veggie sticks, a banana and peanut butter, bell pepper and cheese.

Long story short, are Clif Bars a “healthy” snack? Probably not for the average person but… if you’re an athlete or have a very active job and aren’t consuming many other sources of added sugar then maybe.

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Should we allow advertisers to have unlimited access to children?

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As in many countries, including Canada, there is currently a push in the UK for a ban on “junk food” advertising to children. Naturally, there’s push-back but surprisingly not (just) from the food industry but from registered dietitians. I have to admit, I was pretty taken aback when I saw a number of Bristish dietitians arguing against this proposed ban on twitter last week. I know that we don’t always agree, but I thought that this would be one measure that all dietitians would support.

The arguments I saw against the ban were as follows:

  1. This won’t make much of a difference
  2. The term “junk food” is unscientific
  3. Only people who work in advertising should be allowed to have an opinion on advertising
  4. Parents should just “say no” to their children when they beg for products they’ve seen advertised
  5. Parents should do a better job parenting and control the tv their children are watching
  6. There are bigger issues than this so why are we wasting our time on support for an advertising ban
  7. This campaign is just about making Jamie Oliver look good

Let’s address these shall we?

  1. There is no one measure we can implement that will make a substantial change in childhood obesity and healthy eating. However, a ban such as this is just one of many measures that, together, will improve the eating habits of children. See last week’s post for a few other ideas. There is evidence to support restricting marketing of food (and other products) to children. If marketing to children wasn’t effective companies wouldn’t continue to do it.
  2. I agree that marketing to children should not apply to “junk food”. I think that a complete ban on advertising food should be implemented. This would avoid the whole distraction and difficulty of defining “healthy” and “unhealthy” foods and protect children from the promotion of food which encourages overeating and the development of unhealthy relationships with food.
  3. Do I even need to comment on this one? Does anyone outside of industry truly believe that industry self-regulation is a good idea? Yes, let’s put the fox in charge of the hen house. What could possibly go wrong?

4. Most parents I know would be much happier not to have to constantly have to say no to their children. Banning marketing of food to children would help parents to do their job. It would make it just that little bit easier.

5. Excuse me, your privilege is showing. Must be nice to be a parent who has complete control over every bit of advertising your child is exposed to and who prefers to “just say no” to your child when they’re pitching a fit in the grocery store.

6. Sure, there are lots of serious issues facing society and children today. That doesn’t mean that we can only address food insecurity at the expense of all other issues. Similar to number 1, we can address many issues simultaneously, and banning advertising to children really doesn’t have any downside (unless you’re feeling sorry for cereal and pop manufacturers).

7. Y’all know JO drives me as batty as the next person but I’m not inclined to cut off my nose to spite my face. I’m happy to put aside my disdain for Jamie in support of ending marketing to children.

For more information on Marketing to Kids, and to support Bill S-228 in Canada, check out Stop Marketing to Kids.


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Battle of the baked beans: how supplements are winning the war on food

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By Linda Spashett Storye book (Own work) [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Did you hear about Heinz being found in breach of advertising guidelines? This in response to a commercial in which apparently (I can’t see the actual ad as they had to retract it) a man is drinking a beverage that’s “supercharged with high protein, high fibre, and minimal fat” after a run. A woman eating beans tells him that she’s having the same. Presumably a protein powder/beverage manufacturer took exception to this comparison and filed a complaint indicating that the Heinz was making the nutritional claim that beans contain the same amount of protein as a protein shake. And I’m just left smh about what a time this is to be alive.

I get that a serving of baked beans doesn’t have the same amount of protein as (most) protein shakes. The average protein shake contains about 25 grams of protein while a serving of Heinz baked beans contains about 9 grams (depending on the brand and how much you actually eat).

I’m not especially keen to promote canned baked beans and I can’t say that I’ve ever eaten them myself. However, I’m a little saddened that we live in a world in which the promotion of a whole food such as baked beans can be discouraged by the notion that an ultra-processed protein shake is somehow nutritionally superior by way of it’s higher protein content.

As we should have figured out by now, nutrition is greater than the sum of it’s parts. This is why most dietitians and other nutrition experts promote the consumption of whole foods to obtain nutrients. Supplements have a time and a place but for the average healthy human the majority of our nutrition should be coming from whole foods. This is why it’s depressing to see a protein shake win-out over a whole food in a marketing battle. How can naturally nutritious whole foods ever win a competition with ultra-processed supplements and food products with added micronutrients. It’s like putting a bunch of highly trained athletes up against some doped-up Russian team. It’s not a fair contest. But more of something isn’t always better, especially when it comes at the expense of something else.


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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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Who would you rather have as your nanny: Ronald McDonald or Justin Trudeau?

I just read an article about the proposed revisions to Canada’s Food Guide and an article about the predatory tactics of the food industry in Brazil back-to-back and was duly infuriated by both.

I was annoyed by the Food Guide article’s pitting of vegans against dairy farmers and the creation of drama where none is needed. The new Guide is going to be based on science, not industry, not special diet groups. There is nothing to indicate that dairy will be removed from the guide. Just relax. And so what if it takes the environment into account? The original food guide was intended to help prevent nutrient deficiencies during wartime rationing. Why not try to protect our planet while trying to promote healthy eating habits? After all, if we destroy the earth, nutrition won’t really be all that much of a concern. But I digress…

I read the comments on the divisive Food Guide article. I know, I know I should never read the comments. As a dietitian though, I like to know what I’m up against and what the public response is to a tool that I will likely have to promote and use in a professional capacity. Here are a few of them:

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There were people refuting this nonsense but the fact that so many people think that the government should play no role in promoting a healthy diet is baffling to me. Most people agree that diet-related chronic diseases are a significant concern in Canada but think that the government should do nothing to help people prevent them.

Then we have Nestle and other major food companies promoting unhealthy choices everywhere we go. The story of Brazil is particularly egregious but if you think that these companies care any more about residents of Canada, the US, or any other country, you’re sorely mistaken. Junk food marketing is ubiquitous, and it’s everywhere. From use of fast food as fundraisers for health charities to cartoon mascots on food products, to product placement in movies and tv shows, to sponsorship by food companies of athletic teams and events, to paid product placements in stores, and so on.

People complain bitterly about not wanting the government in their grocery carts or kitchens yet they gladly throw open their doors for the food industry. So many would rather have a company that only cares about profits telling them what to eat than a government that cares about improving the health of its citizens. The government isn’t forcing people to eat certain foods and never eat others. Even if milk was removed from the food guide entirely, it’s not like you’d have to start buying black market milk on the dark web. It’s just trying to provide guidance to people to help them make healthy choices.

You’re opposed to the nanny state are you? Well, we already have a nanny state and the food industry is running the show. It’s time for the government to take back some control and put industry in time-out.