Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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Who would you rather have as your nanny: Ronald McDonald or Justin Trudeau?

I just read an article about the proposed revisions to Canada’s Food Guide and an article about the predatory tactics of the food industry in Brazil back-to-back and was duly infuriated by both.

I was annoyed by the Food Guide article’s pitting of vegans against dairy farmers and the creation of drama where none is needed. The new Guide is going to be based on science, not industry, not special diet groups. There is nothing to indicate that dairy will be removed from the guide. Just relax. And so what if it takes the environment into account? The original food guide was intended to help prevent nutrient deficiencies during wartime rationing. Why not try to protect our planet while trying to promote healthy eating habits? After all, if we destroy the earth, nutrition won’t really be all that much of a concern. But I digress…

I read the comments on the divisive Food Guide article. I know, I know I should never read the comments. As a dietitian though, I like to know what I’m up against and what the public response is to a tool that I will likely have to promote and use in a professional capacity. Here are a few of them:

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There were people refuting this nonsense but the fact that so many people think that the government should play no role in promoting a healthy diet is baffling to me. Most people agree that diet-related chronic diseases are a significant concern in Canada but think that the government should do nothing to help people prevent them.

Then we have Nestle and other major food companies promoting unhealthy choices everywhere we go. The story of Brazil is particularly egregious but if you think that these companies care any more about residents of Canada, the US, or any other country, you’re sorely mistaken. Junk food marketing is ubiquitous, and it’s everywhere. From use of fast food as fundraisers for health charities to cartoon mascots on food products, to product placement in movies and tv shows, to sponsorship by food companies of athletic teams and events, to paid product placements in stores, and so on.

People complain bitterly about not wanting the government in their grocery carts or kitchens yet they gladly throw open their doors for the food industry. So many would rather have a company that only cares about profits telling them what to eat than a government that cares about improving the health of its citizens. The government isn’t forcing people to eat certain foods and never eat others. Even if milk was removed from the food guide entirely, it’s not like you’d have to start buying black market milk on the dark web. It’s just trying to provide guidance to people to help them make healthy choices.

You’re opposed to the nanny state are you? Well, we already have a nanny state and the food industry is running the show. It’s time for the government to take back some control and put industry in time-out.

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Healthifying Cereal

Nestle and General Mills recently announced┬áthat they’re going to make some of their breakfast cereals healthier by reducing the amount of sugar and salt they use. Sounds great but being the realist that I am I think that this is more of a ploy to improve their image than to actually improve their products.

One of the biggest problems I see with their announcement is that they’re only making the changes in formula outside of North America. Even though childhood obesity, and probably (although this is speculation on my part) sugary cereal consumption is far more of an issue in Canada and the US than it is overseas. We also know that many brand name food product formulations differ from country to country and products sold in┬áCanada tend to have the highest levels of salt (1). Why wouldn’t Nestle and General Mills make the changes to the products that are likely the worst offenders?

The pledge that these companies has made is to reduce sugar by 24 packets and salt by 12 packets in twenty brands. I wish I knew what these brands were so that I could provide a more thorough critique. Based on some rough calculations using the nutrition information for Lucky Charms cereal I came up with a serving of reformulated cereal now containing 2.4 teaspoons of sugar and about 11 mg of sodium. While this is a fairly significant reduction it’s important to note a few things. For one, the serving size is 3/4 of a cup. I think it’s pretty safe to assume that most children (and adults) are having larger bowls of cereal than this so they would be getting more sugar and sodium than is listed on the box per serving. The second thing to note is that these reductions are not carved in stone. They are the “average” change so some cereals may have greater reductions in salt and sugar than others. The final point I want to make is that the absence of unhealthy ingredients does not guarantee that a food is healthy. Yes, they’re also pledging to increase whole grains and calcium but this still doesn’t mean that these breakfast cereals are going to be a nutritious choice. These are still highly processed products to which vitamins and minerals are added to improve their nutrition profiles.