What is a Dietitian?

I’m often asked “what is the difference between a dietitian and nutritionist?”. The main differences are:
  • The title “Registered Dietitian”, “Professional Dietitian”, and “Dietitian” are protected by law. Only qualified practitioners who have met education qualifications can use the title.
  • “Nutritionist” is not a protected title which means, in some provinces, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. However, some Dietitians will refer to themselves as nutritionists.
  • Dietitians who have met national standards for education and training and who are members of the provincial regulatory bodies can use one of the following designations — RD, PDt or RDt (or the French equivalent Dt.P.).
  • Dietitians are members of a provincially regulated profession that has Public Protection as their mandate.
  • Dietitians are held accountable for their conduct and the care they provide.
  • Dietitians may work in the community setting, health care, hospitals or private practice clinics.
  • Only Dietitians are qualified to work in a hospital or health care institution and can provide clinical care of patients.

Health washing: Nestle Pure Life water

After I wrote this post discussing the environmental detriments of bottled water, I didn’t think I’d be writing another bottled water post anytime soon. Then, I saw a Nestle Pure Life water commercial and I couldn’t contain myself. Like most Nestle water commercials, this ad glamorized bottled water and stretched the truth. It specifically targeted moms,  suggesting that bottled water is a necessary component of a healthy diet for kids. While I couldn’t find the exact ad, I did find this similar one:

Nestle says “We believe that clean, high quality water is critical to human and environmental health.” I absolutely agree with that statement. And as the ad above says, we should be drinking more water and less sugary beverages. But who says that water needs to come from a bottle? There is a place for bottled water, and that is where the local water is unsafe to drink. Here in most parts of North America, we are lucky to have access to free flowing, clean, safe drinking water in our taps. Yet, people are lining up to pay for water that was bottled and trucked in from a small town in the mid-west U.S.

But Nestle’s blatant misleading doesn’t stop at “health”. Upon researching for this post, I stumbled upon Nestle’s ‘commitment to the environment and sustainability’. The Nestle Canada’s President’s Message states:

When you walk into your favourite grocer and buy any one of our bottled water products, you should have every confidence that you are doing the right thing from a health perspective as well from an environmental standpoint.

While our packaging (bottles, caps, plastic wrap and cardboard are 100 percent recycle, we are encouraging local and provincial governments across Canada to work with us and our industry partners to find ways to recycle more plastic bottles.

The problem with bottled water is much bigger than the packaging. Even if 100% of bottles were recycled, the simple fact that bottled water is removed from one location, bottled in an energy intensive plant, and shipped thousands of miles away makes it unsustainable and environmentally liable. Not to mention the millions of plastic bottles that are made from non-renewable fossil fuels. No matter what Nestle is doing in terms of ‘sustainability’, it is more environmentally costly than walking to the sink and pouring a glass of water from the tap.

Back to the health washing for a moment, the message goes on to say:

Bottled water is proving to be very helpful at a time when obesity and diabetes are on the increase amongst all Canadians, but particularly young Canadians born after 2000. Almost 30 percent of them are overweight or obese, are susceptible to diabetes and may be the first generation of Canadians whose life expectancy may be shorter than their parents’.
In no way is bottled water superior to tap water, and to allude that there is any connection between consuming more bottled water and lowering diabetes risk or improving health or nutrition, is false and misleading.

Would you buy bottled air? Seriously, think about it. Why pay for something that is harmful to the environment, has zero health benefit, and is available (for next to FREE) in your own tap? Despite what Nestle would have you believe, the bottom line is that bottled water is not healthier, ultimately, it takes a toll on our environment and that does have a direct negative impact on our health. Bottled water is not only unnecessary, it’s an indulgence. Check out the video below to get the “story of bottled water”.

For all you water connoisseurs who prefer the taste of filtered water, a simple tap filter or filtered jug will do the trick.

Nutrition Imposter: Total Blueberry Pomegranate Cereal

We all know that processed foods, including cereals, can contain lots of preservatives and additives, including artificial flavours, but this may be the first time I’ve seen a cereal so blatantly try to pull the wool over the shoppers’ eyes.

This week I came across this video, “outting” Total Blueberry Pomegranate Cereal as a nutrition imposter, of the worst kind. If I asked you to guess a few of the ingredients in Total Blueberry Pomegranate Cereal, what would you say? I’m going to bet that most of you would guess the ingredients would include a grain (maybe whole grains), sugar, blueberries, and pomegranates.  That’s a pretty safe guess right? But you would be wrong. Sure, Total Blueberry Pomegranate Cereal contains whole grains and sugar, but here’s the kicker, it does not contain ANY blueberries OR pomegranates. So what does it contain? Here’s the ingredient list (I’ve separated the vitamins and minerals, and highlighted the sugars and dyes, to make it easier to read):

Whole Grain Oats, Whole Grain Wheat, Sugar, Corn Syrup, Barley Malt Extract, Brown Sugar Syrup, Wheat Flakes, Malt Syrup, Rice Flour, Salt, Oat Flour, Brown Rice Flour, Canola Oil, Natural and Artificial Flour, Red 40, Blue 2 and Other Color Added, Soybean and Corn Oil, Sucralose, Molasses, Honey, Corn Starch, Nonfat Milk, Vitamin E (Mixed Tocopherols) and Bht Added to Preserve Freshness.
Vitamins and Minerals: Calcium Carbonate, Vitamin C (Sodium Ascorbate), Zinc and Iron (Mineral Nutrients), Vitamin E Acetate, A B Vitamin (Niacinamide), A B Vitamin (Calcium Pantothenate), Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine Hydrochloride), Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin B1 (Thiamin Mononitrate), A B Vitamin (Folic Acid), Vitamin A (Palmitate), Vitamin B12, Vitamin D3.

So what’s the deal? 

My guess – General Mills’ marketing team wanted to cash in on the “super food” trend going on. Why they couldn’t just add real berries (even dried versions) is beyond me. I guess they figured it was just as good to add red and blue dyes, and the vitamins and minerals that are found in these fruits. Unfortunately, nutrition and foods don’t work like that. Research has shown that the whole food is greater than the sum of its parts – meaning you can’t simply put all the ingredients together and expect them to have the same benefits in the body as the whole food. Besides, I know blueberries don’t come with ingredient labels, but if they did, I’m pretty sure “Blue 2″ wouldn’t be listed.

Here’s the video for your viewing pleasure:

Nutrition Imposter: Nutella

Once in a while I come across a product that is, what I call, a “nutrition impostor”. That is, although the product contains little nutrition, is high in fat and/or sugar, the company would have you believe it is little short of a nutrition powerhouse.


There is a ton of false advertising out there, getting us to believe that things are healthier, “greener” or better for us or the environment than they actually are. I’m going to call those products out.

My first offender – Nutella. Nutella’s TV ads feature a mother telling us why she feeds her kids Nutella, as “Part of a balanced breakfast”. Since when does a balanced meal include sweets?

She says “Nutella is made with skim milk, hazelnuts, and a hint of cocoa”.

Nutritious? Nutella provides: (per 2 tablespoons)

200 Calories (100 Calories from fat)
11g fat (3.5g of which are saturated)
21 (!) grams of sugar
3g protein

Since when is a product that high in sugar and fat considered “healthy”??

Ingredients (as listed on the label): SUGAR, modified palm oil, hazelnuts, cocoa, skim milk, reduced minerals whey (from milk), soy lecithin: an emulsifier, vanillin: an ARTIFICIAL flavour.

As sugar is listed first on the label, that means product contains more sugar than any thing else. Secondly, notice that “hint” of cocoa is listed before the skim milk, which means there is more cocoa in the product than milk.

And I particularly like how they make a fuss on the website about having NO artificial colours or preservatives, but they DO have artificial flavour listed right there on the label.

The comment at the bottom of the website states “this website is not brought to you by health care professionals”. No kidding. And above the picture of the “balanced” Nutella breakfast, it states “The ideal Nutella balanced breakfast, as pictured here, is CLOSE to the breakfast recommended by the 2005 Recommended Dietary Guidelines for Americans”.

Bottom line – 2 tablespoons of Nutella is nutritionally equivalent to giving your kids a chocolate bar for breakfast. A tasty treat to be enjoyed on occasion, sure. But claiming the product is anything close to healthy is just false advertising.

Movie Popcorn

Movie popcorn is notorious for Calories. It’s a nutritional deviant, and one of the worst!
 
We all know it’s bad, but just HOW bad is it?
 
Popcorn starts out as a pretty healthy treat. It’s a whole grain that is naturally high in fiber, and fat free. A few handfuls of air popped popcorn is a great snack. Unfortunately, the bright yellow stuff at the theatre leaves the stuff nearly unrecognizable.
 
In Canada, Cineplex theatres have switched from using coconut oil (high in saturated fat), and now uses non-hydrogenated Canola oil for popping its corn – a better choice it terms of oils. Empire also uses Canola.
 
The numbers:
 
Cineplex (no butter):
Small popcorn – 480 Calories
Regular – 780
Large – 1,120
 
Adding Becel loads another 160 – 270 Calories on top, and butter will set you back about another 190 – 320 Cals.
 
Empire (no butter):
Small – 360 Cals
Regular – 530 Cals
Large – 730 Cals
 
Adding Becel at Empire will load another 220 – 370 Calories on top, and butter, about another 250 – 420 Cals.
 
Empire’s sizes are a bit smaller (1-4 cups less, depending on the size) than Cineplex, and therefore you will get slightly fewer Calories, however, they use about 2-3 times as much sodium!! A medium popcorn will get you 370mg of salt at Cineplex, but a whopping 1090mg at Empire. Empire’s butter pumps are also a bit bigger, so adding butter will do more damage.
 
And let’s not forget the pop. A regular pop will run you from 150 Calories (11 tsp sugar) for a small, up to 450 Calories (31 tsp sugar) for a Large. Yuck!
 
If you must indulge (and we all do now and then) – keep these things in mind to minimize the damage:
 
-Skip the butter. The popcorn at movie theatres is already yellow with butter flavour, without the extra fat pumped on top. It may be a touch change at first, but you’ll get used to it – I promise!
 
-Go for a small, or better yet, the kid’s size! One of my favourite tricks for portion control is ordering kid’s sizes. Most kid’s sizes actually used to be adult sizes years ago, but companies have over sized and super sized everything over the past few decades.
 
- Just say “no” – to candy! Most theatres only sell the largest packages of candy. If you must have the candy, pick up a small package from the corner store before you go – you’ll save money and Calories!
 
- Skip dinner! Well, ok, I’m not advocating you regularly fore-go a balanced meal for a night at the movies (and even by doing so, you will still definitely be going over your fat and Calorie budget for the day), but a night of movie popcorn does not constitute a “snack”, so cutting back on something during the day isn’t a bad idea. 

*Thanks to Nutrition Action for the nutrition info

MSG


I got one of those email-circulated nutrition myths the other day. This one was not about aspartame or margarine, it was MSG (monosodium glutamate), and as usual, it was full of misinformation. This email suggested MSG is in everything we eat, and is responsible for everything from headaches to the obesity epidemic.

Yes, MSG is everywhere. It is often listed as “hydrolyzed vegetable protein” or any other number of names on ingredient labels, which can be confusing. Is it possible that some people experience stomach issues, headaches or other reactions to MSG? Sure. MSG can it cause some mild to moderate reactions for people with an MSG intolerance, but is MSG the route of all these huge health issues? Likely not.

What is MSG?
MSG is a sodium salt from a naturally occurring amino acid, glutamate, that is used as a flavour enhancer. MSG used to be derived from seaweed extract or wheat gluten, but is now usually made using bacterial fermentation of carbohydrates (similar to how beer and wine are made). Commercial MSG is made from fermentation of starch, sugar beets, sugar cane or molasses. In water, it dissociates into sodium (a natural salt) and glutamate (an amino acid that is made in our bodies). Most foods with MSG are foods we should stay away from anyway. MSG is found most abundantly in packaged and fast foods that contain many other additives and less healthy ingredients than MSG.

The studies quoted in the email were all done in rats. When it comes to studies, we have a rating system for determining how relevant they are, and animal studies are very low on the list and don’t hold much weight. Studies with animals, especially rats, are never able to be directly extrapolated to humans. We are very different species with different metabolism processes. What happens to a rat when given a certain substance does not mean it causes the same effect in humans. It’s only a preliminary study.

Secondly, one would have to read these studies in depth to find out 1) if the study design is valid, and 2) what dose were the rats given? The amount of MSG needed to add flavour to our foods is extremely minimal. The rats in these studies are often given mega-doses that humans would never even come close to taking in, even if we drank nothing but soup, salad dressing and gravy all day.

Health Canada states that the safety of MSG has been reviewed by regulatory bodies and food scientists worldwide, and does not pose a health risk to consumers. The FDA concluded in 1995 that MSG is safe for most people when eaten in customary amounts. Food scientist, Harold McGee states that after many studies “toxicologists have concluded that MSG is a harmless ingredient for most people, even in large amounts”. In addition, Health Canada states there is no evidence to support that MSG is related to obesity. For the few small studies that found that high MSG intake may be associated to a higher Body Mass Index, I would dare to argue that the results are not be due to MSG, but rather the fact that people eating higher amounts of MSG also likely have a higher intake of packaged and fast foods, and therefore, also Calories and fat.

Even without MSG added in foods, we are regularly exposed to glutamates which occur naturally in food. In fact, glutamate makes up 10-25% of our protein sources. Interestingly, people with sensitivities to glutamates in MSG have been found to be sensitive to both those from MSG, and those naturally occurring in foods.

In short, we are not able to draw conclusions from these small, preliminary studies, and it’s unfortunate they get blown up in the media and circulated around the internet. These studies simply don’t hold enough clout. The reason the general public doesn’t hear about it is not that anyone is trying to hide anything, it’s because the current research is not considered strong or valid enough to make a conclusion.

Is Splenda Dangerous?

A new study recently published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health has the chairman of Citizens for health in the U.S. up in arms over a recent study and the FDA’s failure to revoke its approval of the artificial sweetener sucralose, marketed under the name “Splenda”.

**Note: This study was done on rats, which is NOT the same as humans. HOWEVER, when dealing with anything as new and abundant in our food supply as Splenda, it does raise a red flag.

Splenda’s slogan is “Splenda tastes like sugar, because it’s made from sugar”. The company faced scrutiny for this slogan, as the product is actually mainly chemically derived. Sucralose is a high-potency sweetener, combined with maltodextrin and glucose (that’s the sugar part) as fillers to make Splenda. Splenda is approved for use in Canada and the U.S. and was originally thought to have no real side effects in the body, as the majority of it is not metabolized or absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. This is the premise of most sweeteners.

 

This new study looked at the effects of sucralose on gut bacteria (good bacteria) and pH balance. For 12 weeks researchers fed rats amounts of sucralose that were well within the FDA’s approved limit in the food supply, and found adverse effects. After 12 weeks, half of the rats were given 12 weeks of “recovery time”.

 

The results indicated that after only 12 weeks, the number of beneficial gut bacteria were reduced, gut pH was increased and expression of certain compounds in the body, which are known to reduce the absorption of some drugs and nutrients (P-glycoprotein and Cytochrome P-450) were increased.

 

Perhaps the most ironic result was that body weight among rats, even at the lowest doses of Splenda, increased compared to the control group and continued to increase even after recovery time. The researchers suggest that there may be a type of bodyweight dysregulation occurring after continued intake.

 

So what does this all mean? Well, if you’re taking Splenda to lose weight, this most recent evidence suggests it may be working against you. Secondly, good gut bacteria (microflora) carry out a number of important roles, including fighting off bad bacteria and producing vitamins, and maintaining normal immune system function. A reduction in these helpful microbes may have an affect on medical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular disease, obesity and cancer.

 

Although I’m an advocate of natural foods and sweeteners, I don’t believe that all man-made food products are bad for you, but there is one major disadvantage and that is that these products are new. It takes years and years before we will ever know the long term effects of these products. And unfortunately, if the first few studies conducted come back pointing to no major adverse effects, we consumers become the next line of guinea pigs. I think consumers have the false comfort that anything approved by the FDA or CFIA is safe, but it’s just not so. I believe the government generally tries to protect us from potentially harmful products (after all, they don’t want to pay for our health care if we end up sick), but the bottom line is that they can’t protect us from things that haven’t emerged yet.

 

As for Splenda, – well, if I need something sweet, I’m reaching for good old sugar or honey.