Canadian dietitians aim to bust through food myths
Published Tuesday, March 6, 2012 7:14AM EST
TORONTO - Canadians love their social media, but information launched into cyberspace, whether right or wrong, can be difficult to retract. The Dietitians of Canada have become concerned about the plethora of misconceptions around aspects of nutrition and are aiming to shoot some of them down during Nutrition Month.
For the month of March, the national group has launched a campaign to bust through the nutrition myths and give Canadians the real deal on their meal, says Christy Brissette, a Toronto-based registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians of Canada.
"Nutritional information is so accessible to everyone and there's really not an easy way to filter all the information that Canadians are exposed to on a daily basis, so as a result consumers are constantly bombarded with conflicting messages, and unless you know your source it's really hard to know what's a myth and what's a truth," says Brissette.
"Dietitians of Canada decided it would be a great topic for this year's nutrition month to try to figure out what are the most commonly heard myths that keep popping up again and again in the media and let's do some research and look at the science and try to dispel some of those myths with the truth," she adds.
Each day during March, a new nutrition myth is being posted on the dietitians' website along with the truth and supporting references. Dietitians across the country are tweeting about where to get more information about myths.
"I think the best advice I can give to people is to know your source, make sure it's reliable and see if there's a dietitian attached to the message," says Brissette.
"Dietitians really are the tested source for information on food nutrition and you can be certain that the advice that's given by a dietitian is based on evidence from scientific research and not the latest fad diet that is being promoted as a quick fix."
The dietitians' website contains a wealth of information about healthy eating. People can consult it to figure out what a healthy weight is for them and get tips on how to achieve that in a safe way.
People can also enter their own recipes to learn the nutritional breakdown, such as how much sodium and fat there is in a serving.
Some myths addressed include whether organic products are better, the best types of food for a healthy diet and the facts about gluten-free foods and sodium.
"We aren't looking specifically at food safety, more at nutrition," notes Brissette. She advises checking government websites for information about food safety.
From a nutrition standpoint there's no evidence to show that organic foods give you any more nutrition, Brissette says.
"Basically both organic and non-organic foods are nutritious and safe to eat if you're making healthy choices based on Canada's Food Guide," says Brissette.
"Giving things the blanket term organic and assuming that they're better doesn't take into account other factors like a food's nutritional value can be affected by where it was grown, how it was grown, how long it was stored, how it was shipped, how it was cooked. So depending what food you're talking about, organic foods might have more or less nutrients than the non-organic form.
"Both are safe ... it's kind of personal to decide whether you think they're worth the cost. From a nutritional standpoint it doesn't seem to be a concern," she says.
Brissette, who is working on a master's degree in nutrition at the University of Toronto, also does a lot of one-on-one counselling. A common concern among clients is whether eating past a certain hour at night can lead to weight gain.
"Eating late at night can lead to weight gain, but it has nothing to do with what time it is. If you aren't going to bed until the middle of the night, it makes sense to have a snack a couple of hours before you go to bed.
"The real issue is that snacking after dinner can sometimes lead people to eat more calories than they actually need in a day. If they're choosing some high-calorie snack foods and things like sweetened beverages, then those extra calories can add up pretty quickly," she explains.
A larger lunch or later dinner if you're a night owl might help. But give your body a chance to digest food so that sleep is not disturbed.
Healthy choices are whole-grain cereals with low-fat milk, a piece of fruit or some plain air-popped popcorn.
Brissette, who is researching fibre and the impact on weight loss and blood sugar control, says she is also often asked if honey, brown sugar or agave are better for you than white sugar.
"If you look at the nutrition they're all pretty much the same," she says. They're all concentrated sources of calories, they don't have many nutrients and your body can't tell the difference between them and white sugar.
"It's OK to use a little bit here and there, but extra sugar in any form can add extra calories to your diet, so whatever type of sugar you decide to use make sure it's in small amounts," says Brissette.
"People are looking for a quick fix, a magic pill that will make them healthier and lose weight and feel great and no one wants to hear that it's hard work.
"Having said that, it can be small changes. It doesn't have to be all or nothing. And that's what nutrition month is all about, really those small changes that you can make that will make you feel better and lead a healthy life," says Brissette.