Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


6 Comments

Why this dietitian hates Nutrition Month

Graphic01a-DCWebsite-520x563-EN

It’s March and that means it’s Nutrition Month. The time of year when dietitians post a whole bunch of the same social media messages that were created by Dietitians of Canada and a whole bunch of people probably mute the hashtag “NutritionMonth2020” to stop the onslaught. And I have to confess, even as a dietitian, that impulse is strong. But, the bombardment of generic healthy eating messages aside, there’s another reason why I hate Nutrition Month and that’s the fact that it’s more of a vehicle for Big Food to promote their products than it is an opportunity for dietitians to promote nutrition and our profession.

Every year Dietitians of Canada releases a suite of Nutrition Month tools and resources. And every year I find myself feeling frustrated by the obvious bias they exhibit for their sponsors. Let’s see if you can guess the two sponsors this year just by the recipes in their free recipe booklet: Hearty Manitoba Vegetable Soup, Avocado and Fruit Salad with Basil and Honey, Proudly Canadian Beet and Barley Salad, Roasted Cauliflower Farro and Avocado Salad, Avocado and Tuna Salad Sandwich, Easy Red Lentil Dhal, Grilled Vegetable Bean and Avocado Tacos, Mexican Squash and Bean Salad, Super Easy Chicken Parm, Chewy Ginger Pecan Cookies, Peach Strawberry and Almond Muesli, Yoghurt Bark. To help you out a little, I’ve bolded the recipes that were supplied by the sponsors. One is obvious: Avocados from Mexico. The other may be a little trickier: Dairy Farmers of Canada.

Dietitians are supposed to be an unbiased, evidence-based source of nutrition information and yet how can we expect people to believe that when a national dietetic organization accepts sponsorship from food companies and exhibits clear preference for those foods as a result?

Don’t get me wrong, I love avocados as much as a Millennial and I consume plenty of dairy products. However, both of these foods are problematic and should probably not be so heavily promoted by Dietitians of Canada. There are ethical concerns about both avocados and dairy (e.g. methane gas, land use, animal welfare). In addition, these are both fairly high-ticket grocery items, at least in Canada. A single avocado often goes for $1.99 at my local grocery store while a modest block of cheese is at least $7.99. Considering that about one in eight households in Canada is food insecure is it really appropriate for DC to be promoting such costly items as part of national Nutrition Month? I mean, considering that an annual DC membership costs $496 and DC has roughly 6000 members, surely to goodness they could develop a few recipes on their own, or even have members submit them so that they didn’t have to resort to corporate sponsorship.

All this to say, I hate Nutrition Month. Nutrition Month could be great. Dietitians of Canada has a fantastic opportunity to promote nutrition, dietitians, and all that we do. However, as it stands, Nutrition Month does nothing more than to undermine our credibility as nutrition professionals.


3 Comments

Will the Impossible Burger give you boobs?

A13usaonutL._CLa_2140,2000_71q5brCxSVL.png_0,0,2140,2000+0.0,0.0,2140.0,2000.0._UL1500_

I saw this article making the rounds on Twitter and I couldn’t resist blogging about it. For those who haven’t seen it, and can’t be bothered to click the link (honestly, it’s not worthy of your clicks) it’s some sort of “Big Meat” propaganda. The headline reads: DOCTOR: Burger King’s ‘Impossible Burger’ has 18 Million Times More Estrogen Than Regular Whopper: Burger King’s Impossible Burger may cause men to grow breasts. Total clickbait and I, for one, could not resist it.

According to the article, the Impossible Burger has 44 mg of estrogen while the Whopper has a mere 2.5 ng. Allegedly this means that if a hypothetical man were to eat four Impossible Burgers a day (for some indeterminate number of days which I feel is a pretty huge omission) he would grow breasts.  Apparently, eating four Impossible Burgers a day is the same as drinking six glasses of soy milk a day which is well known to be the magic number of glasses of soy milk at which men will spontaneously grow breasts. Except, I can find absolutely no evidence that this is true. According to Harvard, there are a number of reasons why men may grow breasts including certain medications and medical conditions but there is no mention of soy (which is the source of the phytoestrogens in the Impossible Burger). Fellow RD, Andy has also dispelled many of the myths around soy consumption including claims that it can have a detrimental effect on men’s health in this article.

You may also have noticed that the doctor who wrote the original smear piece on the Impossible Burger refers to estrogen while I’m talking about phytoestrogens. Despite what you may have heard, these are not the same things. Estrogen is the hormone found in humans and other animals while phytoestrogens are the plant-based forms of estrogen. Phytoestrogens do not have the same effect on us as estrogen does. I think it’s also worth pointing out that all of these men who are now afraid to eat the Impossible Burger because they might get boobs that there is already a LOT of soy in many foods that you’re probably eating every day. There is soy in many processed meats (yep, your good old manly hot dogs, deli meats, and many beef burgers) contain TVP (textured vegetable protein, aka soy, as a cheap filler); many of your sports supplements like bars, shakes, and protein powders contain soy; breakfast cereals, etc.

The article I referenced above was from a publication called National File which purports to be “America’s newest conservative news source”. This automatically raises red flags for me. As it’s pretty much proclaiming to be fake news. The original article by Dr Stangle was published in Tri-State Livestock News. Hmm…. could such a publication possibly have any bias? Surely they would never want to paint beef burgers in a more favourable light than plant-based burgers. And not that this means that he’s not knowledgeable about human nutrition but the doctor who wrote the article is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. This doesn’t instil great confidence in me that he’s an authority on human nutrition. I also wonder about where he gets his money from; certainly not soybean farmers but perhaps cattle ranchers? I can’t find much about him online but I did find an article that mentions he’s a member of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners.

All this to say: sorry everyone who’s been scarfing down four Impossible Burgers daily in the hopes of growing breasts, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. I still wouldn’t recommend eating that many burgers a day (Impossible or otherwise) but they’re not going to give you breasts.


Leave a comment

Does removing gluten make foods healthy?

dvmxh

Based on some suggestions I’ve seen recently for “healthy” muffins and recipe searches for various baked goods I feel that a refresher on gluten is in order. I’m just going to put it right out there: the absence of gluten in a recipe has absolutely no bearing on how healthy it is.

For those who are unaware, gluten is a protein found in certain grains, the most common of which is wheat. Gluten helps to provide structure and texture in baked goods such as breads. Gluten is neither inherently healthy or unhealthy. Now, some people do have to avoid gluten in their diets if they have celiac disease, an allergy, or an intolerance, for that small percentage of the population, eating food containing gluten can make them sick. For the other 90-something percent of us though, gluten is perfectly healthy and safe for us to consume. In fact, some research has shown that a gluten-free diet may actually be less healthy than a glutenous diet. A gluten free diet may be low in fibre and some vitamins and minerals.

In addition, gluten free flours and packaged foods aren’t cheap. You’ll spend considerably more for gluten free products than you will for their gluten-full or potentially gluten contaminated counterparts. And while gluten free options have come a long way over the past few years, many of them are still inferior in taste and texture to regular gluten containing versions.

So, unless you have a medical condition which precludes you from eating gluten there is no health (or flavour, or financial) benefit to avoiding it. Be grateful that you don’t have to live your life in fear of being “glutened” and enjoy your gluten-filled baked goods.


3 Comments

What came first: the fried chicken or the heart disease?

1497516727563

Last month a study was published about fried food consumption and the risk of coronary artery disease. The study was conducted with US military veterans and concluded that: “In a large national cohort of U.S. Veterans, fried food consumption has a positive, dose-dependent association with CAD.” Meaning that the more fried food a veteran consumed, the more likely they were to have heart disease. But what does this mean for the average person?

It’s important to note that the vast majority of study participants were men (90%) and the average age was 64. It’s well known that heart disease in women is poorly researched and important to acknowledge that the results of this study don’t necessarily apply to women. There are also many factors that contribute to the risk of developing heart disease and the researchers took the following into account: race (insofar as to categorize participants as black, white, or other), BMI, alcohol use, education status, exercise, smoking status, pre-existing type 2 diabetes, consumption of fish, fruit, and vegetables. After controlling for these factors, the researchers still found a relationship between fried food consumption and CAD.

However, the authors neglected to control for one important factor: poverty. Poverty is a significant risk factor for many so-called “lifestyle-related diseases”, including CAD. Other lifestyle factors are often also enmeshed with poverty making it nearly impossible to determine true contributing factors. People who live in poverty often have poorer diet quality than those with higher incomes and may rely on fast food, including fried foods. If poverty is indeed a greater risk factor than fried food consumption, or if fried food consumption is a result of poverty, this means that simply telling people to consume less fried food may not be the most helpful advice. It takes a certain level of privilege to be able to “choose” to consume the recommended diet. It means having the financial means, time, access, and facilities necessary to prepare nutritious meals.

While the findings of this study support the common belief that fried food is not a healthy choice they also serve to entrench the belief that diet is all about choice when for many people it is not. We need to look further than fried food to determine the root causes of illnesses such as coronary artery disease if we truly want to work to reduce incidence of these diseases.


6 Comments

Lose the Weight Watchers

Screen Shot 2019-08-14 at 2.32.05 PM.png

Last year Weight Watchers rebranded as WW because they wanted to pretend that they were about healthy lifestyles and not just weight loss. This week they announced the release of their new weight loss app for kids (as young as eight!) and teens. They’re trying to frame it as “helping kids and teens build healthy habits” but when the central feature of the app is food tracking don’t be fooled; this is Weight Watchers points for kids and creating a “bad food” “good food” dichotomy is likely to do anything but help these kids build life-long healthy habits.

An eight year old tracking every morsel of food they eat with the sole aim of losing weight is pretty much the antithesis of a healthy habit. Rather than help kids develop healthy habits this app is far more likely to instil them with an unhealthy relationship with food and their bodies. And while I personally ascribe to the belief that weight is not indicative of health, I hope that all healthcare providers and parents can see why an app like this could be damaging to children whether or not they view “overweight” and “obesity” as a “problem”. Weight is not a modifiable behaviour and focusing on weight loss as an end goal doesn’t promote the adoption of healthy behaviours. Rather, it promotes restricted eating and quite probably disordered eating habits in order to attain that goal.

Given that very few adults successfully maintain intentional long-term weight loss, I find it baffling that WW claims that their new app is “evidence-based” and will somehow be more successful (if you are measuring success by pounds lost) in children and youth than similar programs have been in adults. It also makes me sad to see the quotes around “stopping arguments about food” so that parents and children get along better. Placing the responsibility for food choices in the hands of an app rather than working on fostering a healthy food environment at home may seem ideal but this doesn’t truly promote healthy behaviours. I know not everyone can afford to work with a registered dietitian (and not all RDs ascribe to the same school of thought when it comes to body weight); however, I recommend Ellyn Satter’s books which can be found at your public library if you want to help your child attain a healthy relationship with food.

It’s also important to keep in mind that WW is a for-profit business. They are not doing this out of the goodness of their hearts. They are doing this because there’s money to be made – one month use of the app is $69 USD. They’re doing this because a “fun” app is an easier sell to parents who are concerned about their children’s weight than working on the division of responsibility, role modelling healthy behaviours and positive relationships with food, and cooking and eating nutritious balanced meals together as a family. They’re doing this because weight bias is so rampant in our society that many people can think of few things worse than being fat and parents are desperate to save their children from that plight. I get that. Parents just want their children to be healthy. Unfortunately, an app that encourages a restrictive diet mentality is likely to achieve the opposite of health promotion.