Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Breathing vs raw food. Should we be getting our oxygen from our diet?

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Does everyone remember when that Australian “health coach” told everyone that cancer is actually good for you (see above)? And then everyone piled on and she relented and removed the post and made a sort-of apology video. I was thinking about that recently after reading this article about a naturopath in Montreal who espoused similar views in her blog. I decided to see what Olivia was up to these days on her Instagram.

Her most recent post was extolling the benefits of an “oxygen-rich diet”. According to her post, people who are oxygen deficient, “are nervous, stubborn, hypersensitive, and have an increased amount of bacterial and fungal infections, as well as disease. Low oxygen creates decreased brain function, congestion, bleeding, and a decrease in sexuality.” At this point you’re probably wondering if you’re oxygen deficient and how you can boost your oxygen levels through an oxygen–rich diet. I mean, nobody wants to be a diseased stubborn dim-wit. Fortunately, Olivia has the answer:

Raw foods are full of oxygen, especially dark green leafy vegetables which contain an abundance of chlorophyll. The chemical structure of chlorophyll is almost identical to the haemoglobin in our red blood cells. The only difference is that the haemoglobin molecule has iron in its nucleus and the chlorophyll molecule has magnesium. The bloodstream then delivers this oxygen to every cell in your body. When you eat greens in blended form, such as a smoothie, this process is even more efficient.

Naturally, this tome is accompanied by a sweet doe-eyed photo of Olivia holding a massive bowl of lettuce. Sadly, contrary to popular opinion, being young and pretty are not qualifications for providing nutrition advice.

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The subtext being that you too can become a more glowing, more vital, blonder bluer-eyed version of yourself if you follow her advice. Of course, none of it’s true.

Let’s start with oxygen deficiency. What is oxygen deficiency? Could we all be silently suffering from insufficient oxygen in our blood? Oxygen deficiency is when your body doesn’t get enough oxygen. This can be caused by health conditions such as asthma, COPD and other lung diseases, and anemia. Most of these are treated with medications and/or supplemental oxygen. Of these, only anemia can be related to diet (more on that later). It’s important to note that when your body doesn’t get enough oxygen you may experience hypoxemia (low blood oxygen) which can quickly lead to hypoxia (low tissue oxygen) which can result in symptoms such as changes in skin colour, coughing, wheezing, confusion, and shortness of breath. It’s important to seek immediate medical attention if this should occur as organ damage can occur within minutes of the onset of symptoms. In other words, a salad is not the recommended course of treatment.

Okay, back to anemia. While there are many forms of anemia with many causes, anemia is when your body doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to your organs. Among the many causes of anemia are iron deficiency and vitamin deficiency (B12 or folate). Generally, if you have reached the point of anemia you’ll need supplements to adequately increase your levels (as always, this blog is not to be taken as medical advice and if you think you may be experiencing anemia you should consult with your doctor). To obtain sufficient quantities of these nutrients it’s important to include food sources of them in your diet. Iron-rich foods include: meat, fish, poultry, legumes, eggs, tofu, spinach, and marmite. The form of iron found in plant-based foods is not as readily absorbed by the body as that found in animal foods. Consuming these foods with vitamin C rich foods can help to increase the absorption. Natural sources of vitamin B12 are only found in animal foods (and nutritional yeast). These include: yoghurt, meat, fish, eggs, and cheese. So far, most of these foods are very different from those Olivia is recommending. Finally, folate is found in dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, and fortified flour (in Canada). These foods may help to increase your blood oxygen levels if your red blood cells are low by increasing the hemoglobin in your blood. There is no direct relationship between consumption of “oxygen-rich” foods and oxygen levels in your blood. The metabolic process is not that simple and the quantity of oxygen that you would consume from food is minuscule in comparison to the quantity of oxygen you obtain from breathing.

This all to say, eating a variety of foods including many plant-based foods can form the basis of a healthy diet but that has nothing to do with the amount of oxygen in said foods.

I’ll leave you with the one sensible comment on the post:

danielparasiliti I think you are getting confused… someone who is oxygen deficient Is not stubborn… but more than likely unconscious or dead…

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Are wild plants more nutritious than cultivated plants?

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According to a recent article in the New York Times, we’ve been breeding the nutrients out of our food since we first started growing our own fruits and vegetables. Apparently when you compare cultivated plants to wild plants the wild plants come out ahead, by leaps and bounds, for phytonutrient content. Now, not having seen nutrient comparisons of these foods I can’t comment on whether or not this is the case. Perhaps it is true. It’s entirely possible, and not really all that surprising considering the state of modern mass agriculture, that wild plants would contain more nutrients than cultivated plants. However, there are a couple of other concerns I have regarding the content of this article.

Firstly, you may be wondering what phytonutrients are. Essentially, they’re the nutrients in plants that give them their colours and provide you with health benefits (1). They’re things like anthocyanin in beets, lycopene in tomatoes, catechins in teas, etc. While no one phytonutrient (also known as phytochemical) has been proven to be responsible for a specific health benefit they are all widely regarded to be beneficial and provide protection from certain diseases such as cancers.

While phytonutrients provide many benefits, they are not the only form of nutrients present in plant foods. Even if, as the article states, these nutrients are vanishing from our food supply, there are other essential vitamins and minerals, as well as things like fibre and water, present in fruits and vegetables. Are we also breeding these nutrients out of our foods? Hard to say, as the article does not address this at all and there has been little, if any, sound research on this subject.

Lastly, the author of the article (Jo Robinson) is selling a book on the merits of consuming a “wild” food diet. Thus, she has a vested interest in convincing us that our fruits and vegetables are nutritionally lacking and the article itself lacks a balanced approach. I’m not saying that she’s wrong, I’m just saying that there is more to the story of nutrition than phytonutrients and I would like to see some unbiased research before I draw any conclusions myself.