Thursday, May 31, 2007

Health Check's Dietitians help make Boston Pizza's Menu Even Worse

So I received a very polite phone message yesterday from Boston Pizza.

I'm flattered to report that someone over there reads my blog and that they were kind enough to follow up with me to let me know that indeed, the nutritional breakdowns that I had provided in a previous blog on Boston Pizza's new Health Checked menu items were in fact not the newly revised ones agreed upon by the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check and that the new ones were now posted online.

Excitedly I logged on to see the great work the Health Check folks' dietitians did with the Boston Pizza menus.

If you remember, my original concerns were twofold - I felt that Boston Pizza's Health Checked menu items were higher in Calories than they should be and more surprisingly given the Heart and Stroke Foundation's stance on sodium, that their salt content was through the roof.

To summarize the changes - the modified nutritional breakdown from the recipes agreed upon by the Heart and Stroke Foundations' Health Check Dietitians have actually made Boston Pizza's Health Checked items WORSE from a nutritional perspective!

Here's the jaw dropping breakdown:

  1. Lime and Parmesan Shrimp Skewers 190 Calories and 1020mg of sodium

    (300% more Calories and 30% more sodium in the new version)

  2. Garden Greens 130 Calories and 160mg of sodium

    (7% more sodium in the new version)

  3. Thai Chicken Wrap 570 Calories and 1260mg of sodium

    (ironically 1260mg of sodium is the exact amount of sodium that the Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends for a full day's consumption)

  4. Lemon Baked Salmon 430 Calories and 250mg of sodium

    (the only item to have improved)

  5. Pollo Pomodoro Spaghetti 520 Calories and 1060mg of sodium

    (18% more calories and 54% more sodium in the new version)

  6. Indy California Pizza 440 calories and 490mg of sodium

    (34% fewer calories, but 40% more sodium in the new version)
So to recap.

In my prior post I had held out hope that the nutritional values I posted were in fact inaccurate and simply had not yet been updated by Boston Pizza. I had held out hope that in fact the Health Check dietitians were able to help Boston Pizza devise recipes with fewer calories and less sodium, thereby making their Health Checked endorsed choices healthier. And while it has come to pass that my originally reported nutritional breakdowns were indeed older not yet updated versions, astoundingly, even to jaded old me, the nutritional breakdowns of the new Heart and Stroke Foundation Health Check approved menu items revealed that virtually every option was in fact dramatically less nutritious than the original Boston Pizza formulations on which I had reported.


If there are any readers out there working for Health Check, I'd love to hear how modifying Boston Pizza's recipes to increase their caloric and sodium content was a good health promoting idea and why it is that you're overtly endorsing the consumption of a full day's worth of sodium in one single meal?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Shrek Saga Continues

Just a quick update.

The US Department of Health and Human Services has temporarily halted its Shrek public service ads aimed at childhood obesity.


According to the article I read, US Department of Health Spokesman Bill Hall says they plan to,

"pop them right back up there as soon as the hype for the movie dies down in six weeks or so"
Want to know why it's only a temporary halt?

Because apparently the US Department of Health and Human Services feels it's wrong for their spots to serve as advertisements for the Dreamworks movie, but apparently they don't care if their spots serve as advertisements for McFlurries, something that the Shrek McDonald's campaign is selling.

So basically the US Department of Health and Human Services is uncomfortable with the thought that their anti-obesity campaign might serve to promote the movie whose success they're banking on for recognition, but have no issue with the fact that their campaign might serve to promote the notion that dining at McDonald's is a healthy, US Department of Health and Human Services endorsed choice.

Smart folks those - very clear thinkers.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Heart and Stroke's Health Check has a Heart-on for French Fries

Does this seem right to you?

Bottom right corner of those French fries is indeed the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check.

Wait, so what's a Health Check again?

It's the seal of approval granted by the Heart and Stroke Foundation after a product's manufacturer applies to Health Check for the seal, meets some weak and frankly outdated nutritional requirements, and then pays them money.

According to Health Check,

"Health Check makes healthy choices easier by helping you to quickly identify products that can contribute to a healthy and balanced diet. This program is suitable for everyone in your family aged four years and over."
Show of hands here - anyone other than the Heart and Stroke Foundations' Health Check folks think French fries in any form contribute to a "healthy and balanced diet"?

And what about the application of the Health Check to a potato product?

Is there any risk in eating a lot of potatoes?

The answer is certainly yes.

It's a certainty firstly because a full 40% of total Canadian vegetable consumption come from potatoes, with a full half of those potatoes being consumed in fried form. Of course what that means is that 20% of the total amount of vegetables consumed by Canadians are in fact French fries.

Wait a second, aren't fried foods bad for your heart and isn't the number one condiment for French fries, salt?

It's a certainty secondly because ample evidence exists to suggest that high potato consumption has risk. Potatoes increase blood sugar and insulin levels nearly as fast as pure white table sugar which is potentially why in a 20 year study looking at 84,555 women there was an increased risk of type II diabetes in women with higher potato consumption.

Wait a second, doesn't diabetes dramatically increase the risk of heart disease?

Dr. Walter Willett, the chairman of nutrition at Harvard since 1991, the second most cited scientist in the history of clinical medicine and arguably the most important nutritional epidemiologist in the world has this to say about potatoes in his exceptional book, Eat, Drink and be Healthy,
"More than two hundred studies have shown that people who eat plenty of fruits and vegetables decrease their chances of having heart attacks or strokes, of developing a variety of cancers or of suffering from constipation or other digestive problems. The same body of evidence shows that potatoes don't contribute to this benefit. Potatoes should be an occasional food, eaten in modest amounts, not a daily vegetable."
So at the end of the day here we have the Heart and Stroke Foundation encouraging the consumption of a vegetable that has roughly the same impact on blood sugar as spooning white sugar into your mouth, that increases the risk of type II diabetes and therefore heart disease and strokes, and that has been proven to NOT possess the health benefits that other vegetables do, and to top it all off, the Heart and Stroke Foundation is endorsing that the consumption of this vegetable be in the form of French fries.

So what's Health Check for again,
"The Health Check™ symbol on food packaging is your assurance that the product contributes to an overall healthy diet."
So French fries contribute to an overall healthy diet? Is this bizarro world?

Some might argue that at least the Health Checked French fries are lower in calories and trans fats than other brands - but frankly that still doesn't make a Heart and Stroke Foundation endorsement justifiable. That'd be like having the Lung Association endorse less bad cigarettes.

Don't get me wrong, I, like so many Canadians, greatly enjoy French fries from time to time, but where the Heart and Stroke Foundation and I differ is that I certainly don't kid myself (or innocent Canadians) for a second into thinking I'm making a healthy choice.

I wonder what the heck they're smoking over there at Health Check?

At the Health Check website there's this statement about what trusting the Health Check to guide your choices can be compared with,
"It's like shopping with the Heart and Stroke Foundation's dietitians."
Perhaps it's time for them to hire new ones.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Will Doritos soon have a Heart and Stroke Health Check?

Not yet, but in the States, they're likely soon to have this FDA approved health claim on their bags,

"Replacing saturated fat with similar amounts of unsaturated fats may reduce the risk of heart disease. To achieve this benefit, total daily calories should not increase"
Why will Frito Lay be allowed to advertise that Doritos are heart healthy?

Apparently they've petitioned the Food and Drug administration in the States for the rite to make the claim and this past Friday the FDA agreed!

So why did the FDA agree?

According to Frito Lay spokesman Charles Nicolas, the FDA agreed because Frito Lay switched to corn and sunflower oils in their products which in turn removed trans fats and lowered saturated fats while boosting monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Charles was also quick to point out that Frito Lay,
"understands that as with any food or beverage, moderation, balanced with exercise, is an important part of managing weight and well-being"
My take?

I can think of no better way of proving that nutritional packaging claims are both dangerous and misleading than to see a heart healthy claim being made on a bag of Doritos.

So back to my title question, will they get a Heart and Stroke Foundation Health Check?


Looking at the Health Check's criteria for snack food, it turns out that there are only two criteria for potato chips - Serving sizes of 30grams with less than 3grams of fat per serving.

Looking at Frito Lay's product line, there are multiple products that meet Health Check's incredibly non-stringent criteria and Doritos' single servings are only 0.5grams of fat away.

If I were Frito Lay I'd be reformulating as I type and applying for that helpful Health Check (helpful to sell my foods that is) for all my "healthy" foods ASAP.

Think I'm being overly dramatic or critical of Health Check? Think there's a mechanism in Health Check to weed out such obviously ridiculous foods?

Stay tuned tomorrow.

UPDATE July 23rd, 2009: So two years later Health Check has finally figured out that perhaps potato chips don't deserve health checks and have removed them from consideration.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Amazing that this never caught on

For those of you new to my blog, Fridays are my day off of indignation and instead I find something that I think is funny for a segment I call Funny Friday's.

For today's installment, here's the Fonz with a public service announcement for a self-defense technique that as far as I know, never really caught on. I wonder why?

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Heart and Stroke's Health Check Pushes Sodium and Calories

Boston Pizza put out an excited press release yesterday detailing their new partnership with the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check program.

Apparently 6 menu items qualify for the vaunted Heart and Stroke Foundation Health Check.

I decided to look at the ones in the press release:

  1. Lemon baked salmon fillet - with no sides it's 550 Calories, with seasonal vegetables you're up to 790 calories. Add in the slice of garlic toast and now we're at 980 calories. Salt wise we're at 800mg with the vegetables and 1,180mg with the garlic toast.

  2. Parmesan lime shrimp skewers. Presumably this is an appetizer. Calorie wise it's great - 60 Calories. Salt wise it's atrocious at 770mg.

  3. California pizza. Individual size we've got 590 Calories and not too bad on the sodium at 350mg (but we'll come back to this number in a moment). Split a small with your spouse and now you're at 640 Calories and wait a sec, 1,160mg of sodium.

    How can that be?

    Half a small weighs less than the individual size pizza. Something's wrong with the numbers here. Looking at the sodium content of all the other permutations of California pizza and then using sodium content per gram of pizza, by weight it looks like the individual number's way off on sodium. Calculated by weight in your individual Health Check'ed California pizza instead of 350mg, you'll be having closer to 1,674mg of sodium!

  4. Garden greens. It's tough to knock salad. 130 Calories, 150mg of sodium.

  5. Pollo pomodoro spaghetti. 440 Calories and 690mg of sodium.

  6. Thai chicken wrap. This one I couldn't find. Looking at other thai chicken wraps online most are over 500 Calories.
So why am I harping on this?

Let's say you decide to go to Boston Pizza and you see the Health Checks scattered over the menu. You decide to "eat healthy" and order the garden greens and the lemon baked salmon fillet with seasonal vegetables. You also order water to drink and pass on the included piece of garlic toast and dessert.

Let's do the math.

Calories: 130 + 790 = 920 Calories
Sodium: 150mg + 800mg = 950mg of Sodium

Now here's the kicker. Just over two weeks ago the Heart and Stroke Foundation put out a press release entitled,
"Reducing salt intake would eliminate hypertension in one million Canadians"
In it they report that,
"Physician visits and laboratory costs would decrease by 6.5 per cent and 23-per-cent fewer treated hypertensives would require medications for control of blood pressure if Canadians reduced their sodium intake by an average of 1840 milligrams a day"
The same press release also reports that the average Canadian consumes 3,100mg per day therefore a reduction by 1,840mg would bring that down to 1,260mg per day.

Therefore the person eating the Heart and Stroke Foundation's own Health Checked food recommendations above is getting almost a full day's sodium with the fish and salad and roughly half of their day's calorie requirements.

Good thing they didn't choose to split a small Health Checked California pizza with their spouse or have the Health Checked shrimp skewers as an appetizer as then they'd have easily sailed clear over the Heart and Stroke Foundation's TOTAL recommended daily sodium intake.

To further hammer home the irony, here's another few quotes from the Heart and Stroke Foundation's press release,
"Cutting the average Canadian's salt intake by half would eliminate hypertension (high blood pressure) in one million Canadians, double the number of Canadians with adequately controlled hypertension, and save the health-care system $430 million a year"

"The Heart and Stroke Foundation will continue to work with government, industry and other health partners to reduce sodium in our foods, and to remind Canadians of the link between nutrition and risk factors for heart disease and stroke."
So what could possibly motivate the Heart and Stroke Foundation to provide Health Checks to meals with more sodium than the Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends having in a full day?

Money is certainly one possibility.

The Health Check generates a tremendous amount of money for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. If you want to see how much it costs to buy the rites to a Health Check endoresement click here, but to give you a flavour, here are the "maximums" for licensing fees,
"1. Food Category Maximum: Reached when a company has fourteen (14) or more product formats in a given food category (ranging from $16,500 to $49,500) depending on the size of the market the product line is available.

2. Corporate Maximum: Reached when a company has four (4) or more Food Category Maximums (ranging from $66,000 to $180,000) depending on the size of the market the company products are available
Frankly this is so egregious I hope that somehow I'm wrong. I hope that somehow the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check folks were able to have Boston Pizza completely reformulate their recipes for their Health Checked items and that the nutritional information posted on Boston Pizza's website just needs updating.

The thing is though, I don't think I'm wrong. If you go to the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check's restaurant criteria page you find that it's acceptable to them for "Large Entrees" to have up to 1,300mg of sodium! More than a total day's Heart and Stroke Foundation recommendation according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation's own press release.

Furthermore, regardless of whether or not the sodium in fact has been reduced, and despite the Heart and Stroke Foundations very vocal calls to action on obesity, calories have never been part of the Health Check's concerns. Consequently Health Check's avoidance of Calories will cost Canadians down the line because with the Health Check sliding its way into restaurants, Canadians will be lulled into a false sense of security on Health Checked foods and will happily be consuming over half their day's calorie requirements at the explicit recommendation of the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Strange world we live in.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Another great reason to eat whole grains

Want more data to support whole grain consumption?

Consider this article posted in this month's Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Disease. In it the authors meta-analyzed seven prospective studies containing 149,000 participants in total and their intake of whole grains in relation to their incidences of cardiovascular disease.

The meta-analysis revealed that consuming at least 2.5 grams of whole grains every day was associated with a 21 per cent reduction in the risk of cardiovascular events than consumption of 0.2 grams per day.

To quote the authors,

"In light of this evidence, policy-makers, scientists, and clinicians should redouble their efforts to incorporate clear messages on the beneficial effects of whole grains into public health and clinical practice endeavours"
Couple these findings with those that show dramatic reduction in the risk of developing diabetes in the folks who eat the most whole grains and it sure makes you scratch your head as to why Health Canada hasn't revised their definition of whole wheat to require whole grains (rather than the current definition that allows companies to call their products whole wheat even though they throw away 70% of the grain's germ) and why they haven't revised the Food Guide's wording to strongly encourage the preferential consumption of whole grains over refined and remove the refined grain options from the online My Food Guide section.

Again Health Canada's lack of emphasis on whole grains begs the question - willful ignorance, overt stupidity, malignant laziness or Big Food corruption?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Should you limit your kids' TV time?

There have been numerous studies linking "screen time" (TV, video games, Internet) with childhood obesity.

Generally the explanations given are either that screen time dramatically increases exposure to advertising for high calorie junk for or that it simply takes away from active calorie burning play time.

I think the explanation is likely more subtle - the more time parents feel it's acceptable for children to watch television, the less time they're actively involved in parenting and the less responsibility they may feel towards cultivating a healthy lifestyle in their children.

While my wife and I certainly use the television as a means to try and help during tougher times, we certainly also consciously try to limit our daughters' screen time and instead try to engage them in otherwise more cerebral or physical pursuits.

I came across mention of these screen time "tickets" on a blog entitled Parent Hacks.

Basically the tickets can be distributed on a weekly basis just like an allowance and then they can be exchanged for TV, Internet or video game time.

To find high-resolution, print ready PDFs of these tickets, head over to the blog flagrantdisregard where that kind and obviously computer friendly dad has created these notes worth 30 and 60 minutes in multiple colours.

Should you use them? I don't know, but certainly if you're struggling to figure out a system, these might work well.

If I only gave one piece of advice about television viewing and childhood obesity though it wouldn't be as challenging a piece as limit screen time, it'd be a real simple thing - get TVs out of your kids bedrooms and try to do more stuff outdoors as a family.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Shrek says, "Eat a McFlurry"

Remember that news release that McDonald's put out a few weeks ago?

The one that said that Shrek and his buddies would be used to promote "the well-being of children and families" items?

Guess what the Shrek clan, also anti-obesity spokescartoons for the US Department of Health and Human Services, are promoting for McDonald's now?

The Swamp Sludge McFlurry (brownie bits and green M&Ms) and the Minty Mudbath Shake (mint and chocolate) - both absolutely chocked full of well-being for children and families.

Want to know how much well-being's in 'em?

Of course that will depend on the size. Smallest size has about as many Calories as a Big Mac. Largest size, as many as two Big Macs and almost as many as most pre-teen kids burn in a day.

That's some yummy well-being.

Here I've got to bring in the staggeringly stupid, amazingly ignorant or plainly bought quote from child parenting expert and McDonald's Mom's Panel member Dr. Michele Borba again. Here's what she had to say about the McDonald's Shrek campaign,

"I'm impressed with McDonald's worldwide commitment to promote activity, encourage balanced food choices and doing this in a fun and engaging way. This is very consistent with the counsel that the Mom's Panel has been giving McDonald's. It's clear they are listening."
That there Mom's panel's great! I guess Shrek saying have a McFlurry is part of the fun and engaging promotion of balanced food choices. Of course at McDonald's the balance is between between choices that are simply nutritionally lean and thouse that are overtly obesegenic. If that's consistent with the advice of the Mom's panel, that sure is one group of absolutely stellar moms.

Want to know who the stellar moms of the McDonald's Global Mom's Advisory Panel are?

According to the magic of the Google and the press release from McDonald's they are:
  1. U.S. Olympic speedskater Bonnie Blair
  2. Italian Olympic cross-country skier Stefania Belmondo
  3. Christa Kinshofer, an Olympic skier and author from Germany
  4. Gao Min, an Olympic diving champion and author from China
  5. Keddie Bailey, a full-time mother from England
  6. Michele Borba, a childhood development expert and author
  7. Maru Botana, a chef and TV cooking-show personality from Argentina
  8. Laura Lopez Cano, a Latina artist
  9. Kim Carter, a librarian and Parent Teacher Association president
Way to go folks - you sure are making a difference!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sorry meat lovers, no veal in mars bars afterall

Likely due to pressure from this blog (ok, maybe not this blog), Masterfoods, the company who makes Mars bars, Snickers bars, M&Ms and Twix has backed off their plans to add rennet (an enzyme from a calf's stomach) to their products.

Masterfoods came out today and stated it became, "very clear, very quickly" that they had made a mistake.

Gee, ya think alienating vegetarians, Hindus, Muslims and Jews in one fell swoop might be bad for public relations?

I wonder if anyone got fired.

(Apologies to the BBC from who I stole the picture and the quote)

Friday, May 18, 2007

Yet Another new Disease for the Obese

Today for Funny Friday the Ottawa Citizen's Roger Collier explores a terrifying new plague targeting those with weight to lose - headlessness.

Have a great weekend!

A head is a terrible thing to lose
The Ottawa Citizen
Thu 17 May 2007
Roger Collier

You've seen pictures of them in newspapers. They're on television news, too, all the time. I find the images shocking. No one else seems to mind. But make no mistake: We have a pandemic on our hands, or at least an epidemic (definitely a demic of some kind).

North America is awash with the headless obese.

Obesity is a popular news topic. If you punch "obesity" into the Citizen's archives you'll find about 2,000 articles. The New York Times' archives contain almost 2,500. Most are about new studies and, invariably, have headlines containing the word "link."

For example, the Citizen published an article titled "Researchers link 'fat gene' to obesity" on April 13. It claimed some people are prone to obesity for genetic reasons. A picture accompanied the article: a man, overweight, dressed in sweats. Oh, and he had no head.

I've seen many other obesity articles in many other newspapers and the pictures are always the same. Obese people. No heads. Yet, while the articles go into great detail about certain health risks associated with obesity, they fail to mention what, in my opinion, is the greatest risk of all: headlessness.

The Citizen article linked obesity to heart disease, cancer and Type 2 diabetes. Those are all very bad things, I'm not denying that. But, really, shouldn't it have at least made passing mention that a generous stomach might result in a pate-free future?

I'm not a doctor, but I'm fairly certain the head is a vital part of the body. I mean, that's where your nose is. How do the headless keep their glasses from slipping?

When a television newscast does an obesity story, the footage usually includes a few shots of chunky, headless people wobbling through a mall or along a sidewalk. Often, these people are eating ice cream. (No small feat, considering they don't have mouths.) The newscaster will say things like "Obesity is one of the leading causes of preventable illness" or "Dairy Queen introduces new Kit Kat Blizzard." (One of those may have been a commercial.) But will the newscaster note that the mall-wobblers lack noggins? Fat chance.

Why isn't anyone talking about these headless people? Is headlessness a media taboo? Is this a big cover-up?

To find answers to these questions, I called the National Organization for Obesity Studies' media department. I asked the director why everyone is keeping mum about the headless obese.

"These people have heads," she told me. "The heads are just cropped out as a courtesy. How would you like to see your face in a newspaper next to an article about obesity?"

I was stunned. Even the media director of an organization formed to help the obese was in on the cover-up.

"Look, this is serious," I told her. "People are losing their heads. The public has a right to know."

"You're an idiot," she told me, and hung up.

Her argument was compelling, but I wasn't convinced. (Secondary sources later confirmed that I am, indeed, an idiot.) This is a real problem and it must be addressed -- if not for those who have already lost their heads, for their children.

It's no secret that Canadian kids aren't healthy. In the past 25 years, the number of children considered overweight or obese has increased by 70 per cent.

So far, most of the headless obese are adults. But if our children continue to expand around the middle, many will soon be light above the shoulders, too. And the effects will be devastating.

The economy will suffer tremendously. Without heads, children will not be able to meet the minimum height requirements for most amusement park rides, which means fewer bums in roller coasters. Sales of hair gel and baseball caps will plummet. Youngsters without ears will have little use for iPods or iPhones or iWhatevers.

The health-care system will also have to adjust. Headless children won't be able to take medicine orally, so all drugs will have to be administered intravenously. Physicians will have to find new ways of examining young people. If, for example, a doctor needs a headless lad to turn his head and cough, well, good luck with that.

And let's not forget the environment. I'm not sure how headless children affect global warming, but everything else seems to these days so I'll throw that in, too.

If more people, young and old, were aware of this horrible consequence of obesity, perhaps they would adopt healthier lifestyles. Because if there's one thing you don't want on your shoulders, it's no head.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Oh, Oh!

Here's an alarming new development out of Japan.

Apex Corporation, a vending machine company, has created a vending machine that dispenses a free drink if you watch a 30 second advertisement.

Free over sized cups of sugar eh?

This does not bode well.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Don't get Fooled by Salads

One of my patients ate out the other night and had the meal in the picture.

The meal is called, "Grilled Shrimp and Citrus Salad" and the menu describes it as,

"Mixed greens with oranges, grilled peppers and onions, Feta cheese and spiced walnuts in a spiced honey citrus vinaigrette. Topped with 2 grilled lemon pepper shrimp skewers"
Sounds healthy right?

My patient sure thought so, but she wanted to find out how many calories were in it, so she emailed the contact information on the restaurant's website.

A registered dietitian whose email signature's title was "Corporate Dietitian" wrote back and told her that the salad that sounded so healthy contained 641 Calories and an almost unbelievable 47 grams of fat. Now she didn't provide the breakdown of whether or not the fat was saturated, unsaturated or trans but it accounted for an astronomical 66% of the total calories of the meal.

Morals of this story:
  1. If you aren't sure of the Calorie count of a food item served at a major restaurant you can always email them and ask.
  2. The word "salad" does automatically mean a meal is healthy or low calorie.
  3. Don't order the Kelsey's Citrus Salad with Shrimp Skewers unless you really, really love it.
  4. Be leery of dietitians who identify themselves as "corporate" rather than "registered" (though I do commend her for her honesty as to where her allegiance lies and I'm sure that some who run with the "corporate" title don't sell out their nutritional education).

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Chocolate Flavoured Veal?

Bad news for chocolate loving vegetarians, Hindus, Muslims and Jews.

Masterfoods, the manufacturer of Mars bars, Snickers, M&Ms, Galaxy, Twix, Bounty, Milky Way and Maltesers has decided that as of this month, rennet will be used in many of their products.

Rennet is an enzyme that comes from the stomach of baby calves.

I can't say I'm positive that this applies to their North American market as all of the news I've read about it came out of Europe - anyone out there know if this applies to North America as well?

While veal is certainly considered a delicacy to many, there's definitely a significant percentage of folks who are going to be none too pleased with this development (my wife included).

Monday, May 14, 2007

Big Milk Backs Off the Weight Claims

(From the ad above)

"To keep the crowd on their feet, I keep my body in tune. With milk. Studies suggest that the nutrients in milk can play an important role in weight loss. So if you're trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, try drinking 24 ounces of low fat or fat free milk every 24 hours as part of your reduced calorie diet. To learn more visit It's a change that'll do you good."

In response to an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission in the States, Big Milk over there has reported that they will end their asinine campaigns linking dairy consumption with weight loss.

Lydia Parnes, the Director of the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection reported that milk producers and processors had agreed to change the advertisements,
"until further research provides stronger, more conclusive evidence of an association between dairy consumption and weight loss."
What that might as well read is until someone other than Michael Zemel, a researcher for Big Milk whose specialty seems to be small underpowered studies with over-reaching conclusions, a researcher who believe it or not somehow managed to patent the claim that dairy consumption and weight loss were linked, actually puts together a paper that can refute the more than a dozen studies that show no link whatsoever.

[To read more about milk and dairy and Zemel, the CSPI put out a great piece you can read here.]

Score one for the good guys, but apparently this development doesn't apply to countries outside of the US or the internet because as of the typing of this post, is still live and still promotes the consumption of almost 300 daily calories of milk to help with weight loss.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Don't Play with Guns

This clip's over a year old.

It's a DEA agent who's teaching a community class on gun safety.

Let's just say it's been a while since he took the class himself.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Shrek - Obesity Crusader and McNugget Salesman

Here's a story that's been all over the news.

Dreamworks, a company always willing to pimp out its characters to promote fast food, sold the right to the use of Shrek to the US Department of Health and Human Services to promote anti-obesity messages to children.

Sounds good right?

Here's their first video:

They've even got a website where the various Shrek characters talk about ways to improve childhood fitness and health.

Then two days ago, McDonald's announced that they're also sleeping with Shrek and that he and his friends will be involved in McDonald's single biggest promotion of fruit, vegetables and low fat milk.

But don't kid yourself - it's not just about fruit, vegetables and milk. Here's the quote from the press release,
"The campaign showcases a variety of food choices including Premium Salads, Premium Chicken Sandwiches, fun desserts and a Happy Meal featuring Chicken McNuggets(R) Made with White Meat, Apple Dippers (fresh, peeled apple slices with optional low-fat caramel dipping sauce), and low-fat white or chocolate Milk Jugs served in child-friendly containers with Shrek packaging to encourage consumption."

Yup, nothing healthier than deep fried chicken pieces washed down with chocolate milk and fruit dipped in caramel sugar. Oh, and get this, for a limited time they will be selling limited edition 16oz Shrek glasses. That's a healthy serving size!

Want a great quobesity and an example of someone who's been bought?

Straight from the press release,
"I'm impressed with McDonald's worldwide commitment to promote activity, encourage balanced food choices and doing this in a fun and engaging way," noted Dr. Michele Borba, internationally recognized parenting expert, educator, and member of McDonald's Global Moms Advisory Panel. "This is very consistent with the counsel that the Mom's Panel has been giving McDonald's. It's clear they are listening."
Thanks Shrek. Thanks Dreamworks. Thanks sellout Dr. Borba. You're all the greatest.

Let me ask you a question - do you think that the kids (and frankly the parents) who watch commercials from the US Department of Health and Human Services are savvy enough to differentiate the healthy Shrek message from the McDonald's commercials? Do you think that maybe, just maybe, they will simply associate Shrek with health and consequently McDonald's with healthy choices?

An absolute coup for McDonald's.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check tells Kids Chocolate Muffins are Healthy

This came in the mail yesterday.

"Mothers Like Him, Kids Love Him"
That's the quote from the ad for new iGOR muffins and they are the subject of today's inappropriate Health Check which of course is prominently displayed at both the top and bottom of the ad copy.

For those of you who don't know what a "Health Check" is, it's an invention of the Heart and Stroke Foundation that provides their seal of approval on a product.

To qualify for a health check you must meet certain product requirements which in turn are all based on Health Canada's oh-so-awful Food Guide.

Looking at the criteria for a Health Check, I'm dismayed but not shocked to see that Calories don't matter and nor does sugar. Last time I checked eating high amounts of Calories or sugar wasn't good for you - it might even lead you to develop problems like obesity and type II diabetes which in turn might lead to, you guessed it, heart disease and strokes.

To put it simply, the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check criteria are based on outdated and non-evidence based fat phobic criteria and the outdated belief that fibre is miraculously good for cholesterol. Bottom line - if your product's low fat and high fibre - there's a really good chance it'll qualify.

The criteria for muffins are clearly spelled out - there are two options: 100gram serving sizes, low fat and "starch value is evaluated" OR 100gram serving size, low saturated fat, total fat less than 10grams and a source of fibre.

Problem is for most products, especially baked goods, low fat means high sugar.

Looking at these iGOR muffins, replete with the cartoon monkey beckoning children to grab them and throw them in the cart, we see that a full one third of the muffin's weight comes from sugar.

If that doesn't scream healthy at you, I don't know what does.

And I have to ask, should the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check be endorsing these things at all? Should it be endorsing products that are clearly designed to prey on children in grocery store aisles? You might make the argument that perhaps iGOR cookies/muffins are healthier than other cookie options, but frankly that still doesn't make them healthy. While I agree cookies should be a part of every child's life, they should be, as Cookie Monster himself now states, a "sometimes food". By slapping their Health Check logo on a package of them, the Heart and Stroke Foundation is enabling parents to feel guilt free about using these cookies as snacks because they're "healthy" - but really only as healthy as a pile of pure sugar wrapped in chemicals and preservatives can be.

Also don't you think that the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check, something meant by them to serve as a nutritional yardstick for consumers, should care about sugar content or Calories of foods? Perhaps even more so when it comes to products aimed specifically at our children?

I would urge the Heart and Stroke Foundation to take the blinders off their Health Check program. Its criteria for inclusion are not only antiquated, they are being abused by corporations like Vachon who use the criterion's broad-based laxity to promote cookies for children as a healthy snack choice.

Heart and Stroke Health Check folks - please stop telling Canadians that sugar is healthy and Calories don't matter because all you're doing with those messages is drumming up business.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Fast Food Truth vs. Fiction

The top photo's Arby's beef and cheddar as advertised, while the next one is as purchased.

The top one has been "styled" - there's a whole industry out there called food styling.

It involves making food look good for professional photography.

It's what makes fast food look good.

Enter Jeff Kay from some zine called the West Virginia Surf Report. He performed a simple experiment.

He compared the foods he bought at fast food outlets with those same foods' styled advertisements,

"Each item was purchased, taken home, and photographed immediately. Nothing was tampered with, run over by a car, or anything of the sort. It is an accurate representation in every case. Shiny, neon-orange, liquefied pump-cheese, and all."
If you want to see his pics (they're great), click here

[Hat tip: Steffan]

Monday, May 07, 2007

The New Latin American Food Pyramid

It's called the Camino Mágico and it was created by a group called the "Latino Nutrition Coalition".

In short, it is the worst example of marketing trying to pass itself off as nutrition that I've ever seen.

The Camino is a 16 page, confusing booklet whose Mission according to the last page is:

"Camino Mágico will help us make healthier food choices at the grocery store."
What it should read is:
"Camino Magico will help us sell products at the grocery store."
Whose products? Well the kindly and altruistic founding members of the the Latino Nutrition Coalition of course. Who makes up this wonderful and healthful coalition? Well, on the last page, there's a handy list:

  • Oldways
  • Mission Foods
  • ConAgra Foods
  • Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board
  • Florida Tomato Committee
  • Goya Foods
  • Tampico Beverages
  • The Peanut Institute
  • US Potato Board
  • USA Rice Federation
  • Silk Soymilk
  • Alliance Enterprises
  • Unilever

    You think they've been able to affect how this booklet was put together?

    Um, have you ever seen a food pyramid with branded products before?

    What's worse is the fact that in their suggested recipes segment, where they tell you which brands of foods to buy, the portion sizes are absolutely almost looks like um, pictures you might find in product advertisements, where size is a marketable commodity and an enticement for purchase.

    There's also this neat Supermarket Map that will show you, with brand photographs, where to find the products sold by the various groups listed above.

    Basically, it's a nutrition infomercial.

    Want your product included? Then simply visit the Camino Mágico's Sponsorship Opportunities page where you'll find this for sale list:

  • Additional meal-page product photos $1,500 each $5,000 for 4
  • Product photo(s) in supermarket map $2,000 each
  • Brief nutritional tips (only 4 available)$2,000 each
  • “How to read a label” page $15,000
  • Launch event sponsor (Your foods served; program input; signage, etc.) $2,500 per city, $6,000 for 3 cities

    Or you can join the Latino Nutrition Coalition itself. What are the acceptance criteria you ask? Well money of course. Depending on the size of your company, you have to pay more. Do you need to know anything about nutrition? Nope - and here's a bonus, as one of the listed perks of membership your company will now enjoy,
    "Visibility in scientific, culinary and media circles as a company committed to good health and high-quality products."
    So people will in fact think you know something about nutrition and care about their health even though you don't.

    Way to go Latino Nutrition Coalition, it's possible you've increased my nutritional cynicism by a notch - something I wasn't sure was possible, and it didn't even cost me anything!

    I'm not really going to bother discussing the nutritional merits of the Camino as the majority of its copy space is dedicated to brand placement.

    I do have one niceish thing to say about the Camino and the Coalition. While the Camino is certainly just an advertisement and the Coalition just a lobby group, at least they're up front about their work. Contrast that with Canada's Food Guide and the American Food Pyramid - both also simply advertisements with Health Canada and the USDA serving up lobby groups' interests under the false guise of science and concern rather than serving them up truthfully for what they are - reflections of food politics.

  • Friday, May 04, 2007

    Tigers Aren't Fun

    But they can be funny...

    To tee up this Funny Friday clip, here's what Wikipedia has to say about the behaviour of tigers,

    "To identify his territory the male marks trees by spraying urine and anal gland secretions"
    Moral of the story? Stay away from tigers.

    Have a great weekend!

    Thursday, May 03, 2007

    Fighting Childhood Obesity with Donuts?

    Oh the hypocrisy.

    An article in the New York times last month discussed the odd coupling of Rachael Ray (celebrity Food Network chef) with Bill Clinton's Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

    The Alliance's mission?

    "To eliminate childhood obesity and to inspire all young people in the United States to develop lifelong, healthy habits."
    On the Alliance's homepage as I type this is a picture of Clinton laughing with Rachael.

    Rachael should be the one laughing, one of those evil cartoon villain I pulled the wool over the good guys' faces laughs, because Rachael's other other job is being a corporate shill for.....wait for it....Dunkin' Donuts.

    In Dunkin' Donutss press release announcing Rachael as their new brand representative, Dunkin' Donuts' Brand President Robert Rodriguez has a lovely quote,
    "Rachael's philosophy of creating quality meals quickly and without pretense for busy people living busy lives is the same driving force behind the Dunkin' Donuts brand."
    Well I guess it's true that donuts are quick and without pretense, but meals?

    What does Rachael have to say,
    "Me, I don’t want to talk about obesity. I want to talk about how fun healthy food is, period."
    Donuts sure are healthy - they are a perfect fit for fostering the lifelong healthy habits the Alliance is hoping to instill in America's children.

    Brilliant move Bill.

    [Hat Tip to Jack from Fork and Bottle and bottom picture to Gallery of the Absurd]

    Wednesday, May 02, 2007

    Bad News for American Runners

    USA Track and Field has recently banned racers from wearing headphones at any of their sanctioned events.

    Rule 144.3b, sure to dramatically decrease participation in American casual running events, reads as follows,

    "The visible possession or use by athletes of video or audio cassette recorders or players, TV's, CD or DVD players, radio transmitters or receivers, mobile phones, computers, or any similar devices in the competition area shall not be permitted"
    I've never run a marathon and it's definitely on my to-do list one day and at one point I entertained the idea of making the New York marathon my first - not any more.

    I just can't imagine running for 4 hours, fighting a body that doesn't really want to be doing what it's doing, and not have the benefit of a playlist.

    They state it's for safety reasons - I'd love to see the stats as to the injuries due to running with headphones on a course where there's no vehicular traffic.

    Tuesday, May 01, 2007

    Does Milk Increase Risk of Parkinson's?

    Looking for another reason to consider reducing your milk and dairy consumption?

    I've blogged before about how diets higher in dairy seem to be associated with increased risk of ovarian cancer and fatal and aggressive prostate cancer while not demonstrating themselves to be protective versus osteoporotic fractures.

    Well now research has linked diets higher in dairy, especially in men, with increased risk of Parkinson's disease.

    The study, published a week or so ago in the American Journal of Epidemiology, looked at 57,689 men and 73,175 women from the American Cancer Society's Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort. 250 men and 138 women with Parkinson's disease were identified during the ten years of follow-up. Diets higher in dairy were associated with increased risks of Parkinson's development with men having an 80% increased risk and women 30% in the highest dairy intake grouping.

    While by no means a slam dunk that ties dairy forever to Parkinson's, it's just another thing to ponder when watching the does a body good and think about your drink messages paid for by the enormously deep pockets of Big Milk.

    In an reflex quobesity, Big Milk in the UK (the UK Dairy Council) had this to say regarding the study,

    "In reality there is no definitive link between dairy/milk, or any other food group, and any chronic disease."
    Um, doesn't that also mean there's no definitive link between dairy consumption and osteoporosis prevention (a chronic disease)?

    Of course if pressed this Big Milk spokesperson certainly would point out no, milk does decrease risk of osteoporosis (even though it doesn't), it's just that nothing bad could ever be linked to dairy.