Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Just Because it Came from a Supermarket Doesn't Mean it's not Takeout

A short post.

You know those counters in the supermarket where you can buy prepared meals?

Well I've met quite a few folks over the years who believe because supermarket meals are prepared in an actual supermarket that somehow they're healthier than restaurant meals.

Sad to tell them (and you), that take-out's take-out, no matter where it's made. And chances are those supposedly healthier supermarket offerings are just as salty, sugary, and calorific as anything you'd buy in a restaurant.

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Guest Post: Can a Food Charity Reject Food Industry Funding and Fundraising?

Today's guest post comes from Nourish Nova Scotia's Executive Director Margo Riebe-Butt. Nourish is a non-profit organization that supports nourishment and food literacy programs in school communities, and Margo reached out to me a little ways back to let me know how Nourish was set up from the get-go not to rely on food industry dollars and to overtly reject junk food fundraising and that it did so by way of governance. A good read for all health organizations and I've no doubt that were you to want a copy of Nourish' complete policies and procedures that Margo would be happy to oblige.

Dear Dr. Freedhoff,

It’s kind of you to understand the struggles charities face when trying to fund important programs and organizational operations through various fundraising activities, and I applaud you for calling out those that ought to know better. Charities are under constant pressure in an extremely competitive environment to get the almighty donor dollar. It appears in this day and age anything goes when it comes to bringing much needed funds—even if it runs counter to the cause. But does it have to be that way?

At Nourish Nova Scotia, we don’t believe this needs to be the case. We believe there is a different way, and we’re living that reality today. We will not accept money from Big Food!

We are people who believe that real food is the food your grandmother would recognize—minimally processed and wholesome. We are nutritionists, home economists, educators and parents who care deeply about the future of Nova Scotia. We are members of our communities who know that eating real food helps keep people, communities and our economy healthier.

At Nourish we know that well-nourished kids have better health and education outcomes. We work to support nutrition programs in schools to help achieve this. Our goal is to support the nutritional well-being of children and youth and to build their food knowledge and skills so they can feed themselves well into a healthy future. Right now we support 366 breakfast programs in Nova Scotia, and we have dreams of building on this foundational program to support school gardens, farm to school initiatives, lunch, snack and cooking skill programs. Our dreams are tempered by reality, and the reality is the need for money in order to do what we need to do.

Learning from the experiences of other agencies we realized in the early days that we could not follow the well-worn path by accepting money, partnership and sponsorship incongruent with our mission, while still remaining true to our purpose for being. We had to be brave, innovative and make bold decisions not to enter into partnerships that would compromise our integrity and more importantly, the health of those we serve. We decided to take the time to formulate an internal fund development/gift acceptance policy to guide our actions and decisions. It’s a comprehensive policy, and in the interest of brevity, I’ll share only pieces pertinent to charitable fundraising in this email.

Nourish Fund Development Policies and Procedures

Purpose of Policy
  • In order to achieve Nourish’s vision that all Nova Scotia children and youth are well nourished to live, learn and play, individual citizens as well as the public, private and corporate sectors need to be engaged. Nourish inspires support by maintaining the highest ethical standards in all its actions, demonstrating wise stewardship of its resources and employing equitable and transparent processes to this end.

  • Nourish Nova Scotia believes integrity is paramount in fulfilling its vision mission and purpose. Its intention at all times is to put the nutritional health and well-being of Nova Scotia’s children and youth first. Therefore its financial responsibilities will always be balanced against its social responsibilities. To that end, Nourish chooses its partnerships thoughtfully and carefully, in order to protect its brand and, most importantly, the children and youth that it serves.

  • The second of eight principles states:

    2. Nourish will seek to form meaningful relationships with individuals organizations and corporations that share our vision.*

    This principle is further defined:

    * Given the complexity of the food system, Nourish has made a conscious decision not to seek or enter into partnership with food industry. Exceptions to this decision may occur at some point in the future but involve only those that grow, produce, harvest and promote, what in our expert opinion constitutes real, whole-foods. Whole-foods contribute to the healthy development of children and youth and the good food environment we wish to co-create with generations of Nova Scotians. A careful and stringent review process will be followed to assess any such partnerships prior to any decision to partner.

    We also gave thought to our organizational structure, and how that effects decision making, most notably at the board level. We’ve all had experiences on boards where well-meaning volunteers bring their own fundraising ideas to the table. Board dynamics may be such that these ideas-which often run counter to the charity’s purpose, are accepted anyway. To that end we have developed a community engagement model structure that brings new volunteers and potential board members into the organization on one of four leadership teams. It is here that the bulk of the work for the organization is conceived and actualized. Volunteers have the opportunity to become orientated to the purpose and mandate of the organization over the course of a year or more, ahead of the opportunity to be nominated to the board of directors.

    We were very intentional in developing these policies and structures after we became incorporated and before we became a full-fledged charity. It was difficult to invest so much time and effort on policy development at the front-end of building a new charity. Because of our backgrounds and experiences we knew how imperative these foundational documents would be to the strength and integrity of our organization, and how these investments would serve us well down the road. If you would like more information on how our organizational structure helps to keep volunteers focused on our purpose, I would be happy to share.

    We face the same financial challenges as all of our charitable colleagues. We are proud to differentiate ourselves by taking the road less traveled and keeping the children and youth we serve at the centre of our work.

    Like you, we believe every health charity should be focused on wellness, and not fundraising by selling illness.

    In the sage words of Kermit the Frog….."It’s not easy being green.”


    Margo Riebe-Butt, RD
    Executive Director, Nourish Nova Scotia

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    Saturday, September 27, 2014

    Saturday Stories: Smoke Jumpers, Genetic Testing, and Tomatoes

    Glenn Hodges in National Geographic covering Russian smoke jumpers.

    Denise Grady and Andrew Pollack in the New York Times do a great job of covering the slippery slope of genetic testing.

    Daniel Gritzer on Serious Eats explains why there's nothing wrong with refrigerating your tomatoes.

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    Friday, September 26, 2014


    Today's Funny Friday documents the marriage between a GoPro camera and a bunch of adorable puppies!

    Have a great weekend!

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    Thursday, September 25, 2014

    Big Beverage Pledges to Take Credit For Pre-Existing Consumer Trends

    I imagine you've heard of "the big announcement" from Big Beverage, but in case you didn't, a few days ago, on stage at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting, The Coca-Cola Company, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, PepsiCo and the American Beverage Association, together pledged to reduce beverage calories consumed per person nationally by 20 percent by 2025.

    And it would seem much of the world has swallowed it.

    All Big Beverage is actually doing is pledging to take credit for the decade from now outcome of the rapidly shifting and growing consumer sentiment that has already led to a marked reduction in sugar-sweetened beverage sales - a reduction that's likely to accelerate as the World Health Organization's recommendation that added sugar be capped at 6 teaspoons daily is formally accepted, as nutrition fact panel reform that specifically calls out added sugar goes live, and as the science fingering excess free sugar consumption as a bad plan continues to accumulate. In fact given the growing groundswell against free sugar, I'd be genuinely surprised if sugar sweetened beverage sales don't go down by more than 20% over the coming decade.

    This is all just smoke and mirrors. Hitching themselves to the already rapidly decreasing consumer interest in their products is a brilliant move that will likely help Big Beverage to forestall soda taxes and legislation by allowing them to pretend that they're part of the solution.

    What sorts of consumer campaigns would convince me that Big Beverage really did want to drive down their own profits (which of course they legally can't because of their fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders) and change American's beverage choices?

    Campaigns telling consumers that they should immediately and dramatically minimize their consumption of soda, that switching to artificially sweetened beverages is only a shift to a lesser evil and that their consumption too should be minimized, and that tap water is hugely preferable to bottled water as bottled water is an entirely unnecessary and expensive environmental blight. We might also see food industry pledges not just to make smaller sizes, but to stop selling larger ones, slashes to advertising budgets, and a commitment to immediately stop using Santa Claus, polar bears, teen idols, and sport and entertainment industry celebrities and stars to hawk their products.

    Anything less than the above is just lip service and I for one can't wait for the day (and it'll come), when society stops listening to the food industry's wholly explicable, and ultimately unhelpful, self-serving machinations and starts treating them as the non-evil, profit-driven corporations that they are who by definition must place profits and self-preservation ahead of public health.

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    Wednesday, September 24, 2014

    Another Meta-Analysis Confirms that Kids Can't Outrun Their Forks

    Wouldn't it be great if childhood obesity could be tackled with PE classes and after-school sports?

    Unfortunately believing or wanting something to be true doesn't make it so and study after study looking at the impact of activity levels on children's weights demonstrate that while incredibly good for their health, exercising doesn't tip the needle on the kids' scales.

    Well add this meta-analysis to the mix. Published in Preventive Medicine the authors pulled randomized controlled trials of 6 months or longer in duration that looked at the impact physical activity interventions had on body mass index, blood pressure, total cholesterol and triglycerides. In total there were 11 such trials that together included 10,748 children.

    The results were pretty clear. 6 month or longer physical activity interventions weren't associated with reductions in BMI, but they may have a positive impact on the kids' blood pressures and triglycerides.

    Yes, I know I'm a broken record, but for the record, weight is lost in kitchens, health is gained in gyms.

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    Tuesday, September 23, 2014

    Book Review: 100 Days of Real Food (Guest Post)

    Today's post is a guest post cookbook review from our office's fantastic RD Rob Lazzinnaro.
    100 Days of Real Food

    Full disclosure: I was provided a free copy of Lisa Leake's 100 Days of Real Food by Dr.Freedhoff to review, and I have no ties to the author.
    I tend to review all cookbooks with two guidelines:
    1. Are the recipes attainable, nutritious, and is nutrition information provided.
    2. If the cookbook has nutrition tips (which many do these days) is the information accurate and would I be comfortable recommending it as a registered dietitian.
    Let’s start with praise. Overall this is an excellent book with a great message and some excellent recipes. Its central message is one we all still desperately need to hear, which is to cook more, eat more whole foods, and rely on highly processed foods less.

    The message is stated clearly from the book’s get-go - we eat too many highly refined and ultra-processed products. Why is that significant? In depth, eating more processed food often means consuming portions deceptively high in calories, ingredients that are proven harmful to our health (trans fats), and foods that are often devoid of essential nutrients.

    Leake’s definition of what REAL food is:
    • "Whole food that typically has only one ingredient…
    • “Packaged foods made with no more than five unrefined ingredients. (based on Michael Pollan’s food rules).
    • Dairy products like whole milk, unsweetened yogurt, eggs, and cheese.
    • Breads and crackers that are 100 percent whole grain.
    • Wild-caught seafood
    • Locally and humanely raised pastured meat products like chicken, pork, beef, and lamb
    • Dried fruits, nuts and seeds
    • Naturally made sweeteners including honey and maple syrup
    • More a product of nature than a “product of industry”. "

    The Meal Planning Tips and Recipes Section; Chapters 4-5 & Part Two:

    The book shines in its practical “how to” managment tips, and particularly in the chapters Getting Your Family On Board” and “Food Budget Tips and Meal Plans. The last half of the book includes the 100 recipes, and the majority are enticing, and more importantly, not intimidating . Without question most parents will especially enjoy the lunch box recipe ideas for kids. With respect to nutrition within the recipes, Leake is not a believer in counting calories or macronutrients, but I am, so I put some of her most indulgent recipes to the test.

    If you had a serving of the Quinoa and Sausage Stuffed Peppers on pg. 242 you would consume:

    ~455 Calories/18g Protein/400mg Sodium/5g Fibre

    Pair it with a serving of Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing on pg. 214 you would consume an additional:

    ~347 Calories/16g Protein/591mg Sodium/2g Fibre

    Essentially, what that means is that the book’s most indulgent meal would be ~800 Calories. The rest of the recipes tend be much less caloric and fall somewhere between 200-300 calories per serving. For me this hammers home two points.
    1. When you cook at home from whole ingredients the majority of your meals will naturally fall within a reasonable calorie range and consequently tracking calories isn’t as necessary as it would be were you to be assembling boxes and hitting restaurants rather than cooking.
    2. Not all meals are created equal and just because they are cooked from scratch some meals will still fall into the eat less often category and so if your recipe sounds indulgent, it may be worth crunching the numbers.
    The Nutritional Information Sections, Chapters 1-3:

    There is some very solid advice in these sections ranging from what are whole grains, healthy oils/fats, label reading, not aiming for perfection and the problem with added sugar which Leake covers succinctly,
    The problem with sugar is honestly not sugar itself, but the quantity in which it’s being consumed
    Unfortunately, Leake’s solid nutritional advice is at times followed up by non-evidence based statements. As many in the real food (whole food) movement are, Leake seems guided in part by natural fallacy - the belief that only something “natural/real” necessitates healthy and good; everything else is a compromise. I worry that this false construct and focus may lead some to ultimately struggle as not everyone has the budget, access or interest to cook the majority of their food, let alone do so with organic, grass fed, and speciality ingredients. I can’t help but wonder whether some of the fierce attacks on home cooking of late by journalists and bloggers as being elitist, aren’t bolstered some by recommendations that in a sense, put too many rules on home cooking.

    At the end of the day this is a great resource for those looking to eat and cook with more whole foods; keeping in mind that it is perfectly fine if you choose to cook/bake with white flour once in a while ;)

    If you'd like a copy, here's an Amazon Associates link to pick one up.

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    Monday, September 22, 2014

    More on Why The Biggest Loser Contestants Are Doomed To Fail

    I've written a great deal about The Biggest Loser.

    I've covered the fact that according to previous contestants the vast majority gain their weight back, I've covered the metabolic slow down that occurs consequent to the show, I've covered the cruelty of the show's inclusion of children, I've covered how watching the show actively discourages viewers from exercising, and I've covered the ethics of being a physician involved in its production.

    Today I'll leave you with this tidbit.

    In a study published early online last week in the journal Obesity, when compared with matched gastric bypass patients, following their respective losses, contestants on The Biggest Loser had 5x less circulating leptin in their bloodstreams.

    Leptin, in case you aren't aware, is one of the body's primary satiety (fullness) hormones.

    With 5x less circulating leptin, and metabolisms that are slowed down twice as much as their gastric bypass counterparts', it's no small wonder the majority of The Biggest Loser's contestants are reported to have gained their weights back as it's tough to be a metabolic slug and be hungry.

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    Saturday, September 20, 2014

    Saturday Stories: Farmaceuticals, Sustainable Seafood, and Vegetative States

    Here's Brian Grow, P.J. Huffstutter, and Michael Erman with an impressive Reuters special investigation on the abuse of antibiotics on farms.

    Here's Nathanael Johnson on the potential of sustainable seafood.

    And lastly here's Maclean's Kate Lunau with a fascinating story involving Alfred Hitchcock and a not persistent vegetative state.

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    Friday, September 19, 2014

    The World's Most Awesome Don't Walk Signal!

    Today's Funny Friday is both awesome and reportedly extremely effective.

    Don't walk. Dance!

    Have a great weekend.

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