Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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What is a milk allergy?

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I can’t believe I haven’t written a post since August! I was naive to believe that I would have time to keep up with things like blogging with a newborn. Even as I type this I’m nursing her and it will probably take me a couple of days to finish writing this post. I’m not complaining, it’s just that my priorities have changed and feeding this little nugget takes up most of my time. However, feeding her has also prompted me to write this post. She has a suspected cow’s milk allergy (suspected because they won’t do allergy testing on infants) and by the comments I’ve gotten from people it seems that there’s a lot of misunderstanding about this allergy.

Food allergies in general are reactions to proteins found in foods. In the case of a cow’s milk allergy, that reaction is to either the whey and/or casein protein found in milk. Babies with a cow’s milk allergy will react to the protein passed to them through breastmilk as well as to the protein in most infant formulas. This means that breastfeeding moms must remove dairy from their diets. For some moms this may just mean obvious sources of dairy such as milk, cheese, and yoghurt (note: eggs are not dairy – I actually read an article by a doctor listing eggs as dairy *face-palm*). More sensitive babies may require complete removal of all dairy-containing foods from their diets, even foods in which a milk product is a very minor ingredient. Babies who are formula-fed will require special hypoallergenic formula in which the proteins are broken-down so that they can digest them.

A cow’s milk allergy is not the same as lactose intolerance which is a reaction to the lactose which is a milk sugar, not a protein. Lactose intolerance is actually extremely uncommon in infants as lactose is present in breastmilk. Generally, lactose intolerance is something that develops as children age. This means that lactose-free dairy products are unsafe for people with cow’s milk allergy and mom’s who are breastfeeding babies with this allergy.

Some people with cow’s milk allergy may tolerate goat’s milk. Goat’s milk contains casein but a slightly different version than that found in cow’s milk. However, the similar structure means that some people who are allergic to cow’s milk will also react to goat’s milk.

In things that I never thought would be an issue: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked if a baked good is dairy-free and received the response that they contain gluten. Huh? I’m not sure if this is indicative of people genuinely not knowing what dairy and/or gluten is or if it’s a result of avoidance of both these things being trendy. For those who genuinely may not be aware: dairy is products made from cow’s milk such as ice cream, cheese, yoghurt, milk, and butter. Gluten is a protein found in some grains, wheat being the most commonly consumed.

Do you have a food allergy? I’d love to hear your stories of ignorant comments below.


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Is it possible that chocolate milk actually saved Andrew Scheer’s son’s life?

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The other evening I was alerted to the latest absurdity in politicizing things that should not be politicized by an Instagram story posted by a fellow RD (thanks Pamela). I promptly went on a rant to my poor boyfriend and the fetus who made a valiant effort to escape my rage by pushing through my belly. This is precisely why I’m taking a break from twitter. It took some deep breaths and a chapter of a book to calm me down enough to go to sleep. So, now I’m going to dredge it all up and rant to you.

Okay, so this is probably old news by the time you’re reading this but I still need to get it all out. Did you see the utterly absurd news story about the esteemed federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer speaking at the Dairy Farmers’ of Canada annual meeting? If not, you can check it out for yourself. Highlights include his pledge to review the new Food Guide. Why? Because, according to him, “the process was flawed” and there was a “complete lack of consultation”. Are you shitting me Andrew?!!! There was SO MUCH consultation. I know this because I, like any other Canadian, was able to participate in the process. I’m not sure where he came up with the idea that there was no consultation but I’m pleased to see our Health Minister Ginette Petitpas calling him out for “spreading lies”. Maybe his issue was that industry and lobby groups were not invited to the table. However, they were all perfectly welcome to provide input in the same manner as anyone else in Canada, and boy did they attempt to use their clout to influence the process.

Scheer then proceeded to claim that “chocolate milk saved my son’s life”. I know you want to win over the farmers buddy but that is an utterly absurd comment. Apparently his son was a “picky eater” and somehow the consumption of chocolate milk was the only thing that saved him from imminent death. I mean, come on. If your child is only eating toast, bacon, and “very plain grilled meats” as Scheer claimed then chocolate milk ain’t gonna save his life. This is just another shining example of someone who thinks they’re an expert in nutrition because they eat. If your child is a “picky eater” may I be so bold as to suggest working with a registered dietitian to promote life-long healthy eating habits before stocking up your fridge with chocolate milk.

That’s not even the best part though, he went on to say that, “The idea that these types of products that we’ve been drinking as human beings and eating as human beings for millennia — that now all of a sudden they’re unhealthy — it’s ridiculous.” Um… We haven’t been drinking chocolate milk (at least not as we know it now) for millennia but let’s assume he meant milk in general. Nowhere in the new guide does it advise against drinking milk. No one from Health Canada has claimed that milk is “unhealthy”. Milk, and dairy, are still included in the Food Guide. I’d also like to note that there are many people in the world who are unable to digest the lactose in milk or who suffer from milk allergies or who choose not to consume dairy products and who somehow manage to live long healthy lives without the regular consumption of chocolate milk.

I find it completely enraging that the current brand of Conservative seems to think that the best thing they can do is to undo everything that the previous Liberal government has done before them. In addition, it is unconscionable that politicians are politicizing our health and well-being. Evidence-based measures, policies, and healthcare should be non-partisan issues and politicians should not be sacrificing the welfare of the residents of Canada in order to win votes from industry groups.


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Is it #NutritionMonth2019 or #DairyFarmersofCanadaMonth and #AvocadosofMexicoMonth?

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We need to talk about Nutrition Month. More specifically, we need to talk about Dietitians of Canada’s Nutrition Month recipes. It’s been a long time (back in 2012 to be specific) since I wrote about the issue of sponsorship in regard to DC’s Nutrition Month materials. To be honest, I feel like a bit of a traitor doing it (DC does many great things to advocate for dietitians), but I think that it’s a real issue. Accepting sponsorship for Nutrition Month is undermining DC’s (and by association all Canadian dietitian’s) credibility.

When DC first released their Nutrition Month recipes I was disappointed, but not surprised, to see that they were sponsored by Dairy Farmers of Canada and Avocados from Mexico. Don’t get me wrong, I consume both dairy and avocados. This is not to cast aspersions on either of those foods. However, I think that a dietetic organization accepting sponsorship from the food industry (no matter what the foods are) creates a conflict of interest. I also think that there are additional reasons why featuring these particular foods in DC resources is problematic. I’ll get into that a little later. So, as I said, I wasn’t surprised. This is nothing new for DC. I had a little rant with my RD colleagues (one of whom also happened to point out that the content of the handouts, aside from the recipes was simply duplicated from last year, sigh) and then let it go.

My frustration was reignited last week when fellow RD, Pamela Fergusson voiced her concern about the industry sponsorship of Nutrition Month on Instagram last week. She’s also written an excellent blog post about this issue that you should read.

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That got me curious so I went on the Nutrition Month website and counted how many times dairy and avocados appear in their featured recipes. Out of ten recipes, eight include dairy and four include avocados. There are 12 additional recipes on their handouts, eleven of these include dairy and six include avocados. That’s a lot of dairy and avocados!

While I love avocados, they are freaking expensive. They’re usually about $2 a piece at the grocery store here. Given that food insecurity is an issue across Canada, DC even has position papers on both individual and household and community food insecurity, it struck me as a little inappropriate for them to so prominently feature a food that’s not within the budget for many Canadians. Even for those who don’t struggle with food insecurity, avocados are often more of a luxury item than a staple food. The same goes for many dairy products, particularly cheese, which is featured in many of the DC Nutrition Month recipes. Realistically, who’s making a “crab and remoulade sandwich” for lunch??

In addition to the issue of cost, there’s the lack of alignment with the new Food Guide. Despite what many people would have you believe, milk (and dairy products) have not been removed from the new Food Guide. They’ve simply been incorporated into the new “protein foods” grouping. However, there is a strong emphasis on choosing plant-based sources of protein more often. I realize that DC would have already developed their resources before the new Food Guide came out. Even so, the old Food Guide only recommended two servings of milk (and alternatives) daily for adults. No matter which Food Guide you look at, it doesn’t make sense that DC would feature dairy in the majority of their Nutrition Month recipes.

This takes me to one last issue that I stumbled upon while tallying up the recipes featuring dairy and/or avocados. That issue is the nutrition information for the Turmeric Basil Roasted Turkey Burger. This burger contains 936 calories, 48 grams of fat (9.1 g of which are saturated), and 773 mg of sodium. To put that in perspective, that’s 416 more calories and 20 grams more fat than are in a big mac (177 mg less sodium though). It’s about 3/4 of a day’s recommended maximum intake of fat and over 1/3 of the maximum recommended intake for sodium. That’s just in one burger! I thought for sure this had to be a mistake so I tweeted at DC to ask them about it. This is the reply I received:

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A “hearty” burger indeed! As much as I believe that all foods fit and that having treats is part of a healthy diet, I really don’t think that a recipe like this is appropriate for a dietetic organization to be promoting. When people are looking for recipes from Dietitians of Canada they’re looking for recipes that meet certain nutrition criteria. They’re looking for recipes that are going to provide them with a reasonable number of calories, not too much fat or salt or sugar and plenty of vitamins and minerals. I think it undermines their credibility as an organization when they allow sponsors (such as Avocados of Mexico who developed this recipe) to be put ahead of the public who rely on dietitians for unbiased nutrition information.


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Is milk out?

I’ve been hearing a number of complaints and concerns about the new Food Guide. The one I’ve been hearing the most is that “dairy is out”. I’d like to dispel that. No, dairy is not “out”. Yes, the “milk and alternatives” food group is gone; as is “meat and alternatives” but milk and dairy products still fit within the protein group in the new guide.

The Food Guide now recommends a proportion-based approach to eating, rather than a more prescriptive portion-based approach. Rather than telling you how many servings of each food group to have every day, and how big a serving is, the new guide simply advises you make half your plate vegetables (and fruit), one quarter protein foods, and the other quarter whole grains. It promotes consuming plant-based protein foods “more often”. This is pretty subjective and should – in theory – make it a lot easier for people to adopt. For some people this may mean consuming plant-based protein foods in larger amounts than animal-based proteins. For others, this may mean consuming plant-based sources of protein more often than they usually do. In a country that’s extremely meat-centric this could mean something as simple as adding more beans to a chili and cutting back on the meat slightly.

I’d also like to point out that given that a quarter of your plate should be devoted to protein foods you can easily mix and match to your heart’s content. This might mean that you have lentils and salmon (like I did last night), cheese and bean casserole, tofu and chicken, etc. It might mean that at one meal your protein comes from milk or meat but that at another it comes from legumes or nuts. Snacks can (and generally should) also include a source of protein. If you eat three meals and two snacks a day this means that there are ample opportunities for you to consume protein from a variety of foods, including milk products if you desire.

Personally, I think that having a food group specifically for milk (and alternatives) was unwarranted and I’m glad to see it go. There are many people who can’t consume milk products (due to lactose intolerance or an allergy) as well as those who choose not to and it is entirely possible to consume a nutritious diet without the inclusion of milk. For those who are concerned about where people will get their vitamin D and calcium from without milk products there are other food sources of these nutrients.

Vitamin D is pretty near impossible to consume enough of through food sources alone anyway, at least during the winter months in Canada and Health Canada recommends all adults over the age of 50 take a supplement of 400 IU/d. I’d also like to point out that milk is fortified with vitamin D as are most plant-based milk alternatives (always check the label to be sure). Other food sources of vitamin D include: egg yolks, salmon and other fatty fish, some meats, and other fortified foods which may include things such as orange juice and cereal.

Non-dairy food sources of calcium include: dark leafy greens (like spinach, collards, and kale), soy beverage, canned fish (eat those bones!), tofu (if prepared with calcium), beans, nuts, seeds, and even blackstrap molasses.

If you are concerned that you may not be meeting your nutrient needs through your diet I recommend keeping a food journal and making an appointment with a registered dietitian.


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In the chocolate milk war which side will you take?

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A school in Ottawa decided to no-longer offer chocolate milk to students as part of their milk program. This, I should add, was based on a vote taken at a parent council meeting. Predictably, a bunch of parents, students, and assorted individuals from all over the province are outraged at this infringement on their freedom. This despite the fact that chocolate milk has not been banned from the school, the school is simply no-longer selling it to the kids.

I’m listening to the radio call-in program about this outrage and quite frankly I feel like throwing up my hands, saying eat and drink what ever you damn want, and going off to farm alpacas or something similar that will simultaneously allow me to forsake my current profession and keep contact with human beings at a bare minimum. I mean honestly, what is wrong with people. It is that vital that your child have chocolate milk at school once a week that you’re launching a protest over the removal of chocolate milk from the school milk program but you can’t be assed to pick up a carton of chocolate milk at the store to send to school in your child’s lunch? Do you not normally buy groceries? How do you feed your child outside of school if it’s too much of an ordeal to dump a cup of chocolate milk in a container and pop it in your kid’s lunch box? Lest you think I’m exaggerating, just listen to the first guest on the show. This is literally her argument. If you want your child to have chocolate milk so badly, give it to them yourself. You can let your kid guzzle chocolate milk at home until the cows come home.

Then, there are people arguing that kids should get chocolate milk as part of the school milk program because this may be the only little bit of nutrition they get. That may well be true (and this is incredibly sad) but may I be so bold as to point out that white milk is still available through the program? As my friend Yoni has often argued, suggesting that children be given chocolate milk for the nutrition in milk is like arguing that they be given apple pie for the nutrition in fruit.

I think that many of the people arguing for keeping chocolate milk on-offer in schools have fallen for the marketing hype and genuinely think that chocolate milk is a “health” food. There was one dad who called in and said that his kids drink chocolate milk every day and nothing else sweet, except juice. But he was all for pop being banned in schools because kids get too much sugar. Well, one cup of orange juice has 22 grams of sugar, the same amount of pop has 26 grams, and chocolate milk has 24 grams. That’s not a huge difference. If sugar is your concern, then chocolate milk and pop are on par with each other.

Removing chocolate milk from a school milk program is not denying parents the right to give their children chocolate milk. It’s removing one source in a landscape that is saturated in chocolate milk, pop, juice, sports drinks, and energy drinks. Should any and all foods be available for purchase in schools? Schools do not have an obligation to act as grocery stores. They do not have to sell any and all products that a child might desire. Making white milk the only option (for sale) in schools helps to make the healthy choice the default for students.

There is no good reason for schools to be offering children chocolate milk as part of their milk programs. I applaud this school for taking the initiative to remove the option of chocolate milk from their program. Schools should be places where children learn and that includes learning healthy behaviours, including making healthy food choices. Schools should not be profiting from selling children foods that should not be a regular part of their diets. It’s disgraceful that some parents think that daily delivery of chocolate milk is a greater priority than the actual health and well-being of their children. So much so that they are willing to publicly fight against a decision that was made with the children’s best interest at heart. If they have this much time and passion about school nutrition maybe they can take some of that energy and put it into fighting for a national school lunch program. You know, something that would actually benefit children. Sorry if I sound a little harsh but it frustrates me to no-end that people are so self-centred that they are unwilling to put the well-being of children, both their own, and others ahead of their own uninformed opinions. Cry me a freaking river (of chocolate milk).