Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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The dirty game of fast food charity #MiracleTreatDay #BurgerstoBeatMS

Last week it was “Burgers to Beat MS Day”. A couple of weeks ago it was “Miracle Treat Day”. Each occasion got me a little riled up and I sent out a few snarky tweets about the “occasions”.

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In case you’re not aware of these clever marketing opportunities fundraising initiatives let me give you a quick run down. On Miracle Treat Day (I feel wrong capitalizing this, these days aren’t worthy of anything more than lowercase) $1 from every blizzard sold in the US and Canada was donated to participating Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. Burgers to Beat MS is pretty much the same except it’s $1 from A&W teen burger sales going to the MS Society of Canada. These are just two examples of fast food aligning themselves with healthcare to detract from the fact that regular consumption of fast food contributes to a number of diseases.

It’s a total win-win. The fast food corporation comes out looking like they’re doing amazing things to cure disease and improve the lives of sick children. They also make money while doing it ($1 is not the cost of a teen burger or a blizzard and most people will buy more than the one item). The hashtags are all over twitter for the day garnering free positive publicity for the company which surely boosts sales well after the one day promotion ends. You really can’t fault the fast food companies for creating such initiatives. I also don’t fault the people buying the blizzards and the burgers. Who doesn’t want to be made to feel like they’re doing a good deed by eating a delicious blizzard or burger? If you can help suffering children or cure MS by eating a treat, why not? The real fault lies with the hospitals and MS Society, and all the other organizations that willingly embrace this form of fundraising. Of course, to be fair, the real real fault lies with the lack of government funding for these vital organizations but the buck has to stop somewhere and I think that hospitals and organizations promoting health should not associate themselves with fundraisers that promote illness.

I’d also like to get people thinking a little bit more critically about charitable fundraising. Dairy Queen proudly proclaims that in 2015, over $5 million was donated to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals across the US and Canada as a result of Miracle Treat Day. In 2014, international DQ sales were $4.1 billion and Dairy Queen was one of the world’s top performing fast food chains. That $5 million that sounds like so much to us average people is less than pennies to DQ. It’s about 0.12% of total sales. $5 million is next to nothing for one hospital’s budget, let alone spread amongst the 170 hospitals in the network. That’s $29, 411 per hospital; about 10% of the cost of an MRI machine or nearly 7% of the salary for one pediatric surgeon. Whereas, assuming the average blizzard size purchased is a medium, DQ is pocketing about $15 million in sales from Miracle Treat Day. This is solely from the sale of blizzards alone, on one day. In comparison, A&W’s Burgers to Beat MS has resulted in a paltry $8 million in donations to the MS Society of Canada over the past seven years.

How sad is it that hospitals and organizations like the MS Society are so desperate for funding that they’re willing to provide marketing for fast food chains and to encourage the consumption of less than nutritious foods for a little more funding?

No, I am not opposed to burgers and blizzards. However, I don’t think that we need to be encouraged to consume these foods anymore than we already do. How does raising a little money for one chronic disease justify the development of other chronic diseases incurred by the regular consumption of fast food? At what expense are these “healthcare” organizations willing to get a few bucks? I know that many people think “it’s just one treat” but when it’s something you’re only buying because you’re being made to feel good about it by the charity aspect and these events are happening on the regular it’s never “just one”. It’s part of a broader problem in our food environment. There’s constant justification for the consumption of treats and foods that should be consumed infrequently. There is no excuse for promoting heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, and type two diabetes under the guise of supporting hospitals and health charities.

I implore the hospitals and charities not to participate in such fundraising endeavours. I beg the government to start allocating more of my tax dollars to healthcare funding; especially toward health promotion and disease prevention.

It’s not all on the government and organizations though. As long as we as consumers continue to support these promotions with our money, our mouths, and our hashtags, the companies and organizations involved will continue to conduct them. The next time one of these days comes around please consider donating the money you would have spent on fast food to a charity of your choice. If you do participate in the fundraiser please don’t share it on social media. Dairy Queen, A&W, and all of the other fast food chains don’t need your free advertising.

 

 


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Skinny people should eat alone

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Last week Cornell Food Lab tweeted the above and I was all like <insert facepalm gif here>.

I think that the research the Cornell Food Lab does is fascinating. My first degree was in psychology and the work they does is pretty much the perfect marriage of nutrition and psychology. However, they really do tweet some questionable things.

On the face of it this seems like some fairly innocent advice. I mean who doesn’t want to ensure they don’t overeat? It’s the subtext of it that bothers me. It’s saying that watching how much you eat is more important than socializing, than friendships, than connecting with others. Hypothetically speaking, if my boyfriend is a delicate bird of an eater then he should probably sit at home with his lettuce leaves while I go out for lunch with friends so that I resist stuffing my face with All of the Things. Or, my light eating (why does this remind me of that woman who was convinced that she could sustain herself via photosynthesis?) co-workers should stealthily scarf their lunches in their cubicles while the rest of us gluttons whoop it up in the lunch room.

The sub-subtext is that thin is good, fat is bad and getting or staying thin should be the focus of all our food decisions. Never mind the fact that mealtimes should be pleasurable occasions. Forget that food and eating is about so much more than controlling how much we cram down our gullets. Never mind that social eating can be emotionally fraught enough for many people. Skinny people should be sure to isolate themselves lest they risk catching the gluttony of people who are overweight. Overweight people should all be forced to consume their food in locations where ever morsel they ingest can be subjected to due public scrutiny so that they’re sure to think twice before they have fries.

Lest you think I’m over thinking this tweet, in response to my retweet (with the comment “oy vey”) they shared this link to the research to clarify their point. Because research where people dined with a person in a fat suit is sooo much better than I thought this was. Sigh.

How about instead of enforcing food hang-ups and weight bias we all start enjoying our meals, be they alone or with others, again.

 

 

 

 

 


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Will canned fruit really kill me? Lessons from epi research

 

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One of my twitter friends retweeted the above tweet yesterday (identifying info removed to protect the guilty). I asked if they had a link to research to support this claim and received a link to this article in Science Daily in response. Dutifully, I followed-up with reading the full journal article. I just couldn’t fathom how eating canned or frozen fruit and vegetables could increase your risk of cancer.

For one thing, right off the bat, the authors are make no mention of frozen vegetables, they refer only to frozen fruit. Just to be clear, that was not a claim they were making.

It’s important to note that the study is observational epidemiological research. It’s impossible to infer causation from such research. At best we can say that there is a correlation between fruit and veg consumption and cancer diagnoses. We can’t say that fruit and veg consumption, or lack thereof, is causing the cancer.

The researchers questioned the participants regarding their fruit and vegetable consumption on the previous day, once a year, for seven years. This data was then linked to all-cause mortality up until 2013.  A few points to make here: 1. fruit and vegetable consumption included fruit juice and dried fruit, as well as pulses (e.g. lentils, beans, legumes) which many would categorize as meat alternatives; 2. dietary recall is notoriously inaccurate… can you remember everything you ate yesterday, including the quantities? 3. we are operating under the assumption that one day is truly representative of most days for the study participants, rather a large assumption.

Some potential confounding variables were controlled for; such as, physical activity, education, socioeconomic status, and BMI. However, it is not outside the realm of possibility that some variables were overlooked. As the researchers themselves point out, they didn’t look at total calorie consumption or other specific aspects of diet (e.g. sodium intake, macronutrient composition, consumption of fast food, timing of food intake, changes in diet, sedentary time, etc). Any of these things could have affected the apparent relationship between fruit and vegetable consumption and mortality from cardiovascular disease (CVD) or cancer.

As someone else on twitter pointed out, it’s also worth noting that the relative risk of dying was quite small. Out of 85, 347 participants, 1, 336 died from cancer and 1, 482 died from CVD. That’s a whooping 3.3% of all participants. Although the researchers found an inverse relationship between fruit and vegetable consumption (except for canned and frozen fruit for which they found a positive relationship) and all-cause mortality I question how meaningful this is. After all, suicide was the leading cause of death in both men and women between the ages of 20-34 years, accidental poisoning was second, and car accidents were third in England and Wales in 2012 (1). Is diet that much of a factor in such deaths? Why look at all-cause mortality? Why not focus solely on lifestyle related deaths?

Yes, it would appear that consuming more fruit and veg is correlated with reduced risk of dying, particularly from CVD. It’s certainly not going to harm you to eat more fruit and veg, unless you’re eating more canned and frozen fruit. So, why would that be? Well, remember the researchers didn’t examine the entire diet, nor did they distinguish between fruit packed in syrup and canned fruit packed in water, or frozen fruit without additives. It’s quite possible that other aspects of the overall diet (or the type of canned/frozen fruit) is responsible for the apparent increase in all-cause mortality in canned/frozen fruit eaters.

That brings me back to the tweet that started all of this. It came from someone who promotes health and fitness and who has a number of followers. Personally, I think that it’s irresponsible to tweet something like that. The tweet misinterpreted the findings by lumping frozen and canned fruit and vegetables together. It also sent a terrible message: if you can’t/don’t eat fresh fruit and veg you may as well not bother; you’re probably going to get cancer if you eat canned/frozen so you’re likely better off polishing off that box of Oreos. Sigh. Many people can’t afford, or don’t have easy access to fresh fruit and vegetables. Frozen and canned are preferable to none, especially if you make good choices. Frozen fruit and vegetables (without added sauces or syrups) are often more nutritious than their fresh counterparts as they are picked and frozen at peak-ripeness rather than under-ripe and spending time in transit, warehouses, on grocery store and fridge shelves. I would also argue that canned are preferable to that box of Oreos. If possible, choose fruit packed in water or juice, not syrup. Choose veg that are packed without added salt. If you can’t find vegetables without added salt, drain and rinse them well before using; you can get rid of up to 40% of the added sodium by doing this.

Don’t be discouraged if you feel that 7+ servings of fruit and veg are beyond your reach. Remember that every little bit helps; fresh, frozen, or canned.

 


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Of doctors, nutritional nonsense, and tweets

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I stumbled across a tweet from a doctor in the US last week and was so surprised by it that I did a little Internetting to determine if this tweeter was a licenced MD. Yep, she was. Now I’m not going to use her name because, perhaps (although based on Rate my MD, it seems unlikely) she’s a far better physician than she is a tweeter. My aim is not to attack her. My aim to to combat the outrageous information she’s tweeting. So… What’s she been saying?

The first tweet I saw said:

… Along with flax seeds, throw some China seeds into smoothies or yogurt. No flashes!

Wow. Who knew, all you have to do to prevent hot flashes during menopause is to include chia (I assume that’s what she meant by “China” – hey, typos happen to the best of us!) seeds in our diets. Is this true? Maybe. Although I’m highly doubtful that it’s that simple and as far as I can tell there’s been no published research on the subject. There are some studies of chia and weight loss in post-menopausal women but none investigating the effect of chia seed consumption on hot flashes during menopause. There is some anecdotal “evidence” on the Internet extolling the benefits of chia seeds for reduction/elimination of menopause symptoms. And while there’s certainly nothing wrong with incorporating chia seeds into your diet at any stage of life, no sensible health care professional would be providing this unsolicited, unsubstantiated advice on social media.

Scrolling through the docs timeline I came across a few other gems. How about?:

Those of you with hypothyroidism should be taking iodine and selenium supplements to help the conversion of T4 to T3.Helps metabolism

Um. No. The only reason for those with hypothyroidism to take iodine supplements is when the condition is caused by iodine deficiency, which is rare in North America (1). There may be benefits to selenium supplementation for those with hypothyroidism. However, there may also be risks associated with long-term supplementation and supplements should be discussed with your primary health care practitioner, not undertaken upon the advice of a tweet.

There are more horrifying tweets but I have to stop somewhere. One last one:

HIgh cholesterol? You are eating too much refined carbs ie #BREAD, white rice, potatoes and not enough fat ie #butter, fatty fish.#krilloil!

High cholesterol has many causes. Not least of which is heredity. Yes, there are lifestyle efforts we can all undertake to reduce our risk of elevated LDL (low density lipoproteins AKA “Bad cholesterol). However, these will only go so far and some people can lead extremely healthy lifestyles and still have high LDL. While it’s likely that saturated fats are not the evil, cholesterol raising nutrients we once believed them to be there is also no reason to think that increasing consumption of them will reduce blood cholesterol levels. The evidence is not there to support supplementation with krill oil either. As for the refined carbs the doctor lists, unless she’s referring to potato chips or french fries there’s no reason to diss potatoes. In fact, potatoes are one of the most under-rated foods.

Guys, be cautious. You’ve all seen Doctor Oz. He’s not the only doctor spewing nutrition nonsense. Question everything you read.


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Dietitians and brand recommendations

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The above tweet really bothered me. Why? For a couple of reasons. One, where is this data coming from? I assume it’s in regards to dietitians in the US, as that’s where the tweet originated. So, can we really paint all dietitians with the same brush? Would dietitians in other countries also be recommending products to clients by brand name 90% of the time in other countries? Are we even talking about dietitians in all areas of practice? After all, we’re a pretty diverse bunch, working in many different areas. 

Two, the implied assumption that this is a bad thing. Maybe I’m the only one, but I immediately felt like we dietitians were somehow doing a disservice to our clients by recommending foods by brand name. The 90% is really quite meaningless. It could mean that a dietitian recommends every food by brand, or it could mean that the dietitian recommends but one of all of the recommended foods by brand. 

Personally, I tend not to recommend foods by brand name. However, I can see times when it might be useful. For example, when telling a client with celiac disease about gluten-free products. Or when someone asks which coconut milk doesn’t contain preservatives or stabilizers. Or when advising someone about humane meat products available at the grocery store. Or when identifying a product which is unique in the market. I don’t think that recommending a product by brand name necessarily means that a dietitian is being influenced by the company in question. I don’t think that it should be taken to mean that his or her credibility is in question. It may simply mean that they are trying to simplify the navigation of grocery store aisles for their clients. 

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