Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Grocery store lessons: Mott’s Medleys

This post originally appeared in September…

I’m all for sneaking vegetables into foods to get kids (and adults) to eat them. However, I was a little skeptical when I saw an ad for the new Mott’s(R) Medleys fruit and veggie snacks. Each little cup is made “only with real fruits and veggies and have plenty of vitamin C to boot”. Apparently each 111g cup contains a full serving of vegetables. However, when you look at the ingredients, you can see that these “vegetables” are juice, which is not going to provide the same nutrition as eating an actual vegetable. In fact, the vitamin C they’re boasting about is due to the addition of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) as a preservative.

A quick look at the Nutrition Facts panel reveals that there is little else of nutritional merit in these Medleys. Sure, they’re only about 50 calories each, but pretty much all of those calories come from sugar (approximately 3 teaspoons of sugar in each).

The Cherry Berry variety does not actually contain any cherries, juice or otherwise. It doesn’t even contain any sort of berry. Same thing goes for the Peach Apple. Not even a hint of peach to be found. The main ingredient in both are apples. Essentially, these are just gussied-up applesauce with a little vegetable juice mixed-in. Hardly what I would call a “full serving” of vegetables.

Yes, there are far worse snacks out there and when given these instead of candy you’re definitely making the better choice. However, they’re not a substitute for actual fruit and vegetables, don’t be fooled.


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Food insecurity is not simple math

This post originally appeared in June…

recent study showed that healthy food is actually less expensive than “junk” food. This study eschewed the usual caloric comparison of foods for a portion-based comparison. Based on this comparison the researchers found that many healthy foods are, in fact, cheaper than their less nutritious counterparts. For example, a serving of carrots was found to be less expensive than a serving of potato chips. I agree that healthy food is not necessarily all that expensive and some options (e.g. beans, legumes, and root vegetables) can be quite economical. However, I have several major issues with this study.

Having worked with people experiencing food insecurity I know that the first concern of most of them is getting enough calories into their family members and keeping them as full as possible. So, even if this study is showing that by portion size and by edible weight, healthy foods are less expensive than unhealthy foods this is not how the majority of people who are suffering from food insecurity are thinking. They’re trying to get caloric bang for their buck. Sadly, carrots are not going to give them as many calories for their dollar as pop and hot dogs are.

Even if we accept what the study is telling us, there is a lot more to consider beyond the face-value of these foods. Many of these healthy food items are not ready to eat as is. Do you know anyone who’s going to eat onions straight-up? How about dried chickpeas? These foods require cooking skills, equipment, and additional ingredients (e.g. herbs, spices, oils, etc. to make them palatable). Many people, be they food insecure or not, are lacking in the food skills department and may not have the confidence or knowledge to cook a rutabaga. Do they have a stove to use? What about pots? Knives? Vegetable peelers? All of the additional ingredients and supplies can add a considerable amount of cost to the meal.

Another major issue when it comes to food insecurity is oral health. If your teeth are sore or missing it’s going to be mighty difficult to chow down on raw carrots and apples. Potato chips and spam are much easier to manage when you’re lacking quality teeth.

So, sure, serving for serving some fresh vegetables may be less expensive than “junk” food but food insecurity is not simple math.


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Food matters but the film does not

My review of the film Food Matters was originally posted last April.

I finally watched the “documentary” Food Matters on Netflix. It’s always good to find out what’s floating around out there regarding nutrition and health. I managed to avoid getting annoyed for approximately the first six minutes of this film. It’s unfortunate that Food Matters has to negate the few good points it makes by containing loads of other inaccurate points and interview a bunch of questionably credentialed “experts”. These experts included a World Authority on Raw Foods & Superfoods and an Holistic Dentist & Nutritionist. Probably a bad sign when I find the most credible person interviewed in a film about nutrition and medicine to be the Investigative Journalist.

What were the good points made in the film?

  • Medical doctors usually have very little nutrition education
  • Our diets suck
  • There’s no profit to be made if we don’t need drugs anymore (promptly negated by the fact that they’re pushing the use of megadoses of vitamins – who’s profiting there?)
  • Good nutrition can help improve depression
  • “Conventional” agriculture methods are less than ideal

These good points were hugely overshadowed by the bad points:

  • The nutritionists who made the film are both graduates from The Global College of Natural Medicine which is listed on Quack Watch as a school not accredited by a recognised accrediting agency
  • They allege that cooked food is basically toxic to the body through the process of digestive leukocytosis. This is based on a distortion of questionable research by Kouchakoff in 1930. If you want to read more about this topic check out the article on Beyond Veg. In actual fact, the cooking of some foods makes nutrients more biologically available.
  • There’s some pushing of “superfoods” which are a made-up phenomenon. There are arguments for any whole food to be a superfood.
  • It’s purported that the residual deficiency from one day of poor eating can’t be compensated for with a healthy diet on subsequent days so nutrient supplements are necessary. Oh please, one day of crappy eating does not mean you have to start popping vitamin supplements the following day.
  • Most of the talk about nutrition being used to improve health is translated into the pushing of vitamin supplements. Um, how about actually eating a healthy diet?
  • The use of megadoses of niacin are recommended for treatment of depression and alcoholism. However, there is insufficient evidence for the use of niacin in treating these conditions and high doses of niacin can lead to serious side effects including liver problems, loss of vision, and irregular heartbeat. I think it’s dangerous that “experts” are encouraging people to self-medicate using megadoses of vitamins.
  • It’s suggested that we need colonics and detox diets and that they can lead to huge amounts of weight loss through flushing of toxins through the bowel. Apparently exercise is dangerous because we’re losing toxins through our skin!!?
  • There’s discussion about the Max Gerson cancer therapy, which allegedly cured cancer through nutrition therapy and megadoses of vitamin C. There is no evidence that his method is at all effective. Further to this, it’s suggested that “a normal healthy body can’t get cancer.” I think that’s offensive to people who get cancer. Especially those who live healthy lives. Yes, a healthy diet strengthens your immune system. Is it guaranteed to protect you from cancer? No.
  • Even though the title of the film is Food Matters hardly any of the film is about food. It’s basically a massive nutritional supplement commercial. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the producers had a vested interested in the supplement store they promote on the film’s website.


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Dietitians sell-out for meat

This was a fairly recent post; originally posted in October of this year.

A friend and fellow dietitian recently send me a PDF of an interesting document: Healthy Food Choices: Good Reasons to Recommend Foods of Animal Origin. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find a link directly to the document to share with you. The link I’ve given will take you to the Beef Order Centre where you can download the PDF.

If you’ve been reading for a while you know that I’m not a vegan or vegetarian. However, I don’t eat meat every day, or even every week and you know that I’m no big fan of cow’s milk. This publication rubbed me the wrong way. While it was written by a number of highly credentialed dietitians it was also “prepared through the collaborative efforts of: Beef Information Centre, Canada Pork, Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, Canadian Egg Marketing Agency, Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council, Chicken Farmers of Canada, Dairy Farmers of Canada”. I think that pretty much covers every animal product marketing board in Canada. How can anyone give much credibility to a document encouraging people to eat more animal products that was essentially developed by the people who make money off the sale of said products?

The arguments they give are that Canadians aren’t consuming enough of certain nutrients (several of the ones listed don’t even come from animal products; i.e. vitamin C, folate, and fibre). In addition Canadians consume too many foods that aren’t part of the food guide (“junk food”), and we aren’t consuming enough from any of the food groups. No mention of the fact that the food guide is inherently flawed and even if it wasn’t, it’s just a guide not gospel.

Even if we’re not eating enough servings from the meat and alternatives food group, or from the milk and alternatives food group (which I’m dubious about) there’s a key word in both food groups that they seem to have over looked: alternatives. Yes, this means that you can eat other (non-animal) foods to fulfill your needs from both food groups. They don’t even mention any of these foods, or the fact that many nutrients contained in animal products are readily available in plant foods and generally speaking, plant foods tend to be healthier than animal foods. I’m usually far more concerned about people consuming too few vegetables and fruits than I am about them consuming too few servings of meat.

Honestly, I think it’s shameful that dietitians would allow their names to be associated with such a publication. Then again, maybe that’s why I can’t find work in my field.


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Take 10k and a massive portion of guilt with that soda

This was originally posted last December.

recent study published in the Journal of Public Health reportedly found that labeling soft drinks with the amount of exercise a person would have to do to burn off the calories was a far more effective deterrent to consumption than the traditional caloric label. This is an interesting approach but I have a few qualms about it. Apparently the study was done by posting signs outside a corner store. I’m not sure how this would translate onto packaging labels. There is a limited amount of space for placing such information and I don’t think that it should replace the current nutrition information as it contains fewer details. I am also concerned about readability. The most recent statistic I could find indicated that 48% of Canadian adults have substandard literacy rates. I think that it’s really important that we ensure any new labelling be accessible to that half of our population.

Another major concern I have is how this figure is determined. One of the signs used in the study read “Did you know that working off a bottle of fizzy drink or fruit juice takes about 50 minutes of running?”. It’s very difficult to place a figure on the number of calories the “average” person will burn during exercise as our sizes and fitness levels play a huge role in determining how many calories we burn during exercise. According to my Nike+ app I burnt over 500 calories in an approximately 50 minute run yesterday. That’s more than twice the amount suggested by the sign used in the study. I’m a relatively small and fit person, generally someone who is larger and less fit will burn even more calories doing the same amount of exercise. I question whether we should be providing the public with such potentially inaccurate information.

Is this even how we want people to be thinking about food and beverages and exercise? Should we be painting exercise as a punishment for consuming food and drink? Wouldn’t it be better to encourage people to enjoy healthy food that they’ve prepared themselves? And to find an exercise that they can take pleasure from? Yes, as a society we are clearly over-indulging. However, I don’t think that serving up extra portions of guilt with everything we eat is the answer.