Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Eat Wise: Dietitians of Canada's new Online Venture. Helpful, Harmful, or Ho-Hum?

So last week I received an email from the Dietitians of Canada promoting their latest venture. It's called "Eat Wise" and it's basically an online searchable database of nutrition fact panels.

So what's it for?

According to the press release it's to,

"make it easier for Canadians to get the nutrition facts on the foods they eat",
and Mary Sue Waisman, the PR and Communications manager of Dietitians of Canada was quoted as saying,
"Whether it’s a fresh apple, apple juice or frozen apple pie, you can get the information you need with just a few ‘clicks’ to help you make informed food choices."
So I decided to put Mary's quote and the site to the test.

Here's what the site taught me regarding fresh apples, apple juice and frozen apple pie (click on the image to enlarge if you'd like):

So what did the site teach me to help inform my food choices?

Fresh apples? Hmm, they really don't contain much of anything, not even vitamins, and wow, they're a lot fewer calories than I thought.

Apple juice? Well a serving apparently is nearly 2 cups, but not quite 2 cups. Gotta remember not to pour that last 27ml.

Apple pie? Great source of iron.

What didn't I learn?

I didn't learn that diets rich in fruits and vegetables have been shown to protect against a myriad of chronic disease, and that apples, given their water content and low energy density, are great in terms of volume based satiety, and that even though they may not be superstars in terms of the meager selection of nutrients Eat Wise scored, their consumption has been linked to health. Nor did I learn that the majority of apples are nearly double the size (and calories) of the "serving" reported by Eat Wise.

I didn't learn that the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Pediatric Society recommend kids younger than 8 have no more than 125ml of juice daily and that drop per drop juice has as many calories and as much sugar as Coca Cola.

I also didn't learn whether or not that apple pie was a large piece or a small piece, or whether compared with other apple pies or home made, it was a good, bad or neutral choice. Interestingly, when I clicked on other apple pies to try to figure that out, serving sizes varied from 164g to 100g, to 156g making actual comparisons quite challenging.

Lastly, while I learned what percentage of my daily recommended value the ten nutritional determinants of food scored provided, glaringly absent was a daily recommended sugar allotment to put that rather important ingredient in perspective.

I think the Eat Wise site is ho-hum, bordering on harmful.

It promotes pure nutritionism and sadly also misinforms by allowing industry based and/or seemingly random portions to be evaluated.

The notion that food is the sum total of its nutrients flies in the face of the fact that virtually everything we understand to be true about the impact of diet on the prevention of chronic disease comes from patterns of whole food consumption, not nutrients.

At the end of this day, I can't imagine who'd find value in this site. If you want pure nutrition data, check out Nutrition Data, where rather than 10 nutritional determinants, they score dozens.

Of course, if you want to know if you're making healthier processed food choices, I'd just stop right there.

Sure it's worth looking at the backs of your packages and getting the least bad options you'll enjoy, but easier still not to worry about nutrients and instead focus on something magical for health - the transformation of raw ingredients. It's called cooking, and it's the very definition of eating wise, and I don't the that the Dietitians of Canada, or anyone else, should be creating products or programs that may lead people to believe that they can do it with boxes.