Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Is mom the TA for calling out her sister for buying her daughter a food scale?

I don’t have much to blog about lately. All of my usual sources of inspiration have been dominated by covid-19 for the past few months. My life revolves around my baby and we don’t go anywhere. I can’t even glean inspiration from the grocery store because I haven’t been there in over 10 weeks (11 weeks? I’ve lost count). I pretty much only check Twitter now to read posts from AITA (am I the asshole?) and Reddit relationships because it’s otherwise just an unending torrent of horror and frustration. So, I’ve now reached the stage of social isolation where I start to write about AITA posts. The one above really stuck with me.

Obviously the mom is TA (the asshole), as is the aunt. I started out on the mom’s side. Of course I would be super pissed if I had a teenaged daughter and someone bought her a food scale so that she can weigh everything she’s eating. And I 100% love the messaging that she can be healthy regardless of body size, not tying self-worth up with what her body looks like, and engaging in physical activities that she enjoys, not as a means to lose weight. However, I think both the mom and the aunt are giving the poor girl messages that are likely to lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and her body.

In the comments the mother says that she only cooks three kinds of vegetables, and only sometimes, because no one in their family likes vegetables. She states that they’re healthy but her comments indicate that the household engages in very little physical activity and doesn’t eat a balanced diet. She seems to be under the misguided impression that just because she’s preparing meals at home that they are de facto nutritious. Obviously, if she’s not including vegetables or fruit at every meal then they are nutritionally lacking (the current recommendation from Health Canada is to make half your plate vegetables and fruit). She also seems to think that vigorous exercise is unhealthy as she expressed concern that her daughter was sweating and out of breath from her home workouts. The current physical activity guidelines for children and youth (ages 5-17) start with a recommendation to “sweat” by accumulating at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a day.

I think it’s extremely sad that the mother would discourage her daughter from engaging in physical activity and prevent her from eating a healthy diet. Let’s not let the aunt off the hook either though. Given the mother’s strange perception of what’s healthy and unhealthy I’m not sure that we can trust her assessment that the aunt has an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise. Whether she does or not, it was completely inappropriate for her to provide a 14 year old child with a scale to portion her food. Teenagers are growing rapidly and need sufficient calories and nutrients to support this growth. In addition, if she is weighing her food, the daughter is not learning to trust her own hunger and satiety cues. Teaching her that food is something to be restricted to attain a certain body size is only going to lead to longterm hang-ups when it comes to food.

Both the mother and the aunt are pushing their own agendas on this girl. If they truly had her best interests at heart they would support her efforts to eat a healthier diet and to safely engage in physical activity. Ideally, the mother would lead by example by role modelling a positive relationship with food, physical activity, and her body, but if she can’t bring herself to eat a green vegetable, the very least she can do is to provide them to her daughter as she’s asking.


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Dietitian confessions: starting my baby on solid foods

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I haven’t written in a little while because it feels like a nutrition blog is so irrelevant when we’re in the midst of a pandemic. I also don’t want to write about anything related to the covid because self-care for me right now means not overwhelming myself with pandemic-related info. But, maybe you’re like me and you’re trying to avoid too much virtual exposure to covid-19 and you’d welcome a break with a little nutrition confessional. So, I’m here today to share with you my experience starting my baby on solid foods.

As a dietitian I’ve learned all about starting infants on solid foods. As a dietitian who works in public health I’ve even taught classes on the subject. As a lover of cooking and eating I was feeling pretty confident and excited about introducing my nugget to new flavours after six months of only ever consuming breast milk and formula. The first stumble in my plan was the fact that she wasn’t ready to start solid foods at six months.

If you’re aware of current pediatric recommendations, it’s advised that babies be fed only breast milk or formula until six months of age. I dutifully waited all that time, but babies don’t all mature at the same rate. Something that never came up when I learned about introducing solids was baby’s age versus their adjusted age. My baby was born a month early and this meant that even though she was six months old, developmentally she was more like five months. I ended up having to give her a couple of extra weeks before she was interested in and able to eat solids.

Another current recommendation is to start babies on iron-rich foods and once they’re consuming them regularly then you can introduce other foods. These foods include: meats, egg yolk, beans, lentils, and fortified baby cereal. I was confident that I was going to feed my baby whole foods, that fortified cereal was an old-school first food. Ha ha ha. My baby had other ideas. She was uninterested in my concoction of puréed chickpeas mixed with pumped milk. She was displeased with puréed hardboiled egg. And she was absolutely appalled by the jarred chicken baby food I bought in a desperate attempt to get her to eat something from that list of iron-rich foods (see photo above). Honestly, I couldn’t blame her – have you ever tried chicken baby food?? Finally, I abandoned my smug plan and fed her some iron-fortified baby oat cereal which she ate but with little enthusiasm. I made her strained green peas, which were a pain in the ass to make and which she rejected. I moved on to offering her some foods that weren’t iron-rich (gasp) but were possibly more palatable: banana (acceptable), avocado (no thank you), and sweet potato (could not get enough). I managed to get some iron in her through a combination of mixing these foods with baby cereal or with sweet potato.

I had also envisioned making her baby food myself, after all, she should quickly advance from purées to soft whole foods according to everything I’d read. It turns out that it’s pretty much impossible to get super small quantities of food smooth in my food processor. It also turns out that she wasn’t ready to try different textures for nearly two months. So, I bought ready made baby food packets from the grocery store and supplemented with baby cereal and easy to purée foods like sweet potato, butternut squash, and banana. This was an easier way for me to introduce a variety of new foods to her without ending up with a freezer full of puréed food.

She’s now advanced to consuming a mix of commercial baby food, homemade baby food (like tiny baby pancakes and muffins) and modified foods that we’re eating like puréed dal or mashed pasta. Despite what many people believe, babies don’t have to eat bland food. Yes, it’s great to let them taste unadulterated foods so that they experience the different flavours of whole foods but they can also handle herbs and spices and these are also important flavours to expose them to.

If you’re a new parent starting your baby out on solids there can be a lot of pressure to do this in a certain way. I see so many blogs with these elaborate baby meals and that’s awesome if you have time and money and your baby is interested in these foods but you are not failing as a parent if you’re feeding your baby infant cereal or food from a jar or squeeze pouch. As long as your baby is experiencing new flavours, and then new textures, then you’re doing just fine.


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Why this dietitian hates Nutrition Month

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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.


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Will the Impossible Burger give you boobs?

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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.


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Does removing gluten make foods healthy?

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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.