Saturday, 27 February 2010

Moving Beyond Nutritionism

eek. it's been such a long time since I've blogged... sorry! :)

I wanted to talk about dietitians and nutritionism.

What is Nutritionism?

In his book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, Michael Pollan dedicates a whole chapter to nutritionism, which basically states that the key to understanding food is its nutrients. That is, that food is essentially "the sum of their nutrient parts".

Pollan takes aim at the “nutritionist ideology” of focusing solely on nutritionism- on nutrients at the expense of foods’ other qualitative properties, and other factors surrounding food and food choices- environment, production methods, culture, upbringing, experiences, society, history, etc.

So, he's saying that health is promoted through food, and more specifically through their nutrients: eat this % carbohydrates and you'll have lots of energy, eat antioxidants and you'll prevent this disease, eat less calories to lose weight....

And the problem with this is that the nutrients are taken out of context of food, and food is taken out of context of the diet, and the diet is taken out of context of the person (and all the factors that contribute to health and well-being).

We've been talking about this in a class I'm taking and a classmate said that she felt inhibited in properly counseling clients because of the science foundation of her dietetic training, stating that her training limits her from really being able to understand her clients and therefore being able to help them meet their goals. She's left oftentimes simply able to say "there's no conclusive evidence for eating or not eating that".

Moving Beyond Nutritonism

A new movement, called Critical Dietetics, was created as part of Dietitians of Canada (DC) that seeks to move the profession beyond nutritionism and explore questions like:

What counts as “knowing” in dietetic practice? How do we, as nutrition professionals, come to know what we don’t know? How does the evidenced-based culture of dietetics give voice? Where does dietetic culture render silence? What is it that we have already accomplished as a profession? In what ways do we continue to evolve? What do we envision for the future of our profession?

Where I am

I use nutritionism in this blog... I have lots of posts that break down the research and state that this nutrient has been found to prevent this or that... And what's difficult for me is that I know people want this information... these are the posts that get the most traffic. A communication expert came to talk to us (in another class) and said that it is our role as nutrition experts to provide answers for our audience. This contradicts Critical Dietetics which asks us to question our knowledge and rethink how we know what we know.

One source states that to identify ourselves as experts is very presumptuous of us, meaning how can we be experts of someone else's life? Food and eating is so personal to people, how can we assume an expert role over that?

I'd love to know what you think.

I think that while many of us are guilty of 'nutritionism moments', I still think that most of us look beyond nutrients when we counsel our clients...That said, I think it's important that we not be scared to take a critical look at our profession...

I also believe in the scientific foundation of our training and that our role as dietitians is to stay current of this ever-changing science, and to always be aware that food is more than a vehicle for nutrients and that what we eat, how much we eat, and why we eat are determined by a myriad of factors that we need to be able to recognize with the help of other disciplines. Our role is also to help our clients meet their needs and goals, to support, teach and learn from our colleagues, and, ultimately to have conviction in our message and our profession.

Click here for more information on Critical Dietetics

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Where We Are Now

"We have a health system that doesn't care about food and a food system that doesn't care about health"

-- Wendell Berry, American philosopher on food and farming


Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Eat More Fast Food!

This was a poster I created for a course... thought I'd share it!! :)

It was a visual imagery assignment- we had to create something visual (max 8 words) to express a nutrition recommendation/message for a specific population.

The population I chose were parents (that feed their kids fast food).

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Food Freedom Day

This past Friday (February 12th) was Food Freedom Day in Canada- the day that the average Canadian will have earned enough money to buy his/her groceries... for the whole year!

Can you imagine? It takes only 43 days!
Food Freedom Day fell on the same day last year.

Unfortunately, according to the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA), the gap between
the price of food and the amount of money farmers receive has been increasing. One CFA-funded study found that farmers get only 27% of money spent on groceries by an average family.

In the States, Americans spend less than any other nation on food- 9.5% of their annual income. Interestingly, they spend the most on health care- 16% of their annual income.

Sure, food is cheap... but at what cost to farmers, the environment, and our health?
If we can afford it, maybe we should be spending more money on good quality, fresh, organic, local foods...

Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, 12 February 2010

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

The Mandometer: A plate that tells you not to eat so fast!

According to Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating: Why we eat more than we think, studies have shown that it takes about 20 minutes for our brain to tell us we're full.

The problem?

We eat way too fast... and can pack in a lot of calories before those 20 minutes are up.
Most of us rarely even feel full-and, as a result, have lost the ability to recognize when we've eaten enough.

Wansink refers to a study that found it takes us, on average, 11 minutes to eat a fast-food lunch, if we're eating alone (13 minutes at a workplace cafeteria).

The solution?

Slow down!


Get The Mandometer!

This gadget, developed by researchers in England, is basically a scale, connected to a computer, on which you put your plate.
Throughout the meal, the user is asked to input how full they feel, re-educating them to become aware of these fullness cues, and measures the speed at which the plate is emptying. It compares eating speed with a "normal" speed, and will nag the user to slow down if they're eating too fast.

The Mandometer has been successfully used in eating disorder clinics, usually instructing anorexic or bulimic patients to eat more quickly.

The only problem I can see with this gadget (apart from it getting kind of annoying!) is that it doesn't know what's on your plate- mostly vegetables, or all junk food...

But interesting idea- I wonder if it'll ever become mainstream in helping people struggling with weight loss...

Check out this short video to see the Mandometer in action.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Can the Message be Separated From the Source?

Have you seen Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty? Their message is a great one- it challenges the beauty ideals set by society and shows that beauty comes in different shapes, sizes and ages.
But critics point out that the campaign is used to sell products- including firming and anti-aging creams. So really, Dove's just upholding the beauty ideals that they claim to be against....

Dove's parent company, Unilever, also owns Axe- a male hygiene product line. Axe ads don't really use "real women"...
But, does this take away from the Real Beauty Campaign message?

Glamour magazine got quite a bit of attention for featuring an untouched (gasp!) photograph of a "plus-sized model". Other magazines have since followed suit, leading us to wonder what their motivation really is...
But even if their motivation is the bottom line ($$), does it matter if what they're doing is positive?

Now what about if a health agency, like Dietitians of Canada or the American Dietetic Association- organizations that represent dietitians and provide evidence-based nutrition information to the public- were funded by food industry?
Does their message lose its credibility? Do dietitians lose their credibility?

I'm not a member of Dietitians of Canada (DC) (it's not mandatory), but I know that members receive a large amount of industry-sponsored stuff, including from dairy, beef, and egg producers, etc etc. Some of their resources are also sponsored...

I was asked to help organize a career day at my university for dietetic interns a few months ago, but turned it down after learning that the event was entirely funded by big food industry companies (the majority of the speakers represented these companies too). It just made me uncomfortable...

Some dietitians I spoke to brought up the point that that many universities are funded by industry (tobacco, oil, etc)... but this fact doesn't invalidate our education...
They also said that a lot of good work can be done within industry... that the work is not necessarily affected by the funding.

Marion Nestle, a very well-respected dietitian, author and professor, called out the American Dietetic Association (ADA) for their associations with industry (which include Coca-Cola and Pepsi!), stating that it does taint their message.

This is a letter she wrote on her blog to ADA members.

"Respected ADA colleagues: as long as your organization partners with makers of food and beverage products, its opinions about diet and health will never be believed independent (translation: based on science not politics) and neither will yours. Consider the ADA’s Nutrition Fact Sheets, for example, each with its very own corporate sponsor (scroll down to the lower right hand corner of the second page to see who paid for the Facts). Is the goal of ADA really the same as the goal of the sponsors–to sell the sponsor’s food products? Is this a good way to get important scientific messages to the public? ADA members: how about doing something about this!"

Click here for part of the ADA's response which basically states that they don't have a lot of money and corporate funding allows them provide members and the public with educational programs.

What do you think?

Can you trust resources (including the food guide) or messages that come from an organization that's funded by certain food industries?

If you're a dietitian, how do you feel about the organizations that represent you partnering with food industry?

(Of course, the dietetic profession isn't the only organization that receives corporate sponsorship- think of the medial profession receiving money from pharmaceutical companies... even the Olympics are sponsored by McDonald's and Coca-Cola...).

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Broccoli :The Miracle Food... Another commercial!

So, I still don't know who's behind these ads (I did email them... never heard back).
(Click here for my previous post and another commercial)
I still can't embed the videos...

But here's another one of those brococli commercials!

Click here for the website and more information on broccoli.

BTW, if you recognize the song at the end of the commercial, Jess from Sift, Dust & Toss is offering a beautiful prize... wish I could figure it out!

Hope you're having a great Sunday!

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Do Locavores Have it Wrong?

In 2007, locavore was the New Oxford American Dictionary's word of the Year. I remember first hearing the word in 2008.

The movement
has since really taken off, helped by wonderful book written by two Canadians- Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon-The 100-Mile Diet. Click here for a previous blog about the book.

Food miles is the cornerstone of the locavore movement: the distance food travels from the farm to our plate.
It's estimated that the the average food we eat has travelled 1500-3000 miles... oftentimes more than that.

What are the Benefits of Eating Locally

According to its many advocates, eating local foods (which hasn't really been defined yet, but within a 100-mile radius is what the 100-mile diet is all about) not only minimizes the fossil fuels used to bring the food to us, but results in food that tastes better, is better for our health, better for local economies. It also allows us to reconnect with the seasons and with the people producing our food.

Is Local Food Healthier?

Kind of.
In a recent publication of its Current Issues (Jan 2010),
Dietitians of Canada's concluded that there is no evidence that supports that local foods are healthier...

Limited evidence does show
that certain foods (like broccoli, kale, green beans, red peppers, tomatoes, apricots and peaches) lose nutrients when they travel long distances. Preliminary studies indicate that local grass-fed meat may also be more nutritious.

Eat Locally: Not the Answer?!

Lots of people also cho
ose to eat local because it's a way to stand up to our current "messed-up" food system : "local is a way to counter the global". There's the well-known expression: "voting with your fork". While I'm not a locavore, I've become very conscious of where my food comes from... and haven't eaten a banana or citrus fruit in months!

According to James McWilliams, author of Just Food: Where locavores get it wrong and how we can truly eat responsibly, I'm not alone.
Since 1990, there has been a 4-fold increase in farmer's markets with more and more people wanting to know where their food's coming from.... which is great!


According to McWilliams, focusing on eating locally is a form of denial. Not only, is it not globally sustainable, it's flawed to think that food miles is what's bad for the environment, and simplifying the issue into "distance is bad, local is good" prevents us from finding real solutions.

Life-Cycle Assessm
ent: Food's Carbon Footprint

McWilliams talks about the Lif
e-Cycle Assessment (LCA)- a measurement that goes beyond food-miles and looks at the carbon-footprint of food- at all the stages. It factors in things like water usage, waste, harvesting techniques, pesticide use, climate, storage, etc.

LCA tells us that the the production and processing of food actually uses the most fossil fuels (45%)... transportation uses the least (11%)!

What Does This Mean?

According to the LCA, and McWilliams, if you live in th UK, it is 4 times more energy-efficient to buy grass-fed lamb imported from New Zealand than to buy local grain-fed lamb (this point was corroborated by Michael Pollan in an interview )!

An LCA of the Danish fishing industry found that changing fishing method could reduce fuel-use tremendously- using a net hanging vertically in the water (a seine) used 15 times less energy than using a trawl (a weighted net dragged across the ocean floor). So, it would make more sense to ask about fishing method rather than food miles....

A great paper written by Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimuzu- We Have No Bananas- agrees with McWilliams. They point out that importing produce from areas where they grow naturally emits less greenhouse gases than growing them locally in greenhouses or cold-storing them to extend their shelf-life.

Their argument is summarized in the following statement:

" miles are, at best, a marketing fad that frequently and severely distorts the environmental impacts of agricultural production. At worst, food miles constitute a dangerous distraction from the very real and serious issues that affect energy consumption and the environmental impact of modern food production and the affordability of food".

Hmmm. Interesting...

Monday, 1 February 2010

What are the Best Nutrition and Food Books?

Well... the best according to me anyways!
Would love to know what you favourite nutrition, food and cook books are!

Books That Changed What I Eat

Best Books for Nutrition Information (my go-to books)

Best Sport Nutrition Resource Book

Best Vegetarian/Vegan Nutrition Resource Books

Best Food Writer

Ruth Reichl

Book That I Use Most in my Practice

Best Books About the Restaurant World
(from the perspective of a chef (left) and server (right))

Best Books About Learning To Cook

Best Book About Food Celebrities

My Favourite Cookbook

The Two Last Books I Read and Really Enjoyed

Books on my Nightstand