Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


Cranberry Cocktail Con

Based on an article in the Globe and Mail, it seems that cranberry cocktail producers are concerned that their beverage will be banned from being sold in schools. Current school nutrition policies in Ontario and Nova Scotia, and likely in other provinces as well, state that cranberry cocktail should not be currently available for purchase in schools (or should only available occasionally). In Ontario, only 100% fruit juice can be sold as juice in schools. In Nova Scotia, juice that is not 100% fruit juice should not be sold more than once or twice a month. New school nutrition policy in the USA has got the cranberry growers worried that their product will no longer be permitted to be sold in schools. Ridiculous. How many kids do you know that spend their lunch money on cranberry juice anyway? Unless things have changed dramatically since I was a child, I seriously doubt that cranberry juice has become wildly popular among grade school students.

One of the arguments for permitting cranberry cocktail to continue to be sold in schools is that it has the ability to fight urinary tract infections and reduce cancer risk. This is absurd. It’s been shown that cranberry concentrate (i.e. pure cranberry juice not cranberry cocktail) can help to prevent urinary tract infections. As far as I’m aware there is no solid scientific proof that cranberry juice (pure or otherwise) has any impact on cancer risk. I can’t see any good reason for giving cranberry cocktail an exemption from school nutrition policy. If I had my druthers, all juice would be banned from sale in schools, regardless of percentage of pure fruit juice present. Juice is a poor substitute for whole fruit but due to our inferior food guides and miseducation, many people are under the impression that juice is a serving of fruit and that more is better.

If 100% fruit juice is to be permitted for sale, by all means, allow 100% cranberry juice to be sold in schools. But if we’re going to allow cranberry cocktail we may as well start allowing Kool Aid, Beep, and pop.


The great Nova Scotia cake walk debacle

I was going to stay out of this cake debacle but I just can’t keep my mouth shut after reading this article in the Globe and Mail. Plus I just recently ranted about the problems with the Nova Scotia School Food and Beverage Policy. If you haven’t already heard about the latest, basically people are suddenly outraged that cake walks are not permitted as school fundraisers. Now, to be perfectly honest, I have fond memories of the year that I won the cake walk at my elementary school Fun Fair (not that I could eat it because I was allergic to wheat but that’s beside the point). I don’t see the harm in having a fundraiser like that once a year. The problem here is that these occasions have become increasingly frequent and every event/cafeteria/tuckshop in schools seems to come with a plethora of nutritionally void foods. Hence, the introduction of a nutrition policy in the public school system five years ago. Why, when this policy has supposedly been in effect since 2007, people are only just now getting outraged about the ban on cake walks seems ridiculous to me. Obviously the policy is not being upheld. I am disappointed by the reaction of Ramona Jennex, the NS Education Minister who said that cake walks are okay and not classified as fundraisers even though they’re raising funds for schools and fundraising through the sale of “junk” food is not permitted. Say what?? I’m even more disappointed by the reaction of parents and the public. Our public education system is in tatters. Teachers are being made to serve as glorified babysitters and the one thing that people muster up the energy to get worked up over is the right to hold a freaking cake walk??! What about the cutting of teaching positions? The loss of programs outside of the core such as art, music, enrichment, and special education? What about the fact that students are entering into university without the ability to spell, write a grammatically correct sentence, or complete assignments in a timely fashion? What about the fact that we do have an obesity epidemic and we should be teaching children healthy habits not just math and geography? Seriously people, priorities.

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NS school food policy is a sham and a shame

I was so proud of the Nova Scotia school food and beverage policy. It came out years before most other provinces and still seemed superior to the policy which came out in Ontario just last year. Since returning to Nova Scotia I have become increasingly disillusioned. Several people have told me about issues with foods that are currently available in schools. While it seems that some schools are adhering to the policy others are not or are at least doing so to the loosest degree possible.

The above photo was kindly provided to me by Drew Moore as evidence of the current state of school lunches. Pretty much all I see in this photo are carbs and fat. This is exactly the sort of lunch that’s going to lead children to be lethargic and inattentive in the afternoon. Another friend of mine (the one who prompted this post) asked me if there was anyway that I could get into schools and do some work with the cafeterias as the food choices are dismal. I was puzzled because of the school nutrition policy but apparently this has fallen by the wayside. She told me that large bags of popcorn are always available as well as cookies and fruit and vegetables are scarce. One of her students forgot a lunch one day so she went down to the cafeteria to get him something and came back with an orange and a piece of toast as those were the only two remotely healthy options available. Another parent told me that there’s no cafeteria in his children’s school but the snack shack doesn’t sell soda or chocolate. Upon further questioning it was revealed that there are “questionable alternatives” such as Sun Chips, fruit gummies, chocolate milk, baked chips, and chocolate granola bars. None of these seem like optimal choices to me. Just because something isn’t completely unhealthy doesn’t mean that it’s healthy. Replacing regular chips with baked chips may provide children with less fat but it’s not actually providing them with more nutrients.

Why do we even bother having a nutrition policy if we’re not going to follow it? We’re not teaching students to make healthy choices. We’re definitely not making the “healthy choice the easy choice” as the slogan goes. It seems to me that the only things we’re teaching students is that it’s not necessary to follow through and enforce policies and that baked chips are nutritious.

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Serving up outrage: Are school food and beverage policies the way to go?

Some students in Ontario have launched a Kony-esque campaign to bring “junk food” back to school cafeterias. You can check out their video here.

As a public health dietitian in Ontario I was mandated to support the implementation of this policy. However, I have very mixed feelings about it and now that I’m no longer in that position I feel that I can voice them more freely. I think that the foods that the policy targets are not necessarily the sensible foods to be targeting (for example, a chocolate chip granola bar will make the cut but the same brand of granola bar with almonds added will not because it contains too much fat!). Replacing regular potato chips with baked chips (and then categorizing those chips as a vegetable) strikes me as ludicrous. Again, the government was swayed by the lobbying of the dairy farmers and chocolate milk made the cut. Many of the foods that are still permitted for sale in schools are of poor nutritional quality but are being pushed as healthy choices. What is this teaching parents and students? Clearly, there are major flaws with the policy.

While I agree with the students that removing all of the “junk food” is not teaching them to make healthy choices I also believe that it is wrong for schools to be profiting from sales of nutritionally void to students. Schools should be nurturing children’s minds and bodies. Unfortunately, I don’t have all the answers. I’m not sure how to reconcile these two concerns. Perhaps school cafeterias should be prevented from being profit-driven. Then we might see the development of more creative and appealing meals and snacks for sale in the schools.