Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Are artificial sweeteners even better than the real thing?

Myth 31: Artificial sweeteners have too many chemicals to be healthy.
What Dietitians of Canada says:
“Artificial sweeteners can be part of healthy eating. Health Canada approves all sweeteners for safety before they can be sold in Canada. health Canada also develops strict guidelines for how food producers can use a sweetener, as well as advice on how much is safe to eat each day. Artificial sweeteners add a sweet taste while limiting calories and can be enjoyed in moderation, as part of a healthy diet.”
What I say:
Oh boy, this is a contentious one. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to address it or not. Putting aside the obvious fact that everything is composed of chemical compounds, yep, you and all the food you eat… I know that, to-date, studies have shown that these artificial sweeteners are safe to consume. However, I’m still inclined to suggest having a little bit of a natural sweetener rather than a manufactured sweetener. We are the guinea pigs in the long-term study of the effects of non-nutritive artificial sweeteners. I also think that use of these artificial sweeteners may lead to over consumption. Just like when we took fat out of snack foods and then found out that people ended up actually eating more calories from sugar. But I’m just one of those people who thinks “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know”. I used to eat foods sweetened with these non-nutritive sweeteners but I found that I became sensitized to the taste. Now, I find that I can’t enjoy yoghurt and cereals that contain them. Instead, I have plain yoghurt mixed with thawed frozen berries (fresh local berries in the summer) and cereal with no added sugar. That’s my personal preference. If you enjoy artificially sweetened foods I can’t give you a legitimate scientific reason not to continue to do so. However, I personally feel that you are better to have a small amount of real caloric sweetener (e.g. maple syrup, honey, or sugar) to satisfy your sweet tooth and try to choose more foods that don’t contain any form of sweetener.


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Do you have time to cook supper tonight?

Myth 11: Cooking meals at home takes way too much time.
What Dietitians of Canada says:
“Getting a healthy, home-cooked meal on the table doesn’t take as much time as you think. Simple, nutritious foods can make tasty meals, and planning meals in advance lets you use your time wisely. For example, try making “planned extras” (Leftovers on purpose) that can be used for another meal, or make big batches of food on weekends, freeze small portions and defrost on nights when time is tight. Cooking at home doesn’t mean never using convenience foods, like pre-washed, ready-to-eat vegetables or pre-cut fresh meat skewers, can be time savers that help get meals to the table quickly.”
What I say:
Full disclosure: As a single person I can’t really know the realities of being a working parent and trying to feed a family. I am also an anomaly in that I cook full family size recipes on the weekend, portion out and freeze for lunches and suppers throughout the week. I go to the gym or run after work and I have no desire to cook a meal by the time I’ve gotten home and showered. I don’t even want to wait the half hour that a quick meal would take, the two minutes to reheat something is plenty long enough for me. It’s easy for me to fit enough food in the freezer for myself and to cook enough on the weekend. I can imagine that this system would be a lot more complicated if I was also feeding three other people. However, I don’t think most people are fitness junkies like I am so that gym time could be put toward meal prep. (Even if you are, it is still possible to cook post-gym, I have done it when necessary.) If you’re part of a couple, try cooking together or dividing the duties (e.g. if one cooks, the other cleans). If you have children get them involved in the process. Bonus: picky kids are far more likely to eat a meal if they’ve had a hand in making it. Try doing all the washing and chopping of veg the night before, or make slow cooker meals so that you don’t have too much to do when you get home in the evening. Nutritious meals can be hugely time-consuming to prepare, they can also take as little time as 20 minutes. There are lots of 30-minute-or-less healthy cookbooks out there. While I think sometimes they’re mistaken about how much time things actually take when you’re not a professional chef (really Jamie Oliver, mustard chicken, quick dauphinoise, greens, and black forest affogato all in under 30 minutes!?) there are some great ideas out there and you can build up a repertoire of quick and healthy meals with a little practice.


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Which costs more? A healthy diet or an unhealthy diet?

Myth 12: Healthy food costs too much.
What Dietitians of Canada says:
“How much food costs is an important issue for many Canadians. With some planning and wise choices, you can create tasty, healthy and affordable meals. To get the most value, choose foods that are big on nutrients and low on cost. Many healthy staple foods can be lower-cost items, including bulk flours and whole grains, in-season fresh produce, eggs, legumes (dried beans, peas and lentils), powdered milk, and sale-priced frozen or canned vegetables, fruits and fish. Scanning flyers for specials, stocking up on sale items and cooking meals from scratch can all save you money.”
What I say:
From a food security perspective it can be difficult to provide yourself and your family with a healthy diet. Pop and chips (for example) provide calories to fill your child up without costing as much as milk and fresh vegetables. When you’re living in poverty it can be extremely challenging to eat a healthy diet. For those of us not living in poverty it is ridiculous to say that healthy food costs too much. A primarily plant-based diet is not only the healthiest diet, it’s also the most affordable. Beans and tofu are far more inexpensive than meat and cheese. Side note: Did you know that cheese is actually the most commonly shop-lifted food? It’s expensive and easy to conceal.
Mark Bittman created a neat infographic comparing the costs of a McDonald’s meal and a homemade meal (of course a flaw of the graphic is that it only shows the costs for the quantities you need for the recipe, not for the amounts you would actually have to purchase). Don’t forget the hidden health care and loss of productivity costs incurred by consuming a primarily unhealthy diet. Yes, food costs are rising. However, Canadians still allocate a ridiculously small portion of their incomes to food. According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada that percentage has actually decreased over the past 40 years. In 1961 Canadians spent an average of 19.1% of their household income on food. By 2005 that had dropped to 9.3%. Our food spending is also lower than that of other developed nations.
It really doesn’t need to cost you a lot to eat a healthy diet. You don’t need to buy all those over-priced trendy so-called “superfoods”, healthy eating can be simple and affordable. Cooking meals at home is more affordable and often healthier than purchasing meals from restaurants.  I think we also need to reprioritise, and place more importance on eating a healthy diet and be willing to put our money where our mouths are. Consider using some of your disposable income to buy sweet potatoes and kale rather than popcorn at the movies.


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Pasteurization: Protective or Destructive?

Myth 18: Pasteurization destroys vitamins and minerals in milk.
What Dietitians of Canada says:
“Pasteurization has little impact on the nutrients in milk. Pasteurization is a simple heat treatment that destroys potentially harmful bacteria sometimes found in milk… It is not safe to drink unpasteurized (raw) milk because it might contain bacteria that can be harmful to your health. Pasteurized milk is a natural source of 15 essential nutrients, plus it’s fortified with vitamin D (raw milk isn’t)>; Drink two cups (500 mL) of lower-fat milk each day to get the calcium and vitamin D you need to help build and maintain healthy bones.”
What I say:
Oh good, another milk myth. Nothing like three milk myths to show that DC is kowtowing to their sponsor Dairy Farmers of Canada. Pasteurization does, in fact, destroy vitamins in milk. It destroys anywhere from 10% to 30% of heat sensitive vitamins in milk (primarily vitamin C and thiamine). However, there’s not a whole heck of a lot of these in milk to begin with so pasteurization has little effect on them. There’s a good reason for pasteurization; it kills harmful bacteria including, e. coli, listeria, and salmonella. Personally, if I return to consuming cow’s milk after my time as a vegan, I wouldn’t want to take the risk of consuming raw milk. I definitely think the benefits of pasteurization outweigh the risks. People with weakened immune systems, children, pregnant women, and the elderly are the most at risk of becoming ill from consuming raw milk. Some people, however, would argue that there are other beneficial components in milk that are being destroyed by the pasteurization process. I’m sure that many of you have heard of Michael Schmidt, the dairy farmer in Ontario who has been battling the Canadian government for the right to sell his raw milk for a number of years now. His most recent thwarted effort involved his customers purchasing shares in his cows as you are allowed to consume raw milk from your own cow. In my opinion, I think that if people are informed about the risks then they should be allowed to make the decision themselves. It’s a little baffling to me that we legally allow the sale of cigarettes which definitely don’t have health benefits but we won’t permit the sale of raw milk which has potential benefits alongside potential risks.


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Is fruit too sweet a treat?

Myth 29: Fruit has too much sugar to be healthy.
What Dietitians of Canada says:
“Fruit is a healthy choice. It’s true that fruit has naturally occurring sugar, but it is also chock full of vitamins, minerals and fibre that are important for good health. Choosing more vegetables and fruit, naturally sweetened by Mother Nature, can help you maintain your weight and reduce your risk of developing chronic disease. Enjoy whole, fresh, frozen or canned fruit each day. And aim to limit foods that are high in added sugars but low in nutrients, such as candies, cookies, chocolate treats and sweetened soft drinks. Satisfy your sweet tooth with fruit, like a baked apple or yogurt topped with berries.”
What I say:
I love how we offer ridiculous advice like snacking on an apple when you’re craving a cookie. I mean really, how many people find that this satisfies their sweet tooth? I know that if I’m craving chocolate, a piece of fruit is not going to cut it as a substitute. I think a better idea might be to have that piece of fruit and then allow yourself a small amount of what you’re really craving. That way you’ll be properly satisfied and getting some nutrients instead of eating that fruit, continuing to obsess about cookies and then eating considerably more than you would have if you’d allowed yourself just one in the first place. Anyway… Beside the fact that we dietitians sometimes dish out advice as if we’re completely virtuous eaters, there’s nothing all that wrong with DC’s myth bust. I would add that you should consume your fruit whole, rather than in juice form. You’ll be getting more fibre and less of a shot of sugar this way. Think of juice as an occasional treat or a medication for someone experiencing hypoglycemia, not as a regular way to get your fruit and vegetables in you. I also don’t think that fruit and vegetables should be lumped together on Canada’s Food Guide. You should be consuming more vegetables than fruit. I would suggest two servings of fruit a day, for an adult, and the rest as vegetables.