Friday, January 31, 2014

True Facts About the Star Nosed Mole

When I'm having trouble finding a Funny Friday video, there's always Ze Frank!

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Canadian Diabetes Association Taps PepsiCo to Educate its Certified Educators?

Good lord! Here's an insane guest post from our office's RD Rob Lazzinnaro. As well as being an RD with an MSc., he's also a certified diabetes educator and as such he receives the Canadian Diabetes Association's Diabetes Communicator publication. Have a peek at what he found.
I recently came back across an article/advertisement I received last year in a publication distributed by the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA) called the Diabetes Communicator. I signed up for this publication to stay up date with my local Diabetes Educator Section (DES), and with the CDA.

It was entitled, "Beverages & Diabetes Management", and it was a two parter. The first talked about "Making Good Choices", and the second, "Dispelling the Juice Myth", and the pieces were written by Pepsico Canada.

As a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) I would like to openly ask the CDA - what could you possibly be thinking? Partnering with one of the largest providers of processed beverages to present info on nutrition would seem to only diminish the CDA’s credibility - especially if the information provided ran contrary to good diabetes care and education.

So what information is provided? While the advertorial does not recommend sugared soda for diabetics, it does state that juice, chocolate milk and sports drinks are good choices for hydration and nutrition in diabetes management. It also seemingly encourages juice consumption with each and every meal and snack (though there is a note stating that what clearly looks like a recommended daily menu plan is in fact a plan designed to help you figure out how to incorporate juice into meals and snacks) amounting to a consumption of 3/4 of a litre daily (along with 14 teaspoons of sugar).

In practice, however:
  1. These drinks have similar (and often more) sugar, carbohydrates, and calories ounce for ounce as regular soda. They are effectively flat soda with vitamins.
  2. If you drink them regularly you will have to consume less whole food by volume in order to balance carbohydrate intake, not exactly a recipe for feeling satiated.
  3. Speaking of satiation, liquid calories simply do not fill us up as well a whole food, due to their lack of fibre, lack of actual chew and ease of consumption.
  4. Drink these beverages and no doubt, even when consumed with a meal, your sugars are heading higher than were you to consume water.
  5. In the real world what ends up happening is that these liquid calories are consumed on top of the rest of the meal not within it, which equates to regularly consuming excess calories and carbohydrates.
While I fully understand why PepsiCo would want everyone (including those with diabetes) to drink large volumes of juices and sport drinks, beyond the desire for advertising dollars, I'm not sure why the CDA seemingly agrees.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Which is Better, Coconut Water or Coca-Cola?

Sometimes health halos are explicit whereby front-of-package claims such as, "low-fat", "gluten-free", or "organic", might lead people to consume more of the product consequent to its claim induced belief that the product is healthy and/or low cal.

Sometimes though health halos are implicit where the ingredients themselves suggest health.

Take for example the Thirsty Buddha Natural Coconut Water with Coffee. Per can it contains 260 calories and 8 teaspoons of sugar. Drop per drop, compared with Coca Cola, Thirsty Buddha's Coconut Water with Coffee packs nearly 20% more calories.

And while it's true that nutrition's about more than just calories, I'd be willing to wager that there are plenty of folks out there who'd never chug a Coke for fear of weight gain, but who might happily chug a Thirsty Buddha because the implicit promise of "Coconut Water" is that it's both low-cal and healthful.

Always read your labels!

[And if you're in Ottawa tonight and you're looking for something to do, I'll be debating Hasan Hutchinson, the Director General Health Canada's Office of Nutrition. Policy and Promotion (the department in charge of the Food Guide), on whether or not following Canada's Food Guide would lead a person to gain weight. Admission is free! More details here.]

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Kellogg's Uses Teen Olympic Athletes to Sell Sugar to Children


Torin-Yater Wallace the 15 year old US Olympic freestyle skier and 19 year old US Olympic ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson have been purchased by Kellogg's to promote Pop-Tarts and Frosted Flakes in campaigns clearly targeting children.

No doubt it's reprehensible to use sport to sell sugar and refined carbohydrates, but it's certainly not breaking any laws.

A shame that the Olympics doesn't seem to have any standards when it comes to licensing their rings.

And if you're wondering what I think about the nutritional value of Pop-Tarts, I think Torin says it best when asked in this promotional video,
"What's your point of view on breakfast and nutrition?"
and he answers,
"I don't really have one, I eat whatever I want."
So there you have it folks! Straight from Kellogg's new spokesteen - if you don't care about nutrition maybe you too should give Pop-Tarts (or Frosted Flakes) a try (because you sure as heck won't find much in the way of nutrition there).

[Hat tip to Anne Tuttle Brown for bringing the Pop-Tarts to my attention]

Monday, January 27, 2014

British Marmite Banned In Canada Due to Enrichment with Vitamins and Minerals?

Clearly the Canadian Food Inspections Agency is a hater as they recently insisted that a Saskatoon specialty food shop pull authentic British Marmite from their shelves as it was said to be "enriched with vitamins and minerals" (the Canadian version apparently isn't and now the CFIA is seemingly backing down from their original objection which was reportedly rather specific despite their recent press release's suggestion to the contrary).

Now for those who don't know marmite, it's a fermented yeast product that is assuredly an acquired taste and not something that one would be consuming in large daily quantities. It's low in calories, has virtually nothing in the way of sugars, and is modestly fortified with B vitamins. It's also definitely a much healthier toast spread than what most Canadians are currently shmearing each morning.

Well Saskatoon shopkeeper, my advice to you is to start stocking the following items (a small sampling of dozens and dozens of similar products), because despite their clear enrichment with vitamins and minerals, and their much greater likelihood of excess consumption, Health Canada's Natural Food Product Directorate thinks they're the cat's meow when it comes to good health.


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Saturday Stories: Metabolism, Microbiomes, and Marshmallows

Fascinating piece by my friend Alex Hutchinson in Runner's World on how we humans aren't particularly good at burning calories.

Jeff Leach from the Human Food Project on his one year odyssey to acquire the world's healthiest microbiome.

Michael Bourne in the New York Times revisits the famous kids, willpower and marshmallows experiment.

[And if you don't follow me on Twitter or Facebook, here's my friend James Fell's thoughtful review of my book The Diet Fix, and if you're interested, here's a link to a giveaway for 1 of 50 early galleys of my book from Goodreads. Totally free with zero strings attached! (and it's nearly your last chance to enter - contest ends in a few days)]

Friday, January 24, 2014

If You've Ever Been on a Conference Call You Need to Watch This

I think I related to every single joke in today's Funny Friday video.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Average Full Service Restaurant Meal Contains a Full Day's Worth of Calories!

Very straight forward study out of Drexel University.

Nutrient profiles for 21 chain full-service sit-down restaurants' 2,615 items were compiled and then some basic math to calculate caloric averages.

A standard adult meal consisting of a shared appetizer and an entree with a side dish averaged 1,495 calories and rose to 2,020 calories after including a beverage and a shared dessert.

And apparently we're going to restaurants twice as often as we did back in the late 1970s.

Eating out is a truly wonderful indulgence, but please, try to do so for occasions only, and Fridays (or any other day of the week) aren't in and of themselves occasions.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Move Over Cough Drops, Halls Now Selling "Fat Metabolizer" Drops

And get this, they have an NPN number.

What's that?

That's an official licensing number from Health Canada which gives the product the right to make front-of-package claims - in this case the claim,
"Helps the Body to Metabolize Fats and Proteins"
Heading over to the ingredients, it would seem that that Health Canada believes the claim is justified by this product's "medicinal" ingredients of:
30mg of Vitamin C


7.5IU of Vitamin E
Now I know I have a great many readers with backgrounds in nutrition and health. Anyone out there think 30mg of Vitamin C along with 7.5IU of Vitamin E will do anything more than help people to empty their wallets and prey on their hopes?

And Health Canada, do you honestly think licensing this product to make these claims will benefit the health of Canadians?

[Thanks to my wonderful wife for sending my way]

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What Reading the Latest Diet Soda Causes Weight Gain Study Actually Told Me

It's been a common refrain for years - artificial sweeteners make people hungrier and actually lead to weight gain, and just last week a new paper was thrown onto that fire.

But what does the paper actually say?

Not much really. Just that the folks found to drink the most diet soda consumed the most calories.

And that in itself probably isn't too surprising in that there's a strong likelihood that many who struggle with dietary choice and portions will choose diet beverages (perhaps as a means to compensate for solid calories, or perhaps as a means to unconsciously permit or excuse them, or perhaps those consuming sugared versions under report them as this paper (thanks @nutsci) suggests).

As I've mentioned many times before, looking at all comers when it comes to the study of the impact of artificial sweeteners on weight management isn't the right way to do things. If you truly want to see if the use of artificial sweeteners is helpful or harmful to weight management you need to look at whether or not artificial sweeteners, when randomly assigned to study subjects involved in weight management efforts, were helpful or harmful. Helpfully, such studies have been done, and in every such study I've read, the zero-calorie beverage swaps have proven themselves to be beneficial.

Ultimately the goal should be less sweet from all sources - sugar and sweeteners alike, but if you're actively trying to manage your weight, as far as the medical literature on diet soda to date goes, the lesser evil is still diet, just don't take drinking them as a license to not watch the rest of your meal.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Why Are There So Many Junk Food Events at Community Centers?

Or at libraries, schools, offices.....pretty much anywhere there are events, junk food follows.

I took that photo up above this past December in Sanibel Florida. Cookie construction, Subway, snow cones, pizza, hot dogs, Chick-fil-A, and frozen yogurt - and all during a month no doubt rife with (understandable) indulgences.

I realize providing junk food is easier than coming up with compelling,engaging, creative programming, in fact I'd argue the provision of candy and junk food for entertainment (especially of children) has become our new normal, but organizations, especially those involved in the promotion of healthful living, should not be adding to the number of opportunities we have to eat it.

Our new normal is anything but healthful.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Saturday Stories: Bodybuilding Cardio, Indian Food and GMO Chickens

Tom Venuto in Ask Men answers whether or not it's safe for those trying to bulk up to run.

Neha Thirani Bagri in the New York Times highlights an ominous food trend in India.

Nigel Urwin in the Guardian asks, "Would you prefer to eat genetically modified eggs, or see day-old chicks destroyed?"

[And a bunch of stuff if you don't follow me on Twitter or Facebook. I wrote a piece for the Globe & Mail on the 5 secret ingredients for a successful New Year's Resolution, for Fooducate on the top 10 whys and hows of keeping a food diary, and for US News and World Report on the most important New Year's resolution you still have time to make.]

Friday, January 17, 2014

Who Can Resist Funny Animals!

And even in 6 second clips, this week's Funny Friday video is a gem.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Massive #FAIL For The Children’s Treatment Centre Foundation of Chatham-Kent

I have to wonder. When this initiative was discussed, did anyone at least raise the concern that partnering with McDonald's, and in so doing health-washing, promoting and congratulating a brand and lifestyle that in turn no doubt has contributed to a not insignificant amount of morbidity in children, might not be worth the dollars that it raises?

I guess every charity needs to figure out for themselves what their sell-out number is, but I'm also guessing they don't hold cigarette carton drives, so no doubt too every charity is capable of drawing the line somewhere.

Thanks to the multiple wishing-to-remain-anonymous allied health professionals in Chatham-Kent who punted this my way.

(And just in case you were thinking at least the meal would be healthful, here's the event's menu)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Video Review of Dempster's Garden Vegetable Bread (Gah!)

Not sure if my American readers will have seen this product yet, but no doubt, they will (or at least something like it). It's bread that claims to have 1/2 a serving of vegetables per 2 slices, and judging from the packaging, eating it is almost like eating carrots.

Or is it?

I decided to explore Dempster's Garden Vegetable bread in a bit more detail and I think you'll be amazed by how many carrots it would seem are in a slice.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Guest Post: Grade 11 Geography Students With a Food Systems Win!

A week or so ago I received an email from Kingsley G. Hurlington, the Head of Geography at York Region's Bur Oak Secondary School. He was writing to tell me about a class project for his Grade 11 Geography of Food course and reading about it, I asked him if his students might want to write a guest post about it. Here's their post, and kudos to him and them.

The Check Out Hunger Project
By: Shubhankar Bhatt and Malvin Lo

What are teens doing in the week before Christmas? Shopping, of course!

Amidst the hustle and bustle of aggressive shoppers, we were out searching for the perfect gifts. Along with rest of the students in our class we were not at the mall: we were at the supermarket. We were not shopping for cool technology or new gadgets. We were seeking a much better gift – quality food for needy people in our community.

We are students taking a course called Geography of Food (Regional Geography CGD 3M) which was created by our teacher Kingsley Hurlington at York Region District School Board. Throughout the course, we have been exploring issues of local food systems. We have been following our food from farmer’s field to our forks and beyond. We have learned about the beauty of an organic apple orchard by visiting one, controversies in food labelling rules, the abundance and promotion of processed foods, and the level of control large food companies have over our personal health. We have come to realize that we are surrounded by the social and economic phenomenon that is food, and have developed a sense of what a fifty-cent chocolate bar purchase really means to farmers, corporations, and society as a whole.

We have come to understand that our choices matter. Our choices demonstrate our support for free-range organic chickens versus mistreated caged ones. Our choices illustrate our support for local farmers, or our support for outsourced child labour. And that our choice of the stuff we purchase is a lifestyle choice, a health choice, an ethical choice, and a moral choice.

Armed with a wealth of knowledge, we headed out into the real world ready to explore the production, processing, and politics of food through each assignment. Mr. Hurlington ensured that all of our assignments had us asking difficult and disruptive questions: What kinds of food can we grow at our own houses? Why do convenience foods have ingredient lists that are dozens of items long? What does real food taste like (many of us had never had local Ontario strawberries, fresh bakery bread or artisanal cheese…)?

Our most recent assignment challenged us to head to the supermarket looking to improve on the $10 food bags that customers can purchase for donation to their food bank. The corporate bags cost $10 but were they really worth that amount? And what could be said about the quality of the food that was in them? We investigated items in the food bag and began questioning what the motive was for these corporate bags: nutrients were low, sodium was high (11,000 mg in one bag!) and the kinds of food were simplistic. Cans of soup and cartons of crackers hardly seemed like quality food!

We concluded that it was time to challenge the system, and make our own better bags. With ten real dollars in hand, our classmates spent hours searching the supermarket for nutritionally rich foods to create an optimized bag of food. What we discovered was that a group of 16-year-olds can create food bags many times more nutritious than big brand name supermarkets. Our bags contained more good calories, more plant protein, more fibre and a wide range of micronutrients while containing far less sodium, saturated fat and cholesterol. Our bags contained staples like dried beans and brown rice. Soon enough, the school took notice and teachers began bringing their own food bags and the school ended up with over 45 bags of culturally appropriate and nutritious food headed straight for the Markham Food Bank.

With the course coming to a close, we have come to understand that this wasn’t just an assignment; it was a push for a change in society. Like the food bags, so much of our food system and what we eat is hidden away from us. So many people buy those brown paper food bags thinking that they are doing a good thing for people in need but never really knowing what is inside them. Don’t the neediest people in our community deserve healthy food too?

This course has given us an overwhelming sense of personal and global awareness. When we handed our bags in, it symbolized the power that we all have to challenge the status quo. It reminds us that we can all take control over our own health. We have become aware of the meaning behind food and what’s at stake, not just personally, but as a society.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Guest Post: Taste and Preschoolers: Packing Aesthetics Vs. Big Food Branding?

Today's guest post comes from Dr. Charlene Elliott PhD who holds the CIHR Canada Research Chair in Food Marketing, Policy and Children’s Health and an Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Calgary, jointly appointed with the Faculty of Arts and Faculty of Kinesiology. Her areas of research include food promotion and policy, communication and health, children’s food marketing, regulation and obesity.
“Want children to eat carrot? Put it in [a] McDonald's wrapper.”
Those interested in food marketing to children might recall media headlines like the one above about a 2007 study out of Stanford University that examined the influence of McDonald’s branding on the taste preferences of preschool children. In this study, 63 American preschool children tasted five “pairs” of food, including a McDonald’s hamburger, fries and Chicken McNugget, as well as baby carrots and milk. Each food “pair” was identical—although one portion was wrapped in McDonald’s packaging and the other in plain white wrapping. The researchers found that “3- to 5-year-olds preferred the taste of foods they perceived to be from McDonald’s”, and concluded that “substantial exposure to the McDonald’s brand” drives children’s taste preferences. Indeed, 54% of the children in the study said that even carrot sticks in McDonald’s packaging tasted better. As the journalist Lindsay Tanner affirmed:“Want children to eat carrot? Put it in [a] McDonald's wrapper.

Now, this study makes for great headlines. But it isn’t necessarily great research. It’s hardly surprising that, when given the choice between plain packaging and something decorated, preschoolers like the prettier packaging. Stated differently, the study design fails to capture whether children’s tastes are influenced by the aesthetics of the packaging rather than the branding itself. It also does not reveal whether different types of branding impact children’s tastes.

In light of this, we redesigned the original study so that 65 Canadian preschool children selected between three different packaging “pairs”:
  1. McDonald’s verses plain (white) wrapping (as per the original study)
  2. McDonald’s versus colored (non-branded) wrapping; and
  3. McDonald’s versus Starbucks wrapping.
The point was to see whether packaging aesthetics influences children’s taste preferences as much as the branding. By asking preschoolers to also select between McDonald’s and Starbucks (an adult-oriented brand built around coffee), we could make some preliminary observations about the degree to which the McDonald’s brand is actually driving the preschoolers’ selections.

The results?

Not surprisingly, aesthetics matter, even to very young children. Preschoolers overall thought that the food samples in decorative wrappers “tasted best” compared to plain wrappers—even though the foods were identical.

Yet one must be careful not to presume that the preschoolers’ aesthetic preferences are actually brand preferences. Just like other consumers, children prefer food that comes in decorative wrappings regardless of whether the wrapping is “decorated” with McDonald’s branding, Starbucks branding or multi-colored polka-dots.

When choosing between food in McDonald’s branded wrapping and food in plain wrapping, the preschoolers in our study preferred the taste of McDonald's wrapped food (just as the Stanford study reported). However, when choosing between food in McDonald’s branded wrapping and food in a colorful wrapping, or between food in McDonald’s wrapping and food in Starbucks wrapping, children did not indicate a preference for McDonald’s-branded food. Children rely more on aesthetics than on branding when making choices: a colorful wrapper or a wrapper with an unfamiliar logo has equal appeal to a wrapper with a familiar logo.

A final point of note: many preschoolers in our study were familiar with the McDonald’s brand (almost half of the children identified it), whereas only 12.6% of children were able to identify Starbucks. Yet, for the preschoolers who tasted foods in McDonald’s wrapping versus Starbucks wrapping, the “more familiar” McDonald’s brand was not preferred. An equal percentage of children preferred McDonald’s burgers in Starbucks wrappings as in McDonald’s. For the chicken nuggets, fries and carrots, the majority of children indicated that the samples tasted the same. Yet for those children who did indicate a preference, more children preferred the taste of fries and carrots in the Starbucks wrapping over McDonald’s. Perhaps, then, the news headline for our study would be “Want children to eat fries or carrots? Put it in a Starbucks wrapper.”

Admittedly, this sounds absurd. What our findings suggest is the need to focus more attention on the important role of packaging in directing children’s food preferences. The Stanford study—and especially its subsequent newspaper coverage—made much of the fact that children preferred the taste of carrots if they thought they were from McDonald’s. Its authors conclude that “specific branding can alter young children’s taste preferences.” Yet when children in our study were given the option of carrots in McDonald’s wrapping or carrots in colorful wrapping, children liked the “colorful” carrots more. Appearance, rather than branding, appears to influence children’s taste preferences. Of course, this conclusion should not be used to argue against recommendations for limiting the commercial promotion of foods to children (I am against advertising to children on ethical grounds). However, when it comes to preschoolers and taste preferences, perhaps more focus should be directed to the wrappings around food—the packaging—rather than the particular brand upon it.

Charlene Elliott, PhD
Canada Research Chair
Food Marketing, Policy and Children's Health
Associate Professor, Communication
Faculty of Arts and Faculty of Kinesiology
University of Calgary


Elliott, C, Carruthers Den Hoed R, and Conlon, M (2013). Food branding and young children’s taste preferences: A reassessment. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 104(5). 364-368.

Robinson TN, Borzekowski DLG, Matheson DM, Kraemer HC (2007). Effects of fast food branding on young children's taste preferences. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med.161(8). 792-797.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Have You Ever Heard of American Girl Dolls?

Despite having 3 girls under the age of 10, somehow we've avoided the whole American Girl phenomenon.

That said, this week's Funny Friday video of Conan O'Brien's trip to American Girl kinda makes me wish we had one. Sorta.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Because Fast Food Isn't Fast Enough

Weights continue to climb the world over - and it's not because the world has suffered an epidemic loss of willpower, but rather that the world around us has changed.

Once upon a time (or really just 60 years ago), food was much slower, cooking far more normal, and junky options far more limited.

Fast has not been good.

And soon perhaps, it'll be even faster.

Chip and Dan Heath have pointed out that easier paths motivate our inner elephants and that once motivated, even skilled riders have a difficult time getting said elephant to take a different path. Looks like one of the paths that is already damn easy is about to get easier with the marriage of your toll road transponder and fast food in that a new company, iDriveThru, has managed to configure them to also pay for fast food drive thru purchases.

I'm guessing too that this step is only a temporary first one with the next being smartphone apps that not only pay without your phone leaving your pocket, but remember your favourite orders to literally allow for a seamless drive-thru experience with dedicated lanes for these frequent fliers.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Diet Book Review: Darya Pino Rose's Foodist

[Full Disclosure: Received a free copy of the book from Darya and have been a contributor to her blog Summer Tomato in the past]

Darya Pino Rose has a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for healthy eating. She first married her inner scientist to her inner foodie with her blog, Summer Tomato, which was named one of TIME Magazine's 50 top websites back in 2011. This past year she took it one step further and published her book, Foodist: Using Real Food and Real Science to Lose Weight Without Dieting in which she details her personal journey to a style of eating and living that she has termed being a "Foodist".

Citing science when science is available, Rose explores the impact of dietary choice on health and weight, and then cites her own personal examples to support how to implement what she refers to as, "Eat More" habits. Those Eat More habits - they're her recommended starting blocks - respect the fact that life change works better if you don't start by trying to eliminate all the bad stuff, but rather try to first increase the good. A stalwart of farmer's market's, Rose encourages readers to cultivate love affairs with their kitchens - as it was her own love affair therein that led her not only to the publication of Foodist, but also to the design of her funky custom purposed Mercado farmer's market bag.

For those who aren't yet living a cooking from fresh whole foods lifestyle, this book is a great place to find some inspiration. With tips on shopping for fresh produce such as remembering that farmer's market fruits will indeed be exceedingly expensive compared to a supermarket's but that farmer's market vegetables are often comparable in price, to some of Darya's favourite recipes, to a list of "mouthwatering" words that Brian Wansink's work would suggest will heighten your family's enjoyment of their meals if used to describe them, Darya entices us all to use our kitchens more frequently.

As to whether or not you'll lose weight, as Darya puts it, and with a reference to Chip and Dan Heath's fabulous book Switch,
"By educating yourself more on the issues surrounding food, you can fuel your elephant's determination to take the high road and keep the noble course. You might even lose some weight in the process."
Ultimately I think Foodist's focus is placed much more directly on healthful eating, than weight management, but that's not a bad thing as regardless of the impact improving the quality of your diet might have on your weight, its impact on your health will markedly mitigate the risks of weight in the first place.

Like any great love affair, the more you put into yours, the more you'll get out of it. A Foodist's lifestyle is no doubt a healthful one, but no doubt too, there's not an insignificant amount of effort and the joint luxuries of time and means required. I also have no doubt the payoff is worth it, but I do look forward to reading a hopeful future edition of what might be titled, "The Family Foodist", when Darya's family grows and she finds new and innovative shortcuts to Foodist style living.

If you'd like your own copy, here's an Amazon Associates link.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Diet Book Review: Tom Venuto's Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle

[Full Disclosure: I received my review copy directly from Tom and we share both a literary agency and a publisher. I was not asked by any of them to write this review, nor have they seen it before you.]
Tom Venuto is a larger than life kind of guy - almost kinda literally as he most assuredly walks (and lifts) his talk. I had the pleasure of meeting Tom the last time I was in New York, and I was impressed by his passion and his knowledge - not just on training, but on health and nutrition as a whole. We originally "met" via Twitter 4 or 5 years ago, and not being involved at all in lifting or the training community at the time (my loss as I've since learned it's a vibrant and incredibly supportive and engaged one), I wasn't familiar with Tom's motivational empire. His websites, Burn the Fat Inner Circle and his Burn the Fat Blog have huge followings - and I can tell you, huge followings in the training community aren't built off of hype, they're built off of trust, knowledge and integrity, qualities Tom has in spades. Being basically a toddler in weight lifting myself, and keen to read Tom's Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle (the original e-book of which has sold over 250,000 copies), I was excited when asked if I'd be interested in receiving a copy of his first ever hardcopy edition.

Up front I'll tell you that Tom and I have one distinct philosophical difference. Tom loves number goals. Whether they're body fat percentiles, pounds on a scale, or other performance based metrics, Tom wants you to pick one, take aim, and with the help of the program he lays out, nail it. Me? I think I come at this having never been a physical competitor, and I think therein might lie the basis of our difference. You see I am, and always have been, painfully uncoordinated. I would get picked last even after injured kids when teams were picked in school. Even today, though I'm certainly fit, I'm not what anyone would call athletic, and when I run triathlons I generally place, even with my best efforts, in the bottom 30-40th percentile. I have had to learn to value my personal bests as great and not get caught up in whether or not I hit some particular number - as my friend and author of The Flex Diet Jamie Beckerman says, for me, "the road is the goal". Consequently in all of my endeavours and teachings, I try to help people shift their focus away from wanting to reach a particular body fat percentile or number on a scale and instead focus them on the behaviours they truly have control over - on the stuff they'll need to do in order to have a hope of hitting those number goals. To put this another way, yes an A+ is the best grade you can get in school, but really as a student you can't guarantee one, all you really have control over is whether or not you go to class, do your homework, and how much you study. And if you really want to try to hit that A+ then you might decide to hire a tutor or join a study group. And if you're looking to cultivate a gym-inspired, health-focused lifestyle - well then Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle may well serve as your ace-in-the-hole tutor.

Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle is an evidence-based trip through the gym and the kitchen. Tom clearly understands that the inconvenient truth of healthful living is that it does indeed require effort and that there are no shortcuts. In discussing the popular use of supplements in both weight lifting and weight management he minces no words,
"The majority of so-called fat-burning products available over-the-counter are worthless and have no scientific evidence validating their use.",
and then he explains how miracles are really formed,
"If you want to see a real miracle, try training hard and eating real food consistently for a few months."
Tom is all about you pushing your limits, and in fact I think it might be safe to say (he can correct me if I'm wrong), that he wants you to rid yourself of the notion that you have any. I do agree with him in that on the one hand, you can force yourself to attain any weight, body fat percentile or clothing size that you might want, but my experiences, albeit with a very different patient base, is that if suffering is a prerequisite to reaching your goal, than suffering is likely also a prerequisite for staying there, and while no doubt the human spirit can overcome it, it can usually only white-knuckle its way through those limits temporarily. I wish there were such things, but in healthy living efforts, there are no finish lines - the race keeps going, and if you've ever run before, you know that sprinting might indeed get you to a finish line faster, but if that finish line is no where in sight, sprinting's probably not a great race plan.

Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle provides personalizable templates both for diet and training where the basis of each come from a mix of what works (the experience of Tom as both a champion body builder and the lessons he's learned during his decades of training, teaching and competing) and best evidence. It's a great mix as sometimes what an expert knows works, isn't supported by a study - and herein is why if you're looking for lifestyle advice, it's best to get it from someone who truly works with people - rather than from a researcher or writer who presents their theoretical though evidence based viewpoints, as the application of the evidence base doesn't always mesh with the realities in the trenches, and as mentioned, sometimes what's working in the trenches has yet to be proven in the ivory towers.

Reading his sections on nutrition, there's no doubt Tom gets it. From even the preface Tom hammers home the truly crucial fact that its kitchens that matter more than gyms when it comes to weight. His dietary recommendations and his discussion of macronutrients and nutrition in general echo those of my own and aren't stuck in any particular one-size-fits all mantra. They provide a great foundation of what someone hoping to simultaneously lose weight and build/preserve muscle would need and all without cutting calories out at your knees. Going through his training sections, whether your a beginner, an intermediate or an expert, there'll be something here for you and I think in reading them I'm going to follow Tom's recommended "periodization cycle" designed to get the most out of my lifting.

At the end of the day I have zero doubt that if you follow Tom's advice, you're going to dramatically change your health, your weight and your body. If you're the type who thrives on goal setting and numbers - this might very well be your healthy living bible and really the perfect New Year's Resolution tome. If you're a bit more like me, more comfortable with the goal of doing your best and moreover comfortable with the fact that your best might not be as good as someone else's best, the only thing you might want to consider going in is that it might be safer to use the various numerical metrics as means to track your progress - using them (as Tom also recommends) as a means to troubleshoot the impact of changes to your strategies, rather than as a means to determine if you've succeeded.

Want a copy? Here's an Amazon Associates link.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Saturday Stories: A Mystery, Sea Monkeys, and ADHD

Chris Bell in the Telegraph with a crazy story about a massively complex and mysterious society that recruits by way of insane internet puzzles.

Evan Hughes in The Awl on the brilliant invention of Sea Monkeys.

Alan Schwartz with a devastating expose in the New York Times on the selling of ADHD by Big Pharma.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Lessons Your Daughters Learn from Disney Princesses


Today's Funny Friday redux is a three-fer. Three brilliant clips from Second City all of which made me cringe given the countless times my beautiful daughters have watched The Little Mermaid, Snow White, and Beauty and the Beast.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 02, 2014

If You Care About Nutrition You Must Read This!

For the next few weeks I'm going to take some time off from blogging - but don't you fret, I've curated a collection of some of my favourite posts from 2010. Today's post highlights the brilliance of two of my favourite researchers - Drs. Dariush Mozaffarian and David Ludwig.
I've long argued that we live in the nutritional dark ages where belief seems to trump science and evidence in the creation of nutritional public health policy and recommendations.

Moreover even in cases where science is purported to be a cornerstone (for instance Canada's Food Guide), I believe the wrong science is given too much sway.

Putting aside my concerns regarding the hijacking of Canada's Food Guide by the food industry and political interests, the Guide was built explicitly to ensure Canadians met their recommended dietary allowances of various nutrients and micronutrients and as I've noted before, the bulk of the science on the interaction of diet on chronic disease prevention centres on the consumption of different patterns of foods, not nutrients.

In an editorial that clearly nails my confirmation biases square on their heads, Drs. Dariush Mozaffarian and David Ludwig take on this madness, and they do such an amazing job discussing the issue that I'm going to reprint a pile of it for those without institutional journal access to read,
"Nutritional science has advanced rapidly, and the evidence now demonstrates the major limitations of nutrient based metrics for prevention of chronic disease. The proportion of total energy from fat appears largely unrelated to risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, or obesity. Saturated fat—targeted by nearly all nutrition-related professional organizations and governmental agencies—has little relation to heart disease within most prevailing dietary patterns. Typical recommendations to consume at least half of total energy as carbohydrate, a nutrient for which humans have no absolute requirement, conflate foods with widely divergent physiologic effects (eg, brown rice, white bread, apples). Foods are grouped based on protein content (chicken, fish, beans, nuts) despite demonstrably different health effects. With few exceptions (eg, omega-3 fats, trans fat, salt), individual compounds in isolation have small effects on chronic diseases. Thus, little of the information found on food labels’ “nutrition facts” panels provides useful guidance for selecting healthier foods to prevent chronic disease.

In contrast with discrete nutrients, specific foods and dietary patterns substantially affect chronic disease risk, as shown by controlled trials of risk factors and prospective cohorts of disease end points. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts are consistently associated with lower risk of disease. Fish consumption reduces risk of cardiac mortality, belying categorization with other protein sources. Conversely, processed meats, packaged and fast foods, and sugar sweetened beverages increase chronic disease risk. The effects of foods likely reflect complex, synergistic contributions from and interactions among food structure, preparation methods, fatty acid profile, carbohydrate quality (eg, glycemic index, fiber content), protein type, micronutrients, and phytochemicals. Healthy eating patterns share many characteristics, emphasizing whole or minimally processed foods and vegetable oils, with few highly processed foods or sugary beverages. Such diets are also naturally lower in salt, trans fat, saturated fat, refined carbohydrates, and added sugars; are higher in unsaturated fats, fiber, antioxidants, minerals, and phytochemicals; and are more satiating. Thus, a focus on foods increases the likelihood of consuming more healthy nutrients and fewer calories and decreasing chronic disease risk, whereas the opposite has arguably occurred through decades of nutrient-focused guidelines.

The nutrient-based approach may foster dietary practices that defy common sense. Countless highly processed products are now marketed in which refined carbohydrate replaces fat, providing an aura of healthiness but without actual health benefits. School nutrition guidelines specify a minimum number of total calories but a maximum proportion of fat calories, and foods like gelatin desserts and sugar-sweetened low-fat milk have been used to achieve these nutrient targets. Based primarily on consideration of a few nutrients, a national obesity prevention program categorizes whole-milk yogurt and cheese with donuts and french fries as foods to eat occasionally; sauteed vegetables and tuna canned in vegetable oil with processed cheese spread and pretzels as foods to eat sometimes; and fresh fruits and vegetables with trimmed beef and fat-free mayonnaise as foods to eat almost anytime. Taking the nutrient approach to self serving extremes, the food industry “fortifies” highly processed foods, like refined cereals and sugar-sweetened beverages, with selected micronutrients and recharacterizes them as nutritious. These marketing ploys provide little public health benefit and could potentially produce harm.

The prevailing nutrient-focused approach has broad consequences, influencing food-labeling priorities, school lunch and low-income food assistance policies, industry and restaurant product formulations, and public perceptions of healthier vs unhealthy foods. This focus contributes to confusion, distracts from more effective strategies, and promotes marketing and consumption of processed products that nominally meet selected nutrient cut points but undermine overall dietary quality. The relatively recent focus on nutrients parallels an increasing discrepancy between theory and practice: the greater the focus on nutrients, the less healthful foods have become. As national and international organizations update dietary guidelines, nutrient targets should largely be replaced by food-based targets. Such change would facilitate translation to the public, correspond with scientific advances in chronic disease prevention, mitigate industry manipulation, and remedy widespread misperceptions about what constitutes healthful diets.

Although this approach may seem radical, it actually represents a return to more traditional, time-tested ways of eating. Healthier food-based dietary patterns have existed for generations among some populations. Modern nutritional science now provides substantial evidence for how foods and food-based patterns affect health, guiding the design of more effective approaches for the prevention of chronic disease."