Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Don’t cry over chocolate milk

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I know that I just recently blogged about flavoured milk in schools but I can’t resist commenting on this Masters Thesis on Flavored Milk Consumption in School Systems and its Effect on the BodyThis topic really gets under my skin and it especially annoyed me to see a dietetic maters thesis supporting the dairy industry and their propaganda.

The thesis looked at milk consumption of students in one school who were obligated to have a carton of milk on their trays at lunchtime. On the first day students were offered both white and flavoured (chocolate and strawberry) milks, as was presumably the norm. On the second day they were offered only white milk. The third day was the same as the first. Milk consumption was measured by weighing the milk remaining in the cartons at the end of each meal. It was found that milk consumption was about 9% less on the second day than it was on the first. Thus, it was argued that students were missing out on consuming calcium, and other essential nutrients, as a result of only being offered white milk.

Firstly, we have no idea what the students were consuming throughout the rest of the day. All we have is milk consumption at lunchtime over three days. There is no way we can conclude from this information that students were consuming inadequate calcium when they were only offered white milk. We also can not conclude that they were consuming sufficient calcium when they were offered both flavoured and white milk.

Secondly, of course children are going to choose chocolate milk over white milk when it’s offered. Chocolate milk is far tastier than white milk.

Thirdly, a 9% decrease in milk consumption isn’t really that much. When you think about it, this was after one day. What might happen if children were only offered white milk over a longer period of time? Perhaps their consumption of white milk would increase.

Why is it always argued that children need to have flavoured milk for them to drink it? Should we be sweetening everything to make it more palatable to them? If we never offered them chocolate milk in the first place we wouldn’t have this problem.

 

The paper indicates that many people believe that chocolate milk is contributing to the obesity epidemic and this is why we must stop serving it in schools. Chocolate milk is not single-handedly making children obese. I think the problem is more that we are constantly feeding children products that are filled with added sweeteners, sodium, and flavouring to get them to eat them. This is setting them up for a lifetime of dependence on the food industry trifecta of sugar, salt, and fat. We need to break the cycle. We need to be grown-ups and start deciding what our children eat and drink rather than letting the food industry make that decision for us.


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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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Is chocolate milk essential to good nutrition?

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This article: Impact of milk consumption and nutrient intakes from eliminating flavored milk in elementary schools really got under my skin. According to the study of 49 elementary schools, milk sales dropped by 26% and there was an 11.4% increase in discarded milk, suggesting a 37.4% decrease in milk consumption at school when flavoured milks were no longer available. The researchers then calculated replacement of the lost nutrients and determined that 3-4 more foods would need to be consumed (increasing calorie and fat consumption) in order to replace the nutrients lost from the decrease in milk consumption. This would also result in an increase cost of $4, 600 per 100 students per school year.

Interestingly, a little Internet searching revealed that these “findings” were nothing new. In fact, pretty much identical findings were released back in 2009 in research funded by MilkPEP (Milk Processors Education Program). There was actually quite the proliferation of propaganda produced as “educational” tools for teachers, school principals, and health care professionals. Here are just a few links: The National Dairy Council, Milk Delivers, Healthy Eating (Milk Delivers alias apparently). All of these materials suggest that keeping flavoured milks in schools is essential to the health of the students. Are you kidding me??!

First of all, why the heck should we be letting young children “choose” chocolate and strawberry milk? They are children they do not have the decision-making ability to determine that chocolate milk is not a healthy choice. As adults we have a responsibility to provide children with the best nutrition possible. Lost profits for the milk industry should not be a factor in determining what type(s) of milk are made available to students. Nor should the threat of increased costs for school cafeterias. Let them have good old-fashioned white milk or an unsweetened fortified milk alternative. Secondly, school is not the only place that these children are eating. Alleged lost nutrients from the decrease in milk consumption at school don’t necessarily have to be compensated for at school. Children should be eating breakfast and supper, as well as another snack or two, outside of school hours. Sufficient nutrients should easily be obtained throughout the day. Lastly, there are plenty of foods other than milk that provide children (and adults) with the nutrients present in milk. Milk is not the be all and end all for protein, calcium, and vitamin D that the dairy industry would have you believe. There are other dairy products such as yoghurt and kefir which can provide superior nutrition to milk. There are also many other foods that contain protein (e.g. fish, poultry, eggs, beans, tofu, etc.) and many other foods that contain calcium (e.g. canned salmon with the bone-in, yoghurt, almonds, figs, cherries, some tofu, fortified milk alternatives, etc.). As for vitamin D, it’s not naturally occurring in many foods (it’s added to milk) and even with milk consumption it can be difficult to meet the recommended intake. It’s present in fatty fish, egg yolks, fortified milk and milk alternatives, and other fortified foods such as cereals and yoghurt.

Eliminating flavoured milks from schools is not going to cause children to become malnourished. We shouldn’t pander to the industry and allow them to convince us that children will only drink their milk if it’s full of added sugar (really, is their product so bad that it’s unpalatable without added sugar and flavour?). Nor should we believe that milk is an essential food for adequate nutrition. Don’t fall for propaganda masquerading as research.


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Food literacy

A recent article posted by the CBC discussed how many Canadians have a poor understanding of calories. The gist was that many people don’t know how to read nutrition labels, don’t know how to estimate the number of calories in restaurant meals, and don’t know how much physical activity is necessary to burn off calories. To counter this, doctors are calling for better nutrition labels as well as labeling on menus. This is all well and fine but I think we need all of these things and more.

We need to improve food literacy. We need to get food education into schools. If kids are educated on label reading and other food skills, such as cooking, gardening, and nutrition, hopefully they’ll be better equipped to make healthy choices. They might even bring this new knowledge home and share it with their parents. Simply changing the information available is not going to be enough to change behaviours. Education and awareness are key and where better to start than with the captive audience of the next generation in schools.


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Why measuring obesity isn’t measuring the effectiveness of school nutrition laws

My nutrition and food news alerts were all abuzz with new evidence that school nutrition “laws” may be helping in the fight against childhood obesity the other day. Looking at one of the articles showed that there was a small difference in childhood obesity rates when comparing states with strict school nutrition regulations and states with more lenient  regulations. Naturally there’s the caution that causation cannot be proven, we can know for sure that the laws are what’s causing the reduction in childhood obesity, there may be other differences between the states that’s causing the difference in obesity rates.

I have to admit, it is a little be heartening, after all of the data that has shown no effect of school nutrition policies on childhood obesity, to see that there may actually be a positive impact in that regard after all. However, I really think that the obesity rates are beside the point and I think that it’s unfortunate that we’re placing such importance on obesity when we look at school nutrition policies. For one thing, I think that many of the nutrition policies are flawed and restrict the wrong foods. For example, chocolate granola bars are okay but the same granola bars with the addition of almonds are not okay because they have too much fat! Perhaps the real problem with the nutrition policies is that those developing them aren’t all on the same page regarding their purpose. I don’t think that we should be selling nutritionally void foods to students, and it’s awful that schools are profiting from such sales. However, I don’t think that the approach the policies are taking is beneficial in most cases. Simply restricting foods due to certain nutrient amounts is not teaching children how to make healthy choices. It also means that the food in schools is still not likely to be particularly appetizing. Schools should be providing students with healthy food so that they are primed for learning and life. If we shift our focus from trying to remove junk to trying to increase health we might have more success. The absence of undesirable nutrients in a food doesn’t guarantee the presence of good nutrition.