15 Apr 2015
I stumbled on an article in Gawker yesterday by syndicated fitness columnist from the Chicago Tribune James Fell that was too funny not to share. It is an excellent rant about dark chocolate that can be applied to any food with a health halo, and with enough swearing to make a CrossFitter happy. But, amusement aside, I also share this because it makes a bunch of great points.
Remind me again, what are health halos?
“Health halos” result when a healthy quality of a food (say, the fact that it is organic) is viewed in such a way that it seems to make any food to which it is applied seem healthier than it is. For example, organic grapes are a great choice – grapes are a healthy source of sugar and fiber and since they have a permeable skin, it’s a good idea to buy them organic (they are on the dirty dozen list). However being “organic” doesn’t make brownies or candy any healthier than non-organic brownies and candy. I’ve often used the paleo example as well – a paleo meal can be healthy, but paleo chocolate truffles not so much.
What does this have to do with dark chocolate?
Dark chocolate is marketed as “healthy” or “healthier” because it has flavonoids, which are linked to lower risk of heart disease. The problem is that you’d have to eat a LOT of dark chocolate to get any risk reducing benefit from those flavonoids. Nonetheless, as Fell’s article notes:
For about a decade, the sales of dark chocolate have soared, regardless of the fact that it tastes like someone melted down a bunch of brown crayons, mixed it with charcoal and then let it solidify into bar form. Why the boost? As a senior VP from Hershey said in 2006 of the 37% spike in sales of their Special Dark, “There are underlying benefits with the consumption of cocoa that give consumers the permission to enjoy chocolate.”
Wait. “Permission to enjoy chocolate”? Just… fuck you.
Exactly. Of course, as Fell says, if you like dark chocolate, go about your business. I tend to recommend it because it is richer than milk chocolate, so you can enjoy a treat without going overboard. Then again, I happen to like but not love dark chocolate so that works for me. As I’ve said often before, what works for one hardly works for everyone.
But if you don’t really like dark chocolate (not even a little bit), and you just eat it because it’s the healthy kind of chocolate (or if you just want to laugh a little), please read his article over at Gawker.
CrossFit knock aside, it’s hilarious and makes great points.
08 Apr 2015
For those unfamiliar, Food Babe is a consultant turned health/food blogger and public speaker whose mission it is to investigate and uncover “what’s really in our food”. Until this week I don’t think I ever paid her much attention. I knew she had a book out, and I may even have shared a graphic she made about pumpkin spice lattes with some commentary on how they’re not the best thing for your health. I’ve also heard some rumblings in the health professional community about her, mostly along the lines of she’s unqualified and uses fear mongering tactics to spread misinformation. But there’s a lot of people that educate themselves on the internet and pose as experts under the guise of inspiration, recipe sharing, and blogging.
Then I read this article in Gawker, entitled “The ‘Food Babe’ Is Full Of Shit”. It is a robust discrediting by another female blogger with a background in Chemistry and forensic science and toxicology. The health professional in me always trusts science backgrounds over Google prowess, I also appreciate skepticism about our current food system. So, is Food Babe, whether she is full of *%it or not, a good thing or a bad thing?
In Favor of Food Babe: There’s a lot wrong with the way food is produced and consumed in the US. Things banned in Europe are still in our food (seriously, if you can make it without something the Euros think isn’t safe why not just do it that way all the time?), food label claims are often bogus (“all natural” Cheetos anyone?), and there’s little government regulation. A crusader using social pressure to improve our food system should be welcomed.
Food Babe Issues: My issue with her is this: she is very easily discredited, as the article shows. She does use fear mongering tactics, which do no one any good. A lot of people can’t afford organic food, and scaring them into thinking they’re actively murdering their kids by feeding them conventional green beans is a bit too extreme for me. And like I mentioned, she’s easy to discredit. She has written (and removed once her mistakes were called out) articles on how air in airplanes has too much nitrogen (air IS majority nitrogen, a fact she apparently missed) and how your microwave is basically a nuclear reactor. Sometimes journalists don’t fact check (see: Rolling Stone debacle) but someone purporting to have expertise should not make such wildly inaccurate claims.
I also do disagree with her tactics. She takes things wildly out of context, and makes it easy for the industry to fight back and win the public debate in the future. A mad lib of what I predict:
Food Babe: We should all stop eating X Food by Y Big Food Company because it contains (insert chemical approved by the FDA for a certain functionality in food processing) which is also found in/used for (some other scary/non-edible item or use which is totally out of context).
Y Big Food Company: This product has been deemed safe by the FDA and tested by our food science department. These claims are wildly inaccurate and put forth by someone who thinks your microwave is the A-bomb. Who do you trust, SCIENCE or her?
Big Food 1, Food advocates 0.
Here’s the thing: questioning what’s in our food is important. Pressuring food companies to remove unsafe products is important. Voting with our wallets for items like free range eggs, humanely raised meat, and supporting local farmers is all important. But we have to pick our battles and use solid ammunition. Because yes, Subway’s dough thickening agents IS used in yoga mats. But is that what makes Subway a poor food choice? Or is it factory farm meat that is high in sodium, white bread, and the potato chips and cookie that accompany the sandwich? While it may sound weird to say “there’s a yoga mat ingredient in my bread”, I don’t think THAT is what is causing obesity, diabetes, and poor health in America.
I think there’s a good analogy here between Food Babe and Ted Cruz. If you follow politics at all, you know he’s kind of a nuts (or as John McCain would say “a wacko bird”). Now, he may have a good point or two about a few specific areas of policy (I haven’ t dug deep enough to actually verify this, so let’s not make this a political fight). But his “the world is on fire”, no grey area, loud mouthed tactics make his message completely unfounded to most people. And while Food Babe has good (even great) intentions, her delivery and tactics will ultimately be counterproductive to her aims. If we want someone to call out the Food Industry on its faults (and we definitely do), it needs to be someone credible.
What do you guys think?
01 Apr 2015
It sounds like the Navajo Nation has come up with a pretty good idea. Starting April 1, junk food sold on the reservation will be taxed at 2%, in addition to the removal of a 5% sales tax on healthier items like fresh produce. The money garnered from the sales tax will go towards promoting farmer’s markets and local vegetable gardens. An excerpt from Time Magazine:
With nearly half of the Navajo youth population facing unemployment and 38% of the Navajo reservation at the poverty level, supporters say the act may serve as a prototype for sin taxes to curb obesity in low-income communities across the U.S.
You can read the whole article at Time.
The argument over “sin” taxes like junk food and soda have been waged viciously over the past few years, in places like Berkley and San Francisco. In Massachusetts we’ve put a sin tax on alcohol, cigarettes, and now plastic bags but have yet to touch the beverage and food industry. There are good arguments on either side. The pro-tax group claiming it will promote better habits, even out the price gap between healthy and processed foods, and provide money to earmark for obesity research or other prevention programs. The anti-tax groups (notably funded heavily by industry) claim it will have a disproportional burden on lower income communities.
It sounds like despite the potential burden, the Navajo Nation is willing to give it a go anyway. I”ll be interested in how this plays out, and if it can push other communities to do the same.
25 Mar 2015
Typically, I don’t endorse fast food. It’s generally of poor quality, low in nutrients and high in calories, fat, and carbohydrates. But sometimes you just have to eat and the only options are quick serve joints such as these. When I get stuck, there are my top go-to options. Remember that none of these are nutritionally ideal – most are still pretty high in sodium and can involve processed ingredients. But eating fast food isn’t about ideal nutrition, it’s about doing the best with what you have where you are.
1. The Burrito Salad
You can actually get this at a number of places – Chipotle and BoLoco for starters – which is why no restaurant name is included. Choose the salad option and top with vegetables, meat of your choosing (preferably grass fed/free range if offered), salsa, guacamole, and beans if you eat them. This will run you in the range of 400-600 calories and provide a filling lunch. The typical chicken salad at Chipotle will also provide 110% of your daily vitamin A, 94% of your daily vitamin C, and 23% of your daily iron needs.
2. The Jimmy John’s “Unwich”
The unwich is any of your Jimmy John’s favorites without the bread. My go to, the Beach Club, is 310 calories, 29 grams of protein, and 8 grams of carbs without mayo. If you remove the provolone too, you’re at 90 calories (in which case you should add something else or order it with half a slice of bread). Either way, you can also add an apple, banana, or yogurt from a nearby convenience store.
3. Sweet Green “Hummus Tahina” Salad or “Harvest Bowl”
While you cannot always assume that salad is the healthiest option (take most of McDonald’s salads), in this case they’re better than what you’ll find elsewhere. And there are now several Sweet Greens (or similar such places) in downtown Boston. My favorite is the mediterranean inspired Hummus Tahina salad (610 calories, not sure who much carbohydrate but with hummus, pita chips, and falafel in there, I would guess about 60 grams. Of course you can always ask those items to be disclosed or on the side) or the Harvest Bowl (685 calories). While neither of these is on the lower calorie side, quality makes up for it, and you can always save some for later (or share – Patrick is usually hungry enough to help me out when I can’t finish something).
4. Starbucks Bistro Boxes
Starbucks is my last ditch choice, but it usually works considering there’s almost one on every corner. Ranging from 270-480 calories, the bistro boxes are balanced and generally filling. The fruit and cheese one is generally my favorite, although all three get my relative thumbs up. As a bonus, they’re lower in sodium than the above options, with my favorite and the Protein Box ringing in at 470 mg (the Chicken and Hummus one is 580 mg). If you’re still hungry, Starbucks has a few other things you can pair these boxes with like bananas, Kind Bars (again, not ideal but not terrible), popcorn, or nuts.
Side note: should you stumble upon a Chik-Fil-A, I recommend you simply enjoy your breaded chicken sandwich or nuggets and waffle fries. You can eat vegetables later
What are your go to fast food meals?
18 Mar 2015
In light of events in the news last week, I need to take a minute to address the ethical dilemma that seems to be plaguing my professional organization (The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics).
Last week, it was reported in the New York Times that a new “Kids Eat Right” seal would be appearing on Kraft Cheese Singles. This was also riffed by the Daily Show, who noted “It turns out the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is an academy in the same way this is cheese.” Great. To add to my embarrassment, this morning, my mom texted me a picture of an article in her home newspaper (the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel) about how nutritionists paid by Coca Cola have recommended mini Coke cans as a “healthy snack” in a number of blogs/articles during American Heart Month. You can see a photo of the article and my color commentary on Twitter. Her caption for the photo was “I guess there are unethical dietitians”. Ya think?
Did the Academy Have Anything To Say For Themselves ?
After much outcry (and plenty of it from dietitians inside and outside the Academy), yes. The “official explanation”is essentially that Kraft Foods contributes funds to the Kids Eat Right campaign, which “was launched to support public education projects and programs that address the national health concern of obesity among our children,” earning them the seal. In a vacuum that explanation works, but of course in real life anyone with half a brain knows that putting the logo of the professional organization for dietitians on a “food” that cannot even legally call itself real cheese (notice it is labeled as a “pasteurized processed cheese product”) will lead many consumers to believe the product is endorsed by nutrition professionals and thus healthier than it actually is.
Aso for the Cola article, the Academy isn’t really to blame for that. That one falls on the individual RDs (although they do take a good deal of sponsorship dollars from Coke, that’s a topic for another day).
Why Am I So Mad?
Because this is both embarrassing and unethical. Actually, the cola thing is beyond unethical. I spent 5 years in college and an intensive supervised practice internship learning about fundamentals of science (chemistry, biochemistry) and nutrition, how to use nutrition to treat and prevent disease, how to counsel clients, to communicate information, and how to interpret and incorporate scientific evidence into my practice. So for someone who has done the same to accept money to tell the American people that a beverage composed entirely of chemicals and high fructose corn syrup is a healthy snack is beyond unethical. Essentially, these “professionals” are using their credential to perpetuate the bad information – and help sell a product – that has had a hand in destroying a number of peoples’ heath and driving chronic illness to record highs. Think about all the quality of life lost to diabetes, obesity, and heart disease (among others) over the last 20 years, and the role soda and junk food has played. Then think about a credentialed health professional promoting some of those products. Almost inconceivable.
The Good News?
I’m not the only one who is upset. Many dietitians feel strongly that the Kids Eat Right seal should be repealed. There’s even a petition on Change.org that has over 4,000 signatures and a hashtag #RepealTheSeal with over 1,000 tweets since the news broke last week.
Why Am I Telling You This?
I hope many if not all of you view me as a credible nutrition resource, and I wanted to let you know that I don’t support unethical and deceptive practices in exchange for sponsorship dollars. When I make recommendation about what is a healthy snack or how to choose supplements, I am making it based on the available scientific evidence and my experience. I hope you’ll continue to trust me, even if there are a few bad apples in my profession.
11 Mar 2015
I have to apologize for such a late post. I am out in California for work and got caught up enjoying the sunshine (OK, OK I was working).
I recently contributed an article to Box Pro Magazine on the 7 mistakes you might be making in the box. Some of these are things I’ve seen in our box, and some are just things I’ve seen around CrossFit. I’ll let you read more about the problems and my suggested fixes over at Box Pro.
04 Mar 2015
I have written two meal plans in my 5 years as a dietitian (excluding hospital menus, of course). I wrote the first one because I thought it was a good way to expand what I was able to offer, and help people in a different way. The second one was more of a diet template, written for a friend. Based on my experience with the first one, I decided this was not something I wanted to offer. Why?
For starters, it’s a lot of work if done right. There are numerous factors that determine the best diet for someone to follow, including:
- Past medical history
- Current lifestyle
- Client goals
- Diet history
- Fitness capabilities
- Dietary preferences
When creating a meal plan for 30 – 90 days (the length of time I usually see them offered), you need to make sure they are meeting their calorie goals, getting all the right micronutrients, eating foods they like at times convenient to their lifestyle, all while making sure there is flexibility because life happens. I just wrote the first draft of May’s CFB programming, and that was a walk in the park compared to writing a 30 day meal plan. I spent about 10 hours doing this, which makes it either expensive for the client or not that profitable for me. The only way to make money off of a meal plan is to create something completely generic at a couple of different calorie levels and sell it to as many buyers as possible.
Second, buying a meal plan is like paying the smart kid in class to do your homework for you. You might pass algebra that month, but what happens when you can’t rely him anymore? If I write out everything you should eat for an entire month, you will see results if you follow it. But you won’t gain much else, like knowledge of how to read labels, find recipes, plan your own meals, adjust your diet based on goal and lifestyle changes, etc. Meal plans make you the client reliant on me for guidance. I don’t want anyone relying on me. I don’t want to give you a fish, I want to teach you how to fish.
My point is, if someone wants to sell you a meal plan, think twice. Sometimes, meal plans can be useful (as discussed below), but all too often “gurus” out there sell you the nutrition and fitness tools that work for THEM. And while they may work for you in the short term, ultimately you want to find what works for you long term (and be knowledgable enough to make adjustments on your own with occasional guidance from a professional). Imagine what the gym would be like if coaches only programmed what worked for them, ignoring the needs and wants of our community. I can tell you there’s be a lot of running and pull ups in May (OK there is a good amount of running in May but that’s because it’s finally going to be WARM out!).
Sometimes, Meal Plans Can Help
I feel like I can’t conclude without pointing out a couple of the times meal plans are pretty useful. If someone is completely new to healthy diet and exercise, a generic hypocaloric diet (providing fewer calories from food than is burned by exercise and metabolism) can be a beneficial kick start. A one week sample plan can help someone starting a new specific diet – like gluten free, paleo, or vegan – to understand what a healthy version of that diet looks like. They can also be helpful for someone following a complex clinical diet, like the renal diet.
What do you guys think of meal plans?
A few years ago, when I was drinking the paleo kook-aid (yes, I drank it, yes I know “paleo kook-aid” is an oxymoron), I used to bristle at the advent of plant based diets and things like “Meatless Monday”. I felt tired of people pushing the no meat thing, annoyed that vegetarian diets are always deemed healthier despite the fact that studies on them are essentially comparing a group who has made a conscious decision about their health to a wider group of many who haven’t, and that many people do it wrong and just eat lots of pasta, rice, and bread. And THAT IS NOT HEALTHIER, I ranted.
The Plant Based Diet
Given that I’ve just written much of the above paragraph in the past tense, most of you have correctly guessed that my attitude has changed. The more I look at my own diet, at the paleo diet, and at research, the more I’m convinced that plant based diet IS the way to go. But what is a “plant based” diet? Based on a Google search, “plant based diet” is poorly defined (kind of like “fitness” before CrossFit). So, I’m making one up. According to the dictionary of Alexandra Black MPH, RD, LD, a plant based diet is:
A diet in which plant are the foundation of the diet. This diet consists primarily of non-animal nutrient sources. This includes vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, and grains, although some animal foods – meat, eggs, dairy – can be included from time to time.
Of course, as with any diet, there are healthy and not-so-healthy plant based diets. Eggo waffles with Aunt Jemima syrup for breakfast, vegetable pizza for lunch, and a rice and beans Lean Cuisine for dinner is plant based, but not so healthy. Whereas a banana with peanut (or almond) butter for breakfast, vegetable stir fry with quinoa for lunch, and grilled chicken with vegetables and baked sweet potato for dinner is much healthier.
Plant Based V. Paleo
The thing is, right now the consensus among experts is that eating meat at every meal increases your risk for heart disease, among other things. Right now there isn’t enough good research contrasting the “meat eating diet” (which, in most studies, is anyone who eats anything) compared to meat eaters who choose predominately organic or grass-finished animal products. There also isn’t any good research I”m aware of comparing vegetarians to the organic meat eaters. So it’s kind of a “what we know right now says X but we think it might say Y if research was different”.
Another point I’d like to make is that most of our paleo ancestors also likely ate a plant based diet. Excepting the northern populations like those on the Aleutian Islands, most paleolithic people ate a lot of plants. They couldn’t go into the supermarket and buy all the meat they needed for the week at anytime. They had to hunt and kill their meat, so they only got it when they were able to do that. Otherwise, they ate plants and fruits and whatever else they could gather.
So yes, plant based diets and paleo diets can – and should – live in harmony. Paleo is not supposed to be an excuse to eat bacon everyday, it is supposed to be one of many ways to find a healthful, sustainable diet.
18 Feb 2015
Yes, you heard right. After 40 years of warnings that the amount of cholesterol in the American diet was a public health concern, the nation’s top nutrition advisory board is this year planning to do away with that warning. Because what fun would it be if we weren’t changing our minds about what’s healthy every other decade? You can read a little more about the announcement in the Washington Post.
Does This Mean All The Eggs And Bacon You Can Eat?
No, this does not mean you can pull a Ron Swanson. Basically, they’re saying the concern is less about dietary cholesterol itself, which isn’t really linked to blood cholesterol levels, and more about too many portions of foods high in saturated fat. The nutritionists list whole milk and butter as concerning, but I disagree a little bit. As I said in an earlier article on saturated fat, some of the traditionally forbidden foods – red meat, butter, whole milk, can have nutrients if you’re getting them from the right source. I am far more concerned about saturated fat from processed foods than I am about organic, pasture raised cream in your coffee. As an example, one serving (4 oz) of 85-15 lean ground beef has 6.6 grams of saturated fat. That’s comparable to 12 Oreo cookies, 5 Eggo waffles, and 2 hostess cupcakes. While 5 waffles or 12 oreos sounds like a lot, they’re not completely unreasonable portions for the average American. But while the ground beef has nutrients like protein, zinc, and iron, the other foods just offer sugar and and refined carbohydrates (not that carbohydrates are not a nutrient, you just don’t need that many poor quality ones).
So, enjoy your eggs and bacon. In moderate portions. And maybe lay off the Oreos
I normally like to write my own blog posts, but I saw this post by Eat This, Not That, and it was so damn perfect I had to just re-share it here. The article highlights six foods we normally think are “healthy” (OK, maybe four, because I know you guys knew all about the Egg Beaters and grains), and what we should eat instead.
In the article, ETNT targets:
- Dried fruit
- Low fat PB
- “Made with” whole grains
- Ett Beaters
- Skim milk
- “Protein packed” foods (ok, you should know about the one too, because I already wrote about it)
Read the full article. Anything missing from the list?