Archive for the ‘Policy for the People’ Category

Proposed Food Label Changes – Good From Far BUT Far From Good

June 12th, 2015 1 Comment Tags: , , ,

Mandatory food product labelling in Canada was introduced many years ago. At a glance the Nutrition Facts panel and Ingredient List allow consumers to learn about what’s in the food they choose. Not all countries have mandatory food package labelling, so I feel lucky that Canada has this. Spoiler Alert! …. this information is still needed for restaurant food given consumers are eating out more than ever mounting a significant proportion of our intake. I have written in my ebook and this blog that awareness is bliss, simply put, people will do better when they know better.

The Nutrition Facts table has come under much scrutiny as it potentially confuses consumers. There was a public consultation on this last year and today Health Canada has announced this Canada Gazette 1 proposal of changes to the label. There is a 75 day response period where Canadians can provide comments on their proposal before it goes to the Canada Gazette 2 stage.

As I sat to pen my thoughts on Health Canada’s proposed changes to the food label, the skies became dark, thunder rumbled and rain teemed down. Here’s an overview of the main proposed changes that I feel Canadians really care about outlined in Dietitians of Canada’s press release:

  • Mandatory standardized serving sizes for the Nutrition Facts table
  • Improved legibility of the Ingredients list on the label with consistent placement for allergen information
  • Sugars grouped together in the Ingredient list plus a %Daily Value for total sugars in the Nutrition Facts table
  • Updated % Daily Values to reflect the most recent nutrient recommendations
  • An exemption for requiring a Nutrition Facts table on pre-packaged vegetables and fruits before making a Health Claim

Here are my preliminary thoughts:

Uniform Serving Size
Standardizing serving sizes is a great idea. This will make comparing various brands easier. I cannot stress enough, though, that we need to get this right.  We live in an era with multiple health epidemics – namely obesity and diabetes. If Health Canada rounds UP the sizes too much I fret what message this will give to consumers about diet quantity. I was at the Dietitians of Canada conference last week and an RD friend and colleague of mind said the company she works for is worried about this as some of the proposed serving sizes are too large. When big food industry is worried, then I become increasingly worried….

Sour About Sugar Labelling
In last year’s consultation with Canadians the notion of having an extra line on the Nutrition Facts table to highlight added sugar was a fabulous idea. Sadly though, this did not make the cut in today’s recommendation. What they have proposed appears more confusing to me as an RD and probably to consumers at large.

Firstly, cutting back on added sugar has been raised as an issue by none other than the World Health Organization and the Heart & Stroke Foundation suggesting no more than 6-12 teaspoons of added sugar daily. Our current labels AND the proposed labels make it impossible to discern the amount of added sugar in any product.

Right now the ingredient list positions ingredients from most to least by weight. Consumers can review that to get an idea what the product is made of. In terms of sugars in various forms they are scattered among the list based on amounts. What has been proposed is to group them all together in a bracket in the list. That is all fine and good to do this but consumers still don’t know how much added sugar is actually in the product. I fret for a product like milk which has natural lactose that people might cut back because they’re not really sure.

Also, adding a % Daily Value after sugar on the panel sends me the message “…that although 15% might be deemed as “a lot” I can have more to make it to 100%…” when this is the last thing we want consumers to think. If consumers are told simply by WHO and HSF to eat no more than 6-12 teaspoons of added sugar each day throw them a bone and help them discern this without the need to play Where’s Waldo? making it impossible to figure out. At least in Where’s Waldo? you can eventually find him, on the label you have no clue whatsoever….

What Can YOU DO?
Take advantage of the comment period and weigh in on these recommendations by August 26, 2015 when our window of opportunity closes. Don’t lose heart!

I love our country but it’s times like these I find myself saying “OH Cana-DUH”! Let’s get this right, shall we?

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Posted in Foodie Fundamentals, Francy Rants, Policy for the People | 1 Comment »

Don’t Mess with the Machine… Especially a Baby’s!

November 27th, 2014 2 Comments Tags: , ,

I wrote a blog post recently exclaiming NOT to – mess with the machine… your bodacious body, that is! I devoted an entire chapter in my e-book Skinny on Slim, The Little Black Dress of Diet Books generally explaining how the body works with the hope of convincing readers NOT to mess with biological and physiological principles or with Mother Nature in general. There certainly could be dire consequences.

It drives me nuts when people will treat their tech toys and muscle machines with greater care than their own unique being by trying crazy diets, pills or potions, some purchased off the internet. My hair stands on end when certain practitioners preach wonky methods to innocent consumers who are seeking nutrition nirvana in our complicated world.

I was really seeing red though when I read about the latest trend of well-meaning parents who opt out of breast feeding, looking to make their own batch of infant formula at home instead of using those commercially available. Good grief in spades. I spent my first 10 years of being a dietitian specializing and practicing in the paediatrics arena at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, so I know of what I preach.

I cannot stress boldly enough that the nutritional needs of infants are so highly specialized compound with how fragile babies are biologically, immunologically and physiologically. I understand deeply when parents’ want to provide the best for their families whether though supporting organic, local, and balk commercialism etc. But do understand the hugely regulated and controlled environment of the infant formula sector – one sector providing Mother Nature’s human milk replacement – infant formula. As a consumer, you may want to use as few packaged foods as possible – I get that. But this is one specialized class of food developed for infants that needs to be precise every single feed of every single day of your precious baby’s life. Concocting a CONSISTENT and SAFE replacement for breast milk is no small feat. It is one not to muddle with in your kitchen from basic ingredients.

This is not any usual rant folks and has nothing to do with supporting commercial infant formula but has everything to do with supporting the well being of infants. This is a plea to all parents: if you cannot or choose not to breast feed your baby, use infant formula that is commercially available knowing when you follow the directions it will be CONSISTENT and SAFE every single feed of every single day of your precious baby’s life you choose to use it. Their life and well being depend on it. May I proclaim again: Don’t mess with the machine, especially a baby’s!

And please, spread the word.

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Posted in Foodie Fundamentals, Francy Rants, Nutrition News, Policy for the People | 2 Comments »

Awareness is Bliss on Menu Labelling, Headway to Enlightenment

November 26th, 2014 3 Comments Tags: , , , ,

Did you hear that the FDA announced new requirements of chain restaurants, movie theatres and pizza parlours to post calories on their menus of their food and drink offerings? Did you hear the alleluia chorus that followed, “fa la la la la, la la la la”?! That’s a little something more to be thankful for this US Thanksgiving week.

In Canada and the US consumers have been accustomed to having access to the ingredient and nutritional information on food package labels for more than a decade. You might have heard about plans to improve this back in July. This information needs to be available for consumers for ALL food they access whether from a food package or a fast food outlet. Don’t you think?

Data shows that consumers now eat out more and more. About a third of the calories consumed come from outside of the home. That’s a significant proportion of energy eaten blindly without a clue of what’s in it.

I have written many times and explain in my ebook Skinny on Slim The Little Black Dress of Diet Books that awareness is bliss. When we know better we do better. I have been in line in a coffee shop in the US and changed my order because I didn’t realize how energy dense the choice I was about to make was. Consumers deserve to know. On the flip side, it has been shown that restaurant outlets will reformulate their products when they need to reveal these nutritional nuggets to the world, hmmmm.

I strongly believe that just fessing up to the calories in offerings is not good enough. They need to disclose the SAME information the food package industry has provided us for years. Revealing the calories is the first step down a long road to consumer enlightenment. In this era of technology why not create an app for that!

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Posted in Eating Vortex, Policy for the People, Who's Zoomin' Who?? | 3 Comments »

Who’s winning the war on “healthy” at schools? Garbage cans perhaps

October 17th, 2014 2 Comments Tags: , , , , , ,

I have been mulling over study findings showing healthy food served in school food service departments has been feeding the garbage pales since the school’s cleansing of less healthy food. These findings and a healthy debate with colleagues got me thinking more deeply and blogging about what might be happening in this regard.

I used to work with a passionate paediatrician Dr. Bob Hilliard many years ago at Sick Kids Hospital who often asked our team “Are we winning?” I have often asked myself this question through my career to do a gut check: are we are taking the right measures and achieving the planned outcomes? Are we winning?

I’ll be honest, my heart sank when I heard this study’s findings presented about healthy food wastage in school cafeterias, good grief. When I think about these kids having unique energy and nutrient needs, many going through growth spurts, I wonder what on earth are they eating to make up for what they’re discarding to fill that hunger void?

I recall having one-on-one sessions with teens many years ago who would openly admit to me that when they have a limited amount of money on hand what they seek is food that’ll fill the hunger void economically. The word “healthy” was rarely used to my recollection, sadly. Unfortunately, what they can afford are fast food offerings. So many schools I pass are surrounded by these places. So are we winning?

Could we the experts be exacerbating even worse eating habits after this less healthy food cleansing we’ve done in schools? I have heard about positive experiences where some schools had kids involved in the decision making of food service options. I love Brian Wansink’s healthy and stealthy approach to setting up a healthier cafeteria, described in his new book Slim By Design check it out.

The bottom line for me is the importance of doing further research on this to ensure there are no unintended consequences. After all we don’t want another wave of an epidemic on top of those we already have and add psychological eating issues to the mix, which would be more difficult to fix. For kid’s sake, let’s make sure we ARE winning and make necessary changes as needed.

Something to knaw on, that’s for sure….

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Posted in Francy Rants, Miss Behavin', Policy for the People | 2 Comments »

Food Cleansing or Conscience Cleansing?? Defect in the Cause and Effect

October 3rd, 2014 No Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I have been doing more thinking about kids, eating and the wrath of forbidden foods lately, hmmmmmm. You know what I’m talking about: totally removing high energy dense, low nutrient foods, aka junk. The intent usually has noble roots, wanting to do better for our kids as they mean the world to us. They are our future, after all. But extreme measures in this regard could create the opposite effect and even unintended consequences.

Being a paediatric dietitian many years ago I have learned the delicate balance of the feeding relationship with kids, not only focusing on “what” they eat but behaviour and “how” they eat in their food environment. Ellyn Satter, a guru on the subject has provided a multitude of sage advice on offering kids a variety of food which they choose “the what” and “the how much” to eat from your offering, ideally in a stress- and emotions-free place. Day by day kids’ eating waxes and wanes, sometimes eating more, sometimes less, soldiering on through food jags, pickiness and those “hollow leg” periods as they grow.

Food also means so much more than simply the vitamins and minerals it contains, but has a place within our social and physiological fabric. Kids are sharp as tacks too being intuitive, sometimes more than we adults ever realize. When we the “gate keepers” cleanse and purify our food environments or worse punish kids for eating treats, kids go into “food seeking” mode and will gorge on it when they get it. Research has shown this. This unintended consequence not only creates the opposite effect by ingraining food seeking behaviour of these foods but could result in psychological eating issues which could shackle kids in a vortex of disordered eating for decades.

A teacher once told me how they now catch kids in the bathroom stalls at school scarfing down Doritios. An act they often get punished for. In my day, kids would be caught smoking there. Good grief, times have changed. My Italian grandmothers would roll over in their graves if they knew kids got punished for being caught eating…..

Ideally we all want kids to establish a positive relationship with food or as I describe in my e-book “establish a love affair with food”. This involves coming together, eating and enjoying food, some treats, guilt free. This is not a black or white issue, not all or none, but grey zone. When we deem foods as forbidden or shame anyone when “caught in the act” of eating it, the unintended consequences could be staggering. That’s not the goal is it: to create a bad situation by being so virtuous?

Our collective conscience might feel clear when we applaud total removal and cleansing of every treat in kids environments. Consequently this may certainly be creating a bigger problem: a defect in the cause and effect, don’t you think? Some food for thought to digest as Halloween approaches….

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Summertime Scoop – Go Figure!

July 25th, 2014 No Comments Tags: , , , , ,

I was scanning my Twitter feed recently and read a tweet by Tim Horton’s about “treating yourself to an Oreo Iced Cap”. On another occasion a tweet by 7-11 mentioned something about summer freebie drinks. I was intrigued, and not in a good way, hmmmmm. Feeling curious, I decided to do some number sleuthing, yet again, thinking about how people might be looking to “cool off” in the summer time and what these add up to in energy.

I get a bee in my bonnet about this sort of thing because there isn’t consistent menu labelling across Canada, if at all. Just like awareness is bliss by learning what’s in packaged food, finding this same information for fast food offerings requires a search team or an Ouija board to get the details. I have stood in line in a Starbucks in California and have changed my order because of the calorie information listed. We certainly need the basic information (if not more details) here, in the great not-so-white north. Don’t you think?

Here are some of my findings:

Tim Horton’s
Oreo Iced Cap (large) – 610 calories
Mango Pineapple Fruit Smoothie – 290 calories

7-11
Slurpee (42 oz) – 570 calories
Lemonade (12 oz) – 100 calories

Booster Juice
Ripped Berry (24 oz) – 526 calories
Mean Mocha (24 oz) – 724 calories
Acai High Impact (24 oz) – 540 calories
Tropical Tornado (24 oz) – 403 calories

My hair stands on end with numbers like these folks. Not only because most are so astronomically through the roof but also because who would ever think a super food drink such as acai would fare out so extremely high. Drinks are food too and don’t get exempt from your body’s energy balance mechanism because it’s a fluid. The fluid might wash through your kidneys, but the energy ALWAYS gets counted. There’s no white washing that system! I’m SURE people would make alternate choices if they knew this info upfront.

That 7-11 freebie Slurpee might not cost you any money while on special, but you certainly get more than you bargained for, that you may not have wanted in the first place. I’m sure you’ll choose to cool off with something OTHER than the Oreo Iced Cap from Tim’s too now that you know how many calories are in it.

If you just played a sweaty game of tennis or took a strenuous bike ride all of your positive efforts are negated by pouring these not-so-innocent bevy’s down your gullet if you choose to “treat” yourself. Stop the madness my maven!!

I’m sure now that you’re aware of what some of these contain it will get you to think about your drink before you unleash a cool one! Here’s a photo of a Citrus Smoothie I whipped up in 5 minutes flat with what I had on hand in my refrigerator – cool, refreshing, yummy, fast and easy to prepare.

If you want to read more about your drinks etc. check out my e-book Skinny on Slim, The Little Black Dress of Diet Books with healthy and stealthy ideas to help you make better choices more often.

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Enable with the Food Label

July 16th, 2014 3 Comments Tags: , , ,

Health Canada is doing a “label-otomy” of sorts on food packages and the makeover plans are showing promise. I’m sure you’ve heard.

Here are 5 proposed changes that I think will help you in your quest to choose healthier food which being suggested:

1) Revise the serving size – it is being proposed that the serving sizes of similar foods be uniform so when you compare similar products it is easier to compare two labels. They are devising reference amounts of food that consumers usually eat.

2) Regroup nutrients of concern together – the nutritional information for fat, sugar and salt, for example will be listed in a group together rather than being spaced out on the nutrient list.

3) Lump together sugar – the ingredients which are sugar using various names on the label will be consolidated together so it is more clear all of the sources of added sugar, instead of these being spread out in the list for you to find.

4) Separate out added sugar – the panel will have the added sugar on a separate line, so that you don’t need an Ouija Board to figure out how much a serving contains.

5) Create a location near the table for cautionary messages – there will be one uniform place on the label where the producer will add any note of caution so you aren’t left playing Where’s Waldo? looking for this info.

Now What’s in All the Food Consumers Choose? It’s great to better equip yourself to make better choices, thank you Health Canada. Now, all we need to know is what’s in all of the restaurant food we’ve been eating. Don’t you think? Consumers deserve to know what’s in ALL of the food they eat whether it’s from the grocery store, the drive through or a restaurant. Wouldn’t you agree.

In my ebook Skinny on Slim The Little Black Dress of Diet Booksin Chapter 7 I suggest you try Fab 4 [not 44] food related changes and reading labels is one of them. I often drum home the adage that awareness is bliss so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I suggest you take the time to find out what’s in the food products you choose. Now’s as good a time as any to go over this again.

If you haven’t already got up close and personal with the food you choose, I suggest you book a time in your calendar to acquaint yourself with the nutrition facts panel and ingredient list right in the comfort of your own home. Check out what is really in every product that makes it in to your grocery cart, then home and eventually down your family’s gullet. Don’t miss anything – go through your cupboards, refrigerator and freezer and begin making decisions on how you can make a few changes when you shop next week. You’ll agree with me that awareness IS bliss.

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Posted in Foodie Fundamentals, Miss Behavin', Nutrition News, Policy for the People | 3 Comments »

Fitness Grade Tanking? Go Outside and Play!

May 30th, 2014 No Comments Tags: , , , , , ,

This Friday’s “f” word is about fitness, or shall I divulge, a lack thereof….good grief. Yet another report card has been released on how poorly Canadian kids are doing in the fitness department. To spare you the gory details the results aren’t good, yet again. There has been a cultural shift to driving kids everywhere and sign the little beggars up for organized sports, leaving them lagging yet again on the everyday fitness front, what gives?

I wish the powers that be could give my Mom – that wooden spoon wielding Mother warrior, the official role of Chief Limit-Setting Officer of all the land. Her piercing decry “GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY!” still rings in my ears from when I was young. As I write this, I’m yearning to get outside to get the cobwebs out after a long day of clickity clicking on my computer keys.

All of my school days included two walks to and from school – one in the morning and back for lunch, then back and forth again, a mile each way, neither uphill! My bicycle riding skills were on the wobbly side, but my legs worked pretty well. I never froze with the cold or melted with the rain and I live to tell the tale. Nor did I need a water bottle and snack. Just there and back again twice, like Bilbo Baggins.

Mom put tight limits on the boob-tube watching too, so I have fond memories of watching The Flintstones after lunch and Get Smart before dinner. In the evenings we went out to play when homework was done then back inside when the street lights came on. It was like clockwork.

We did get signed up for lessons for swimming, skating, tennis and the like but that filled other leisure time gaps.

Now north of 50 I have established a love affair with my activity as I explain in my ebook, Skinny on Slim, the Little Black Dress of Diet Books. It’s certainly not extreme, but more on the stealthy side where I sneak it in here and there, rarely missing a day. The bottom line is I do it and I enjoy it. No I don’t feel the burn, yet I do feel the yearn if I miss it!

I think my Mom’d be up for the job of Chief Limit-Setting Officer of all the land. She’s certainly a role model as a Mother of 4 way back when, all of us who continue to get out for our daily walks – doing our personal march of the penguins to today….
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The Flaw of the ‘Forbidden Food’ Strategy

April 28th, 2014 No Comments Tags: , , , , , ,

I read yet again about another study on forbidden food and kids. You know what I’m talking about folks. Those empty snack foods loaded with nothingness except sugar, salt and/or fat that goes crunch that are brought into the household and hidden in hard to reach places from our half-pints. You don’t even need to tell your child they ought not eat this freely, they intuitively know by your actions. Kids are certainly smarter than you think! They don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure this out. Half baked home food strategies like this backfire every time and can create disordered eating in your kids for a lifetime.

The study I read about described the “reactive eater”. Studies show that children who grow up in homes with restrictive food rules, where a parent is constantly dieting or desirable foods are forbidden or placed out of reach, often develop stronger reactions to food and want more of it when the opportunity presents itself. Talk about a strategy that backfires with a capital “B”.

“The message is that restriction is counterproductive — it just doesn’t work very well,” said Brandi Rollins, a Penn State postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the study, which was published in February in the journal Appetite. “Restriction just increases a child’s focus and intake of the food that the parent is trying to restrict.” The same thing happens with kids and adults alike when are posed with the forbidden food.

The take home message here is to have food and snack options at home that are better for you, but still enjoy treats such as having an ice cream once a week outside of home setting.

When I think more deeply about this flawed strategy my thoughts wander to schools that have been cleansed of any sort of treat yet are surrounded by them with fast food joints, coffee shops and junk food havens. School boards cheer of their accomplishment, but I shutter at the thought of how the students have reacted to this same sort of strategy. Are we creating a new generation of reactive eaters that will take longer to help cure in the long run? Something to gnaw on, that’s for sure….

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Sugar Blues: Making Choices Outside of the Box

October 7th, 2013 No Comments Tags: , , , , , , ,

First it was trans fat, then it was salt. Sugar is now in the spotlight. I’ve been mulling over the article about sugar published in the National Geographic a few months back. Late last week the Fifth Estate show featured this other legal white powder….

I watched it in earnest as I’m sure my fellow nutrition compadres did. I was pleasantly surprised it wasn’t a hard hitting jolt of extreme journalism pushing consumers to be more food phobic than some already are.

So just to introduce the topic of sugar, understand that all forms of added sugar should be lumped together from granulated, icing, brown, honey, syrup and molasses because our gut recognizes it the same no matter the source. When I talk about “natural” sugars, they do not include these, such as that seemingly innocent honey bear in your cupboard, he is certainly not sporting a halo! Let’s be clear from the get go.

The crux of the message from the segment was that added sugar is present to a much greater degree in our food supply and eating way too much could surely have negative health consequences for us from obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and more. They exclaimed people are eating way too much ~26 teaspoons of this white stuff daily when we ought to only be getting 6 or 9 teaspoons for women and men respectively. That number will put a lump in your throat. Yes soul sister I’m talking to you….

I loved how they featured a family who allowed their diet and physical status to be evaluated on camera from their home, to the grocery store to Dr. Flanders medical evaluation, to Jaclyn Pritchard, the dietitian’s assessment. The family was given meals (without excess sugar added) for a three week timeframe, then reevaluated. The results were certainly positively stunning, showing all family members’ key biomedical indicators improved, including their waist circumference being smaller and losing weight. All in 3 measly weeks, bravo! How’s that for progress?

I talked this over while on a walk over the weekend with my sister the mathematician who’s rather concrete and black and white. We chatted about how to spot added sugar on the food product labels by looking at the ingredient list AND the nutrition facts table. The closer to the front of the list the ingredient is mentioned, the more of it is in the product. Then take a look at the nutrition facts panel and make a judgement call on the product. She asked “why not separate out the added sugar on a different line on the panel?” And I said, why NOT, capital idea! That would certainly help consumers to more clearly identify the added sugar, don’t you think? This exists where fat is listed in the table teasing out the trans fat. Consumers shouldn’t need a degree in nutrition after all to help them make better choices.

Next it’s important to compare different brands and see which has more or less sugar. Along the seemingly miles in the grocery store there really is so much choice. Keep in mind though, that some healthy foods contain natural sugar, such as fruit, milk and vegetables for example. The last thing any nutrition minded person wants is for consumers to start slashing and burning their sugar consumption in all of the wrong places. Cutting out these nutrient rich foods would be like cutting off your nose to spite your face and would short change your masterful machine and nutritional status. Don’t do it to yourself!

Something was niggling in my mind after the segment though. The spotlight was on the food package industry and nothing was mentioned about restaurant food. What gives?  Families eat out more and more these days and use a lot more convenience foods. Sadly, this sector isn’t bound by those food labelling laws the packaged food industry is bound by. I say that it’s about time they were!

I have been talking a lot about “awareness is bliss” lately so of course you need to know what ALL of your food contains if you’re making important choices to cut down the sugar in your diet. It’s easy to order food in a restaurant unknowingly while eating blindly as if you can allow the flood gates to open when you don’t know what’s in any of it. We really must know these facts given eating out is part of everyday life and not simply a treat like days of old.

So decide to choose your food from outside of the box, whether the food package or the take out container and have more food in it’s natural form. Ok so call me a broken record, I can take it! You’ll be better off in the long run when you do.

Like Barry White sings, “too much of anything’s not good for you baby….”

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