Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Top 10 food and medicine myths brought to you by Big Food and Big Pharma

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Image by publik15 on flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

I know that everyone was rejoicing recently because Natural News was blacklisted from Google search results. However, it seems that such jubilation was a tad premature. Natural News wasn’t disappeared because of its propensity for propagating fake news and it’s right back in Google searches less than a month later. So, I feel that it’s worthwhile to respond to some of the nonsense that they’re spouting.

This article on the Top 10 Food and Medicine Myths You Probably Fell for at Some Point  particularly amused me due to the suggestion that “Big Food” and “Big Pharma” are in bed together. As if somehow there’s a conspiracy in which farmers, food manufacturers, and pharmaceutical companies have some sort of stone-cutters type secret society. At their top secret meetings they’re supposedly conspiring to make us all sick while cramming more of our hard earned dollars into their overflowing deep pockets.

Let’s take a look at each of the ten myths…

  1. Milk… It does a body good. According to Natural News, drinking milk is bad because we’re the only species to drink it past infancy, and from (gasp) another animal; it’s just “not natural”. The truth: I think I’ve made this point before, but it bears repeating that we’re the only species to do a LOT of things: cook our food, wear clothes, watch tv, etc.
  2. Red meat is worse for your body than chicken, turkey, or pig. Their argument being that ALL meat is bad for us. The truth: Plant-based diets may be healthier, but not all meats are created equal. Processed and red meat are linked with slightly higher cancer rates than is poultry. Not all meat is raised and slaughtered under inhumane conditions. This is just fear mongering. If you’re concerned about the origins of your meat, know your farmer.
  3. Organic canola is a healthy choice. I’ll concede that they make a good point here by saying that “everything is organic is not healthy”. However, the arguments canola comes from “toxic” rapeseed and canola contains trans-fat from processing don’t hold weight. The truth: Canola is bred to be low in erucic acid (the toxic component of rapeseed). It’s also high in mono- and poly-unsaturated fats (1). Liquid oils do not contain trans-fat.
  4. Organic soy (that’s unfermented) is good for you. The arguments here are so out-to-lunch that I’m not even sure how to address them. Supposedly, big food and big pharma are pushing organic soy products on us for some undisclosed nefarious reason. Supposedly soy contributes to a whole host of health problems. The truth: Unless you have a soy allergy, or are on thyroid medication, there’s no reason to worry about soy. Despite the prevalent belief that soy causes breast cancer, the evidence shows that soy consumption is actually more likely to decrease risk, than to increase it (2).
  5. Vaccines no longer contain mercury (thimerosal), and the CDC even says so. The truth: Thimerosal is still used in flu vaccines, but no routine childhood vaccines. It’s outside my scope as a dietitian to provide advice about vaccines but I’m fairly confident that having polio or small pox would be much worse than any risk of being vaccinated.
  6. Chemotherapy is the best chance to beat cancer once you’ve been diagnosed. According to Natural News, your chance of survival is 2.3% on chemo and there are loads of successful natural remedies such as garlic and baking soda. The truth: your chance of survival depends on many factors such as the type of cancer and early diagnosis. Chemo and radiation may be awful but they are the most effective treatments to date. Natural “remedies” are not effective.
  7. Many cancer cases are inherited in our genes from our parents or their parents. Supposedly we’re told this to prevent us from seeking out natural remedies. The truth: Why would the cause influence the treatment? Regardless of the source, natural “remedies” are not effective.
  8. There is no cure for cancer. More of the same. The truth: STOP FALLING FOR THIS BULLSHIT. THERE IS NO BIG CONSPIRACY HIDING THE CURE FOR CANCER.
  9. The FDA and CDC function in the best interest of American consumers by inspecting food and medicine for dangerous substances. Again, there is a big conspiracy and Big Pharma is running the show. The truth: Sure, the FDA and CDC may not always be effective but there is no larger conspiracy against Americans.
  10. Fluoride in toothpaste and tap water helps humans keep their teeth strong and free of decay. We’re supposed to watch some video that will tell us “the truth”. The truth: fluoride is effective in reducing tooth decay.
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16 cancer causing foods: What THEY don’t want you to know

Oh Natural News with your fear mongering. Here’s the truth about the 16 foods you say cause cancer.

  1. Canned tomatoes. According to the article, it’s not just canned tomatoes, it’s any canned foods. Although, canned tomatoes are allegedly worse because of their high acidity. It’s not the tomatoes per se, it’s the BPA that leaches from the lining of the can.

TRUTH: We don’t know if BPA causes cancer or not. We know that it’s an endocrine disruptor and it may cause cancer but we don’t know for certain that it does.

Some canned goods are available in cans with BPA-free lining. Although rumour has it, what ever’s in the lining of those may be just as bad as the BPA one. You can also buy some brands of tomatoes in glass jars, or just go for fresh if you’re truly concerned. I would never want to discourage anyone from consuming vegetables.

2. Soda pop. They take a convoluted route to cancer causation by saying that soda increases the risk of reflux which can cause ulcers which are linked to an increased risk of cancer.

TRUTH: There are so many good reasons not to drink pop; tooth decay, weight gain, type 2 diabetes, but cancer’s probably not one of them. Even the article talks about other health problems correlated with (i.e. not necessarily caused by) soda consumption. So, even if pop doesn’t cause cancer it’s still advisable to minimize your consumption of it.

3. Farmed salmon. Farmed salmon often contains sea lice and are raised in confined contaminated conditions.

TRUTH: This is statement is true but has nothing to do with cancer. There is no link to farmed salmon causing cancer. There are also some clean humane salmon farms. As with anything, if you’re concerned about the conditions in which your food was raised/grown, get to know your farmer.

4. Processed meats. These contain preservatives that may cause cancer. Smoked meat contains tar from the smoking process that may cause cancer.

TRUTH: This one is true. However, it doesn’t mean that your will get cancer if you eat processed meat. It just means that the more processed meat you consume the greater your risk of developing cancer in comparison to someone who never eats processed meat. It doesn’t mean that you should never consume processed meat but you should definitely consume it less often than every day. A safe amount has not been set so you’re kind of on your own to decide how often you want to eat processed meat. I’d try to limit it to no more than once a month.

5. Microwave popcorn. A chemical used to line the bag has been linked to cancer. Also the GMO popcorn kernels may cause cancer.

TRUTH: The GMO thing is bogus but the bag liner is legit (see above note re: risk from eating processed meat). What are you doing eating microwave popcorn every day anyway? How about some variety? Have popcorn occasionally but when you do, make air popped or stovetop or even use the brown paper bag method.

6. Potato chips. Cooking potato chips at a high temperature creates acrylamide which is a known carcinogen.

TRUTH: Sniff. Unfortunately, this is true (again, that whole increased risk thing applies; eating potato chips occasionally does not mean you’re guaranteed to get cancer). You can make your own or make home made kale chips instead. Or, just eat them once in a while as a treat. You shouldn’t be eating them on the daily anyway.

7. Hydrogenated oils. “Hydrogenated oils influence our cell membranes’ structure and flexibility, which is linked to cancer.”

TRUTH: Partially hydrogenated oils are bad. Partial hydrogenation creates trans-fats but the harm from consuming them is an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, not cancer.

8. Foods that are highly salted, pickled, or smoked. “There is overwhelming evidence that eating these types of foods greatly increases the risk of colorectal cancer and higher rates of stomach cancer.”

TRUTH: Well, the preservative and smoked issue was covered under number four. Little bit of overlap here. Too much salt can lead to hypertension and heart disease. Again, not related to cancer risk.

9. Highly processed white flours. White flour is bleached with chlorine gas. White flour increases blood sugar which feeds tumour cells.

TRUTH: Bleached flour is usually whitened using peroxide, although some flours use chlorine gas. Did you know that chlorine is used to kill pathogens in drinking water and it’s one of the components of table salt (sodium + chlorine)? Not a significant cancer risk. Even so, you can always get unbleached flour.

I don’t know what minimally processed white flours would be. Flour is flour. You gotta process grain to get it.

It is better to consume complex carbohydrates to obtain more nutrients. However, eating a croissant isn’t going to increase your cancer risk. Glucose is fuel for all of your cells, not just cancer cells. Cutting out white flour won’t prevent or cure cancer.

10. GMOs. Just read the section yourself. It’s too hard to tease out anything from this convoluted web.

TRUTH: I think that there are many risks associated with genetic modification. Primarily to biodiversity and the environment. It’s unlikely that cancer is one of them (although pesticides used to treat GM crops, and other crops, quite likely do cause cancer). This whole section is pretty misinformed bullshit.

There are very few GMO crops in the US at the moment (and despite what the article says, they have been approved by the FDA). If you are concerned about GM then try to buy organic versions of common GM crops.

11. Refined sugars. (see number 9)

12. Artificial sweeteners. “There is mounting evidence that the chemicals that make up these sweeteners, especially aspartame, break down in the body into a deadly toxin called DKP. When your stomach processes this chemical, it in turn produces chemicals that can cause cancer, especially brain tumors.”

TRUTH: Artificial sweeteners have been proven safe in MANY MANY studies. That being said, they may affect your perception of sweetness and there’s always the possibility that there is some other harm that they’re causing. I’m of the opinion that they taste weird and you’re probably better off having a little of the real thing (yes, sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup…).

13. Diet anything. “All “diet” food is chemically processed and made from super refined ingredients, excessive sodium levels, as well as artificial colors and flavors to make it taste good.”

TRUTH: I’m not a fan of “diet” foods because it’s better to have minimally processed whole foods and fat. However, there is no evidence that “diet” foods cause cancer. Frustration and hunger maybe, but not cancer.

14. Alcohol. Alcohol use is the second leading cause of cancer, right behind tobacco use.”

TRUTH: Yes. This is true. Alcohol is a toxin. However, there are also heart health benefit associated with moderate alcohol consumption (i.e. approximately one drink a day for women and 1-2 a day per men). Pick your risk factor.

15. Red meat. Increases cancer risk; especially colorectal.

TRUTH: Yes, there is an increased correlation between red meat consumption and cancer diagnosis. However, it’s a very slight risk. As the article, surprisingly rationally suggests, you can still enjoy an occasional steak, it just shouldn’t be an every day food.

16. Non-organic fruits. The pesticides on them are toxic.

TRUTH: No mention of cancer here (just had to point that out). Still, many pesticides are likely harmful to humans and while some can be removed by washing, not all can. The thing is, you’ll find pesticides on organic fruit too, maybe in smaller quantities but some nevertheless. The health benefits you reap from eating fruit are likely greater than any cancer risk or other health risks the pesticides on them may pose.

The ultimate truth: We live in a carcinogenic environment. There are many things that we come in contact with on a regular basis that may cause cancer. Inciting fear in people about common foods is not going to help anyone avoid cancer. Continue to make mindful food and lifestyle choices and hope for the best. It’s all any of us can do.


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I don’t think you’re ready for this gelatin

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Apparently gelatin is the latest “superfood”. Yep, the stuff in jello. Of course, you have to take away the added sugar, colour, and flavour for it to ascend to “superfood” status. You all know how I feel about “superfoods”. They’re a super scam. Sure, many of them are nutritious (think avocados and blueberries) but there’s nothing about them that makes them superior to other fruits and vegetables.

Okay, even if gelatin isn’t a “superfood” is it exceptionally good for you? Should we all be eating plain jello or taking gelatin capsules? Let’s take a look at the specific claims in the article…

Improved digestion – According to pretty much every wellness blog and self-proclaimed nutritionist gelatin improves digestion. However, as far as I can tell there is no scientific basis for this claim. I can’t find any research on the topic. This isn’t to say that gelatin doesn’t help digestion, but we don’t currently have any reason to believe that it does. 

Reduced food intolerance and allergy – This is a frightening claim. It would be lovely if it were true; people with peanut allergies could eat some gelatin and then chow down on some peanuts. And what about those people who suffer from gelatin allergy?

Strong bones and flexible joints – Because gelatin is made from animal cartilage (unless it’s the vegetarian variety which is made from seaweed) it’s easy to see how people draw the connection between gelatin and joint and bone health. However, despite this widespread belief, there’s no evidence to support the use of gelatin for bone and joint health. The same applies for Thick hair, strong nails and healthy teeth. Just because a substance (e.g. collagen) acts to strengthen our hair doesn’t mean that it will do so if we consume it orally. Otherwise, we would be able to improve our eye sight by eating eyeballs. A bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point.

Ageless skin – See the last point above. I’d also like to add that skin ages! Sorry, no matter what supplements we take, and what lotions and potions we apply we are all going to get wrinkles. Want to retain your youthful complexion for as long as possible? Eat a healthy diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables and fluids, get enough sleep, exercise, avoid tanning and sunburns.

Improved sleep – I was able to find one study that suggested that 2 grams of glycine ingested at bedtime improved subjective sleep quality. There’s 1.3 g of glycine in one serving of gelatin so it’s possible that you might obtain some benefit from it. However, this quantity may not be present in capsules so before you go running out to buy them before bed you might want to make sure that you’re getting what you’re paying for.


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Teaed off: Are there pesticides in your cuppa?

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A recent article in Natural News reported that a number of Celestial Seasonings brand teas “contained potentially dangerous levels of multiple pesticides”. This article was based on a report released by Glaucus Research back in February of this year. It’s important to note that Glaucus Research is “highly critical of Hain Celestial. Though Glaucus Research is an investment firm that specializes in short selling and one which stands to gain financially if Hain Celestial stocks go down”.

In response to the initial report by Glaucus, Celestial Seasonings issued a statement of Safety Assurance. Telling consumers that they had promptly had their teas tested for pesticide residues by an independent lab and had found that pesticide levels of all teas tested were within acceptable amounts.

So, who to believe? The company that stands to profit from plummeting sales of Celestial Seasonings teas? Or Celestial Seasonings which stands to lose from plummeting sales. It’s a pity that we can’t do our own pesticide residue testing at home, as I’m not inclined to have faith in either party here.

What’s a tea drinker to do? The article in Natural News suggests that Rankabrand.org rates Twinnings Tea as an A (Celestial Seasonings received a D). However, Twinnings actually has a C on the rank a brand site. Regardless, the brand ranking is based on sustainability, not food safety, making it somewhat irrelevant to the discussion. Not that I’m saying sustainability is unimportant (of course, it’s highly important) I’m just saying that if you’re worried about pesticides in your tea, that site isn’t going to be of any assistance.

I found this 2010-2011 report on pesticides in coffee, juice, and tea by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that doesn’t state specific brands tested but does tell us that 75% of teas sampled were compliant with regulations and: “Oolong tea contained the highest percentage of samples with pesticide residue violations at 75% followed by white tea at 50%, green tea at 32%, herbal and black tea at 20% each, and other tea at 12%. Detectable pesticide residues were found in all types of tea sampled.” However, the CFIA goes on to state that the level of pesticides found in the teas did not pose any risk to the consumer.

It seems that the risk of pesticide consumption has less to do with the brand than with the variety of tea. I think that you’re likely to consume at least some quantity of pesticide when you’re drinking a cup of tea and you just have to decide if that risk is worth it to you.