Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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How a dietitian does a juice cleanse

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Image by 从峰 陈 on flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence

I really like the idea of Bon Appetit’s Healthyish column because, as I’ve mentioned before, a healthy diet isn’t about bland deprivation. However, a recent column made my blood boil.

I knew that nothing good would come from reading a column titled: How a Food Critic Does a Juice Cleanse but like a moth to a flame I just couldn’t help myself from clicking on the link when it appeared in my inbox. It was even worse than I imagined.

I can understand the difficulty that a food critic would have maintaining a balanced diet. Travelling can do a number on even the most conscientious eaters with the large portions at restaurants and the often insufficient quantities of vegetables, particularly in the States. It must be even more difficult for a food critic who has to sample many dishes and courses. That being said, the article should have ended mid-way through the first sentence: “Step 1: Don’t do it unless you have to” should have read: Don’t do it. Probably not enough words for SEO, but a much better message.

Initially I was pleasantly surprised to see the author, food critic Andrew Knowlton write: “Yes, I’m aware that pretty much every dietician says that juicing is not good for you.” Okay, good, he misspelled dietitian but at least he’s acknowledging that the profession devoted to nutrition and helping people make good food choices is opposed to juice cleanses. Sadly, it was all downhill from there.

It’s not that Knowlton chose to torture himself by consuming only juice for five days. Yes, I think that’s foolish, unhealthy, and unnecessary, but he’s an adult and can make his own decisions. It’s that he did this in front of his daughters. This honestly enraged me. Children learn from what they see others doing and their parents are usually their most powerful role models. Yes, Knowlton continued to cook bacon and actual food for his daughters but they saw him subsisting off juice. What message is that giving them? It’s teaching them that this is normal adult behaviour. That we can’t be healthy by consuming whole foods. That when we believe we’ve overindulged the solution is to starve ourselves. That diets, disordered eating, and self-inflicted punishment are synonymous with health and virtue. That is not a healthy message to be teaching children. Regardless of what Knowlton is telling his girls, actions speak louder than words. He may well be telling them to eat balanced meals and whole foods but if he’s doing that while sipping on a beet-ginger juice the juice is going to speak louder than the words.

If I may be so bold, I’d like to propose a rebuttal column: How a Dietitian Does a Juice Cleanse. Step 1: Don’t do it.

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A “no seconds” policy will only feed disordered eating habits

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When I saw the headline “Could enforcing a ‘no seconds’ policy at dinner time help combat childhood obesity?” I thought “I hope this isn’t as awful as I think it’s going to be”. I’m sorry to say that it was every bit as awful as it sounded, and then some.

I was horrified to read the following in the first paragraph: “doctors are warning that parents should ban their children from second helpings to protect them from becoming overweight”. It didn’t get any better. This suggestion was based on research by a behavioural obesity researcher. The crux of her argument being that children are becoming overweight and obese because their parents are allowing them to stuff their greedy little faces at mealtimes. She is quoted as saying: “all parents should be being vigilant about portion control, so a no seconds policy” so, unfortunately, it would seem that her opinions are not being misrepresented.

Apparently the reason that many children are becoming overweight and obese is because they’re eating 12 more calories at every meal than they need. I’d just like to point out that if this were in fact the case, then these children would not be getting sufficient calories for healthy growth and development if they were denied seconds as a second helping of nearly anything would likely exceed 12 calories. Twelve calories of most foods would amount to a minuscule quantity.

According to Dr Llewellyn (the researcher mentioned above), “Some children are unable to regulate what they eat for themselves and many will not turn down food, even if they are not hungry”. Indeed, there are some children with genetic disorders, such as Prader-Willi Syndrome who are constantly hungry. However, disorders such as PWS affect about 1 out of every 15, 000 children born. That’s nowhere near the third of children estimated to be overweight or obese.

I think that enforcing no seconds policies will only lead to increased rates of disordered eating. Most children are born with the innate ability to eat when they are hungry and stop eating when they are full. Most children unlearn this ability as they get older and are encouraged by parents to clean their plates, are bombarded by food advertisements, observe the eating habits of family members, are served excessively large portions at meals, are offered treats and snacks throughout the day, etc.

More important than a theoretical excess 12 calories at each meal that a child may or may not be consuming is the formation of a healthy relationship to food. Arbitrarily placing limits on servings at mealtime will only feed an unhealthy relationship with food. This sort of thing teaches children not to trust their hunger cues, having the opposite of the intended effect. It teaches children that food is emotionally wrought. Denying hungry children food teaches them that they cannot trust their appetites and may also teach them that their self worth is measured on the scale. Pretty much the definition of an unhealthy relationship with food.

Rather than making mealtimes a minefield, parents should be role modelling healthy attitudes and eating habits. They should be providing their children with nutritionally balanced meals at regular times and allowing their children to decide when they’re full. Whether that mean that they leave food on their plates or ask for more.


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When it comes to lunches do parents always know best?

School Food - Chicken Nuggets

A few months ago a study claimed to show that school lunches (in the US) were healthier than lunches brought from home. At the time, I considered blogging about it but I really wasn’t sure what to say. It’s such a problematic subject. However, when I came across this article I knew that I had to comment.

For anyone who hasn’t seen the article, or can’t be bothered to read it just now, it’s the story of a dad who fights back against the nanny state at his daughter’s school. She was sent home with a note that read:

Dr. and Mrs. Puckett, The cafeteria reported to me that Alia’s lunch today included four chocolate bars, a bag of marshmallows, Ritz crackers and a pickle. Please see that she packs a proper lunch tomorrow

Upon the line requesting a parental signature, the father wrote “request declined”. The father also states that his daughter did not have four chocolate bars, rather, she had three squares of dark chocolate (two of which were for others). He also denied that she had any Ritz crackers, stating that she had some lunch meat. Because that makes this packed lunch oh so much better.

I understand parents desires not to allow schools and dietitians into their children’s home made lunches. I know that if I had children I would feel much better sending them to school with packed lunches than allowing them to eat the school lunches at which pizza has magically become a vegetable.

My concern with the first study is that it’s very difficult to quantify lunch quality. I’ve worked with school boards and teachers to implement provincial school nutrition policy and I’ve had concerns with such policies. There is something wrong with a chocolate chip granola bar meets school standards, but the same brand of bar with added almonds fails to meet the policy due to excessive fat content. When policies present with issues such as this, I wonder how much healthier the school lunches truly were. If children are bringing lunches which are mostly nutritious but contain one treat would this automatically doom them to failure in comparison to the school lunches? Are the packed lunches consisting of chips and candy skewing the results in the favour of the school lunches? If students dislike the school lunches and don’t eat them, should they still be concluded to be more nutritious than home made lunches?

The issue of the father refusing to sign off on the request that his daughter bring “a proper lunch” is another matter. The teacher who sent the note certainly overstepped his or her bounds. However, a lunch consisting of chocolate, marshmallows, lunch meat, and pickles is certainly not a nutritious balanced meal. I’ve heard stories from teachers in which parents are sending young children to school with large bags of chips and king-sized chocolate bars for recess, with more of the same for lunch. Part of the problem with the angry dad story is that he’s allowing his young daughter to pack her own lunches. As independent as she may be, she is clearly not equipped to be preparing her own lunches. Ideally, she would be working with her parents to determine the contents of her lunch bag. No young child should have free reign over their lunch bag contents. But what should be done about parents who pack their children off to school with chips, candy bars, and pop? Anything? I wish I had a good answer. Some parents don’t have the money, time, education, etc to prepare nutritious lunches for their children. Should we have a mandatory school lunch program for all children who stay at school for lunch?


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How to get children to eat more vegetables

A young boy eats a carrot at a collapsed

Have you ever struggled with getting children to eat their vegetables. If you’re a parent, you more than likely have. Parents, parents to be, grandparents, childcare providers, teachers, dietitians, etc. might be interested in learning about a recent study that took a slightly different approach, than the norm,  to getting children to eat their vegetables.

You’ve probably heard that it can take up to 20 separate attempts to get a child to eat a new food. so far the advice is usually just “keep trying”. I think that it’s also important to get children involved in food preparation whenever possible as their far more inclined to eat something that they had a hand in making. This study looked at using a conceptual framework to get children to eat more vegetables. The researchers hypothesized that children are often more intelligent than we give them credit for and, perhaps, simply telling them to eat their vegetables “because they’re good for them” isn’t good enough. The researchers surmised that if children are taught more specific nutrition information that they’ll be more inclined to eat their vegetables. They had some teachers read nutrition books to their students during snack time. Other teachers conducted snack time as per usual. After about three months it was found that not only did the children being provided with the nutrition education have greater nutrition knowledge than the students who were not provided with the education, they also were voluntarily consuming more than twice as many vegetables as when they started the experiment (the control group did not see a significant change in vegetable consumption).

Of course, we don’t know if vegetable consumption changed outside of snack time. Nor do we know if these dietary changes will be sustained. Even so, it’s worth considering teaching children more about food and nutrition, especially if a benefit may be consumption of more vegetables.


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Are daycares driving the obesity epidemic?

An article published in the latest issue of the Journal of Pediatrics found that children who were cared for in daycare centres, home daycares, and to a lesser extent by family outside the home, were more likely to be overweight ten years later than were children who were cared for at home. Much has been made of this in the news and the article concluded that further investigation into the level of physical activity and foods served at daycares was warranted. I think that this would be a worthwhile endeavour; we should ensure that the healthiest possible environments are being provided to children in daycare settings. However, I also think that we should be looking beyond the daycares to determine the reason for the difference in obesity rates between children cared for bytheir parent(s) and children cared for outside the home. It’s premature to blame the daycares for providing limited opportunities for physical activity and nutritionally inferior foods. We should also be looking at what’s happening with these children outside of daycare hours.

It’s more than likely that most of these children are enrolled in daycare because their parents are busy working during the daytime. Any future studies into the reasons for childcare outside the home increasing childhood obesity should look at the home lives of these children. Are they eating a nutritious breakfast before being dropped-off at the daycare? What happens after the children are picked-up from the daycare? Are they being fed nutritious home-made suppers? Are their parents playing with them or encouraging them to engage in active play?

I don’t want to sound like I’m blaming parents. Really, I think that the fault lies with our society. Our priorities are skewed. We need to focus more on allowing time for family and for raising the next generation and less on putting in hours at the office.

*I found a lot of play blocks like the ones pictured above when I was searching for an image for this post. I think that this speaks volumes about the state of our diets and the world in which children are being raised. When I was growing-up our play food was all whole foods. Now, apparently, there is a proliferation of packaged processed crap play “foods”.