Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Has healthy eating jumped the shark?

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My colleague and I were recently looking for cookbooks for children and families. I was a bit surprised by what’s available. We were looking for something that used basic, affordable ingredients. Recipes that would be easy to prepare, nutritious, and tasty. What we found was a limited number of children’s cookbooks. Some which met our criteria but many that didn’t. Often they featured recipes that weren’t the healthiest. Lots of sweets and not many vegetables. Things that might appeal to kids but that weren’t going to simultaneously promote healthy eating.

The family cookbooks were the most shocking. There were lots that touted themselves as being “healthy” but they featured obscure and expensive ingredients. Recipes that were heavy on the “superfoods” and light on simplicity. While these might appeal to a certain “foodie” subset of the population, they certainly aren’t going to encourage people who shy away from home cooking because they’re intimidated by the prospect.

It makes me wonder if we’ve put “healthy eating” on such a pedestal that it’s become the sole purview of the culinary elite. Has the “wellness” movement made healthy eating seem unattainable to many people by convincing them that they need to prepare chia lemonade, mushroom jerky, and spirulina chapati (yes, these are actual recipes from an actual children’s cookbook)? Are people throwing in the towel and assuming that healthy eating isn’t for them because they think it means having to spend hours in the kitchen every day activating almonds for gluten-free, refined sugar-free, vegan pancakes?

Some of the top cookbooks that came up when I searched Amazon for “family cookbooks” included: Forks Over Knives: Ever Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy, Kids on a Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet; The Happy Family Organic Superfoods Cookbook for Baby & Toddler; and several other vegan cookbooks. I also came across a paleo for families cookbook and a low-carb for families cookbook.

I’m not criticizing anyone’s decision to feed their families in what ever way they see fit. My concern is that by making it seem that healthy eating can only be achieved by following a very specific, often complicated, and costly diet, that the wellness industry is actually pushing people away from healthy eating. Sure, many of these diets and foods can be a part of a healthy diet. The point is that they don’t need to be. You don’t need to eat chia seeds and tempeh to be healthy. Classics like carrots and broccoli are still nutritious. Don’t buy into the hype. Healthy eating can be simple, affordable, and delicious.

 

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Cancer diet

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Anybody else see this article about a journalist who gets cancer and starts praising nutribabble? The description really says it all: After beating cancer, Scott DeSimon rediscovered his appetite—and lost his skepticism for wellness and nutrition trends. Meet the superfoods that guided him back to health.”

The gist is that the author gets cancer, goes through conventional treatment, loses a bunch of weight, finishes the treatment and attempts to regain the weight. Eschewing what he sees as healthy eating (“I know what constitutes a healthy diet: lots of vegetables, meat mainly as a flavoring, no processed foods”) he goes for quantity over quality and calories over micronutrients in an effort to regain the weight he lost during radiation. Unsurprisingly, he makes himself sick by ingesting copious quantities of fast food and restaurant food. So, he turns to a professional. Sadly, not a dietitian nor any sort of cancer specialist. Instead, he goes to Dr Lipman who has devotees such as Gwyneth Paltrow, as if that’s a selling point. Dr Lipman is a big fan of superfoods, cleanses, supplements, and has a website with testimonials. All of which are red flags of quackery and basically amount to a red sail, or whatever you want to picture for an oversized red flag. There are testimonials from actors and fellow quacks like Mark Hyman and Christiane Northrup.

Once the author goes on the extremely restrictive diet prescribed by Lipman, he magically feels much better and he slowly starts to regain weight. While he claims to be skeptical about the regimen, it comes across as hollow to me. It’s like I rolled my eyes but threw away all of my food as started living off cashew milk and chia seeds. Of course he’s going to feel better, he’s finished radiation treatment, regained his tastebuds, and started eating again (1). I’m not saying that the diet Lipman put him on is bad, I’m just saying that there are some pretty significant confounders here and correlation does not imply causation. It’s quite likely that he would have started to feel better on a much more relaxed diet and that the strict diet is falsely being credited with his recovery.

I don’t think that anyone with cancer should feel like they have to give-up gluten or sugar or coffee. They also shouldn’t feel as if they have to subsist off expensive “superfoods” and supplements. Healthy eating, whether you have cancer or not, does not have to be a complicated or costly endeavour.

For more information on cancer nutrition visit:

Canadian Cancer Society

Cancer Dietitian

Jean Lamantia

 


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What is a “superfood”?

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superfood is a marketing term intended to convince you to part with more money for food products. Yes, some of the superfoods are affordable; think kale. But many of them are not; think chia, acai, spirulina, hemp hearts. There is nothing wrong with these so-called superfoods, if you can afford them and like them then munch away. However, I know that many of these things aren’t in my regular grocery budget. What’s a poor girl/guy to do if they want to be healthy but they can’t afford all of these superfoods?

Just because they don’t have the marketing budget behind them doesn’t mean that loads of ordinary vegetables and fruits aren’t “super” in their own right. Carrots are loaded with vitamin A, and are also a good source of potassium, and fibre, as well as containing folate, vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium, and other vitamins and minerals. Apples are a good source of fibre, as well as containing vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, and phytosterols. Corn is a good source of protein, fibre, and contains a number of B vitamins, magnesium, and potassium. In fact, any vegetable or fruit is going to provide you with nutrients. The greater the variety you eat, the more nutrients you’ll get. There’s no need to worry if you can’t afford the superfoods all fruits and vegetables are super in their own ways.


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Reader’s Digest new fat-melting diet

I was pretty excited when one of the doctors at my temp job gave me the latest copy of Reader’s Digest to trash it. I know that he intended for me to throw it out but I wanted to trash it figuratively first. How could I not, with a headline like this?

The article touts the weight loss of Reader’s Digest staff after being on the diet for three weeks. The article states: “We lost 151 pounds in 3 weeks!” I’m not even going to get into how poorly the staff at the magazine must normally eat if they all saw double-digit weight loss over the course of 21 days. The fact that it’s a 21-day plan is a concern to me. It reeks of the dreaded “D” word. I wouldn’t be surprised if most, if not all, of the staff had regained the weight by the time the issue hit the newsstands. Sorry, but we all know that diets don’t work. If you want to see sustainable results, you need to makes sustainable changes.

Continuing on, there’s information on “13 essential fat releasers”. Supposedly the calories in these foods actually “thwart your body’s desire to hold on to fat, so you lose weight quickly and without hunger.” I’m not going to get into specifics on each of these foods as that would just take up way too much space and time. Suffice to say, there are no magical fat-loss foods. All of the foods mentioned in the article are certainly healthy choices. However, the benefits that the staff saw from them were not due to their magical properties. They were a result of switching from calorie-dense, nutrient-poor eating habits. One staffer is quoted as saying: “I used to inhale four cheeseburgers in two minutes. Now I’m satisfied by a 35-calorie piece of cheese.” Do we really think his 26-pound weight loss was due to special fat-releasers in the foods he ate? I’m fairly confident that his weight loss was due to the fact that he had a lot of extra weight to lose to being with and from switching from a very high calorie diet to healthier, lower calorie foods in smaller portions, not as a result of magical fat-releasers.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but there’s no magic foods you can eat to “release fat”. If you want to lose weight (and keep it off) you’re going to need to do some work.