Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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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.


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Ditch the meds: a dietitian dispensing drugs

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Image by mkhmarketing on flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

One of my biggest pet peeves as a dietitian is the fact that so many non-dietitians fancy themselves to be nutrition experts. It’s one thing when it’s a “holistic nutritionist” at least they have some degree of nutrition education. It’s another entirely when it’s another regulated healthcare professional who seemingly has no concept of scope of practice. For those, such as the pharmacist I came across on twitter who states in her twitter bio “Pharmacist who would rather dispense nutrition than Rx.”, who may not know what scope of practice is: scope of practice describes the procedures, actions, and processes that a healthcare practitioner is permitted to undertake in keeping with the terms of their professional license. For a pharmacist, that means providing evidence-based advice and guidance on medications. For a dietitians, that means providing evidence-based advice and guidance on nutrition.

The pharmacist in question decided not to become a dietitian because she didn’t want spend the money to study the “low-fat” guidelines that apparently comprise the entirety of a degree in dietetics. How easy it is to be critical of a program when you clearly have no idea what the area of study consists of.

You know, I’d really like to be a pharmacist but I don’t agree with the excessive prescription of antibiotics. I think that instead of going to uni and studying pharmacology I’ll just start telling people what medications they should take for their ailments based on my own research and dispensing them online. Oh but that would be dangerous and I’d probably lose my licence to practice dietetics and face prison time. Yet, somehow it’s totally okay for someone who’s never studied nutrition to use their credentials as a regulated health professional (in a completely different field) to advise and influence people through social media, a blog, and conventional media. Ironically, as a registered dietitian I can’t even provide specific nutrition advice through those channels because sensibly one knows that I don’t have enough knowledge about the recipient of that advice to provide appropriate information.

Why even go to university for years, complete internships, pay to write a national exam, pay the college of dietitians $600 a year, and continue to learn about nutrition when it’s so easy? I could be cherry picking sensational “science” and promoting a “sexy” diet without having taken a single course in nutrition/dietetics. Sigh.

My point is, be savvy about where you get your information. Just because someone has credentials in one field does not make them a credible source of information in another field.

 

 


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Will new nutrition labels make us all thinner?

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Not to be negative, but I saw this headline: How much will new nutrition labels help fight obesity and I immediately said “not at all” (in my head because I was at work and our office is open-concept).

I know the new (American) nutrition facts panel is supposed to help curb obesity because they’ve made the calories so damn big but personally I think it’s not going to help anyone to lose any weight. If people are counting calories and trying to lose weight making them bigger isn’t going to make weight loss any easier. If someone’s not counting calories it’s unlikely that a big bold calorie count is going to prompt them to change their minds about their purchases. I also think the emphasis on calories is not beneficial to anyone.

Yes, lots of people find calorie counting helpful when they’re trying to lose weight. I still yearn for a simpler time when we didn’t need this information. When we didn’t rely to heavily on prepackaged foods that managed to jam in so many calories and so few nutrients. Personally, I think that, for the average consumer, the ingredients label is where they should be looking more often than the nutrition facts panel. The NFP doesn’t tell you anything about what’s in the food you’re potentially putting in your mouth. It just tells you about the artful mastery of the manufacturer who wants to make sure you buy into the charade of fortified highly processed products as healthy choices.

Putting calories front and centre puts a negative lens on food. It takes away from food tasting good, being pleasurable, and providing us with energy and puts the emphasis on guilt and shame. Neither of which are things we should be associating with food.

Rather than focusing our efforts on fighting against obesity we should be fighting for health.


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Grocery Store Lessons: Excel Naturally Sweetened Gum

Last week my friend Mark tweeted this:

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I think our fear of “unnatural” or “artificial” ingredients has gone too far. I’m generally one to go for real sugar any day over artificial sweeteners. I prefer the flavour and I’m of the opinion that a little of the “real” thing is better than a lot of the fake. In some case though it just doesn’t make sense to be choosing real sugar.

There is no benefit to choosing sugar-sweetened gum over gum sweetened with sugar alcohols. We know that sugar consumption, especially when in products that spend a long time in the mouth (such as gum) promotes the development of cavities. While xylitol (the sugar alcohol generally found in sugar-free gums) may not be the great cavity preventer it was originally touted as, it certainly doesn’t promote the development of cavities like sugary gum does.

It’s beyond me why anyone would think that a “natural” (and come on, how natural is commercial chewing gum anyway?) gum containing sugar is a superior choice over artificially sweetened gum. Shame on Excel for taking advantage of the fear of the “unnatural” by reverting to a product that is likely to incense dentists, dietitians, and doctors alike. File this product under another great example of a natural fallacy.

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