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Diet, Health, Fitness, Lifestyle & Wellness


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How To See Through The ‘Health Halo’ That May Be Hiding Ultra-Processed Foods

The main issue is finding time to read labels and figuring out what they really mean, experts say.

Most of us have probably heard that food marketers play it a little fast and loose with health claims.

So how much of what we read on a label can we trust? What, exactly, makes my bag of cereal clusters “lean,” for example? We asked two Toronto registered dietitians to separate fact from fiction to make it easier for us to navigate the grocery aisle. And the first thing we learned is that, even though there are tricky terms out there, words still have meaning and many of them are actually tightly regulated.

Sugar, Fat and Salt

“The truth is, the Government of Canada, specifically the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, does govern many of the terms that are seen on food packages,” explains Cara Rosenbloom, a registered dietitian and co-author of the book, “Food to Grow On.” “So, calories, salt, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar, fibre, vitamins and minerals, all of these are all highly regulated.”

Every claim related to any property listed on the nutrition facts table is regulated, explains Rosenbloom: “So, if it says 25 per cent less sugar, that manufacturer has to be able to prove that product has more than 25 per cent less sugar than the most well-known competitor product.”

Cholesterol-Free and gluten free

Even though the nutritional world has softened its stance on cholesterol, most people like to see the words “No Cholesterol” on a package. Often, though, those words are found on foods that never would have contained cholesterol in the first place.

“Some clients can get confused as to what cholesterol is and where it comes from,” says Amanda Li, registered culinary dietitian and founder of Wellness Simplified, a practice in Toronto. “It only derives from animal products, but marketers know that not everyone knows that and use that to their advantage, because people think it’s better for their heart.”

Similarly, the term “gluten free” is slapped on a lot of packages, from potato chips to coleslaw, even though gluten comes from grains, most commonly wheat, barley and rye. “I’ve seen the words ‘gluten free’ on water,” says Rosenbloom.

food.label-reading

No Refined Sugar

“The other one I see a lot that is a source of irritation is ‘no refined sugar,’” says Rosenbloom, who says that a lot of consumers infer that product is sugar-free.

Sadly, there are a lot of sugars that come from a less-refined source, such as agave syrup or honey, that sneak through on a technicality. That doesn’t make these sugars any healthier, though.

“At the end of the day, your body just knows it’s had sugar,” says Li. “People think maple syrup is better just because it contains tiny amounts of minerals, but there are much better ways to get minerals.”

A cup of maple syrup might supply about 20 per cent of our recommended daily intake of calcium, potassium and iron but, chugging back a cup of maple syrup is, um, really not a good idea.

Made with “Real Fruit”

“The other thing that bothers me is when a food package says ‘made with real fruit,’” Rosenbloom says. “Like, for example, there are ‘real fruit’ gummies which are literally candies made by taking some fruit juice concentrate and turning it into a sugar.”

The same is true for many “plant snacks” (including veggie straws and chips) that appear to be “healthier” choices but may not be any better than a (gluten free and cholesterol-free) potato chip. It’s worth pointing out that potato chips are also plant-based, they’re just plant snacks with an image problem.

“I like to call them hyper-palatable foods,” says Li. “Moms often say ‘I give my kids veggie chips’ and I’m not sure if they understand that they aren’t really vegetables. Most of them are just a lot of refined carbohydrates.”

Rosenbloom says she’s seen school lunch boxes packed with fruit candy and veggie straws and known that parents think they’ve done a great job and covered all the major food groups. “It tricks many Canadians into believing they are eating fruits and vegetables when they’re not getting the real deal.”

If we had the time to really think about what we were buying at the grocery store, we’d be able to see through a lot of meaningless sales pitches on packaging. The problem, especially for parents, is that time is a precious resource and decision fatigue is a real thing.

Marketers know that. Which is why, over the past decade, a lot of food has been rebranded as accessories to wellness culture. Increasingly, food is packaged in shiny white bags that are decorated with a splotch of green or eye-catching pictures of colourful fruits that pop, all of which give it what American nutritionist and food studies scholar Marion Nestle calls a “health halo” — a carefully constructed image that often hides yet another ultra-processed food.

So, it’s not so much that you can’t believe anything you read, since a fair bit of the information on packages is actually quite reliable. It’s finding the time to do it that’s the real problem.

Christine Sismondo        Mon., April 18, 2022

source: www.thestar.com


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Maybe You Should Stop Eating Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

Dogmatic adherence to mealtimes is anti-science, racist, and might actually be making you sick.

By Kiera Butler / Mother Jones March 5, 2015

The following article first appeared in Mother Jones Magazine.

Meals are good, and snacking is bad. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and if you eat dinner with your family, you will keep your girlish figure and your kids will be healthier. Taking a lunch break will make you succeed at your job.

Okay, now forget all that. Because as it turns out, the concept of three square meals a day has practically zero to do with your actual metabolic needs. And our dogmatic adherence to breakfast, lunch, and dinner might actually be making us sick.

Historian Abigail Carroll, author of the book Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal, explained to me that the the thrice-daily eating schedule goes back at least as far as the Middle Ages in Europe. When European settlers got to America, they also imported their meal habits: a light meal—maybe cold mush and radishes—in the morning, a heavier, cooked one midday, and a third meal similar to the first one later in the day. They observed that the eating schedule of the native tribes was less rigid—the volume and timing of their eating varied with the seasons. Sometimes, when food was scarce, they fasted. The Europeans took this as “evidence that natives were uncivilized,” Carroll explained to me in an email. “Civilized people ate properly and boundaried their eating, thus differentiating themselves from the animal kingdom, where grazing is the norm.” (So fascinated were Europeans with tribes’ eating patterns, notes Carroll, that they actually watched Native Americans eat “as a form of entertainment.”)

The three daily meals that the settlers brought evolved with Americans’ lifestyles. As people became more prosperous, they added meat to breakfast and dinner. After the Industrial Revolution, when people began to work away from home, the midday meal became a more casual affair, and the cooked meal shifted to the end of the day, when workers came home. The one thing that did not change was the overall amount of food that people ate—despite the fact that they had largely abandoned the active lifestyles of the farm in favor of sedentary ones in cities and suburbs. “People were still eating these giant country breakfasts,” says Carroll. Soon, doctors reported that more of their patients were suffering from indigestion.

In an effort to rein in caloric intake, nutritionists began advising people to eat a lighter breakfast—and marketers pounced on the opportunity. In 1897, brothers Will Keith Kellogg and John Harvey Kellogg introduced corn flakes as healthy alternative to heavy breakfasts. (The pair had an ulterior motive: They wanted to spread the gospel of the vegetarian diet because it was part of their Seventh Day Adventist faith.)

cornflakes

Corn flakes took off, and in the years that followed, breakfast became known as a meal for health food. Fruit-grower associations seized the opportunity to market juices, which, the ad campaigns announced, were chock full of a newly discovered thing called vitamins. The makers of breakfast foods warned of the dangers of skipping “the most important meal of the day.”

That line of reasoning persists today—check out Kellogg’s modern-day treatise on the health benefits of breakfast. But there’s just one problem: Science shows that when it comes to maintaining your metabolism—the bodily system that helps us turn food into energy and, when out of whack, can lead to diabetes and other disorders—it doesn’t make a whit of difference whether you eat breakfast or not. A 2014 study by the University of Bath showed that breakfast had practically zero effect on its subjects’ metabolism. (Breakfast eaters did burn more calories than breakfast skippers, but net calorie consumption was the same, since the breakfast eaters burned off the extra calories they ate at breakfast.) A similar University of Alabama study of people who were trying to diet found that breakfast made no difference, either way, on weight loss.

And breakfast isn’t the only metabolically unimportant meal. In fact, it doesn’t seem to matter much at all how and when you get your calories. In a 2010 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, one group ate three meals a day while another ate six. (Total daily calorie counts were identical.) Researchers found no weight or hormonal differences between the groups. In 2014, University of Warwick researchers found no difference in metabolism between a group of women that ate two meals a day and another group that ate five.

The one thing that might actually improve your metabolism is periodic fasting—that’s right, the very same eating pattern that the early European settlers deemed uncivilized. Mark Mattson, a neuroscientist at the National Institute on Aging, has observed in a series of mice experiments over the past two decades that mice who skip feedings are leaner and live longer than their nonskipping counterparts. The fasting mice also have more robust brain cells than those who consume regular meals. Mattson, who skips breakfast and lunch most days, theorizes that caloric deprivation acts as a mild stress that helps cells build up their defenses—warding off damage from aging, environmental toxins, and other threats. Other research has shown that periodic fasting may also prevent heart disease.

Biologist Satchidananda Panda of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, meanwhile, observed in a 2012 study that mice consuming all of their calories within an eight-hour window were less likely to develop metabolic diseases like diabetes than those who ate whenever they pleased. A follow-up study last year confirmed the results—though no one has conducted similar studies in humans.

So should you quit meals and fast intermittently instead? You could try it. Christopher Ochner, a weight loss and nutrition expert at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, notes that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution: Some people do well eating all their calories at once; others prefer to split them into snack-size portions.

Instead of obsessing about meal size and frequency, Ochner recommends something simpler: Don’t eat when it’s time for a meal; eat when you feel hungry. That, he says, is a lost art: In industrialized societies, where food is abundant, we eat because of social cues “or just because something smells good.” If we can teach ourselves to pay attention to our own bodies instead of our environment, he says, “that might be the best diet of all.”

Kiera Butler is a senior editor at Mother Jones. For more of her stories, click here.


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Cartoon stickers may sway kids’ food choices

By Genevra Pittman
NEW YORK | Tue Aug 21, 2012

(Reuters Health) – For youngsters who turn up their noses at fruits and vegetables, slapping a cartoon face on a healthy snack could make those choices more appealing, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that when elementary school students were offered apples and cookies with lunch, kids were more likely to opt for an apple when it was branded with an Elmo sticker.

One researcher not involved in the new study said parents and school administrators can take a lesson from food companies: Elmo, Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob help sell snacks, healthy or unhealthy.

“There are so many foods that are of poor nutritional quality and they are being marketed to children,” said Christina Roberto, who studies food choices at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

Kid-friendly characters used for marketing “aren’t popping up on the carrots and apples as much as they are on a wide range of foods that aren’t so good for kids,” Roberto told Reuters Health.

Those cartoon characters and other flashy advertising often don cookie and candy packaging, said David Just, co-director of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs in Ithaca, New York.

For the new study, Just and his colleagues did the apple and cookie experiment with 208 eight- to 11-year-olds at suburban and rural schools every day at lunch for a week. Kids were allowed to choose an apple, a cookie or both snacks along with their normal meal.

Some of those days, the snacks were offered without cartoon stickers or other branding. On other days, either the cookie or the apple was branded with a familiar kids’ character.

When the snacks weren’t specially marked, 91 percent of kids took a cookie and just under one-quarter took an apple.

Putting an Elmo sticker on the apples led 37 percent of kids to take fruit, the researchers reported this week in a letter to the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Stickers on cookies didn’t affect kids’ choice of the sweet snack – probably because the youngsters already knew they tasted good, according to Just.

Roberto said some experts want branding off of kids’ foods altogether, but others are willing to experiment with marketing strategies to encourage kids to make healthier choices.

Just advocated for the latter strategy.

“If we’re trying to promote healthier foods, we need to be as smart as the companies that are selling the less-healthy foods,” he told Reuters Health. “The message should be: fight fire with fire.”

Fire, in this case, being Elmo and other friendly faces, of course.

Using stickers on fruits and vegetables could be one cheap option to help improve students’ diets, Roberto said, as well as something parents can try at home.

“It’s not a bad idea to create those positive associations,” Roberto said, “especially if you’re struggling to get kids to eat healthy foods.”

Just added that parents can use fun names to encourage little kids especially to see fruits and vegetables as cool, such as “X-ray vision carrots” and “power peas.”

SOURCE: bit.ly/Rzn7zT Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, online August 20, 2012.   reuters.com