Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Follow Friday: Zero-waste supermarket

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Germany is opening the first zero-waste supermarket: Original Unverpackt this summer. I LOVE this idea! I’m not sure how it will work for selling liquids (like milk) or semi-solids (like yoghurt) or frozen products but… Aside from these questions, it seems like an awesome idea.

Unfortunately, in Canada, we seem to be moving in the opposite direction. To save time people are buying more pre-washed and chopped produce. I cringe every time I walk past the cello-wrapped asparagus on the styrofoam tray. Why did someone decide that was a good idea? Asparagus will last for less time when stored like that than it will standing up in water like it was always sold in the past. And don’t even get me started on the vast quantity of perfectly good food that gets composted (at least it doesn’t go in the garbage anymore) just because its best before date is looming. Come on Canada, let’s take a page out of Germany’s book and try to reduce food waste at all levels.


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New front-of-package labelling gets the green light in the UK

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The UK is rolling out a new voluntary front-of-packaging food labelling over the next 18 months. While I like some aspects of it I’m not so keen on others. Honestly, I’m not sure that any nutrition labelling is going to fully satisfy me. I want to know all of the nutrients but I don’t want to be overwhelmed with information. I also want to know information beyond nutrients such as: GMO, organic, vegan, local…

Let’s start with what I like about the new labels. I like that they use colour coding. Much like the stop-light system they’ve used in the past: red means a high amount of an undesirable nutrient (more on this to follow), orange means borderline high, and green means “healthy”. I like that they’ve focused on only a few nutrients so as to keep things simple: calories, fat, saturated fat, sugar, and salt (oddly not sodium, although I presume that this is what they actually mean). Are these the nutrients I would choose. I don’t know. Probably not. I would like to see some positive nutrient featured. How about telling us the fibre up-front? Or unsaturated fats? Also, call me crazy but haven’t we already come to the conclusion that saturated fats aren’t necessarily unhealthy? Personally, I tend to pay very little attention to the fat content these days. If there’s trans-fat I’m out, but pretty much anything else is fair game provided the food is a good source of other nutrients and the total calorie content is reasonable. I also think that we would be much better off focusing on ingredients rather than nutrient panels. It’s easy for food manufacturers to remove “bad” things and add “good” things to manipulate their highly-processed food into appearing healthy on the basis of the nutrition facts panel. Oops… I was supposed to be focusing on what I like about the packaging. Back to it… I like that the numbers are large and that both grams and percent daily value are noted.

Now, what I don’t like. I don’t like how it’s arranged. The way that the number of servings is noted after the 30 g serving quantity make it appear as if you get 16 servings from 30 g, rather than each serving being 30 g. I also find the note about the 100 g and typical servings at the bottom confusing. Maybe it’s just me. But, maybe not. I think that front-of-packaging labelling needs to be extremely clear. I also don’t like the quantities that the ratings are based on. For one thing, the percentages are meant to be universal but the recommendations for women are based on 2, 000 calories a day, 2, 500 for men. Are the percentages based on men or women or an average of both? This is one reason I hate percent daily values. I also think that those calorie counts are quite high for most people. Obviously everyone’s different but based on predominantly sedentary lifestyles I think that they should probably lower these amounts (if they insist on using the %DV). I also question the recommended amounts used for things like sodium. Food packaging labels (and these are no exception) always use 2, 400 mg even though the recommended maximum is 2, 300 mg for a healthy adult. I also wonder how they came to the conclusion that 5.1 g of sugar (at 6%) is high. Yes, ideally, we would all be consuming cereals without any sugar but 5 grams is only slightly over a teaspoon and the rule-of-thumb I’ve always told people in regards to cereals is to stick to single digits. Considering that accepted nutrient guidelines for sugar have yet to be developed I’m not sure that it’s advisable to include this information of the front-of-package labelling. Another issue is that the labelling is voluntary, making it difficult to easily compare foods.

Kudos to the UK for getting this started. Hopefully, after the voluntary roll-out has occurred, the labelling will be improved and will be made mandatory for all packaged foods and then the rest of the world will follow suit.


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Grocery store lessons: Dempster’s Garden Vegetable Bread

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Dempster’s recently came out with a Garden Vegetable Bread which has carrots and pumpkin baked into it. I must admit, the packaging is beautifully designed. However, the product inside the packaging is slightly less desirable.

The company website boasts: “1/2 serving of vegetables in every 2 slices”. As most of us don’t eat enough vegetables I suppose every little bit counts, even that 1/4 cup of carrots and pumpkin you get from eating two slices of bread. But… Are you really getting a 1/4 cup of vegetables. Technically, that’s the amount baked in. However, once it’s been processed and baked you don’t actually see any of the nutritional benefits of actual vegetables in that bread. Vitamin C? 0% of your daily recommended intake (an actual medium carrot has about 3.6 mg). Vitamin A? 6%. Okay, that’s better than Dempster’s 100% Whole Wheat Bread which has 0%. Still, an actual carrot has over 7, 000 mcg, more than 100% of your daily requirement.

That’s just a couple of nutrients in comparison to carrots. I think a better picture might be obtained if we compare the Garden Vegetable Bread to another bread. Looking at the nutrition facts panel for the vegetable bread and the whole wheat bread (aside from the whole wheat listing information based on one slice and the vegetable based on two… don’t you just hate how companies do that to make comparisons more complicated?!) they look pretty similar. They both have 220 calories for two slices, the vegetable has 1 g more fat (3 vs 2), the vegetable has more sodium (310 mg compared to 280 mg in the whole wheat), 180 mg of potassium in the vegetable vs 190 mg in the whole wheat, a bit more fibre in the whole wheat (6 g compared to 4 in the vegetable), slightly more protein in the whole wheat as well (8 g vs 7 g). As for the remainder of vitamins and minerals, they’re pretty much identical.

This bread isn’t horrible as far as store-bought breads go. The thing is, it’s nutritionally pretty much the same as all of the other whole grain breads from Dempster’s. If you’re looking for a new bread there’s no harm is giving it a try. But if you’re looking for vegetables you’d be better off hitting the produce section.