Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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A recommended detox for @bonappetit

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I think that Bon Appetit is trolling me now. Why else would they come out with another article about detoxing?? This one about “How Chefs Diet When They Need to Hit the Reset Button” with the subheading: “If you’re going to detox, might as well do it like a chef”. No no no. Would you please cut it out with all the detox bullshit Bon Appetit. I read you for recipes, not for terrible health and nutrition advice. If I wanted that, I would be reading Goop.

What’s my issue here? Well, one: detoxes are a misguided waste of effort (and often money). You are not going to remove toxins from your system by drinking green juice. Your body is equipped to regularly remove toxins from your body through a finely tuned system involving your kidneys and liver. Any toxins remaining in your body are not going to be removed through fasting, juice, laxatives, etc.

Two: why would a chef be uniquely qualified to provide advice on “detoxing”? What training do chefs have on human physiology? Perhaps this lack of knowledge is precisely why some of them are needlessly detoxing and willing to contribute to a ridiculous piece, rife with misinformation, on how chefs detox.

What these chefs are doing is not detoxing, it’s crash dieting. I can understand why the notion that we can put unhealthy foods in our bodies most of the time and then remedy that through a day or week of dietary penance would be appealing. Most people would probably like to eat whatever they wanted most of the time and forsake vegetables for bacon. Unfortunately, that’s not the way the human body works. You can’t just fill yourself with nutrient void foods most of the time, starve yourself, and expect that to balance everything out. Fortunately, nutritious foods can be delicious. You don’t have to choose between flavour and health. You can follow a balanced diet all of the time and skip the unnecessary detoxes.

Bon Appetit, I know that you’re a food magazine so perhaps you’re not aware that detoxing is bullshit and that you’re sharing terrible advice. The trouble is, you have a huge readership who look to you for foodspiration and by publishing drivel like this you’re potentially doing them harm. In the future, I request that you kindly detox yourselves from writing about detoxing.

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5 ways fish oil supplements (probably won’t) help fat loss

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A friend recently suggested that I blog about this post touting the five ways that fish oil supplements help fat loss. Of course, the post contains no references for any of the claims so I had to do a little digging and guess at what the existing research supporting them might be. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. “They stimulate secretion of leptin, one of the hormones that decreases our appetite and promotes fat burning.”

The majority of studies I can find regarding fish oil and leptin involve mice, rats, or patients suffering from pancreatic cancer cachexia. Not exactly the general population. Off to examine.com where they reviewed two studies involving fish oil supplementation for women who were over weight. Neither study showed a significant influence of supplementation on serum leptin.

2. “They help us burn fat by activating the fat burning metabolic pathways in our liver.”

Back to examine.com (why do the work of slogging through google scholar when they’ve done it for me?). They found one study that showed no effect on metabolic rate as a result of fish oil metabolism.

3. “Fish oils encourage storage of carbs as glycogen (an energy source in our liver and muscles) rather than fat.”

Examine.com found one study that showed a very slight increase in fat oxidation with fish oil supplementation. Before you get too excited though, the study (the same as was noted in the response to “reason” number two above) participants were six lean and healthy young men. Probably not the population who is interested in taking fish oil for weight loss.

4. “They are natural anti-inflammatory agents. Inflammation causes weight gain and can prevent fat loss by interfering with our fat burning pathways in the liver and muscle cells.”

There were a lot more studies (17 to be precise) looking at this topic that were reviewed on examine.com. The results were a mixed bag. A few found a very small reduction in inflammatory markers in subjects taking fish oil supplements. However, most of the studies found no effect on inflammatory cytokines and it’s important to note that even if fish oil supplements do reduce inflammation in some individuals, we can’t be certain that this will lead to weight loss.

5. “They possess documented insulin-sensitizing effects.”

Examine.com looked at 12 studies and stated that the scientific consensus is 100% that fish oil supplementation has no effect on insulin sensitivity. There are, however, a few studies that have shown an increase in insulin sensitivity but also a few that have shown a decrease in insulin sensitivity.

Overall, there is no evidence to support the use of fish oil supplementation to lose weight. Of course, Dr. Natasha would want you to believe otherwise as the purchase of her fish oil supplements is an “essential component” of her “Hormone Diet”. Remember, it’s a red flag when someone is trying to sell you a quick fix.

Don’t forget, the best way you can get fish oil is to eat fish.


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Is your food ruining your mood?

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Image from pixabay

I fell down a scary nutrition rabbit hole the other day. You know when you’re reading an article and there’s links at the bottom for other news stories? And you know nothing good can come of them but you click them in spite (or maybe because) of that. I finished reading my perfecting innocuous story and then promptly clicked on the link to Food Ingredients that Might be Ruining Your Mood“. It was even worse (better?) than I had hoped and I just can’t resist tearing into it.

  1. White flour

“With no nutritional values attached to it, it stimulates blood to make high glucose content in our body whenever eaten. This causes your mood to swing considerably and makes you petulant with hunger.”

Um, basic lack of human physiology. Your blood doesn’t make glucose. Yes, foods with a high glycemic load can cause spikes in blood sugar. However, there are foods made predominantly from white flour (like pasta) that are actually have relatively low glycemic loads. While some people may experience mood swings resulting from low blood sugar which can occur after the initial spike in blood sugar following a high glycemic meal or snack white flour is not the only culprit and not everyone is affected in this manner. Also, there’s actually nutritional value attached to white flour such as energy, fibre, folate, iron, and selenium.

2.  Food Dye FD&C Red 40

“Studies have demonstrated that this ingredient can cause hypersensitivity in both children and adults.”

There is some limited research that indicates that this dye may cause hypersensitivity in humans. However, there is no reason to believe that it affects mood.

3. Hydrogenated Oils

“These highly processed oils create the unhealthiest form of fat known as trans fat. Our digestive system has to work twice as hard to simply digest these fats causing cholesterol levels in the blood to shoot up. Moreover, it has been proven that the consumption of hydrogenated oils leads to weight gain. Consuming these additives make you moody and create an illusion fog in the brain.”

I’d like to take a moment to point out that the photo used was of bottled oils, presumably canola, sunflower, or soy. This might lead to confusion for some as hydrogenation is a process that turns a liquid oil into a solid. A more fitting image would have been of partially-hydrogenated margarine or a solid shortening.

Your digestive system doesn’t have to work “twice as hard” to digest trans fats because it can’t digest them. The article is, however, correct in stating that consumption of man-made trans fats has a negative impact on your cholesterol. It can cause an increase in LDL while simultaneously decreasing HDL. Trans fat is certainly something we should avoid (aside from the naturally occurring trans fat in animal products such as dairy and meat) but there’s no reason to believe that it affects your mood or causes “brain fog”.

4. Aspartame

“It’s one of the toxic chemicals that have been associated with headaches, weight gain, and seizures which is why you should minimize or avoid its intake at all costs”

There’s actually no good scientific evidence to support the claims made in the article. I’m generally of the mind that a little of the “real thing” is a better choice but that doesn’t mean that aspartame is bad for you or affects your mood in anyway. Just that the “real thing” is likely to be more satisfying.

5. Food Dye FD&C Yellow 5

“It’s proven to cause severe health problems like asthma, nausea, and even mood disorders.”

This dye may cause health problems. However, as with pretty much everything else on this list there’s no indication that it affects mood.

6. Monosodium Glutamate

“Even a small amount of its consumption leads to dizziness, nausea, weakness, and anxiety.”

Many people believe that they’re sensitive to MSG. However, very few people actually are (exact numbers are uncertain as the existence of MSG intolerance is controversial). It’s even less likely that those affected experience any mood altering effects.

7. Sugar

“Consuming foods that include high-sugar content can lead to drastic health problems such as diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, depression, and not to forget the most common: obesity! If your sweet tooth really cannot resist sugary foods, then start off with consuming brown sugar as it’s a lot better than white sugar.”

Consuming too much of anything is bad for you. The same holds true for sugar as for flour (although it’s not as strong on the nutrient front). What I really want to point out here is that brown sugar is not a “lot better” for you than white sugar. It’s pretty much exactly the same thing. Brown sugar is just white sugar with molasses.

The only thing about these foods that will ruin your mood is if you’re a dietitian and read idiotic articles like this.


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Infographics; heavy on the graphics, light on the info

Every body loves a good infographic. They’re eye-catching, succinct ways of sharing information. The problem is, for the most part, they oversimplify complicated information. At best, that means that viewers end-up getting only a partial picture of an issue. At worst, that means that they hasten the spread of misinformation.

Take the example of the viral Coke infographic.

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This was all over the place a few weeks ago and it made me want to tear out my hair. Don’t get me wrong, I personally dislike Coke (and pop in general) and I’m no fan of their marketing to developing nations and children, but I don’t want to dissuade people from drinking Coke using questionable science. Since this infographic went viral fellow RD Andy Bellatti wrote an excellent piece about it.

Following hot on the footsteps of the original Coke infographic came the Diet Coke infographic:

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And then…

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As Andy points out in his article, such infographics only provide information (and not necessarily accurate information as many people aren’t consuming these beverages in isolation) about a brief period of time. There’s nothing about the long-term implications of regular or excessive consumption of these drinks, which is the real concern. An occasional Coke isn’t going to kill you. It’s the daily, often multiple times a day, consumption of Coke that becomes a concern.

These are just a very small example of the infographics out there. Even when infographics are grounded in good science and information, when taken on their own they may not tell you the whole story. Anyone can put together an infographic. If you want the full picture you need to look beyond the graphic and find more info.


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Reverse food snobbery: Who has time to cook lasagna after work?

My friend Meaghan shared the above infographic with me last week to see what I thought. I thought that it was worthy of a blog post.

I think that it’s over simplifying a complex issue. How can you possibly put frozen peas in the same category as a packaged frozen lasagna? Frozen peas (and other frozen vegetables) are picked and frozen at their prime, meaning that they’re often more nutritious than their “fresh” counterparts on grocery store shelves. However, as you can see, even with their selection of lasagna, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find a frozen lasagna that’s as healthy and nutritious as one that’s homemade. Who the heck is cooking lasagna as a weekday supper anyhow? Ain’t nobody got time for that! Let’s see some more realistic comparisons of quick and easy homemade suppers.

I’m not sure what the deal is with the packaged stir-fry pictured on the infographic. It appears to be a box but I would think that they’re referring to a frozen stir-fry mix. Sure, if you’re buying the frozen mixed vegetables without a sauce, they’re going to be easy to turn into a healthy stir-fry. However, if they’re already coated in a sauce you’re probably going to get more sodium, sugar, and fat (possibly trans fat) than you would if you made your own sauce.

Minimally processed packaged foods can be a great healthy time saver. However, you can’t equate buying pre-cut vegetables with a frozen tv dinner. As a dietitian, one of the main messages I hope to impart on people is the importance of cooking their own meals. If you’re trying to lose weight or just to be healthier this is probably the best thing you can do for yourself. And sorry, but taking a box out of the freezer and nuking it doesn’t count as cooking. I’d like to see the true cost of the frozen meals they’re pushing if you also factored in the shortened health-spans due to poor nutrition.

There’s also the not so subtle “reverse snobbery” (I’m stealing that one Meaghan) in the post accompanying the infographic. The implication that the average person doesn’t have time to cook and that their time is far too valuable to be spent *gasp* cooking. Yes, we’re all terribly busy, although we do somehow manage to find time to watch Big Brother or binge watch Orange is the New Black. I think that we, as a society, need to re-evaluate our priorities and put cooking right up near the top. The thing is, cooking doesn’t need to be a long torturous laborious process. There are plenty of healthy and delicious meals that you can whip up in less than half an hour after work. If you’re cooking for more than one, you can also enlist the help of other members of the household. You can prep ingredients the night before or batch cook on your days off. You can make extra portions so that you can have your own homemade nutritious frozen dinners ready to grab when you’re short on time. Cooking is not a luxury. It’s a necessity.