Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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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.


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Lemon water: Nature’s greatest cure?

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Can I just say no? No? Okay, for the sake of a post longer than one sentence and for the sake of argument, I’ll go through this list.

1. Lemon is a natural energizer it hydrates and oxygenates the body so it feels revitalized and refreshed

Run on sentence not withstanding, this statement is untrue. The amount of oxygen in your blood is very closely regulated by your body. It is possible to have low blood oxygen (hypoxemia) but none of the myriad causes can be resolved by the consumption of lemon water.

2. Boosts your immune system

Sadly, there is no such thing as an “immune booster”. While lemon juice does contain vitamin C (which has had mixed results in studies of its effect on colds) one wedge of lemon contains less than 4 mg of vitamin C, nowhere near a supplementary dose.

3. Balances pH

Your body does an excellent job of regulating blood pH and diet will not impact that. If it did, many of us would die from the fluctuations in pH level. For more on this subject, I have an older post on the pH diet.

4. Flush out unwanted materials

Well, your kidneys are going to filter any “unwanted materials” (what are we even talking about here?) and you’ll excrete them in your urine regardless of your consumption of lemon water or not.

5. Decrease wrinkles and blemishes

Sorry, as we age we all get wrinkles. As for blemishes, they’re caused by bacteria on our skin and consumption of lemon water is not going to affect them.

6. Relive tooth pain

This one kind of blows my mind. I know it’s anecdotal, but I have little enamel on my molars due to grinding and while I enjoy a nice glass of lemon (or lime) water now and again but I can’t drink it regularly because it makes my teeth hurt. An acidic beverage is not going to do anything to alleviate tooth pain. If anything, it’s liable to increase it.

7. Relieves respiratory problems

There are a lot of respiratory problems: asthma, COPD, emphysema, allergies, bronchitis, and cystic fibrosis, to name a few. Lemon water will not treat or cure any of them. I can only guess that this is another benefit falsely attributed to lemon juice due to its vitamin C content.

8. Cures throat infections

It is possible that the acidity of the lemon juice could destroy some bacteria if the cause of the throat infection is bacterial. Of course, any benefit will be dependent upon the cause of the infection.

9. Excellent for weight loss

Where to even begin? Consuming fewer calories than you expend is the simplified explanation of weight loss. Adding lemon to your water will not contribute to weight loss, unless you’re replacing caloric beverages like pop or juice with lemon water.

10. Reduces fever

Fever is actually often important for fighting off illness. Unless fever becomes extremely high, it’s best to let it run its course. There’s also no evidence that lemon water can reduce a fever.

11. Blood purifier

Please tell me you’re not injecting lemon water into your veins. How do you think that lemon water would effectively purify your blood? Just because lemons work well in floor cleaners doesn’t mean that they’re any good at cleaning your blood. That’s actually the job of your kidneys and if they’re not up to the task you may need dialysis. A glass of lemon water is not going to suffice.

Lemon water can be a delightful beverage and a fun way to spruce up your water. However, besides hydration, it’s not going to impart any magical health benefits.


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Dr Oz: regular dose of bull

A part of me says that I should stop blogging about terrible advice given by Dr Oz. I know that I’m largely preaching to the choir. However, as long as he keeps spewing incorrect, and potentially dangerous advice, I can’t help but hope that some of his devotees will stumble across my rantings and question his assertions. So… What has he done now? Check out this tweet:

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In the past, aloe vera latex was used to treat constipation. However, due to concerns about dependency, it was removed from the market in 2002 (1). Aloe vera juice may also be effective as a laxative (2); however, there are additional concerns (3) to take into consideration before making blanket recommendations. As many pregnant women suffer from constipation, I think that it’s important to mention that consumption of aloe vera (juice or gel or latex) is not recommended during pregnancy as there is a risk of uterine contractions.

Considering that there are numerous concerns surrounding the supplemental use of aloe vera, and many known safe and effective ways to improve regularity, the recommendation that people drink aloe juice daily to relieve constipation is baffling. Stick to the tried and true: increase fibre (through whole grains, seeds (such as ground flax and chia, legumes, fruits, and vegetables, and possibly a supplement) and water intake, try prune juice, exercise, coffee (if you are able to consume caffeine). Some medications and medical conditions may cause constipation. If this is something that you’re experiencing on a regular basis, you should check with your doctor to see if a medication can be changed or if there is an underlying condition causing your constipation.

 


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30+ bananas a day is bananas

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Originally, I wasn’t going to comment on a recent article spouting nutrition nonsense. As fired-up as I was, I felt that addressing the article would only provide more publicity for the individual featured in the article. I was torn between commenting on her ridiculous (and dangerous) assertions and leaving it alone because I think that giving this woman more coverage may do more harm than good. After mulling it over, I’ve decided to comment on the article without linking to it and without naming the woman featured. If you’ve already heard of her, I’m sure that you’ll have no trouble figuring out to whom I’m referring, even if you haven’t, you can likely google her quite easily. Still, I don’t want to assist anyone in accessing her foolishness.

Getting to the point… The article begins by discussing her belief that chemotherapy is deadly and that a raw vegan diet “will heal your body”. Yes, chemotherapy is dangerous and extremely hard on your body. It’s basically about finding the balance between the amount of toxins that will kill the cancer but not the patient. And yes, good nutrition is important for health. However, the notion that a raw vegan diet will cure cancer is total bunk and telling people to choose this over medical treatment is potentially harmful.

She also insists that losing her period on her raw vegan diet was healthy because “my feeling at the time that it felt good. At the time I think it need to happen for my body to balance out”. Since then, she has resumed having her period but they are very light. She alleges that having a period is your body ridding itself of toxicity. Umm… Actually, your period is your body shedding the unused uterine lining prepped for pregnancy every month. Not having your period (amenorrhea) is the opposite of evidence of good health. It’s an indication that your body is lacking in nutrients as it is unable to support a pregnancy. Suggesting that women who experience painful and heavy periods are consuming unhealthy diets is both incorrect and unfair to women who suffer from endometriosis.

The article mentions that she suffered from anorexia and bulimia before finding health with the raw food vegan diet. She prides herself on eating massive quantities of fruit (sometimes 50 bananas in a day!) as part of this diet, which is nearly all carbohydrate, very low in fat and protein. To me, this appears to be just another manifestation of an eating disorder. She mentions the weight loss she experienced after starting this diet and posts many photos of herself that look like those you would see on proana or fitspo sites. This bizarre eating pattern and obsession with food is not indicative of a healthy lifestyle. Yes, her figure may make her diet tempting for those who wish to be very thin. However, it is not healthy, and her advice is woefully incorrect and not based in scientific fact. Please do not be drawn in by internet sensations who promote dangerous self-serving agendas.