Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Which fitness tracker gives you the best calories burned for your workout? An experiment

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Remember my rant a little while ago about how you shouldn’t think of exercise and food as an equation to balance? Or my post about not using the exercise component of calorie counting apps? Well, I just wanted to add a little more to that conversation today.

I use a Garmin watch to track my runs and occasionally I’ll look at the “calories burned” out of curiosity. After a pretty fast longish interval run I noticed that the calories burned seemed rather low so I started scrolling back through and was puzzled to find a shorter easier run that supposedly resulted in a very similar caloric expenditure. That left me wondering how Garmin determined the calories burned during a run. I looked it up and it turns out that it’s related to heart rate. Sometime the heart rate monitor is wonky and (especially when it’s really cold out) will register a heart rate that would be more likely seen when I’m sitting on my butt than when I’m out booking it through speed work. That means that my Garmin (erroneously) registers minimal exertion and thinks that I’m not burning very many calories.

Today I decided to do a little experiment. I wore my Garmin, as per usual, which is synched to my Strava account. I also fired up the Nike+ Run Club app for the first time in ages and I set out on an easy(ish) 10k run. After the run, I also entered the time spent running at the closest average pace into myfitnesspal. All of these apps have my height and weight. Any guesses what the results looked like?

Garmin: 463 calories

myfitnesspal: 517 calories

Nike: 526 calories

Strava: 1371 calories!!!!

Now, I have no idea how many calories I actually used during this run, I’d wager Garmin was probably closest to the mark considering that the heart rate monitor seemed to be working properly. But Strava, what the actual hell?? Considering that Strava gets all of it’s data from my run directly from Garmin I find it amazing that it estimated I burned nearly three times as many calories as Garmin thought I did. I’m sure that if I had other apps and trackers I would have gotten slightly different results from all of them.

All this to say, if you’re exercising and tracking calories burned, you probably shouldn’t give that number too much weight. Try to think of exercise as giving you health and fitness rather than taking away calories and weight.

 

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Magical fat burning snacks

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As long as there continue to be articles about fat-burning foods I’m going to have to continue to write blog posts to counteract them. The latest to enter my radar was 20 Snacks That Burn Fat on health.com. A website that seems to be almost entirely devoted to magical food beliefs.

Without even looking at what these snacks are I can tell you that there is no such thing as a “fat burning” food. Food (with a few rare exceptions that some would argue are not actually food) contains calories. Calories provide us with energy to move and function and survive. Despite what diet gurus would have us believe, they are essential to life. Without sufficient calories we will starve to death. Of course, eating more than we need to perform daily activities will result in the storage of that excess energy as fat. This will occur with the overconsumption of any food. Yes, even those foods touted as “fat burning”.

What makes people believe that some foods have the magical ability to result in net energy loss? Generally it’s based on the misinterpretation of the thermic effect of food (TEF) and the indigestibility of some components of certain foods. TEF is higher for some foods, such as those high in protein and hot spices, than in others. Basically, all it means is that a greater amount of energy is needed to digest those foods than others with lower thermic effects. For example, if you eat a butter cookie, you’re going to absorb a greater percentage of the calories in that cookie than you would if you ate a bunch of nuts because your digestive system needs to expend more energy to digest nuts than it does to digest simple carbs and fat.

Regardless of the level of spice in a food, protein, or the quantity of indigestible components, such as cellulose and some types of fibre, no food is going to result in negative net calories and no food is going to specifically target and deplete fat stores in your body. Instead of forcing yourself to scarf a bunch of celery because you want to lose weight and then eating a box of cookies because you’re hungry and miserable, try focusing on nourishing your body and enjoying your food. Think less about weight and more about how you feel. There are no magic weight loss foods but it’s pretty amazing how much better you feel when you eat mostly whole foods and break free from the diet mindset.

 


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Rocco’s dispiriting diet

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Okay, I have to go and be all unsexy again and tell you that a healthy diet doesn’t have to consist of ridiculously overpriced supplements and complicated recipes made from rare ingredients scavenged by sherpas from the top of mountains in Peru, or whatever. I know that it’s boring and basic but you can eat only easily identifiable foods, available at your local grocery store, simply prepared and be healthy.

What prompted this? Have you seen the news about celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito’s “unbelievable amounts of food” diet? You know what it reminded me of when I was reading it? That moon juice lady’s diet.

I think it’s fantastic that Rocco is feeling healthy on his diet. That doesn’t mean that it’s for everyone. Just because he’s lost weight doesn’t mean he’s suddenly an expert on weight management or nutrition. Just like how everyone who eats seems to fancy themselves nutrition experts, it seems like everyone who’s lost weight fancies themselves to be weight loss gurus. It’s like that time my boyfriend’s knee was mysteriously swollen and I told him it was probably bursitis and he went to emerg and waited a quadrillion hours to have the doctor take a cursory glance at him and reach the same diagnosis. So, basically, I’m a doctor now and if you tell me your ailments I’ll diagnose you. Save you a bunch of time in emerg.*

Anyway… Rocco’s diet honestly doesn’t sound like all that much food to me. I do manage to put away quite a bit myself but if he’s starting his day with an almond milk protein shake (more about this later) he’s probably not starting off with many calories. His next “meal” was cantaloupe with stevia and his homegrown herb puree “sugar-free” of course which is very important when you’re pairing it with a fruit that’s calories pretty much 100% come from sugar. Next was pickled mackerel (fresh from the boat; don’t even bother if you don’t have your own personal fisherperson). Afternoon snack was: Bluefish Tacomole. ‘It’s a taco shell that we make from fiber and protein and it had guacamole and local bluefish made on our 700 degree plancha.'” Second afternoon snack was a bar and a shake (both products available for purchase on his website, more on this later as well). Supper was taste-testing some food he prepared for an event. No wonder he found himself “starving” when he got home at 3 am and promptly scarfed: “Berry Beignets, Stuffed Green Peppers with Turkey and Tomato, Chocolate Protein Bar”. Pretty much the closest thing to a proper meal he ate all day.

Because Rocco has become a weight loss expert simply by shedding 30 pounds he now sells a line of affordable outrageously overpriced nutritional supplements so that we can all benefit from this expertise he can make money. Links in the article (which leave me wondering, is this really an article or a thinly veiled advertisement?) take you to his product website. Naturally, there is no information on the size of each product, nor the nutrition information, but these are minor details when you’re buying the perfect body. Rocco’s “Just Shakes” boast home delivery (which is apparently unique when Internet shopping) and, “contain 28 grams or more protein, are dairy free, sugar free, gluten free, non-GMO, lactose & whey free, soy free and contain at least 8 grams fiber.” A steal at $299 USD ($389.67 CAD plus an arm and a leg and your first born in shipping and duties) for an unspecified quantity. His bars are: “made with only eight 100% all organic ingredients: organic puffed brown rice, cocoa powder, freeze dried strawberries, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, coconut nectar and stevia. No preservatives, stabilizers or additives of any kind. At only 102 calories and a gram of fat THIS BAR IS A REAL TREAT—it is Reduced calorie / Low fat / Saturated fat free / Cholesterol free / Low sodium / No added sugar.” Apparently coconut nectar doesn’t qualify as “sugar” because Rocco and his marketers are hoping we’re too stupid to realize that coconut nectar = sugar. At only $48.95 for a box of 12, $63.79 CAD, that’s $4.08 per bar ($5.32 CAD). That’s a pricey 102 calories.

I think it’s great that Rocco is so pleased with his current diet that he feels the need to share it with the world. I think it’s a shame that he’s profiting from the sale of outrageously overpriced products and that his diet is being packaged as a healthy weight loss choice for all. We’re all different, our nutritional needs, likes, and body shapes and sizes vary considerably. Just because a celebrity, chef or otherwise, has lost weight eating a certain way doesn’t mean that it’s the way we should all be eating.

*Please note, I do not in any way fancy myself to be a doctor. Do not come to me for diagnosis. Go to your family doc or emerg as the situation warrants.


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Will new nutrition labels make us all thinner?

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Not to be negative, but I saw this headline: How much will new nutrition labels help fight obesity and I immediately said “not at all” (in my head because I was at work and our office is open-concept).

I know the new (American) nutrition facts panel is supposed to help curb obesity because they’ve made the calories so damn big but personally I think it’s not going to help anyone to lose any weight. If people are counting calories and trying to lose weight making them bigger isn’t going to make weight loss any easier. If someone’s not counting calories it’s unlikely that a big bold calorie count is going to prompt them to change their minds about their purchases. I also think the emphasis on calories is not beneficial to anyone.

Yes, lots of people find calorie counting helpful when they’re trying to lose weight. I still yearn for a simpler time when we didn’t need this information. When we didn’t rely to heavily on prepackaged foods that managed to jam in so many calories and so few nutrients. Personally, I think that, for the average consumer, the ingredients label is where they should be looking more often than the nutrition facts panel. The NFP doesn’t tell you anything about what’s in the food you’re potentially putting in your mouth. It just tells you about the artful mastery of the manufacturer who wants to make sure you buy into the charade of fortified highly processed products as healthy choices.

Putting calories front and centre puts a negative lens on food. It takes away from food tasting good, being pleasurable, and providing us with energy and puts the emphasis on guilt and shame. Neither of which are things we should be associating with food.

Rather than focusing our efforts on fighting against obesity we should be fighting for health.


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Let them eat chocolate cake for breakfast!

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I saw the headline: Chocolate cake for breakfast? Research says it’s good for both your brain and your waistline and thought “this should be interesting”.

The author suggests that we should eat chocolate cake for breakfast because one study found that higher chocolate consumption was associated with improved cognitive function. While another study suggested that those who ate larger breakfasts (including a dessert) lost more weight and ate less later in the day than those who started their day with a less substantial meal. A bit of a leap, if you ask me to then conclude that we should be eating chocolate cake as part of a weight management cognitive enhancement regimen.

Looking at the study that ostensibly concluded that chocolate improved cognition, it immediately jumps out at me that the study drew from data from food frequency questionnaires. As you know, these are notoriously inaccurate. I also think that it’s important to note that the questionnaire in question didn’t differentiate between dark, milk, and white chocolate. White chocolate being up for debate as to whether or not it’s truly chocolate, and the form of the chocolate not being recorded (chocolate bar, ice cream, cake, cookie…) it would be difficult to conclude that there was any one attribute of these forms of chocolate that could improve cognition. As the authors point out, there is no way to infer a causal relationship. Just because people who ate chocolate at least once a week fared better on cognitive tests than those who ate it less than once a week doesn’t mean that there’s not some other reason that they fared better on these tests. While the results were statistically significant, I wonder how meaningful they are in actuality.

While I can attest to the benefits of “front loading” your day for many trying to lose weight or maintain weight loss, I wondered about the study the article referenced. Fortunately, someone else had already thrown shade on it (back in 2010!) so I don’t feel the need to duplicate their comments. For anyone who can’t be bothered to click the link, suffice to say the study author has come out with a diet book and the study upon which she based this plan is flawed.

Okay, what’s the takeaway? I’ve got nothing against chocolate. I’ve got nothing against chocolate cake. In fact, writing this post prompted me to fetch a slice of leftover chocolate cake to munch on while I typed. That being said, I wouldn’t include it as part of a nutritious breakfast. If you were eating chocolate cake for breakfast on the regular you’d be hard-pressed to get all of the nutrients you need without getting more calories than you need. If you want to add chocolate to your breakfast in a healthier way you could add some cocoa powder to your smoothie or some raw cacao nibs to your oatmeal. Save the cake for special occasions (and blogging).