Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


5 Comments

What is healthy eating?

Screen Shot 2017-04-02 at 12.06.07 PM.png

Lately I’ve been thinking about what healthy eating is and why so many people struggle with it so much. I think it all comes down to the false dichotomy; where if you have healthy eating on one side, you have unhealthy on the other with no overlap between the two.

I was looking at stock photos for a presentation and my search for “food choices” returned a similar array of images as you see in the screen grab above. As you can see, you have “healthy” eating on one hand, generally consisting of a pile of vegetables or a piece of fruit. On the “unhealthy” eating side you have fast food and not a vegetable in sight. You also see the “healthy” choice emphasized as virtuous by the presence of an angel, and the “unhealthy” choice literally demonized by the presence of a devil. It’s no wonder that people falsely attribute virtue to some foods and shame to others when we see this as the common dialogue about healthy eating.

The thing is, while vegetables are certainly healthy, a diet consisting entirely of leafy greens or apples most certainly would not be. Variety is one of the most important factors in a healthy diet. This is for a couple of reasons. One being that, in order to meet our nutrient needs, we need to consume a variety of foods. The other being that, without variety we get bored, making us far more likely to give up entirely  on the whole “healthy eating” kick and scarf a bag of chips for supper.

I all too often see people posting their meal prep for the week on social media, or talking about their “healthy” snacks for work and it’s the same sad options every day. Fellow RD, Andrea Hardy put it so well on Instagram recently,

It drives me BANANAS when people say foods that are healthy don’t taste as good. What I find is lack of cooking knowledge, the weird societal belief that ‘baked chicken breast, broccoli, and rice’ is what constitutes healthy, and lack of confidence in the kitchen is why people struggle SO much with healthy eating.

I mean, man, if “healthy” eating actually entailed eating plain chicken breast, steamed broccoli, and plain rice every damn day then I sure as heck wouldn’t be eating healthfully either!

Healthy eating can include so many different things and it can be so different for different people. Vegan, omnivorous, paleo, gluten-free, sugar-free, whatever, can all be healthy. The important thing is to include a variety of foods and flavours to meet both your nutrient and palate needs. Healthy foods can be delicious. They can be as simple as fresh figs with yoghurt or a handful of nuts, or a more complicated chili packed with spices, beans, and vegetables. A healthy diet can also include less nutritious foods, you know, the ones the devil is taunting the stock photo people with. One meal or snack does not a diet make (or break). It’s about the overall pattern of food intake and enjoyment. Life is too short (or too long) to spend it eating bland food.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Is skim milk healthier than whole milk?

999999-6680010049

Last week Fooducate published a blog post answering (?) the question: Which is healthier for me: Skim or whole milk? Their response boiled down to “it depends”, can you afford the extra calories in whole milk or not? Which is certainly a part of the answer, but definitely not the whole (pardon the pun, you know I can’t resist) answer. So, what is the answer? Sadly, I don’t have the answer either, but I can give you a little bit more information than Fooducate did so that you can decide for yourself.

Fooducate mentions that lower fat milk options often have more sugar. This is not the case. Skim milk and whole milk both contain roughly 12 grams of sugar per cup (1, 2). When you get into chocolate milk and all of those bizarrely flavoured milks like Crispy Crunch or banana, yes, those will have more sugar than plain old white milk. This is the case regardless of fat content; it just so happens that most commercially available flavoured milks are low fat or skim. It can safely be said that white milk is better for you than chocolate. I’m not saying that you can’t ever have chocolate milk, it shouldn’t be considered a healthy dietary staple though. Treat chocolate milk like a liquid chocolate bar.

Fooducate focussed on macronutrients: fat, protein, and carbohydrate. What they fail to look at is micronutrients. When comparing fortified skim and whole milk they are very similar on the vitamin and mineral front. The difference lies in the bioavailability of these nutrients. Fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) need fat for your body to absorb them. If you’re having a glass of milk with a meal that contains another source of fat, awesome, you’ll get those vitamins. However, if you’re eating a bowl of SpecialK for breakfast topped with skim milk then you’re not going to be getting as many nutrients out of that milk (or that fortified cereal) as you would if you used whole or 2% milk. Just because the nutrients are on the label doesn’t mean your body’s able to utilize them.

I’m not saying that everyone should go whole hog and drink milk. Heck, you don’t even need milk to have a healthy diet. The type of milk you should consume really depends on your personal preference, what else you’re consuming milk with, your overall diet, and your personal goals.


7 Comments

The harm in fad diets

Many of us roll our eyes when we hear about people on fad diets. I think that most of us think, “oh well, it’s not doing them any harm. Let it run its course”. But what if these diets are doing people harm?  I’m not about fear mongering, you know this. Many of these trendy diets can be safe and healthy when followed properly. However, what about when they’re not? There is reasonable risk of deficiencies that could cause some degree of harm at worst, and at best prevent the adherents from attaining optimal health.

What’s the harm in a low-carb or gluten-free or paleo diet?

I’m lumping these two in together even though they’re not strictly the same, although it seems that they frequently go hand-in-hand. Here the risk lies in B vitamin deficiency. Yes, many B vitamins are available from animal foods. However, folic acid (which I blogged about a few weeks ago) was added to refined flour and cereals as a public health measure to prevent neural tube defects during pregnancy in 1998 (1). Eliminating grains from the diet may lead to increased risk of spina bifida, and other neural tube defects, in infants of mothers following these diets. It’s recommended that all women of childbearing age take a multivitamin containing 400 mcg of folic acid daily. Women who are following the above diets should be sure to follow this recommendation. The crucial window for neural tube formation is within the first 21-28 days of pregnancy. This means that if you wait to start taking a prenatal multivitamin once you find out you’re pregnant you may have already missed this window.

What’s the harm in a vegan diet?

While touted as one of the healthiest diets, a vegan diet can easily be deficient in essential nutrients. As with the low-carb diets above, a vegan diet may be low in some B vitamins. In this case, vitamin B12 is more likely to be the B vitamin of concern than is folic acid.

Vitamin B12 is important for many reasons. We need B12 for blood cell formation, nerve function, and brain function.

Vitamin D is also a concern in vegan diets as it’s primarily found in milk, fish, and eggs. During the winter months it’s difficult for most of us, vegans and non-vegans alike, to get enough vitamin D from food alone.

What’s the harm in a low-sodium diet?

This isn’t even so much a risk of low-sodium diet but of a diet that eschews table salt in particular. Now that sea salt is the salt selection of foodies and many of us are avoiding salt shakers there is potential for insufficient iodine consumption. Table salt is fortified with iodine, sea salt is not.

Iodine deficiency during pregnancy can result in poor mental development. Iodine is important in thyroid function and deficiency may result in the development of a goiter.

Now, to be fair, when consideration of balance, variety, and nutrients is taken into consideration all of these diets may be healthy. I think that it’s also worth mentioning that the average Western diet is probably less nutritious than all of the above diets. Most people consume too few vegetables and fruits, too much sodium, sugar, and fat. Most of us, even those of us consuming relatively healthy diets, don’t get enough potassium, vitamin D, magnesium, and fibre. While the focus should definitely be on whole food, it’s worth considering what nutrients your diet may be low in and making an effort to consume more foods rich in those nutrients or even considering taking a supplement if you’re finding it hard to meet your nutrient needs through food alone.


Leave a comment

Blog by request: folate

url-2

Lacking in blogspiration, I went back through my inbox and realised that I had a few topic suggestions that I’d never written about. While this isn’t my usually ranting hopefully it will be useful information to some!

So… folate/folic acid, what is it?

Folate refers to the generic name for the vitamin as well as the various forms found naturally in foods. Folic acid is the form of the vitamin found in supplements and fortified foods. Naturally occurring folate usually has additional glutamate molecules attached that can reduce absorption as they need to be removed before the folic acid can be absorbed in the intestine.

What does folic acid do?

The main reason that the government introduced mandatory fortification of white flour with folic acid is due to the role it plays in preventing neural tube defects in infants. While prenatal vitamins contain folic acid many women don’t begin taking them until after they learn that they’re pregnant. This is often too late to promote proper neural tube development. However, as bread and other refined grains are widely consumed, the government decided to have it added to most refined grain products.

Folic acid plays an important role in DNA synthesis and repair as well as in the formation of neurotransmitters. It’s also involved in amino acid metabolism and blood pressure normalization.

How much folate do I need?

The RDA (recommended Dietary Allowance) for adults is 400 mcg a day. However, about 10% of the North American population has a defect in folate metabolism and may need up to twice the RDA to compensate. The RDA is based on the amount of folate needed to maintain normal blood concentrations as well as to prevent neural tube defects during fetal development.

Where do I get folate?

As mentioned above, most refined grain products and flours are fortified with folic acid. This includes breakfast cereals and dried pasta. Foods naturally containing folate include dark leafy greens (e.g. asparagus, spinach, romain lettuce, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and kale), lentils, peas (black-eyed peas, chickpeas), beans, turnips, beets, orange juice, sunflower seeds, avocado, edamame, okra, artichoke, potatoes, papaya, marmite and vegemite, and everyone’s faves: fried liver and brewer’s yeast.

This list, while extensive, may not include all food sources of folate. You can search for food items using the USDA Nutrient Database to find out how much folate they contain. Yes, Canada has a similar database but I’m not confident it’s entirely up to date and I find it  little bit more frustrating to use.

What happens if I don’t get enough?

Folate deficiency can result from low intake, inadequate absorption (often due to alcoholism), increased need (often due to pregnancy), poor utilization (often due to vitamin B12 deficiency), excessive excretion (often due to long-standing diarrhea), and the use of certain chemotherapy medications.

One of the first signs of folate deficiency is a form of anemia called megaloblastic anemia. It may also result in persistent diarrhea and decreased immune function.

If insufficient folate is consumed or absorbed during the first 28 days of pregnancy there is an increased risk of the infant experiencing neural tube defects (i.e. spina bifida or anencephaly).

Can I get too much folate?

The upper level for synthetic folic acid is set at 1000 mcg due to its ability to mask B12 deficiency when consumed in high doses. There is no upper level given for folate naturally occurring in foods as absorption is limited.


2 Comments

Showing a little KINDness to KIND bars

IMG_3194

Last week everyone got all in a kerfuffle because KIND bars were told that they were not allowed to use the term “healthy” to market their snacks by the FDA. Since I’ve promoted KIND bars on here in the past (my first, and only, giveaway) I felt that I should weigh in on the subject.

In my opinion, as far as snack bars go, many KIND bars are a damn sight better than the alternatives. Many of them contain only about a teaspoon of sugar, compare that to upwards of six teaspoons in other snack bars. They are all nut-based, which is a nice change from the refined ingredients in many granola bars. The packaging on KIND bars doesn’t actually state “healthy”. This was a claim made on the KIND website. If you want to see some misleading packaging, just take a walk down the granola bar aisle. Here are just a few examples that I found:

IMG_3197

IMG_3195

IMG_3196

I understand that the FDA and CFIA need to ensure that food manufacturers aren’t using terms willy nilly. Otherwise you’d have every bottle of pop, chocolate bar, and bag of chips claiming some sort of health promoting abilities or ingredient. But really, really? I think that all this incident does is to highlight the difficulty with food marketing and health and nutrition claims. “Healthy” is a relative term and the criteria the FDA has used to define it may not fit for everyone. As you know, the negative effect of dietary saturated fat (especially from plant sources) has recently been called into question. Using specific nutrient quantities to determine whether or not a product can be marketed as “healthy” is tricky, and frankly not all that useful. You’re far better off reading the ingredients and making your own decision as to whether or not you want to include a particular food in your diet.