Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Follow Friday: Fermentation Festival

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I know I swore off food festivals after the disappointment that was Cheesefest this year and Taste the County last year but I’m pretty confident that the Fermentation Festival will be different. For one thing, it’s a steal at only $8 admission. There’s not much you can do for $8 these days. Even if it ends up being a bust (which I’m pretty sure it won’t) at least you’re only out less than 10 bucks. For another thing, fermented foods are awesome and there’s so much innovation happening in that area these days. Probably the highlight of Cheesefest for me was the fermented cashew spread (think a sort of thick tangy hummus that take avocado toast to the next level). I can’t wait to see what other new products are on the market, or in development, and where better to find out than an entire festival devoted to said products?

In addition to loads of samples, there are lots of fun activities planned for all ages throughout the day. Think you make the best home ferments? Enter the amateur ferment competition. Want to learn more about fermented foods, the importance of microbes for our health, or how to make your own fermented foods? Attend one of the many workshops going on throughout the day. Kids in tow? Take them to the interactive activities where they can learn, make crafts, and colour. No kids in tow? Check out the beer and wine garden; classic fermented beverages!

The Fermentation Festival is taking place on Saturday, August 19th at the Crystal Palace in Picton. For more information, check out the link above or visit the facebook page where updates are being posted regularly. Hope to see you there!

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Prebiotic vs probiotic

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I came across this short but confused and confusing article a few weeks ago. The article is referencing a study on the effect of prebiotics on maternal weight gain (in rats) during pregnancy. Fairly straightforward until I read the statement: “Dr. Raylene Reimer gave prebiotics – found in food like yogurt or sauerkraut – helped to reduce fat in pregnant rats who were on a high fat and sugar diet.” See my confusion? Either the study involved prebiotics, which are fibre, or the study involved probiotics, which are bacteria (found in cultured and fermented foods such as the ones given in the example).

I found the actual journal article on the study to find out if the research had involved prebiotics or probiotics. It was prebiotics. So, the author of the news article was correct in stating “prebiotics” but confused about what prebiotics actually are. No wonder so many people confuse the two when talking about prebiotics and probiotics. And, to be fair, the terms are incredibly similar.

My trick for remembering the difference between the two? “Pre” means before, and I always think of prebiotics as being what probiotics need before they can grow. Before you can have a healthy gut microbiome, you need food for that bacteria to flourish. That food is the fibre (like that found in grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds).


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Eat for your microbes: lose weight fast, gain control of your blood sugar in only one week!

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Photo by Pacific Northwest Laboratory on flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

I know that I really shouldn’t comment on this research without reading the actual journal article but that hasn’t been published yet and I can’t resist jumping into the fray. Is there a fray? Not really. I just keep seeing people retweeting this and everyone seems all excited about the possibility of these individualized and I need to put a little rain on the parade.

The article starts off sounding great. Who doesn’t want a bespoke diet? Considering the number of people who have asked me as a dietitian to “just tell me what to eat” I think that most people want someone to hand them a nice little meal plan. Of course, most meal plans would be “bespoke” in a sense as any professional worth their credentials is going to tailor the menu to the client. But, I’m not here to quibble about what exactly makes a meal plan bespoke.

So, apparently the researchers looked at how different people react (in terms of blood sugar) to the consumption of different foods. They found a wide range of responses and linked those responses to the types of gut microbes residing in the participants digestive tracts. Then in another study (of only 20 participants) each participants was given a unique diet to control blood sugar and one that was designed to increase blood sugar. Unfortunately, the diets aren’t described in the article so it’s hard to say how much they differed for each participant. There’s also no explanation as to how this ties in to the earlier research looking at the microbiome. In a shocking turn of events, on the diets designed to control blood sugar some (again the article doesn’t indicate how many) participants blood sugar levels returned to normal. On the “bad” diets they had blood sugar spikes that “would be described as glucose intolerant” according to one of the researchers. Essentially, they exhibited diabetes or similar conditions.

The article then goes on to say that this research somehow shows that calories aren’t the only player when it comes to weight loss. What? I thought the research was looking at blood glucose levels. There was no mention of weight change in participants. While I certainly agree that there are many other factors at play, in addition to calorie consumption when it comes to weight management, I fail to see how this research examined this issue at all.

What makes me a little more leery about this study is that the researcher says it’s surprising that ice cream (for example) doesn’t cause huge blood sugar spikes, and that buttered bread has less impact on blood glucose than unbuttered bread. Have these people not heard of glycemic load before? Of course blood glucose responses are going to be mitigated when high carbohydrate foods are consumed with fat or protein. That’s why it’s important to look at how people are consuming foods rather than examining the effect of specific foods in isolation.

I’m trying to withhold full judgement until the research is published. I think that the human microbiome is a fascinating emerging area of research. However, on the basis of this article all I’m envisioning are more scam diet books urging people to eat for their microbes.


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Follow Friday: @americangut

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I’m just finishing up a short course on the human microbiome on coursera. While we’re only just beginning to scrape the surface of our understanding of how microbes affect our health it’s a fascinating subject. Did you know that bacteria that are beneficial in your gut may be harmful if they’re found in another part of your body? Obviously your diet can transform your gut microbiome but what effect does it have on your health? It seems that exercise also affects the composition of your gut microbiome. In turn, your microbiome may impact your hormones and neurotransmitters.

You can get in on the ground floor of human microbiome research by supporting the American Gut Project. By pledging your support you can get a kit to send them samples of your microbes. In turn, you’ll receive an analysis of your microbes and see how they compare to others in the study. Despite the name, citizens of countries other than American are welcomed to participate as this can help to provide a larger picture of the human microbiome. The analysis is not intended to diagnose any medical conditions, it simply shows you the prevalence and variety of microbes in your gut at a given moment in time (and other areas of your body depending how much you pledge). However, you’re contributing to some really exciting research that will hopefully lead to greater insight into what your microbiome may mean for your health and well being.


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Food poisoning: the manly way to get sick

Now that summer’s finally here I thought I’d give you all a little refresher course on food safety. This will probably be old news to most of you, but maybe not… I was recently asked, “Do you think this sandwich is safe for me to eat?” It was a deli meat sandwich, turkey I believe, that had been unrefrigerated all day. I said, “No!”. This prompted a discussion in which it was implied that eating said sandwich would be the manly decision. Really?? Why the heck is risking food poisoning manly? Unless manly is now synonymous with foolhardy hmm… Anyway, I digress.

It’s important to keep foods at safe temperatures to inhibit microbial growth. That means the aforementioned sandwich should have been stored at 4C, or cooler. And once it was at room temperature it should have been eaten within two hours. After two hours in the “danger zone” you’re at increased risk for food poisoning. The foods that pose the greatest risks are moist, high-protein foods. Things like meat, poultry, fish, tofu, eggs, and cheese.

I could go on and on about food safety. There’s lots more to it than simply keeping cold foods cold and hot foods hot, but those are two of the key tips, especially at this time of year when picnics and BBQs are commonplace.