Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Making people feel like shit about what they eat isn’t an effective tactic to get them to change

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At some point someone came up with the brilliant idea to use scare tactics, guilt, and shame to convince people to do (or stop doing) certain behaviours. I think it may have originated with smoking cessation where people thought that showing people videos of people smoking through holes in their throats and with horrible mouth cancers would convince people to quit. And then people thought, “hey, it worked for tobacco, let’s try it with food”.

Unfortunately, while these tactics may work in some situations, and with some individuals, as a general rule, making people feel like shit about their choices isn’t a terribly effective strategy to convince them to change.

I see so many (possibly well-meaning) people sharing shaming messages in an effort to get people to follow their dietary regimes that essentially every food is now laden with guilt and dolloped with fear.

There are popular memes trying to make people feel guilty for not being vegan or to make people feel guilty for being vegan.

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There are headlines like “There is no conspiracy: Gluten really is evil”, “7 reasons why you should stop eating meat immediately”, “Eating bananas at breakfast is bad for you”. Books like: 141 Reasons Sugar Ruins Your Health  and The Hidden Dangers of Soy. Not to mention all of the vloggers, bloggers, and Instagram nutritionistas pushing their agendas. Seriously, go to google and type in “why you should never eat ____” and insert pretty much any food in there. You’re pretty much guaranteed to get at least one hit telling you why practically every food is going to kill you.

This isn’t healthy. We should not be afraid of something that is essential to life. Something that should be pleasurable. We shouldn’t be loading every food up with fear.

For those using these fear-based messages to try to convince people to join your diet, you’re probably not having the effect you intended. Rather than convincing people to change you’re quite likely just making them feel like what they’re doing is shameful. Maybe they’ll secretly try to change because they’re embarrassed about their shameful food choices and then just feel even worse if they fail. Maybe they’ll just ingest a little bit more guilt every time they eat something they’ve been told is evil.

The nutrition world has become like some sort of twisted religious cult where once you’ve been “saved” you need to spread the gospel and indoctrinate as many heathen eaters as possible. Instead, how about we stop trying to push our person beliefs onto everyone else? How about accepting that there is no one and only diet? That what works for you and is enjoyable for you might not work for everyone else. Let everyone else enjoy their food in peace unless they ask for your opinion.

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Have you heard of banana milk?

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Image by Newtown Graffiti on flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Have you heard of banana milk? Apparently it’s poised to be the next plant-based milk alternative. Except it’s not milk. It’s juice.

Maybe banana blended with water is tasty and maybe it makes a great stand-in for actual milk in a latte. I’d be willing to give it a try. But let’s be honest here, it’s banana juice. Nutritionally (and probably favour-wise) there is pretty much no resemblance between a banana blended into water and a glass of cow’s milk.

Of course, banana milk, like almond milk (or any other plant-based milk alternative) sounds a heck of a lot catchier than banana juice or banana water. Unless it’s being fortified like crazy, calling it milk is misleading and could lead to nutrient deficiencies.

When you think of milk you probably think of nutrients like protein, calcium, B vitamins, and vitamin D. Calling banana juice “milk” evokes the false perception that this water and banana mixture is also a good source of these nutrients.

According to a recipe I found online for banana milk one serving contains one banana, one cup of water, a dash of cinnamon, and a pinch of sea salt. Based on this, and assuming use of a medium banana, the nutrition profile would be: 0.4 grams of fat, 1.2 mg sodium (plus that coming from the pinch of salt maybe about 140 mg), 422.4 mg potassium, 3.1 g fibre, 14 g sugar, 1.3 g protein, 20% DV of vitamin B6, and 7% DV of magnesium. Compare that to the nutrient profile of a cup of 2% milk: 5 grams of fat, 100 mg sodium, 0 g fibre, 12 g sugar, 8 g protein, 29% DV calcium, 26% DV vitamin D, 27% DV riboflavin, and 19% DV vitamin B12. Both have nutritional value but the nutrient profiles for a banana and a glass of milk are also quite different.

Go on and enjoy your banana lattes and whatever other banana juice concoctions you like but don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s the same as drinking a glass of milk. It’s not, it’s the same as eating a banana and drinking a glass of water.


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If I quit meat will I lose weight?

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This article was ALL OVER my twitter feed last week. I couldn’t help but wonder how much truth the headline “To shed pounds, going vegetarian or vegan may help” contained. You know, I have no doubt that it may help. I also have no doubt that it may not help, and that it may not be the only option.

The article states that the study (meta-analysis) concluded that following a vegetarian or vegan diet lead to greater weight loss than following an “average American diet”. At which point I was like “are you kidding me?!!“. Of course following a prescribed vegetarian or vegan diet is going to lead to more weight loss than a terrible diet consisting of heavily processed foods and few vegetables (aka the “average American diet”)! Especially when you’re only looking at the results over the course of the study. We all know that it’s easier to lose weight than it is to keep it off.

I was also left wondering how the authors decided which studies to include in their meta-analysis. There were only 12 studies used and I can’t imagine that there were only 12 studies that met their inclusion criteria. Is it possible that they were “cherry picking”? Someone want to do some pubmed searching and let me know? I don’t really have time for that so I suppose I’ll let them slide on that count and just leave the suggestion out there.

The authors themselves state that at most, the studies lasted for 18 months and it did appear that weight loss on these vegetarian and vegan diets was often not sustained over time. Therefore, while it’s possible that people will initially lose weight on vegetarian and vegan diets they may not keep the weight off over time. This may be due to reverting to normal dietary intake or to increasing consumption upon conclusion of study participation.

While this article tells us that at least 12 studies have shown vegetarian and vegan diets to be effective methods of short-term weight loss it doesn’t tell us if other diets are any more or less effective. There was no comparison made between low carb, high fat, high protein, calorie counting, mindful eating, or any of the kazillion diets that people undertake to lose weight. Perhaps there is an equally, if not more effective way to lose weight. As everyone is different, I would hazard a guess that, while going veg might help one person to lose weight it might not help another. Don’t feel that you have to give-up roast chicken to lose weight, and don’t be discouraged if you give-up meat and don’t see a change on the scale. There are many factors that contribute to weight loss, the consumption of animal products may or may not be one in your case.


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The harm in fad diets

Many of us roll our eyes when we hear about people on fad diets. I think that most of us think, “oh well, it’s not doing them any harm. Let it run its course”. But what if these diets are doing people harm?  I’m not about fear mongering, you know this. Many of these trendy diets can be safe and healthy when followed properly. However, what about when they’re not? There is reasonable risk of deficiencies that could cause some degree of harm at worst, and at best prevent the adherents from attaining optimal health.

What’s the harm in a low-carb or gluten-free or paleo diet?

I’m lumping these two in together even though they’re not strictly the same, although it seems that they frequently go hand-in-hand. Here the risk lies in B vitamin deficiency. Yes, many B vitamins are available from animal foods. However, folic acid (which I blogged about a few weeks ago) was added to refined flour and cereals as a public health measure to prevent neural tube defects during pregnancy in 1998 (1). Eliminating grains from the diet may lead to increased risk of spina bifida, and other neural tube defects, in infants of mothers following these diets. It’s recommended that all women of childbearing age take a multivitamin containing 400 mcg of folic acid daily. Women who are following the above diets should be sure to follow this recommendation. The crucial window for neural tube formation is within the first 21-28 days of pregnancy. This means that if you wait to start taking a prenatal multivitamin once you find out you’re pregnant you may have already missed this window.

What’s the harm in a vegan diet?

While touted as one of the healthiest diets, a vegan diet can easily be deficient in essential nutrients. As with the low-carb diets above, a vegan diet may be low in some B vitamins. In this case, vitamin B12 is more likely to be the B vitamin of concern than is folic acid.

Vitamin B12 is important for many reasons. We need B12 for blood cell formation, nerve function, and brain function.

Vitamin D is also a concern in vegan diets as it’s primarily found in milk, fish, and eggs. During the winter months it’s difficult for most of us, vegans and non-vegans alike, to get enough vitamin D from food alone.

What’s the harm in a low-sodium diet?

This isn’t even so much a risk of low-sodium diet but of a diet that eschews table salt in particular. Now that sea salt is the salt selection of foodies and many of us are avoiding salt shakers there is potential for insufficient iodine consumption. Table salt is fortified with iodine, sea salt is not.

Iodine deficiency during pregnancy can result in poor mental development. Iodine is important in thyroid function and deficiency may result in the development of a goiter.

Now, to be fair, when consideration of balance, variety, and nutrients is taken into consideration all of these diets may be healthy. I think that it’s also worth mentioning that the average Western diet is probably less nutritious than all of the above diets. Most people consume too few vegetables and fruits, too much sodium, sugar, and fat. Most of us, even those of us consuming relatively healthy diets, don’t get enough potassium, vitamin D, magnesium, and fibre. While the focus should definitely be on whole food, it’s worth considering what nutrients your diet may be low in and making an effort to consume more foods rich in those nutrients or even considering taking a supplement if you’re finding it hard to meet your nutrient needs through food alone.


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Children of the Quorn

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I found this post by CSPI (the Centre for Science in the Public Interest) calling for the ban of Quorn products in the US a little puzzling.

For those wondering, apparently Quorn is a “vat grown fungus” used in vegetarian meat product substitutes. Yes, I know, it sounds revolting to us omnivores. Personally, I think that plants (and I suppose fungi) should be proud to be themselves and not masquerade as meat. Putting that aside, apparently it’s quite popular. It’s not available in Canada because the CFIA has not tested, and therefore, not approved it for sale, as far as I can tell.

The FDA has approved the sale of Quorn products in the US but, based on reports of allergic reactions, the CSPI is calling for retailers to stop selling Quorn and for people who have experienced allergic reactions to report them to CSPI. If Quorn is toxic then, yes, it should not be sold. However, I can’t quite comprehend limiting the sale of a food simply because some people are allergic to it. Why not call for grocery stores to stop carrying peanut butter, soy, scallops, or any other common allergen?

Consumers should be aware that consuming Quorn may cause them to have an adverse reaction. They can make their own decisions from there. Unless there is more reason than this to believe that Quorn poses a significant risk, I say let the vegetarians eat their Quorn.