Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Talk The Food Industry Couldn't Bear To Hear

While I'll be taking a break from blogging for the next few weeks, I'll be posting some of my favourites from back in 2012.
A little over a month ago I was invited by the Ontario Medical Association to give a talk at a food industry breakfast. I was asked to speak about what I thought the food industry could do to help further public health.

3 days prior to the talk, after my flights and hotel were booked, after I cancelled a day of patients, I was dis-invited. Apparently the conference organizer, Ron Reaman, a Senior VP of the international PR and communications firm Fleishman-Hillard, decided that it would be better if I didn't come. Why he decided that I can't tell you because despite being a Senior VP at an actual communications firm, he didn't do me the courtesy of communicating to me his concerns or offering me an apology - instead he had the Ontario Medical Association simply tell me that I was no longer welcome.

The good news is the internet's a much bigger venue than that small breakfast symposium and given I'd already put together my slide set, I figured why not post it online. Online I don't have a time keeper and given I'm not speaking solely to the food industry, I don't need to be as gentle with my messaging as I'd planned. Also good news is who I'll now be able to reach. My blog is read by policy makers, public health authorities, chief medical officers, professors, physicians/dietitians and other allied health professionals, journalists and nutrition bloggers the world over - folks that wouldn't have been attending that small, intimate, food industry sponsored breakfast. You'd almost think Mr. Reaman and Fleishman-Hillard were working for me and not for the food industry as uninviting me will enable me to communicate my message far further than I ever would have done otherwise.

So here's my talk. It's about what the food industry could do to improve public health, why they're not going to, and what we can do about it. But before you click it, a quick request - I want you to share it by means of every socially networked channel and email contact you have (any Redittors here?), because if Fleishman-Hillard the communications firm hired by the food industry to help cultivate good Big Food PR didn't want it heard, I figure it probably ought to get spread.

[Fair warning too - at one point I get a bit heated and use the word "ass", and believe it or not, I wasn't using it to refer to the food industry, or even to Ron Reaman.]

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Why Collecting Pop-Tabs for Ronald McDonald House Is a BAD Plan

While I'll be taking a break from blogging for the next few weeks, I'll be posting some of my favourites from back in 2012.
Another from the parental "No" files - this one from a frustrated Canadian mom.

She told me the story of her child's school and their campaign to collect pop tabs from cans of soda-pop to help raise money for their local Ronald McDonald house.

The campaign involved kids from Kindergarten through Grade 4 and prizes were awarded to the kid and the class who collected the most tabs. Ironically it was organized by the school's health teacher.

Now this mom's all for charity, but wonders whether or not the task and the competition attached to it wouldn't in turn encourage the community's consumption of soda pop, lead young and impressionable children to tie soda pop consumption with the very important and positive emotion and message of charity, and further normalize soda's regular consumption.

Apparently her child's school, collected 3 large garbage cans full of tabs - 90 gallons worth (340 litres for us Canadians).

Looking online it would seem that scrap aluminum sells for somewhere on the order of $0.30-$0.60/lb and that a gallon milk jug holds roughly 4,000 tabs and weighs roughly 3.3lbs.

Crunching a bunch of numbers tells me this:  A health teacher linked drinking soda pop with being charitable in the minds of kids between the ages of 4 and 10 and in so doing helped to galvanize her community of only 3,000 people to drink 360,000 cans of soda pop (an astounding 120 cans per resident) all in the name of raising a measly 133 dollars and 45 cents.

Now I'm all for raising money for charity, but is this really a wisest and best way to do so? Couldn't the health teacher come up with an actually healthy behavior with which to raise funds, let alone one that raises a more substantial sum? To give the briefest of examples - a few weeks ago my 3 little girls set up an organic vegetable stand at the end of our driveway to support their CIBC's Run for the Cure fundraising efforts.  In just 1 hour of selling our home grown cucumbers, oregano, and basil they raised 115,200 pop tabs worth of money ($48).  And if garden vegetable sales aren't the school's thing perhaps the kids could clean up local parks and go door to door asking for donations? Or how about a used book fair? Or a physical activity fundraiser where the kids ask for sponsorship? Or a kid run car wash?

Now this mom did in fact say "No" to drinking soda for Ronald McDonald House, but I wonder how many kids' parents, when asked while shopping with their kid if they could buy some soda to help raise money for kids with cancer, didn't pick up a case or two they wouldn't have otherwise?

Does your kids' school collect pop-tabs for Ronald McDonald house? If they do, please show them this post - there's no doubt there are healthier and far more lucrative ways to raise money for charity than to promote the consumption of soda pop.

Monday, December 28, 2015

If This Isn't Proof Society Is Broken, I Don't Know What Is

While I'll be taking a break from blogging for the next few weeks, I'll be posting some of my favourites from back in 2012.
Thanks to my friend Kev for forwarding to me this actual photo of his microwave that clearly identifies what the world must perceive "Kids Meals" to be - mac and cheese, chicken nuggets and hot dogs.

If that's kid food, what do you think those kids who are eating it regularly are going to gravitate to as grownups, let alone what they're going to feed their future children?

Parents - as far as I'm concerned it's your obligation to ensure that before your children move out, they can cook 10, healthy, from fresh whole ingredients, meals. Much more important that they learn to do that than learn how to play soccer or hockey.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Do You Confuse How You're Doing With What You Weigh?

While I'll be taking a break from blogging for the next few weeks, I'll be posting some of my favourites from back in 2012.
It's certainly what society teaches.

If you're trying to lose or maintain your weight the scale will tell you how you're doing.


The scale never tells you how you're doing. The scale only tells you what you weigh.

How you're doing is what you're actually doing. Are you cooking healthful meals? Are you organizing your dietary timing, calories, and proteins? Are you minimizing meals out? Are you being thoughtful? Are you keeping track of your choices and intake? Are you exercising? Are you consistent in your efforts?

Boiling it down even further ask yourself,
"Am I living the healthiest life that I can honestly enjoy?"
If the answer's yes, you're doing great - scale be damned.

The fact is sometimes you weigh more than how you're doing even when you're doing great.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Why Is Weight Loss Quackery Being Sold By Pharmacists?

While I'll be taking a break from blogging for the next few weeks, I'll be posting some of my favourites from back in 2012.
A reader sent me the photo up above. It shows at best non-evidence based, at worst completely useless and not necessarily safe weight loss quackery is being prominently sold by placard in at least one Ontario pharmacy at their pickup counter.

How is this legal?

The short answer is that it's legal because Health Canada just doesn't care. They don't care that pharmacy shelves are filled with nonsense that not only wastes their money, but also potentially their health as they may supplant physician visits and medical care for the promises festooned on the side of a bottle.

But do pharmacists care? In this case do they care that my reader thinks customers will take the promotion of Dr. Oz miracle pills at their pickup counter to be a professional endorsement by the pharmacists themselves?

Pharmacists are highly educated health professionals and here in Ontario (where the photo up above was taken), they're regulated by the Ontario College of Pharmacists (OCP), and represented in Canada by the Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPhA).

Peeking at the OCP website I came across their Model Standards of Care document and in it, this statement,
"23. recommend non-prescription drug therapy only having collected and interpreted patient information to ensure that:

• there are no significant drug interactions or contra-indications, and
• the medication is the most appropriate in view of patient characteristics, signs and symptoms, other conditions and medications, and
• the dose and instructions for use of the medication are correct
But given that there is no dose (no human trials) how could any amount of it ever be considered "appropriate"?

And what of the CPhA?

While they don't have the same sort of Standards of Care document, they do have one on Direct-To-Consumer Advertising and in it they note,
"the information available to patients must be objective, accurate and comprehensive."
Does that sign up above suggest objectivity, accuracy and comprehensiveness?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Beyoncé, Why Do You Hate My Children? (an open letter)

While I'll be taking a break from blogging for the next few weeks, I'll be posting some of my favourites from back in 2012.
Dear Beyoncé,

I have 3 beautiful little girls - 8, 5 and 3. While they're not quite old enough yet to know who you are, I've no doubt they'll both discover and adore you over the course of the next few years. What you say to them, what your advertisements will say to them, will likely carry a great deal more weight than what I might say - after all, I'm just their dad, whereas you, you're Beyoncé. And apparently you're going to tell them, either directly or indirectly, that you love drinking Pepsi Cola.

The New York Times reports that your recently inked Pepsi deal will last for years, cost them $50 million, and for Pepsi it's meant, "to enhance its reputation with consumers".

Of course it's also meant to sell Pepsi - at least $50 million dollars more worth.

Beyoncé I'm sure you're aware that these days the world isn't the healthiest of places, and that the consumption of huge amounts of empty and often sugary calories is contributing to the burden of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity - and here I'm not even talking about adults. With truly terrifying regularity, kids under the age of 10 are being diagnosed with what was once referred to as "adult-onset" diabetes. Teens are having heart attacks. In your own lifetime, childhood obesity rates have tripled. You might even be aware that in North America, teen girls get 15% of their daily calories from soft drinks. Why would you want to perpetuate that tragedy? In fact I'm virtually positive you're aware of all that given your involvement with Let's Move. So I have to ask: Is your star fading? Did you make some terrible investments? Do you think sugared soda's not as bad as the medical community makes it out to be?

I can't fathom why a star as successful as you would want your own wagon and brand selling Pepsi. While I appreciate that you owe my little girls nothing, I would have hoped that someone with your star power wouldn't need or want to sell children sugar water.

Beyoncé, why do you hate my 3 little girls?

Yoni Freedhoff, MD

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Greatest Danger of Processed "Home Cooking"

While I'll be taking a break from blogging for the next few weeks, I'll be posting some of my favourites from back in 2012.
It's not necessarily the actual food, but rather it's what it teaches.

Take the fish example up above. Nutritionally I'm guessing that it's pretty much the same as if you breaded, seasoned and pan fried the fish yourself.

But the message?

The message is that good healthy food comes in boxes.

And the message that's lost?

That it's actually not even remotely difficult to buy fresh fish, season it and pan fry it. And if fresh is a challenge, perhaps even preparing plain frozen fish fillets that you first thaw for a few moments in a sink full of water. 

Reliance on boxes robs people and their highly impressionable children of the basic life skill and healthy living importance of cooking while simultaneously perpetuating the de-prioritization of actual meal preparation from our modern day lives.  While the final outcome in this case might be nutritionally comparable, and might even take 1 or 2 minutes less time than from scratch, I'll still label it as part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.  Sure, rely on products like this in a pinch, but I'm guessing many rely on them more often than not.

We're not going to solve society's nutrition related woes with boxes.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Friday, December 18, 2015

Maybe I Should Start Watching Ellen

Because my sense of humour is definitely juvenile enough to enjoy today's Funny Friday.

Have a great weekend!

[Thanks to our office's Lorne for sharing]

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Badvertising: For God's Sake, Just Frickin' Eat Butter!

While I'll be taking a break from blogging for the next few weeks, I'll be posting some of my favourites from back in 2012.
Yet another example of why national Food Guides matter.

Here's an advertisement from Becel for its Becel Buttery Taste Margarine which they flog as,
"having 80% less saturated fat than butter and with a delicious buttery taste"
They also make sure to note,
"A healthy diet low in saturated and trans fat may reduce the risk of heart disease"
Yet saturated fat has been exonerated as being a dramatic independent risk factor of disease....probably something worth telling the general public, but of course Health Canada can't possibly respond to a changing evidence base by actually changing recommendations. I mean come on, that would mean changing the Food Guide more frequently than every 10-15 years.  That's just crazy talk.

You know what else has a "delicious buttery taste"? Frickin' BUTTER! And it has the same number of calories as the margarine you're buying because you like the taste of butter but are scared of it because your government told you to be.  Well guess what?  using butter as a condiment isn't likely to hurt you and guaranteed, it'll be far more delicious than your "buttery",
"Canola and sunflower oils 74%, water, modified palm and palm kernel oils 6%, salt 1.5%, buttermilk powder 1%, soy lecithin 0.2%, natural & artificial flavor, potassium sorbate, vegetable monoglycerides, citric acid, alpha-tocopherol acetate, calcium disodium EDTA, vitamin A palmitate, beta-carotene, vitamin D3."
Just frickin' eat butter!


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

If Coca-Cola Doesn't Market to Kids, Why Do they Sell Toys?

While I'll be taking a break from blogging for the next few weeks, I'll be posting some of my favourites from back in 2012.
No one can ever say Coca-Cola doesn't have chutzpah.

A few days ago The Chicago Tribune's Julie Deardorff published a critical article on Coca-Cola's funding of playgrounds suggesting doing so was effectively marketing to kids (something Coca-Cola has pledged not to do). Her story led Kevin Morris, Coca-Cola's vice president of Public Affairs and Communications, to write the Tribune to express his indignation at the very suggestion that Coca-Cola targets children in their marketing,
"You can imagine my disappointment when I read Tribune reporter Julie Deardorff’s 'Kids who play sports eat more junk food: Study(News, Feb. 24), the second article this month that failed to provide readers with a balanced perspective about the Coca-Cola Co.'s business practices.

To set the record straight, Coca-Cola does not market our beverage brands in venues where children under the age of 12 years are the primary audience. Coke has adhered to this policy for more than 50 years, and it extends to youth sporting events and clubs.
That argument, that Coca-Cola is an upstanding corporate citizen that would never, ever, target kids is one I've covered before, where thanks to the magic of YouTube I was able to quickly pull out 16 different Coca-Cola commercials that in my mind at least, dispute Kevin and Coca-Cola's self-righteous claims of innocence. I also blogged about Coca-Cola's recent "Great Happification" campaign, which if it isn't designed to target kids, then I guess bikini-clad beer commercials also aren't designed to target men.

So according to Kevin, Coca-Cola has a 50 year old policy of not marketing brands in venues where children under the age of 12 are the primary audience, and that the aforementioned policy extends specifically to sporting events. If that's the case Kevin, what do you think went on with the 2011 Vienna City Marathon's literally entitled, "Coca-Cola Kids Challenge" a sporting event where the sole criterion for entry was being younger than 10 years old (photo up above and down below)?

But you know Kevin, let's not nitpick about whether or not Coca-Cola branded sporting events for kids 10 and under are in fact Coca-Cola branded sporting events for kids 10 and under. Instead let me ask you this, if Coca-Cola doesn't market to kids, why does Coca-Cola sell toys?

Looking at's online Toys and Games category there are 719 different Coca-Cola branded toys, including dolls with packaging that clearly states they're for kids aged 3+, 100 piece puzzles aimed at the more sophisticated 5+ crowd, Barbies, stuffed animals, toy cars and more.

Don't branded toys count as marketing?

It's shameful Kevin. Not the fact that your company makes a profit by selling various products, that's the American way, but rather what's shameful is what seems, at least on the surface, as a bald faced lie that Coca-Cola doesn't specifically hold children squarely in their marketing cross hairs.

But maybe I'm confused? Maybe I'm misunderstanding your claim and you've got a way to explain to my readers why I'm out to lunch. If you'd like to make the case that products like the Coca-Cola Kids branded Carmen, where her very packaging suggests the intended audience is aged 3+, along with all the other products posted below, as well as that 10 and under sporting event last year in Vienna, still fit within your company's supposed 50 year promise of not targeting children, please feel free to post a comment.

"Coca-Cola Kids" Dolls for Ages 3+

100 Piece Puzzles Advertised for Ages 5+

Barbie Dolls

Toy Cars

Toy Trucks


Stuffed Animals

Wind Up Toys


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Food Industry/Public Health Partnership I Could Support

While I'll be taking a break from blogging for the next few weeks, I'll be posting some of my favourites from back in 2012.
A few weeks ago I at a talk I was giving in Halifax I was asked by my colleague Dr. Geoff Ball if I was still diametrically opposed to partnerships between public health organizations and the food industry.

My answer was, "Yes".

That said, over the past few years of my very vocal opposition to such partnerships I've been regularly challenged to come up with a mechanism that I could in fact stand behind.

So for what it's worth, here's what I've been considering.

What if there were a nutritional research fund that was financially supported by the pooled resources of the food industry, but governed by academics?

Where the various food industry players who want to be "a part of the solution", put their money where their mouths were - with unrestricted grants to this hypothetical fund?

Those monies would then be distributed on the basis of merit and need to nutritional research projects by means of academics with no industry ties.

The food industry folks could still talk of their being part of the solution by means of corporate social responsibility reports that would highlight the money they're sinking selflessly into the fund, while researchers wouldn't be beholden to the food industry, nor would projects be chosen on the basis of what the food industry believed would result in product favourable outcomes. Keeping the food industry at arms length would also preclude industry's use of health organization's logos or specific researcher's good names to sell their products and healthwash their brands.

It's not a perfect system as the industry players could still use their involvement in the fund as proof of their playing ball and might leverage that involvement into political gains and deflecting industry unfriendly legislation, but compared with the mess that currently exists consequent to these partnerships - I'd call an arrangement like this one as close to a win-win that I could imagine.

Monday, December 14, 2015

"Diabetic Surgery" Uncovers Irrational Weight Biases

While I'll be taking a break from blogging for the next few weeks, I'll be posting some of my favourites from back in 2012.
In case you missed the news, two recent studies (here and here) published in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated dramatic superiority of surgery over intensive medical management in the treatment of type 2 diabetes.

Now I'm not going to get into the studies here and dissect them for you, but I think that they were well done studies, and while admittedly we still don't know what their long, long, term benefit will be, at 2 years out, they look damn good with surgery coming out worlds better than "intensive medical therapy" for the treatment (and remission in many cases) of type 2 diabetes.

Of course time's definitely a fair concern. Meaning what if 5 or 10 years down the road the folks who had the surgery are no better off than those on medical therapy? Thing is, based on what we know already about the surgeries involved, all have well known 5 year data, and the bypasses and diversions much longer than that, and those studies, while they weren't specifically designed to look at diabetes alone, did look at weight and medical comorbidity regains, and I certainly don't recall anything that suggested diabetes returned with a vengeance.

So basically here we have a surgical intervention that is dramatically better than a medical one, for a condition that causes cumulative damage and can wreak havoc on a person's quality and quantity of life.

Yet many MDs, allied health professionals and health reporters, including some who I know, respect, and admire, are taking this opportunity to discuss how we shouldn't be looking to surgical solutions for diabetes because patients could instead use their forks and feet. While there's no argument about the fact that in a ideal world everyone would take it upon themselves to live the healthiest lives possible, there's two problems with that argument. Firstly, not everyone is interested in changing their lifestyle, and secondly, statistically speaking, the majority of even those who are interested and successful with lifestyle change will ultimately regress - the simple fact remains that we don't yet have a proven, reproducible and sustainable approach to lifestyle change.

And what of those folks not wanting to change?  I say, "so what?".   Since when did MDs, allied health professionals or health columnists earn the right to judge others on their abilities or desires to change? Our job is to provide patients with information - all information - including information on lifestyle change, medical management and surgery. We can even provide patients with our opinions as to which road we think may be best for them, and why, but honestly, given the results from these studies, I'm not sure how anyone could make an evidence based case that surgery isn't a very real and powerful option that ought to be discussed with all of their patients with diabetes and obesity.

Unless of course that someone has some form of weight (or simply anti-surgery) bias.

Let me give you another example. Let's say there was a surgical procedure that folks with breast cancer could undergo that would reduce their risk of breast cancer recurrence by roughly 30%.  Do you think anyone would question a woman's desire to have it? I can't imagine. And yet lifestyle - weight loss and exercise has indeed been shown to reduce risk of breast cancer recurrence by 30%. Think people would dare suggest the women choosing surgery were, "taking the easy way out", that they should just use their forks and feet?

We've got to get over ourselves.

Until we have a proven, remotely comparable, reproducible, sustainable, non-surgical option, if you bash the surgical option on its surface for being "easy", or "wrong", you might want to do a bit of soul searching as to whether or not you're practicing good medical caution, or if instead you're practicing plain, old, irrational bias.

[and for new readers to ensure there's no confusion - I'm not a surgeon]

Friday, December 11, 2015

Shakespeare and Chillis

Today's Funny Friday highlights what happens when you take British actors, have them eat some of the world's hottest peppers, and then recite Shakespeare monologues.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Coca-Cola Latest Ad Says, "Don't Believe Everything You're Told"

Took my eldest to see The Martian this past weekend, and a pre-movie Coca-Cola Christmas ad aired.

The ad's below.

The ad's premise is straightforward. The spot highlights sentiments that with the help of Coca-Cola and Christmas, are proven to be wrong.

"Don't open the door to anyone" sees a boyfriend dressed in a reindeer costume surprising his girlfriend.

"Don't accept anything from strangers" sees a father and daughter buy a man painting a Christmas mural a bottle of Coca-Cola

"Nothing in life is for free" sees a woman drop her change and stranger in return buying her a bottle of Coca-Cola from a vending machine

"Nothing lasts forever" sees a couple's kids looking at a photograph of their parents young and in love and sharing a bottle of Coca-Cola followed by their parents old and in love sharing a bottle of Coca-Cola.

But there were two messages that didn't have any obvious explanations.

There was,
"Don't believe everything you're told",


"Don't mind everything you hear".
The first features a very young boy excited to see Santa, and the second has Santa chugging a bottle of Coca-Cola.

Could these messages be Coca-Cola's subtle response to their absolutely disastrous year in regard to public relations, sponsored research, public-private partnerships, the rising tide of calls for sugar-sweetened beverage taxes, and the seemingly global effort at encouraging a reduction in the consumption of added sugars?

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Guest Post: Help the Environment by Eating More Processed Food?!

Today's guest post comes from our office's fantastic RD Emily Spencer

TerraCycle is an up-cycling and recycling company that collects difficult-to-recycle packaging and products and turns the material into a variety of consumer products like cutting boards, garbage cans, and picnic tables.

Here’s the catch.

TerraCycle has made its way into schools with an aim to teach children about the environment by having them collect and recycle their processed food containers and wrappers, among other items. Don’t get me wrong; I think that teaching children about creating sustainable environments is important. The issue with this is that the school receives points from TerraCycle based on the amount of empty food packaging they send in. These points can then be redeemed as cash rewards for the school. In other words, the more processed, packaged food sent in school lunches, the better. There are even contests in schools where the child who collects the most packaging will win a prize. Wrappers and containers from Schneider’s Lunchmates, Kraft Lunchables, Koolaid Drink Pouches, and Mr. Christie Cookies are a few examples of waste accepted by TerraCycle.

While I’m all for recycling, I can’t help but think that rewarding the frequent consumption of processed, packaged food is not the right approach to help the environment…or the health of our children.

And the story isn’t over yet.

The large majority of the repurposed products made with the children’s empty food packages are covered in recycled food companies' logos (see examples here and up above). So in addition to being rewarded for eating processed food, children (and adults) can now have the pleasure of doing free advertising for the food industry by carrying around heavily branded items like tote bags and backpacks.

I wonder how long it will take until a Koolaid pencil case or Lunchable notepad ends up in a landfill anyway?

Unfortunately this is yet another clever partnership for the food industry that provides little in terms of teaching children about the environment. TerraCycle should stick with repurposing ink cartridges and laptops into useful, unbranded consumer products, not in causewashing "foods" that kids would likely be better served without.

Emily Spencer, RD, MScFN
Registered Dietitian

Emily Spencer, MScFN, RD graduated with a Master’s of Science in Food and Nutrition from Brescia University (affiliated with Western University) in 2014. Her major research project during her master’s degree was focused on evaluating a community based lifestyle and behaviour change program for adults with prediabetes. Her undergraduate BSc in Food and Nutrition was also completed at Brescia University in 2012.

As an adventurous food lover, Emily enjoys cooking and experimenting with foods from all cultures, trying just about anything – even scorpion! You never know what you’ll like until you give it a chance!

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Holiday Gift Guide

I haven't done any reviews for a long time so today I'm reviewing and recommending a bunch of items I love. You should know, that if you use the links to purchase them on Amazon, I will receive a small commission.
The Cookbook: The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, by J. Kenji López-Alt

(Personally purchased)

The second this cookbook was available for pre-order on Amazon, I jumped on it, and it's so much more than just a cookbook. Think cooking meets science. The book has received beyond glowing reviews (like this one in the New York Times) and seems to be on everybody's must buy list - mine included. Not only will Kenji guide you in making incredible food (including beautiful pictures and careful step by step instructions of the techniques required to master a dish), but he'll review the scientific process he applied to perfect each and every one. The book's a monster, and it's a great buy for home chefs new and old (and if you're buying it as a gift, consider buying yourself one too - it's that good).

Here's an here's an Amazon link for the US, and here's an Amazon link for Canada.

The Pleasure Read: Dr. Mütter's Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine, by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz

(Cristin and I share the same incredible literary agent (Yfat Reiss Gendell) and agency (Foundry Literary and Media) and I was sent a free copy to read. Shortly after I started reading it however, I elected to purchase a Kindle copy)

Dr. Mütter's Marvels is an engrossing read. It tells the tale of Dr. Thomas D. Mütter, a surgeon who practiced his craft just before, and just after, the dawn of anesthesia. Mütter exemplifies what it means to be a caring physician, and reading it left me feeling humbled and awestruck by Mütter's skill, compassion, and genius. The history recalled is amazing - from the fact that nitrous oxide was originally promoted by its inventor as a hangover cure, to the ushering in of its use in anesthesia with the observation made by Massachusetts General Hospital's John Collins Warren, "Gentlemen, this is no humbug".

Aptowicz brings her long dead characters back to life, and in so doing, gives us a glimpse at what might have been with us, had we not the fortune of being born 150 years later. Many of Mütter's quotations resonated with me. Here's one on surgery that might as well be about nutrition,
"It is a surprising as well as humiliating reflection, that even with all this energy and vigor, with all the lights of modern science to guide us, with all the accumulated facts, false as well as true, of the crowd of laborers in the field, there should exist such diversity of opinion on subjects of the most constant observation."
And this one on life as a whole,
"This world is no place of rest. It is no place of rest, I repeat, but for effort. Steady, continuous, undeviating effort."
Here's an Amazon link for the US, and here's an Amazon link for Canada.

The Coffee Roaster: FreshRoast SR500 Automatic Coffee Bean Roaster

(I was given one of these as a birthday present 3 years ago. Have been roasting my own coffee ever since)

I love coffee. Years ago I made the switch to black coffee and along with it, to roasting my own beans. Though there's definitely an investment in buying one of these roasters (they'll run you between $150 and $200), if you've been grinding pre-roasted beans at home, it'll rapidly pay for itself. I buy one 50lb bag of green coffee beans a year (green beans can be stored for up to 3 years before going bad) from Toronto's Green Beanery. By buying in bulk I'm paying, depending on the bean, somewhere between $6-$9/lb - markedly less than the pre-roasted beans I'd be buying - savings that more than cover the cost of the machine within a year of purchase. If you do decide to home roast, buy some bean samplers and play around with times and temperatures. For US readers, Sweet Maria's is a great green bean wholesaler and there's lots of terrific FAQs and how-tos there as well.

Here's an Amazon US link (sorry, no link for Canada but you can buy at Green Beanery or use the US Amazon link which does ship to Canada).

The Portable Speaker: FUGOO Tough - Portable Rugged Bluetooth Wireless Go Anywhere Speaker Waterproof Shockproof Mud-proof Snow-proof

(Received this speaker for my birthday this year)

I love this portable speaker. The battery life is a ridiculous 40 hours, you can buy an accessory handlebar bike mount (I received one with the gift), it's loud, sounds great, and is virtually bomb proof. Biking with it on my commute to work I'm able to hear both the music and the world around me. We use it at home for impromptu dance parties with the girls as it hooks up via Bluetooth to my smartphone which allows me to stream their favourite songs via Youtube videos. I also use it as an internet radio as once connected to my smartphone, via the free app TuneIn radio, I can listen to radio from anywhere in the world.

Here's an Amazon US link and here's an Amazon link for Canada

The Ultimate Workout Headphones: Jaybird X2 Sport Wireless Bluetooth Headphones

(Received these as a birthday gift two years ago)

I'm so taken with these headphones that I'm reviewing them here a second time. I tried for years to find workout headphones that were comfortable, delivered great sound, and actually stuck in my ears regardless of how hard the workout or the amount of sweat. Then I got the Jaybirds. Not only did they meet all my needs, but they also were Bluetooth headphones that allowed me also to take calls. Truth be told, my experience with the calls feature hasn't been stellar - some connections are great, others less so - but friends who have these headphones as well have told me they've never had a problem so perhaps mine are a bit wonky. At two years old mine are still going strong, but were they to break, I'd spend my own money buying them again in a heartbeat.

Here's an Amazon US link, and here's an Amazon link for Canada.

The Smartphone Sport Armband: Grantwood Technology's TuneBand

(I've bought one for each new smartphone I've ever owned)

If you're looking for a stocking stuffer for the exerciser in your life, or the perfect accessory to go with the Jaybird headphones consider the TuneBand. It's a simple silicon sleeve that securely houses your smartphone while its easily adjustable velcoro armband secures your phone to your arm. I've used one since my first smartphone (the iPhone 4), and I'll likely keep on buying them as phone shapes and sizes change.

Here's an Amazon US link, and here's an Amazon link for Canada.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Holy Crap, My Blog's 10 Years Old!

2,797 articles and I'm guessing nearly 2,000,000 words later and this blog's turned 10.

I started writing it at the suggestion of a friend and I've kept writing it because I love doing it.

Moving forward I plan to keep writing, though I have been mulling over reducing the frequency of posts a bit. I think it may help me (and readers) with some sanity.

Thanks to Google and Blogger for providing the free platform, and thanks to you for taking the time to read.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Saturday Stories: Extremism, Gaslighting, and Boycotting

Doug Saunders in The Globe and Mail discusses built environments and how they might help to discourage religious extremism.

Amber Rogers at her blog Go Kaleo gives an internet manipulation 101 lesson on "gaslighting", something I see regularly on this blog's Facebook page.

Brendan O'Neill in The Telegraph explains the bigotry and hypocrisy of the BDS movement.

Friday, December 04, 2015

For Jewish Users of Medical Marijuana

What could be more festive than this Funny Friday chanukiah?

Have a great weekend, and for those who celebrate, chag sameach!

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Ottawa City Hall Gives Free Coca-Cola to Children In Return For Hugs

Children lined up yesterday to hug an Ottawa City Hall based Coca-Cola vending machine to get a free cola.
Why is the City of Ottawa currently handing out free Coca-Cola at City Hall? What could possibly be in it for the city?

I'm genuinely not sure what the answer is. I asked the Mayor yesterday, but unfortunately didn't hear back.

I have to imagine it might be along the lines of holiday spirit, or "fun".

I know what's in it for Coca-Cola though. Virtually free, powerful, emotional, branding, along with the opportunity to inculcate themselves with Ottawa City Hall where at least one City Councillor tweeted out a video (which I've uploaded to YouTube) of the next door school's kids having at it. His positive tweet suggests the probability that the hug based vending machine bought some Coca-Cola goodwill with him - something that might be useful were the city to one day consider a soda tax or moves to limit the vending of sugar sweetened beverages in city run buildings.

Here's how a reporter on the scene described the influx of kids seeking City endorsed free Coca-Cola,
The question that we have to consider as a society is whether there are ways other than handing out sugar water or junk food to inspire holiday spirit or "fun", and perhaps more reflectively, how it is we've come to a point in time where using junk food and sugar water to entertain at every event no matter how small, is so normalized that it occurs even in the City Hall of the city whose Mayor is Ontario's former Minister of Health Promotion?

[Thanks to Twitter's Alan D for sharing.]

UPDATE: According to reporter David Reevely, the city has a $250,000 per year "Pouring Rights" contract with Coca-Cola.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Are Menu Board Calories a Flop?

A recently publicized study reports that 5 years on and menu board calories out of NYC haven't led to behaviour change.

I'm still a supporter.


Well, firstly we know that posted menu board calories only matter to those who care about calories, and given pre-order surveys of patrons in New York City (where the recent study was conducted) showed that only about 15% of folks care, it's not particularly surprising to learn that overall drops didn't occur. Speaking personally, and with my patients, and with folks online, there's no doubt that those who care do use the labeling.

Secondly, what no study of menu board calorie impact will ever measure are the calories not ordered by the patrons who decided consequent to menu board calories postings, to eat out in restaurants less frequently and hence weren't included in the study at all.

Thirdly the study looked at the impact menu board labeling had on exclusively fast food purchases. Of all venues, fast food restaurants don't strike me as the places where we'll see major changes. People go to fast food restaurants to get specific and "fast" foods. People know what they're going to order before they even step in the door. People go for their Big Mac's, their nuggets, their chicken buckets, etc. Fast food restaurants have far less variety, and likely, aren't frequented as often by folks who'd report caring about calories/nutrition in the first place.

And lastly, there is never going to be a singular intervention that'll do the trick, but that doesn't mean we should scrap the single interventions, especially ones that simply provide consumers with information that will help to inform their decisions.

As I've mentioned on this blog before, couple menu board calories with better nutritional education in schools, public health campaigns surrounding daily caloric needs as well as a call to action to bring back home cooking, the end to crop subsidies that allow fast food to be sold for pennies, an advertising and toy ban for fast food companies targeting children, and maybe we'll see some changes.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Canadian Beverage Association Poised to Take Credit for Existing Consumer Trend

Did you hear about the "Balance Calories" initiative launched by the Canadian Beverage Association, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Motts?

The strap line for their press release is,
"Industry aims to reduce beverage calories in the Canadian diet by 20% over the next 10 years"
But beverage calorie reduction is an existing trend. Between soda taxes and news like yesterday's which saw Applebee's restaurants removing soda from their kids' menus, change is here, and it's much to the chagrin of the soda industry, not consequent to its good behaviour.

I think a more accurate strap line would be,
"Industry aims to take credit for ongoing reduction of beverage calories in the Canadian diet over the next 10 years in a bid to try to forestall industry unfriendly legislation like sugar sweetened beverage taxes."
And it's already paying off for them. On their website are quotes of praise from the Ontario's Minister of Health Promotion, the Ontario Minister of Agriculture and Food and Rural Affairs, the managing director of EPODE Canada and director of the EPODE International Network, the President of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, and the Mayor of Toronto.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Your Breakfast Skipping Teen Might Do Better With Breakfast Protein

It's just a pilot study, but some interesting findings.

First the surprising (at least to me). According to the paper, 30% of adolescents skip breakfast every day and as many as 60% skip breakfast 3–4 times per week. While there are no hard and fast rules around breakfast (meaning some people do well with it, and some do just as well without it), that the majority of teens skip the majority of breakfasts I find a bit shocking.

This small crossover study set out to compare the impact of a 350 calorie "normal" protein breakfast (13g), vs. a "high" protein breakfast containing the same number of calories, but with more protein (35g). The normal protein meals were breakfast cereals with milk, while the high protein meals were egg and pork based. The test subjects were 28 habitual teen breakfast skippers (avg. BMI 29.9) and the primary endpoint that the researchers considered was glycemic (sugar) control by way of 24 hour glucose monitoring. The reason the researchers cared about sugar was the fact that prior studies had found associations between breakfast skipping and risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The researchers found that when consuming high protein breakfast, the teens' peak glucose readings and the time their blood sugar levels spent above its high limit were lower than after the normal protein breakfast.

Breakfast is a funny thing in that it seems to inspire very strong opinions about its worth or lack thereof as it might pertain to a myriad of things - obesity, attention, hunger, and more. My experiences with patients demonstrate that for the many, if not most, breakfast, especially high protein breakfasts, help with fullness and dietary control throughout a person's day and evening.

If you're curious about whether or not a high protein breakfast would benefit you, perhaps the easiest thing to do would be to experiment and to keep track of how you feel on days you have one, vs. days you don't.

[Update: Sorry, earlier version had word higher rather than lower with conclusion. Thanks to those who noticed!]

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Saturday Stories: Apocalypse Pig, Babushkas, and Dunning-Kruger

Maryn McKenna with as great a headline as they come, and for a terrifying story of Apocalypse Pig.

George Johnson in the New York Times covers the babushkas of Chernobyl.

Melanie Tannenbaum in Gizmodo and the over-claiming of self-proclaimed experts.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Adele, Settling Feuds Across the Galaxy

As a measure of just how out of touch I am with popular culture, the first time I heard Adele's new blockbuster Hello was in today's Funny Friday video of Ms. Piggy covering it.

Oh, and for my fellow nerds, here's a bonus video.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

One Weird (Evidence Based) Trick To Help You To Eat Less Pizza

Photo source: Someone who already likes 16 slice pizzas.
The sciency way to explain it is to, "Make small food units".

The practical way that you might help yourself to mindlessly eat less pizza? When you make or order your next pizza, have it cut into at least twice as many pieces (from 8 to 16) and ideally eat it from a plate placed on a large table. Do so, and if this study's findings hold true, you might consume nearly 50% less!

Via the Journal of the Association of Consumer Research.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Coca-Cola Partners with Police to Hand Out Drink Coupons

Yesterday Ontario's Peel Regional Police and Coca-Cola held a joint press conference to promote their new partnership - one that will see police officers in Peel hand out coupons for Coca-Cola to drivers who haven't been drinking and driving.

Given the awareness and illegality surrounding drunk driving, the likelihood that this "partnership" will lead those who were otherwise considering driving drunk to not do so is low at best.

What that means of course is that this is a partnership that only benefits Coca-Cola who in turn receive the incredible opportunity of having a police force freely serving as respected, trustworthy, brand ambassadors.

By involving themselves in causes like this one, causes that are themselves beyond reproach, Coca-Cola secures powerful, and virtually free advertising, while accumulating public relations victories that they can use when trying to convince politicians that soda taxes are bad ideas. A great move for Coca-Cola, with pretty much nothing in it for Peel.

Unfortunately, though it was there before, the Peel Regional Police have apparently removed the video of their joint press conference with Coca-Cola.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Juice as a Gateway Drug For Soda

Is juice a gateway drink?

That's the question asked by some Harvard and University of Michigan researchers in their paper, "Juice and water intake in infancy and later beverage intake and adiposity: Could juice be a gateway drink?" (free full text link here)

It may follow. Train your child's palate to enjoy cloyingly sweet beverages in early childhood and they'll be more likely to continue consuming them later in life.

To try to shed some light on that question the researchers studied the association between 1 year olds' juice and water intakes (as reported by their mothers) to their reported intakes of sugar sweetened beverages in early and mid childhood.

After controlling for confounding maternal socio-economic, ethnic (though the authors report that there was limited ethnic variation), and health variables the researchers found that higher juice intake at 1 year correlated with higher juice and sugar sweetened beverage intake, and higher weights, at early and mid childhood.

Juice is a glass of sugar water with a small smattering of vitamins. It's not sating. It has little if any fibre, and it is stripped of much of the originating fruit's phytonutrients. The World Health Organization, Canada's Heart and Stroke Foundation, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Pediatric Society all caution against its regular consumption.

Juice is basically flat soda pop, and should be treated as such, with the aim being the consumption of the smallest amount of juice you need to enjoy your life, and its marked limitation in children.

[Thanks to Laval University's Dr. Michel Lucas for sending this study my way]

Monday, November 23, 2015

Four Brief Thoughts on Conflicts of Interest

  • Just because a study is funded by industry that doesn't mean its findings aren't valid.
  • Literature on conflicts of interest clearly states that while perhaps no one believes they can be influenced, being influenced by your conflict, consciously or unconsciously, is a great evidenced based bet.
  • Dollars aren't just used to fund studies that industry believes will be beneficial, they're also used to provide megaphones to researchers whose messages and research are industry friendly (no better example of this than the Global Energy Balance Network).
  • Dollars aside, relationships matter to industry. I'd wager friendships are far more influential in motivating conscious and unconscious biases than dollars, and are relevant even when actual dollars are small.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Who Doesn't Need an Easy Laugh This Week?

Awful week.

Hopefully today's Funny Friday video will afford you a quick and easy laugh (but maybe don't try this at home with your cat)

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

I Love This Food Industry Funded Initiative

To be more accurate, it's funded by produce (not product) manufacturers, is run by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, and it's called Six by Sixteen.

Why does it exist and what will it do?
"We're serving up food literacy.

There's a very clear link between healthy eating habits and lifelong health. Six by Sixteen wants to ensure the next generation knows how to make healthy, nutritious food choices. That's food literacy.

Six by Sixteen will help young people learn to plan and prepare six nutritious, locally sourced meals by the time they are sixteen years old. We'll arm them with lifelong skills, lifelong health and they'll be supporting local farmers, food processors and our economy.
Here are the program's sponsors

Though I've yet to see any Six by Sixteen collateral, getting kids into the kitchen and teaching them how to cook meals from fresh whole ingredients is definitely something I can support.

[H/T to RD Rebecca Davids for sending my way]

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Only 46 Words of Health Advice You'll Ever Need

In no particular order:
  • Avoid trans fats.
  • Substitute unsaturated fats for saturated if you can.
  • Cook from fresh whole ingredients.
  • Minimize restaurant and ultra-processed foods.
  • Cultivate friendships.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Nurture sleep.
  • Drink alcohol at most moderately.
  • Exercise as often as you can enjoy
  • Only drink those calories that you love
Comparatively, everything else is minutia.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Toronto Hospitals Rewarding Flu Shot Receiving Staff With Chocolate Bars

Post vaccination lollipops for kids may be one thing (though are clearly debatable), but do fully grown adults, adults who are physicians, nurses and other allied health professionals, really need to be rewarded, let alone with a chocolate bar, for getting a flu shot?

Toronto's University Health Network hospitals clearly think so.

As a whole, society needs to be striving to provide fewer opportunities for the consumption of junk food, not encouraging and permitting more, and who better than hospitals to be leading that charge?