Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Reverse food snobbery: Who has time to cook lasagna after work?

My friend Meaghan shared the above infographic with me last week to see what I thought. I thought that it was worthy of a blog post.

I think that it’s over simplifying a complex issue. How can you possibly put frozen peas in the same category as a packaged frozen lasagna? Frozen peas (and other frozen vegetables) are picked and frozen at their prime, meaning that they’re often more nutritious than their “fresh” counterparts on grocery store shelves. However, as you can see, even with their selection of lasagna, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find a frozen lasagna that’s as healthy and nutritious as one that’s homemade. Who the heck is cooking lasagna as a weekday supper anyhow? Ain’t nobody got time for that! Let’s see some more realistic comparisons of quick and easy homemade suppers.

I’m not sure what the deal is with the packaged stir-fry pictured on the infographic. It appears to be a box but I would think that they’re referring to a frozen stir-fry mix. Sure, if you’re buying the frozen mixed vegetables without a sauce, they’re going to be easy to turn into a healthy stir-fry. However, if they’re already coated in a sauce you’re probably going to get more sodium, sugar, and fat (possibly trans fat) than you would if you made your own sauce.

Minimally processed packaged foods can be a great healthy time saver. However, you can’t equate buying pre-cut vegetables with a frozen tv dinner. As a dietitian, one of the main messages I hope to impart on people is the importance of cooking their own meals. If you’re trying to lose weight or just to be healthier this is probably the best thing you can do for yourself. And sorry, but taking a box out of the freezer and nuking it doesn’t count as cooking. I’d like to see the true cost of the frozen meals they’re pushing if you also factored in the shortened health-spans due to poor nutrition.

There’s also the not so subtle “reverse snobbery” (I’m stealing that one Meaghan) in the post accompanying the infographic. The implication that the average person doesn’t have time to cook and that their time is far too valuable to be spent *gasp* cooking. Yes, we’re all terribly busy, although we do somehow manage to find time to watch Big Brother or binge watch Orange is the New Black. I think that we, as a society, need to re-evaluate our priorities and put cooking right up near the top. The thing is, cooking doesn’t need to be a long torturous laborious process. There are plenty of healthy and delicious meals that you can whip up in less than half an hour after work. If you’re cooking for more than one, you can also enlist the help of other members of the household. You can prep ingredients the night before or batch cook on your days off. You can make extra portions so that you can have your own homemade nutritious frozen dinners ready to grab when you’re short on time. Cooking is not a luxury. It’s a necessity.


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Does eating breakfast make you racist?

Image by alsis35 on flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Image by alsis35 on flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Man, Mother Jones sure does love the ire-inducing click-bait headlines. The latest: Why you should stop eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner: Dogmatic adherence to mealtimes is anti-science, racist, and might actually be making you sick. Melodramatic much?

Why anti-science you might ask? Well, fasted mice apparently have more “robust” brain cells, live longer, and are skinnier than non-fasted mice. Reminder: mice are not humans and what applies to rodents may not (and often doesn’t) apply to humans. The other science was a tiny study (16 participants, 8 in each treatment group) that found no significant differences between those who ate three meals a day and those who ate three meals and snacks (both groups consumed the same number of calories). And a study of 24 women who ate either two or five meals a day (again, the same number of calories). The researchers found that both groups burned the same number of calories. Does this mean that we should all start intermittent fasting? I’m going with no.

While some people can be content following an intermittent fasting diet, not everyone will be happy going for long periods without food. Firstly, these studies didn’t show that there was a benefit to eating more meals every day, but they also didn’t show a benefit to eating fewer meals. Secondly, these studies didn’t address the qualitative aspects associated with meal frequency. To me, this suggests that if you’re happy and healthy eating three square a day, or more, or less, then that’s what you should do.

Why racist? Well, apparently the Europeans scorned Native Americans for not eating three square meals a day. Obviously not cool. However, it’s a little absurd to suggest that eating breakfast makes you a racist.

Why making you sick? So far as I can tell, the only reference to this in the article is regarding people eating too many calories for their sedentary lifestyles, particularly “large country breakfasts” which anecdotally lead to increased reports of indigestion.

After all of this incendiary information, the article concludes with some reasonable advice:

Instead of obsessing about meal size and frequency, Ochner recommends something simpler: Don’t eat when it’s time for a meal; eat when you feel hungry. That, he says, is a lost art.

While I agree that we shouldn’t obsess too much about meal size and frequency I don’t think that the majority of us are ready for eating only when we’re hungry. For most of us that leads to overeating. Preventative eating, and front-loading the day can be key for people struggling with weight management issues and mindless eating in the evening. For many of us, eating on a schedule works great. The key is to figuring out what works best for you rather than adhering to patterns of eating recommended in a magazine article. There are no hard and fast rules.


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Don’t blame Bittman, family meals are important

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I heard a piece on the CBC recently that rubbed me the wrong way. Then my friend sent me a link to this interview with the author of the study being discussed on the CBC. The study looked at the alleged negative effect that proponents of home-cooked meals (such as Mark Bittman, Jamie Oliver, and other celebrity chefs) have on over-worked mums. This bothered me for a number of reasons.

First of all, it’s not just out-of-touch celebrity chefs advocating for eating home-cooked meals together as a family most evenings. Most dietitians are on-board and probably quite a few other health professions. There are so many good reasons to eat together as a family: home-cooked meals tend to be healthier than restaurant, fast food, take-away, and packaged meals; there is also the important social aspect involved with sitting down and sharing a meal with others; also, if you’re sitting eating at a table you’re less likely to overeat and mindlessly eat than you are if you’re eating in front of the tv or in the car.

Apparently these celebrity chefs are making working mums feel badly because they don’t have the time (and sometimes the money) to prepare elaborate home-cooked meals for their families every night. I get it, we’re all busy but home-cooked meals need not take exorbitant quantities of time or money to prepare. We also need to get our priorities straight. Cooking meals should not be taking time away from quality family time. Cooking meals should be quality family time. Kids can help in the kitchen from quite a young age and can become increasingly involved as they get older. Bonus: children are more likely to eat and enjoy food that they had a hand in preparing. Also, what’s with the burden being placed on mums? I know that the bulk of housework and cooking often falls on women (sorry, not sorry anti-feminists). Men, get in the kitchen! Everyone in the family can be involved in cooking.

Finally, just because a home-cooked family meal seven nights a week might be an unattainable goal, doesn’t mean that we should just throw in the kitchen towel and order a pizza. It’s like the watered down physical activity guidelines that were created because most people won’t meet the minimums that we should truly be meeting. Or dumbing down the grade school curriculum because children might not be able to achieve the desired outcomes. This lowering of the bar is doing us a disservice as a society. Maybe nightly home-cooked meals are not realistic immediate goals. Set a smaller goal to start but keep that end goal in sight. A home-cooked meal doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s okay to have grilled cheese and tomato soup. Planning ahead and prepping ingredients in advance can make nightly family meals achievable. There is no problem with home-cooked meals. There is a problem with our society that doesn’t value home-cooked meals.