Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Should moderation have a place on your plate?

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I found myself getting annoyed by this article as I was reading it. While I agree that “moderation” is not the best term to use when referring to eating habits, I don’t agree with the way that this article characterized it.

According to the article, “moderation” should be done away with because there are some foods that we should eat lots of and other foods that we should avoid. I’m more inclined to think that we should do away with “moderation” because it’s not clearly defined in terms of a balanced diet. I see nothing wrong with the sentiment that all foods can be a part of a healthy diet. However, instead of “moderation” we should probably be talking about “every day” foods and “sometimes” foods.

As the article states, we should be eating plenty of vegetables and fruits. Few would dispute that. Where the article and I disagree is about the inclusion of “sugary treats” in a healthy diet. The article states that “none” is better than “moderate” amounts. Well, sure if you’re treating all foods equally in terms of “moderation”. Of course you shouldn’t consume equal quantities of doughnuts and brussels sprouts. I don’t think that doughnuts (or whatever sweet treat it is that you enjoy) have to be entirely eliminated from your diet in order to be healthy. What good is a healthy diet if you’re miserable and hate it? If you’re happy never eating doughnuts, that’s cool. I’m happy for you. Most of us aren’t.

The main study cited to support Ludwig’s argument against moderation is not as cut and dry as he’d have us believe. Ludwig wants us to think that the study was stopped short because those in the control diet (who were advised to eat a low-fat diet) were at greater risk of death than those in the experimental groups (i.e. one assigned to a Mediterranean diet high in extra-virgin olive oil and one assigned to a Mediterranean diet high in nuts). The study was actually concluded early because the researchers had sufficient data to draw conclusions. Continuing it would be unnecessary for their purposes but it wasn’t putting participants lives at risk. Indeed, there was no significant difference in mortality between the groups. Although there was slightly greater risk of stroke among the control group.

This study has been highly criticized for a number of reasons. One reason being that the diets followed by each group weren’t actually all that different from each other; the low-fat control group didn’t actually consume a low-fat diet. However, the Mediterranean groups were given regular counselling sessions while the control group was not. It’s possible that this counselling alone could have accounted for the slightly lower stroke risk in the experimental groups in comparison to the control group. The study allegedly only included participants at high-risk of cardiovascular disease. As no difference in mortality was seen between the groups what are the chances that following any of these diet conditions would improve health outcomes for the general population?

Besides the study mentioned by Ludwig, the article mentions a few other studies which I don’t feel it’s quite as worthwhile to examine closely. Primarily because they’re like “duh Captain Obvious”. Although it’s quite possible that their designs were also not great, as we so often see with nutrition research. Anyway… They tells us of a study that found that people who eat a high variety of sweets and condiments but a low variety of vegetables “made people fatter”. Another study found that eating “plenty” of vegetables lowered the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.

The conclusion of the article:

The takeaway? The quality of the foods you’re eating matters more than the relative quantity. In other words, what you eat matters – not just its amount.

It’s probably time to stop saying, “everything is OK in moderation.” Some things just aren’t.

My conclusion: eat plenty of vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and fruit. These foods should be the foundation of any healthy diet. However, there are other foods that we eat for pleasure like pastries, chocolates, and potato chips. You don’t have to eliminate these foods from your diet to be healthy. Treat them as treats. The occasional cookie won’t kill you.


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Guest post: The Great Nova Scotia Cake Walk Debacle…Part Two?

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Today’s blog post was kindly contributed by dietitian-in-training Sarah Anstey. Thanks Sarah!

The Great Nova Scotia Cake Walk Debacle…Part Two?

It’s that time of year again! Cakes are coming out of the oven, hot dogs are coming out of their packages, and parents are coming out of the woodwork armed with an embarrassingly long list of reasons why their little darlings deserve a treat. You guessed it! It’s spring fling season in Nova Scotia.

The spring fling is a traditional year-end fundraising event held at many Nova Scotia schools. In recent years, spring flings across the province have been the root of some controversy and this year has been no exception. Diana Chard blogged about “The Great Nova Scotia Cake Walk Debacle” last year and has asked me to write a guest post for her blog voicing my thoughts about this years article on the topic featured in the Chronicle Herald.

The focus of the article is how nutritionally void foods being served at school events and fundraisers go against the mission of the “health advocates who believe that schools should be safe havens from the constant barrage of junk food that children are faced with daily, and places where healthy eating is modeled and reinforced to promote life-long health”. The authors, a posse of concerned academics, point out the undeniable contrast between the Food and Nutrition Policy for Nova Scotia Public Schools and the foods that are provided at many school events.

I strongly believe that children should have access to affordable, socially acceptable, delicious, nutrient-rich foods while at school. I also believe in making “the healthy choice the easy choice”, as the Food and Nutrition Policy promotes, by eliminating access to highly processed convenience foods full of fat, salt, and sugar. However, I love cakewalks. I love ice cream. I love a burger or two in the summer. In a perfect world these foods would truly be “treats” and there would be no problem with having them in schools for special events. I think that by trying to bury these foods in red tape and paperwork our grand plans for long and healthy lives for our children will backfire and we are going to catapult these poor kids into a future of closet eating and shame.

My point is that we are fighting a Sisyphean battle. The war of the cake walks is laughable. It’s like finding a soggy cannoli in the worst bakery in town. Sometimes the entire bakery needs an overhaul. Don’t waste your time on a soggy cannoli! We have a global issue to tackle and the solution starts at home. It starts with educating our children about how to make healthy choices, how to grocery shop, how to budget for food, how to grow a vegetable, how to cook basic healthy meals.

I’m not looking to start a debate about the school food policy and have no interest in the politics attached to it. I won’t even begin to delve into the fact that the policy came into effect seven years ago, but no one has been able to figure out if cakewalks go against the policy or not…….seriously though, is the spring fling a “special function” or a “fundraiser”?

It makes me so sad to hear parents talk about how cake walks only happen once a year and how “everything is okay in moderation”. WAKE UP PEOPLE! Moderation no longer exists in our culture. Yes, cakewalks are special. Yes, they only happen once a year, but most children (and adults) are eating cake, fast food, and other nutrient poor foods on a daily basis. When the day comes when cake is actually a rare treat then I would gladly welcome a cakewalk in schools.

Thanks to Diana Chard for allowing me to voice my concerns on this issue.

Sarah Anstey

Dietetic Intern, Nova Scotia

@SarahAnstey7


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Cheeseburger stuffed pizza

I’m sure that by now you’ve heard that Pizza Hut has created a “cheeseburger stuffed pizza”. Personally, I think that this sounds revolting. Don’t get me wrong I love pizza and I love a good burger but in my mind those items do not belong together. It’s also got me to thinking about this interesting dichotomy we’re seeing in the world of food these days. As people become increasingly health conscious there also seems to be a growing proliferation of over-the-top decadent creations. It’s like we’re thumbing our noses at health professionals (yep, I’d be one of those) who are preaching the importance of eating a healthy diet. Little do we realise that we’re only hurting ourselves. No skin off my nose if you want to wash down a cheeseburger stuffed pizza with a large pop. Okay, actually, it drives me nuts! WHY would you want to do that??? I understand the allure of duck fat fries and I am the same girl who hosted a bacon-themed potluck for my birthday a couple of years back. I’m okay with a little decadence now and then. But use it wisely and in moderation. Realise that whether you’re having a double down at KFC or a gourmet steak and those aforementioned duck fat fries that this should be a very occasional occurrence and you probably shouldn’t eat the entire portion. This is not how you should be eating on a regular, or even semi-regular, basis.