Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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Fighting fire with oil


As I’m sure you know, hot peppers like jalapeños can vary considerably in strength. There are times when I find they’re not spicy at all and other times when I feel them burning my eyeballs while I’m cooking them. You may also notice that sometimes you can be left with burning fingers for hours after chopping hot peppers.

You could wear gloves to protect your fingers from the fire when chopping hot peppers but who keeps gloves in their home kitchen? Not me.

I recently learned this great trick to protect your digits: either coat your hands with oil before handling the cut peppers or, if you’re concerned about your dexterity with greasy hands, rub them with oil and then wash them with warm water and soap after handling them.

“Why does this work?” my fellow cooking nerds might wonder. The oil in the capsaicin will dissolve in oil but not in water.


Something’s greasy about Dr Esselstyn’s diet

A friend and reader recently alerted me to this article about the horrors of including oils in your diet. I confess, I groaned when I started reading the article.

“Part of living a plant-strong life is letting go of oil. This includes all oil: olive oil, coconut oil, flax seed oil, hemp seed oil, ANY oil.

(You can keep motor oil for your cars!)”

According to the author, much touted healthy diets, such as the Mediterranean Diet, are healthy despite the oil included in them, not because of the oil included in them. I understand their argument that oil is made by processing whole foods, as a dietitian, I’m often advising people to consume foods in as close to their natural state as possible. However, in some cases this just doesn’t make sense.

Yes, oil is fat. This is not a bad thing. Fat is not the demonic food it was believed to be back in the 1980s. We need fat in our diets (about 20-35% of our calories should come from fat). Oils can provide us with some healthy fats. I honestly don’t know how I would cook my food or make a pesto if it weren’t for olive oil. How dull my diet would be if I were to only eat plant-based foods without any added fats.

I would venture to guess that the key is really consuming fewer convenience foods, not less plant oil.There is no evidence, aside from anecdotal, to support Dr Esselstyn’s diet. If he were simply advocating a plant-based diet I would say there was nothing particularly wrong with it. However, he advises against consuming any fat-containing foods such as nuts, avocados, and oils. I’m also wary of any doctor who is profiting from selling you a book that makes health promises.

Further in the article, the author suggests that a fat-free diet can be healthy and we can get enough fat in our diets by applying oil to our skin. This blew my mind a little. It shows a clear lack of understanding of nutrition and the digestive process. There is no way for fat or vitamins applied topically to be absorbed into our blood stream and used by our bodies. Oil applied to skin acts as a moisturizer not as food. It’s not just about the fat itself, it’s the ability that fat affords us to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins (ADEK).

For those concerned about omega-3s, fear not, Dr Esselstyn says, “It is difficult to be deficient in Omega 3 if eating 1-2 tablespoons of flax seed meal and green leafy vegetables at several meals”. That’s odd because 1-2 tablespoons of flax meal provides us with about 1.6 grams of omega-3 fatty acids. This can provide us with up to 0.064 g of DHA and 0.096 g of EPA (the essential fatty acids we can only obtain through dietary sources such as fatty fish). One cup of spinach provides about 0.044 g of omega-3 (0.0176 g DHA and 0.0026 g EPA). The general recommendations for EPA and DHA are 1.25 g each per day. This oil-free diet provides about 16% of our needed DHA and nearly 20% of our needed EPA. Perhaps moisturizing with mackerel will provide those missing omega-3s?



Real dietitians eat butter

I love twitter! I learn so much through that little app, and all the awesome people I follow on there, every day. One of the best things I saw on there this week was this Cooking Oil Comparison Chart created by Andy Bellatti and Andrew Wilder. I promptly shared the link with some friends, family, and colleagues, and printed the chart to post on my fridge. I strongly recommend that you read Andy’s blog post relating the science behind the chart. As a dietitian, I feel that many of my colleagues, and the public, are still of the mindset that all fat is bad. I can still remember the day in Foods Lab when I was sampling the multigrain herb bread that we had made and I made the offhand comment to the instructors that “it could use a little butter”. One of them laughed and said “and this is a future dietitian” because I should know better than to be eating butter, the food of the devil. Ah, the sweet vindication that comes with time! Not to say that I eat butter all the time, but I’m far more inclined to use butter than I am to use margarine. And take note, not all butters are created equal. You are what the cow that makes the milk that’s used for the butter eats.