Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Granola: breakfast or dessert?

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I love granola. It’s part of most of my breakfasts. This despite the recent article in which dietitians decreed granola to be a dessert. Whatever. I love breakfast for supper and, apparently, dessert for breakfast. That being said, I do think that granola can be a part of a healthy breakfast just as it can be an rather unhealthy start to the day.

There are a couple of factors that come to play in making granola a part of a healthy breakfast. One is the sad fact that most commercially available granolas are just oats and sugar held together by fat. Homemade granola can be the same. It can also be loaded with healthy nuts and seeds. It all depends on what you put in it. The key is that you get to decide what goes into it. Of course, it’s still going to be calorically dense and probably will have a fair amount of sugar and/or fat in it, depending on the recipe.

This is where the second factor comes into play. It’s all about serving size. Rather than having a bowlful of granola you should be treating granola as a topping. Adding a bit of granola to a bowl of shredded wheat with some blueberries or sliced banana makes it taste a whole lot better and adds the protein, fibre, vitamins, and minerals from the nuts and seeds. Granola also adds a bit of crunch to a smoothie bowl or some fruit and yoghurt. I’ve even had roasted sweet potato topped with peanut butter, yogurt, and granola.

Granola can be a healthy choice. It’s all about how you treat it.

One of my current favourite granola recipes is a modified version of Angela Liddon’s recipe in her Oh She Glows cookbook.

Feel free to share your favourite granola recipes below or your favourite ways to include granola as a part of a nutritious breakfast.


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Have you heard of banana milk?

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Image by Newtown Graffiti on flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Have you heard of banana milk? Apparently it’s poised to be the next plant-based milk alternative. Except it’s not milk. It’s juice.

Maybe banana blended with water is tasty and maybe it makes a great stand-in for actual milk in a latte. I’d be willing to give it a try. But let’s be honest here, it’s banana juice. Nutritionally (and probably favour-wise) there is pretty much no resemblance between a banana blended into water and a glass of cow’s milk.

Of course, banana milk, like almond milk (or any other plant-based milk alternative) sounds a heck of a lot catchier than banana juice or banana water. Unless it’s being fortified like crazy, calling it milk is misleading and could lead to nutrient deficiencies.

When you think of milk you probably think of nutrients like protein, calcium, B vitamins, and vitamin D. Calling banana juice “milk” evokes the false perception that this water and banana mixture is also a good source of these nutrients.

According to a recipe I found online for banana milk one serving contains one banana, one cup of water, a dash of cinnamon, and a pinch of sea salt. Based on this, and assuming use of a medium banana, the nutrition profile would be: 0.4 grams of fat, 1.2 mg sodium (plus that coming from the pinch of salt maybe about 140 mg), 422.4 mg potassium, 3.1 g fibre, 14 g sugar, 1.3 g protein, 20% DV of vitamin B6, and 7% DV of magnesium. Compare that to the nutrient profile of a cup of 2% milk: 5 grams of fat, 100 mg sodium, 0 g fibre, 12 g sugar, 8 g protein, 29% DV calcium, 26% DV vitamin D, 27% DV riboflavin, and 19% DV vitamin B12. Both have nutritional value but the nutrient profiles for a banana and a glass of milk are also quite different.

Go on and enjoy your banana lattes and whatever other banana juice concoctions you like but don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s the same as drinking a glass of milk. It’s not, it’s the same as eating a banana and drinking a glass of water.


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Rocco’s dispiriting diet

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Okay, I have to go and be all unsexy again and tell you that a healthy diet doesn’t have to consist of ridiculously overpriced supplements and complicated recipes made from rare ingredients scavenged by sherpas from the top of mountains in Peru, or whatever. I know that it’s boring and basic but you can eat only easily identifiable foods, available at your local grocery store, simply prepared and be healthy.

What prompted this? Have you seen the news about celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito’s “unbelievable amounts of food” diet? You know what it reminded me of when I was reading it? That moon juice lady’s diet.

I think it’s fantastic that Rocco is feeling healthy on his diet. That doesn’t mean that it’s for everyone. Just because he’s lost weight doesn’t mean he’s suddenly an expert on weight management or nutrition. Just like how everyone who eats seems to fancy themselves nutrition experts, it seems like everyone who’s lost weight fancies themselves to be weight loss gurus. It’s like that time my boyfriend’s knee was mysteriously swollen and I told him it was probably bursitis and he went to emerg and waited a quadrillion hours to have the doctor take a cursory glance at him and reach the same diagnosis. So, basically, I’m a doctor now and if you tell me your ailments I’ll diagnose you. Save you a bunch of time in emerg.*

Anyway… Rocco’s diet honestly doesn’t sound like all that much food to me. I do manage to put away quite a bit myself but if he’s starting his day with an almond milk protein shake (more about this later) he’s probably not starting off with many calories. His next “meal” was cantaloupe with stevia and his homegrown herb puree “sugar-free” of course which is very important when you’re pairing it with a fruit that’s calories pretty much 100% come from sugar. Next was pickled mackerel (fresh from the boat; don’t even bother if you don’t have your own personal fisherperson). Afternoon snack was: Bluefish Tacomole. ‘It’s a taco shell that we make from fiber and protein and it had guacamole and local bluefish made on our 700 degree plancha.'” Second afternoon snack was a bar and a shake (both products available for purchase on his website, more on this later as well). Supper was taste-testing some food he prepared for an event. No wonder he found himself “starving” when he got home at 3 am and promptly scarfed: “Berry Beignets, Stuffed Green Peppers with Turkey and Tomato, Chocolate Protein Bar”. Pretty much the closest thing to a proper meal he ate all day.

Because Rocco has become a weight loss expert simply by shedding 30 pounds he now sells a line of affordable outrageously overpriced nutritional supplements so that we can all benefit from this expertise he can make money. Links in the article (which leave me wondering, is this really an article or a thinly veiled advertisement?) take you to his product website. Naturally, there is no information on the size of each product, nor the nutrition information, but these are minor details when you’re buying the perfect body. Rocco’s “Just Shakes” boast home delivery (which is apparently unique when Internet shopping) and, “contain 28 grams or more protein, are dairy free, sugar free, gluten free, non-GMO, lactose & whey free, soy free and contain at least 8 grams fiber.” A steal at $299 USD ($389.67 CAD plus an arm and a leg and your first born in shipping and duties) for an unspecified quantity. His bars are: “made with only eight 100% all organic ingredients: organic puffed brown rice, cocoa powder, freeze dried strawberries, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, coconut nectar and stevia. No preservatives, stabilizers or additives of any kind. At only 102 calories and a gram of fat THIS BAR IS A REAL TREAT—it is Reduced calorie / Low fat / Saturated fat free / Cholesterol free / Low sodium / No added sugar.” Apparently coconut nectar doesn’t qualify as “sugar” because Rocco and his marketers are hoping we’re too stupid to realize that coconut nectar = sugar. At only $48.95 for a box of 12, $63.79 CAD, that’s $4.08 per bar ($5.32 CAD). That’s a pricey 102 calories.

I think it’s great that Rocco is so pleased with his current diet that he feels the need to share it with the world. I think it’s a shame that he’s profiting from the sale of outrageously overpriced products and that his diet is being packaged as a healthy weight loss choice for all. We’re all different, our nutritional needs, likes, and body shapes and sizes vary considerably. Just because a celebrity, chef or otherwise, has lost weight eating a certain way doesn’t mean that it’s the way we should all be eating.

*Please note, I do not in any way fancy myself to be a doctor. Do not come to me for diagnosis. Go to your family doc or emerg as the situation warrants.


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Is store bought baby food better than home cooked?

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When I saw this article in the Daily Mail (yeah, I know) last week I knew that I had to read the original research to see what it said. As a dietitian I’m always trying to encourage people to cook their own meals. When I talk to mums about introducing their babies to solid foods I suggest that they see it as an opportunity to enjoy balanced meals as a family. Just what I need is headlines and articles proclaiming that pre-made store bought baby food is healthier than what ever they might be preparing at home.

I was frustrated to be unable to see the list of cookbooks the authors used in this study. The link just takes me to Amazon, and the list of the most popular baby food cookbooks they used was complied in 2013 so any results I might find could be considerably different today. Naturally, I worry about the use of baby food cookbooks as a comparison to ready-meals as they tend to be written by people with limited (or no) nutrition credentials (*cough* Pete Evans *cough*. Cookbooks are also quite unlikely to provide a true picture of what parents are feeding their children.

The obvious conclusion to draw from the study is that home cooked meals are superior (from both a cost and nutritional standpoint) to ready meals (at all ages) provided parents are preparing foods without added salt and sauces. The authors didn’t seem to reach this conclusion though. Perhaps the disingenuous comparison between cookbook recipes and ready meals, and the conclusion that ready meals may be better for babies, had something to do with the funding they received from Interface Food and Drink, an organization aimed at connecting the food and drink industry with researchers.

So, we know that home cooked meals can be healthy if parents don’t waste their money on special baby cookbooks. I think that it’s also important to note that the researchers were comparing quantities based on recipe yields and packages, not what babies are actually eating. Even if babies were eating recipes prepared from these cookbooks, they may not be eating every bite. Babies are much better than us adults at knowing when they’re full. If parents are respecting their babies cues and only feeding them as much as they show a desire to eat then it shouldn’t matter how much a recipe makes, or how much is in a package.

The true message from this study should be that you don’t need to waste your money on baby food cookbooks. Nor do you need to waste your money on packaged baby foods. Most babies will thrive on, and enjoy, a variety of simply prepared “normal” foods.

If you’re looking for more information on starting your baby on solids, I recommend visiting Best Start as well as watching this video from Toronto Public Health. If possible, sign-up for an infant feeding class through your local public health office.

 


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Is this good for me?

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Oh man, this NYT article: Is Sushi “Heathy”? What About Granola? Where Americans and Nutritionists DisagreeHow many other dietitians wanted to scream when they saw the lovely little scatter plot of food? “Is X or Y or Z good for me or healthy?” has to be one of the top questions I get asked as an RD, and one of my most hated.

Why is this not a good question? Well, because there are very few foods that are entirely “good” or entirely “bad” for you. I mean sure, we all agree that Coke is not a nutritious choice. We also all agree that oranges are. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have a nutritious diet and drink the occasional pop. It also doesn’t mean that you can’t be extremely healthy and never eat oranges.

I’ve blogged before about food having virtue so there’s really no sense in repeating myself. Although even I can’t find the old post to link to so maybe I should (if you can find it, let me know and I’ll link back). For now, suffice to say that the point was that food doesn’t have moral value and labelling foods as “good” or “bad” only promotes unhealthy relationships with food.

Individually appraising foods as either good or bad, healthy or unhealthy is a fruitless exercise. When looking at a diet to determine if it’s healthy/nutritious you need to look at the big picture. What does it matter if you have a cookie while you’re blogging (just for example) if the rest of the day you ate mostly whole, minimally processed, nutrient-dense foods? It doesn’t. Conversely, if you ate a head of kale while you were blogging after eating highly processed, nutrient-light foods all day then you’re still not consuming the most nutritious diet.

We all need to lighten up a little. Stop obsessing over whether quinoa is “healthier” than rice. A healthy diet is a diet that provides nutrients and pleasure from a variety of foods.