Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Don’t fear the fluoride

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My dad suggested that I read an article in The Coast last month and, slacker that I am, I just got around to reading it. It was written by the founder of “Safe Water Halifax”, an organization opposed to the addition of fluoride to our municipal water supply. Honestly, I find it appalling that an article could be written by a homeopath and student of holistic nutrition, claim to be supportive of science, and yet contain zero links to scientific research. This is not an opinion piece. This is not a personal blog. This is a newspaper article which makes claims regarding the safety of fluoridation yet cites no research to support the claims. The argument? Fluoride is poison and the government has no right to added things to our water.

If fluoride in our water is poisoning us then why is there absolutely no mention in the article of the ailments it’s inflicting upon us? I did blog last year about a report claiming that fluoride in drinking water lowered IQs in children, and was pretty much responsible for every imaginable illness (but wait!… I thought that was wheat…). A statement by the Institute for Science in Medicine provides some background on the history of municipal water fluoridation. It states that at levels between 0.6 and 1.1 ppm there is a wide margin of safety while providing the benefit of increased tooth and bone strength and decreased cavities in children by 20-40%. Only at concentrations greater than 4.0 ppm does it become a risk. And that risk is more cosmetic (i.e. stained teeth) than anything. In Halifax, the average level of fluoride in the water supply is 0.72 ppm. Well within safe limits.

I think that it’s great for people to question the decisions of government and to do research to look out for our own best interests. However, when the crux of your argument is that you distrust anything the government is adding to your food it’s not exactly a solid argument. Without the addition of iron and folic acid to white flour many more people would be suffering from iron-deficiency anemia and many more children would be born with neural tube defects. Iron, like fluoride, is a mineral. Iron, like fluoride (and nearly everything) can be toxic in excessive amounts. Yet, it would be physically impossible to overdose on iron by eating bread. The same can be said for drinking fluoridated tap water. You would die from hyponatremia before you would perish from fluoride toxicity. The fortification of flour with folic acid has been the most effective measure in reducing neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. The addition of iodine to table salt reduced the incidence of goiters and mental deficiency significantly in North America. However, iodine deficiency is becoming a public health concern again as we increasingly use un-iodized salts such as sea salt and rely on un-fortified processed foods. I could go on and on… What about vitamin D added to milk? Calcium and vitamin D enriched milk alternatives?

My point is that the addition of vitamins and minerals to foods and beverages is done to benefit the population. There is no more reason to fear the fluoride in our water than there is to fear all of the other examples above.


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If people don’t use calorie labels should we do away with them?

Image from blog.fooducate.com

Image from blog.fooducate.com

A recent study found that the majority of chain restaurant frequenters in the US don’t use nutrition information when it’s made available on the menu. The news articles seemed to be saying that we just shouldn’t bother to include that information on menus as people aren’t using it anyway.

According to the study, only about 36% of people who frequent chain and fast food restaurants use the nutrition information to influence their decisions. Not a huge number but… That’s a sight better than the 0% we had before nutrition information was posted. I think we also need to take into consideration that the sorts of people who are most inclined to use nutrition information when making food choices are also the least likely to be frequenting fast food outlets on a regular basis.

Instead of removing nutrition information because it’s not being used by the majority of customers we should be figuring out how to get people more interested in what they’re putting into their mouths. This is where the government should step up and introduce some multi-pronged public health campaigns. These should serve to educate the public about the benefits of healthy food and the negative effects of malnutrition. They should also raise awareness about nutrition labels, how to read them, and why they’re a useful tool in making healthy choices. They should engage people from all socioeconomic backgrounds and age groups.

Admittedly, there are some problems with nutrition labelling. We must be aware that the labels are not always accurate, particularly in restaurants where there is a likelihood that menu items may not be prepared exactly the same every time and where restaurants wish to show their products in the best possible light. Despite the downfalls, nutrition label are more accurate than our eyes at measuring calories and nutrient content of foods. Rather than doing away with them we should be doing more to help people to use them.


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Guest post: The Great Nova Scotia Cake Walk Debacle…Part Two?

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Today’s blog post was kindly contributed by dietitian-in-training Sarah Anstey. Thanks Sarah!

The Great Nova Scotia Cake Walk Debacle…Part Two?

It’s that time of year again! Cakes are coming out of the oven, hot dogs are coming out of their packages, and parents are coming out of the woodwork armed with an embarrassingly long list of reasons why their little darlings deserve a treat. You guessed it! It’s spring fling season in Nova Scotia.

The spring fling is a traditional year-end fundraising event held at many Nova Scotia schools. In recent years, spring flings across the province have been the root of some controversy and this year has been no exception. Diana Chard blogged about “The Great Nova Scotia Cake Walk Debacle” last year and has asked me to write a guest post for her blog voicing my thoughts about this years article on the topic featured in the Chronicle Herald.

The focus of the article is how nutritionally void foods being served at school events and fundraisers go against the mission of the “health advocates who believe that schools should be safe havens from the constant barrage of junk food that children are faced with daily, and places where healthy eating is modeled and reinforced to promote life-long health”. The authors, a posse of concerned academics, point out the undeniable contrast between the Food and Nutrition Policy for Nova Scotia Public Schools and the foods that are provided at many school events.

I strongly believe that children should have access to affordable, socially acceptable, delicious, nutrient-rich foods while at school. I also believe in making “the healthy choice the easy choice”, as the Food and Nutrition Policy promotes, by eliminating access to highly processed convenience foods full of fat, salt, and sugar. However, I love cakewalks. I love ice cream. I love a burger or two in the summer. In a perfect world these foods would truly be “treats” and there would be no problem with having them in schools for special events. I think that by trying to bury these foods in red tape and paperwork our grand plans for long and healthy lives for our children will backfire and we are going to catapult these poor kids into a future of closet eating and shame.

My point is that we are fighting a Sisyphean battle. The war of the cake walks is laughable. It’s like finding a soggy cannoli in the worst bakery in town. Sometimes the entire bakery needs an overhaul. Don’t waste your time on a soggy cannoli! We have a global issue to tackle and the solution starts at home. It starts with educating our children about how to make healthy choices, how to grocery shop, how to budget for food, how to grow a vegetable, how to cook basic healthy meals.

I’m not looking to start a debate about the school food policy and have no interest in the politics attached to it. I won’t even begin to delve into the fact that the policy came into effect seven years ago, but no one has been able to figure out if cakewalks go against the policy or not…….seriously though, is the spring fling a “special function” or a “fundraiser”?

It makes me so sad to hear parents talk about how cake walks only happen once a year and how “everything is okay in moderation”. WAKE UP PEOPLE! Moderation no longer exists in our culture. Yes, cakewalks are special. Yes, they only happen once a year, but most children (and adults) are eating cake, fast food, and other nutrient poor foods on a daily basis. When the day comes when cake is actually a rare treat then I would gladly welcome a cakewalk in schools.

Thanks to Diana Chard for allowing me to voice my concerns on this issue.

Sarah Anstey

Dietetic Intern, Nova Scotia

@SarahAnstey7


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Follow Friday: Swappers

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The Australian government has come out with an initiative to make healthy lifestyle choices less overwhelming. It’s called: “Swap It, Don’t Stop It” and provides the message that all foods and activities can be a part of a healthy lifestyle. They provide suggestions for making healthier food choices and physical activity choices as well as resources such as planners, an app, and links.


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The right to drink soda

I have to admit I was pretty disappointed when the news came out the other day that a New York judge had overturned Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on sales of cups of pop larger than 16 oz just hours before it was to come into effect. Reading Jennifer Sygo’s take on the subject was interesting. Even more interesting though, was reading the comments below her article. Sometimes I’m glad that my blog isn’t widely enough read to garner so many comments.

It blows my mind that people think it’s unreasonable to be limited to purchasing pop in increments of 16 oz. How dare the government interfere in our freedom to drink vast quantities of nutritionally void bubbly sugar-water! It seems that (most) everyone agrees that obesity and malnutrition are top contributors to illness and mortality in North America. The solution is not as simple as to “eat less and move more”. If there was a simple solution do you really think that the majority of North Americans would be overweight? The causes and solutions are much deeper than that. Without systematic efforts, from a number of directions, we’re not going to see improvements to our health as a population.

As many have pointed out, many retailers had already started implementing the restrictions on cup sizes. I hope that these retailers will take the initiative to carry on doing this even without the legislation being in effect.

I certainly don’t think that a ban on massive sodas is going to end the obesity “epidemic” but I think that it’s one piece of a complicated puzzle.