Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Is Canada’s Food Guide making us fat?

Oh goodie. Nina Teicholz is at it again (still at it?). In an article in the National Post the other day she purportedly claimed that the cause of obesity in Canada is our strong adherence to Canada’s Food Guide.

See, that might be a remotely good argument if Canadians were actually following Canada’s Food Guide (even then, the causal relationship is unlikely). However, we’re not. Not even close. Only one quarter of the population (two years of age and over) met the minimum recommendation for vegetables and fruit according to one study. Similar results are consistently found through the CCHS (Canadian Community Health Survey administered by Stats Canada). We don’t eat enough vegetables and fruit, we don’t get enough milk (or alternatives), we eat too much meat…

Even if it were true that we were all following Canada’s Food Guide there are significant flaws with this logic. One, it’s a spurious correlation. You know, like the correlation between the number of people tripping over their own feet and dying and the number of lawyers in Nevada.

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Just because two things happen to correlation doesn’t mean that there’s a connection between them. Just because obesity rates have been rising since the latest incarnation of CFG doesn’t mean that the CFG caused the rise in obesity.

Two, what about the rising obesity rates across the planet? Does Teicholz mean to suggest that Brits, Americans, and Australians are all strictly adhering to the Canadian Food Guide? Who knew our guide was so popular!?

Three, obesity rates were quite likely rising before we adopted Canada’s Food Guide. Both in Canada, and around the world. It’s impossible to say what the trend in obesity would have been if Canada’s Food Guide hadn’t been adopted in the 1980s. It’s possible that the trajectory would have been the same. Maybe it would have been even more rapid, slower, or dropped. There’s probably no causal relationship between the adoption of our national food guide and the increase in obesity rates.

Fortunately, there’s a voice of reason. Unfortunately, it comes in at the end of the article (after most people have likely stopped reading). Lyons says what I’ve said all too often, that we shouldn’t be demonizing or glorifying any foods. Rather than go all-in on saturated fat, we should be consuming fat from a variety of sources (save for man-made trans-fat). Rather than go from low-fat to high-fat we should consume a variety of foods. Let’s not sweat the small stuff so much.


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I guess some RDs are sexy

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Eat big meals… Fat goes quick! Photo by L’imaGiraphe (en travaux) on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons LIcence.

Right on the heels of my post about we dietitians not being sexy, this article comes out in the Daily Mail, and I’m forced to eat my words (good thing there are no forbidden foods!). Dietitian Trudi Deakin is proclaiming a high-fat, low-carb diet to be the be all and end all, and she’s written the book to “prove” it. Sigh.

Now, as you (my regular readers) know, I’m certainly not one to shy away from fat. New readers, My original by line was “real dietitians eat butter”. However, I also subscribe to the school of thought that says too much of anything is bad for you. Be it fat, salt, sugar, or carrots. You can have too much of a good thing. According to Trudi, saturated fat is the key. While it’s become widely accepted that saturated fat is not the demon it was once believed to be, that doesn’t mean that it’s suddenly a dietary super hero.

Trudi claims that her diet is 82% fat, and she’s never felt healthier. She alleges that high-carb diets are fuelling the obesity epidemic. The gist is that low-fat was wrong so low-carb must be right. Why do we have to go from one extreme to another? I’ll say the same thing about this that I said about demonizing sugar: blaming one nutrient for obesity or chronic disease isn’t getting us anywhere. These are complex problems that aren’t going to be remedied with simple solutions.

This 82% fat has me curious though. What would a diet that’s 82% fat look like? According to Trudi:

BREAKFAST: Three eggs cooked in the microwave with butter and cheese, like a souffle, served with oily fish – smoked salmon or mackerel – or avocado.

LUNCH:A bowl of berries with double cream or a homemade walnut scone, made with ground almonds rather than flour, served with double cream

DINNER: Meat or fish with a serving of vegetables cooked in butter 

Just for fun, I entered this meal plan into my fitness pal to find out the breakdown. Obviously without quantities, it’s near impossible to say exactly what caloric and macronutrient totals would look like. Based on one serving of each of the items listed above, I would only be consuming 995 kcal, and fat would account for roughly 40% of these. If Trudi’s diet is being accurately reported, she’s obviously consuming greater quantities than I recorded, particularly of the high-fat foods. Regardless, it doesn’t sounds overly appealing to me. I’d rather be a few pounds heavier and die a couple of years earlier than never have cereal for breakfast, never snack, and put butter on everything (as much as I love butter).

While Trudi may be content with this restrictive diet for now, it will be interesting to see what will happen with time. Most people following low-carb diets find them to be extremely difficult to follow over the long-term and usually relinquish them. Aside from the difficulty adhering to these low-carb, high-fat diets, there are other risk factors to consider.

Children with epililepsy following ketogenic diets provide us with some insight into the long term effects of a ketogenic diet. A study of children following a ketogenic diet found that poor growth was common. Other side effects were kidney stones and bone fractures.

There’s some other misinformation in the article. Trudi states that she consumes 30 grams of protein at breakfast because “your body doesn’t store it.” Um… I don’t know where this is coming from. While 30 calories at breakfast is certainly reasonable, excess calories, regardless of macronutrient, will be stored as fat.

The unfortunate thing about most weight management research is that “long term” equals several months to a year. While someone might experience weight loss, and find a high-fat diet relatively easy to adhere to for a few months, years, or a lifetime, are a far different story. Trudi’s been following this diet for less than year. Let’s see the tune she’s singing in a decade. Until then, you might want to take her high-fat diet with a grain of salt, or better yet, a baked potato.


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No big fat surprise that butter is being touted as the next Superfood

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Why, oh why must we take everything to the extreme? Is it because simple healthy eating is boring? We have to have “clean eating”, “superfoods”, “low-fat”, “low-carb”, “cleanses”, “high-protein”, yada yada. The latest mantra to irk me “slather on the butter”. I know, I know, I said it first “real dietitians eat butter”. But this doesn’t mean that we have to eat it to excess. What am I on about now? An article in the Daily Mail that I came across on the weekend: Can eating fatty meat, whole milk and lashings of butter help you LOSE weight?

Okay, most of us in the nutrition world have accepted that low-fat was a grievous error. Taking anything to the extreme is a nutritional error. Just because something is not “bad” for you, or even good for you, doesn’t mean that you should consume more of it. The logic seems to go: apples are delicious and nutritious; therefore, an entire bag of them must be even better. In this case, we’re not even referring to foods that we know to be healthy when consumed regularly. We’re referring to foods that were unfairly demonized but have not been shown to lead to good health when consumed daily.

Perhaps, the article in the Daily Mail does not accurately portray Nina Teicholz’s book The Big Fat Surprise. I haven’t read the book, so I can only comment on the news article. Encouraging people to eat more cream, high-fat red meat, butter, and other foods high in saturated fat is not the solution to the obesity epidemic that the Daily Mail would have you believe. Yes, you can lose weight eating anything; remember the Twinkie Doctor? This doesn’t mean that you’re healthier (especially in the long-term).

Apparently Teicholz claims that removing the fat from milk means adding more carbohydrates. No. When you remove fat, you are not adding anything. Yes, an equivalent quantity of skim milk will be higher in carbohydrate (not sugar though) than whole milk. That’s simply a result of what’s left behind when you remove the fat. It’s also higher in protein, minerals, and vitamins. We wrongly vilified saturated fat, let’s blame carbs.

Health and the battle against obesity should not be a nutrient blame-game. How about we stop demonizing and glorifying foods and nutrients and accept that there is a place for bread and a place for butter in a healthy diet.


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Fear of fat

Last week an article in the Globe and Mail discussed recent research indicating that saturated fat is not the heart attack waiting to happen that we believed it to be for the last couple of decades. Great news for butter lovers! As an aside, my original tag-line for this blog was going to be “real dietitians eat butter”. Bad news for many health promoting organizations and for many consumers.

I say it’s bad news for many organizations because messages need to be updated and when you’re dealing with slow-moving bureaucracies such as Health Canada, this often takes some time to occur. In the meantime, this becomes bad for consumers because it’s difficult to know which messages to believe. When the government is telling you to choose margarine and others are telling you to put several tablespoons of butter in your coffee, who to believe?

Personally, I’ve always taken the stance that just because a little of something is good for you it doesn’t necessarily follow that a lot of it is better. Too much of anything is bad for you. Just because we’ve figured out that saturated fats are not likely to cause heart disease doesn’t mean that you should make all of the fat in your diet saturated. Variety is both the spice of life and the foundation of a healthy diet. Go ahead, use butter in that recipe, spread a little on your roll, but also continue to include other fats such as olive oil, nuts, and seeds.

We also need to remember that just because fat doesn’t automatically turn to fat in your body doesn’t mean that it won’t. Fats still have more calories by weight (9 kcal per gram) than other macronutrients. If you consume more calories than your body needs you will gain weight and consuming calorie dense foods (such as those high in fat) makes this easier to do.

There’s no need to fear the fat, be it saturated or unsaturated, but there’s also danger to embracing it to the exclusion of other nutrients.