Canadian Senate report on obesity – first thoughts

The Canadian Senate report – Obesity in Canada – A While-of-Society Approach for a Healthier Canada was released last week:

There is an obesity crisis in this country. Canadians are paying for it with their wallets — and with their lives.

Harsh and sobering. The infographic is good.

Among the more controversial recommendations:

  • Consider a tax on sugar- and artificially-sweetened drinks
  • Ban the advertising of food and beverages to children
  • Immediately update the food guide without industry influence

Sugar Tax?

The Canadian Taxpayer Federation and the Canadian Beverage Association both denounce the recommended sugar tax, claiming that it doesn’t work. Three comments:

  1. The discussion and promotion of such a tax is very helpful and brings some awareness to the issue of high sugar consumption, whether the tax is implemented or not.
  2. We need to look at the sugar content of all processed foods and see if such a tax should be expanded to cover foods with added sugars/sweeteners, natural or artificial. Even foods such as fruit juices, which give us the liquid without any of the fibre of the fruit, need to be reviewed for inclusion.
  3. As with salt, we need guidelines on the recommended maximum daily intake of added sugars, and the report suggests this in the text.

The CBC hosted a short forum discussion on the sugar tax last week.

Restricting food advertising to children

As for advertising, currently the Quebec Consumer Protections Act protects children (under the age of 13) from any commercial advertising:

248. Subject to what is provided in the regulations, no person may make use of commercial advertising directed at persons under thirteen years of age.

1978, c. 9, s. 248.

249. To determine whether or not an advertisement is directed at persons under thirteen years of age, account must be taken of the context of its presentation, and in particular of

(a) the nature and intended purpose of the goods advertised;
(b) the manner of presenting such advertisement;

(c) the time and place it is shown.

The fact that such advertisement may be contained in printed matter intended for persons thirteen years of age and over or intended both for persons under thirteen years of age and for persons thirteen years of age and over, or that it may be broadcast during air time intended for persons thirteen years of age and over or intended both for persons under thirteen years of age and for persons thirteen years of age and over does not create a presumption that it is not directed at persons under thirteen years of age.
1978, c. 9, s. 249.
The Senate report calls for a study on the effects of this restriction in Quebec, and for implementation of a similar restriction for all of Canada.

Updating the food guide

The call for updating the food without industry influence is fantastic. I’m not sure how realistic this could be, since many non-industry researchers in academia are funded by industry, so does this mean they can’t be involved? The removal of politics from the food guide is one of the questions I’ve always had, in light of the huge ‘push’ for milk/dairy products as our main recommended calcium intake method.

Allergen labeling on food products

Ishani Nath at Allergic Living – Precautionary Allergy Labels Cause Widespread Confusion, Researchers Find:

The survey results, presented at the AAAAI allergists’ conference on March 5, reveal that: 40 percent of consumers avoiding one or more allergens bought foods “manufactured in a facility that also processes allergens,” but only 12 percent bought foods with a “may contain” label. Beyond buying habits, the researchers also found a lack of awareness of labeling rules: 45 percent of respondents didn’t know that precautionary warnings are not required by law.

Those 1-800 phone numbers on the package? Call them and ask these two questions about the product:

  • Is the product manufactured on the same process line that produces other products that use the allergens?
  • Is the product manufactured in a facility that also processes the allergens?

Most reputable food manufacturers will have information on this.

On contradictory food studies

Paul Taylor at the Globe and Mail – Why do researchers churn out so many contradictory food studies?:

Food studies frustrate me. One week a study says one thing. The next week another study says the opposite. Why do researchers churn out so many contradictory studies – and why does the news media keep covering them?

Taylor covers the various research methods well, but doesn’t discuss the media’s culpability in promoting findings that aren’t really there.

Dr. Donald Redelmeier gives good advice:

For that reason, Redelmeier says the best thing to do is focus on having a lot of variety in your diet – “everything in moderation” – and don’t get distracted by contradictory studies and the latest food fads.

 

More data on how eating meat helped to grow our brains

Sujata Gupta for Nature – Brain food: Clever eating:

Our ancestors’ consumption of meat is what made us who we are.

Moreover, what the animal eats also matters. Livestock and poultry in Western nations are often raised in large facilities and fed diets that consist mainly of maize and soya, whereas animals from poor villages are typically farmed on a much smaller scale and forage for a greater variety of foods, which increases the nutrient content of their meat. Given these sorts of variations, Hosking says, “we have to be very cautious about making dietary recommendations … for people who have access to large quantities of food.”

Meat is good food. But only certain meat.

So the key question becomes how much meat should a cognitive-health-conscious person eat. Too little can delay development and cognition. But too much, particularly if it is low quality and mass produced, is associated with other health concerns, such as heart disease and cancer, along with memory problems later in life. A person’s life stage matters: pregnant women need more iron, as do babies and children. Genetics also play a part, but we don’t yet know all the particulars. All these caveats make for a murky takeaway.

But a lot of other animals eat meat. The article doesn’t talk about our cooking of meat, which I think is the key to how we’ve evolved.

Pan Fried Mackerel*

Whole mackerel, about 1 per person depending on the size of the fish
Rice flour to dredge, in a large shallow bowl**
~1/2 cup oil for frying

  1. Clean and gut the mackerel if it hasn’t been done already***
  2. Dredge the mackerel, inside and out, in the rice flour and set aside on a plate
  3. Heat the oil up over medium heat in a large pan, use enough to cover the bottom of the pan about 1/2 cm deep
  4. Once the oil is hot (stick a chopstick end in, and if there are a lot of bubbles coming up, it’s hot enough), gently lay in the mackerel
  5. Fry the mackerel for about 3-4 minutes per side, then take out and drain on a rack or on some paper towels

Notes:
* I know this is a relatively simple recipe, and can be applied to almost any cut of fish, but we like the fishiness and oilyness of mackerel so much I figure I should post it for posterity** You could use any type of rice flour, or rice flour mix
*** I typically buy frozen whole mackerel, which I defrost, clip off the fins, and gut. Check out this quick video for instructions, or search for your own.

Monsanto and PCBs

Eric Lipton for the New York Times – Chemical Safety Bill Could Help Protect Monsanto Against Legal Claims:

Facing hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits, the giant biotechnology company Monsanto last year received a legislative gift from the House of Representatives, a one-paragraph addition to a sweeping chemical safety bill that could help shield it from legal liability for a toxic chemical only it made.

Before this article, I didn’t realize that Monsanto produced these chemicals.

…between the early 1930s and 1977, Monsanto manufactured almost all of the 1.25 billion pounds of PCBs sold in the United States.

The chemicals were initially admired for their ability to prevent fires and explosions in electrical transformers and other equipment. But as the use of PCBs skyrocketed nationwide in products as varied as paints, pesticides and even carbonless copy paper, evidence mounted that they were contaminating the environment and potentially causing health problems including cancer and immune-system complications. The E.P.A. banned their production in 1979.

Ms. Lord says Monsanto bears no responsibility for cleanup costs in cities like Seattle, San Jose and San Diego.

“PCBs served an important fire-protection and safety purpose,” she said in a written statement. “If these products were improperly disposed of, Monsanto is not responsible.”

If we didn’t know that PCBs were dangerous to human health, should Monsanto still be held liable? Or was Monsanto still producing and selling PCBs with the knowledge, and before the ban? What’s the prior precedent on these types of issues?

Calcium and milk/dairy allergy

A few more thoughts on yesterday’s post on calcium:

  • While I admit that dairy seems to be some of the most calcium-rich foods, why is dairy pushed so much in the dietary guidelines?
  • Is it a political issue? (i.e., through industry lobbying, economic issues, or something else?)
  • Many people are lactose intolerant (especially many people with non-european backgrounds) so why is milk/dairy listed in such a large amount of foods in many countries’ food guides?
  • While the vitamin D/calcium relationship is well known, does the type of calcium-rich food also matter? Is the calcium from dairy better or worse than from other foods?

Nutrition with food allergies and sensitivities – Calcium

See previous… Nutrition with food allergies and sensitivities

(Update: please also see my further thoughts on this issue here.)

Calcium intake in our diet is a major concern of ours since most of the dietary guidelines push a form of dairy as the primary source of calcium. However, the dietary guidelines do not provide a sufficient variety of foods for those of us with food allergies. Witness Appendix 11 of the recently updated USDA dietary guidelines, published late last year, on the Food Sources of Calcium. I’ve highlighted in pink the foods that we cannot consume.

Appendix 11. Food Sources of Calcium - 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines - health.gov cropped highlighted
(Click on the picture to enlarge)

That leaves us with the following 5 items from the list, with my comments following each item:

  • Fortified ready-to-eat cereals – many of which we cannot eat due to our wheat, peanut and treenut, and dairy allergies
  • Orange juice, calcium fortified – we would have to purchase this, as whole oranges are not at the top of this list
  • Sardines, canned in oil, drained – okay; though some are packed in soy oil, and so we tend to stay away from these products
  • Mustard spinach (tendergreen), raw – I don’t see this in our grocery stores
  • Rice drink – this is suitable; however, many rice drink producers also manufacture almond and/or soy drinks on the same production line, and so we tend to stay away from these products

There are some good resources out there that list calcium-rich foods to incorporate into your diet:

National Institute of Health – Calcium in Diet
National Osteoporosis Foundation – A Guide to Calcium-Rich Food
Dietitians of Canada –Food Sources of Calcium

Also, the USDA provides a great food-nutrient database from which you can search based on nutrient, categories of food, and even through some popular processed foods (Click on Nutrients List in the header).

Here’s a search based on Fruits, legumes and vegetables. (A lot of it is soy-based, which we can’t have, but we can’t remove soy from the search results.)

Onigiri

Cooked japanese (sushi) rice, warm enough to handle by hand*
Bowl of water
Salt (table salt works best, but any other type of unflavoured salt also works)
Roasted seaweed (optional)

Filler Options:
Canned tuna, salmon or other fish, no liquid
Bonito flakes and soy sauce, mixed together to form a paste
Umeboshi (pickled plum)
Cooked ground meat (pork, beef, chicken, turkey, etc) with some salt or soy sauce, the meat should be dry when added to the rice
Spam or other canned meat, chopped into very small pieces
Any other flavourful food, in small bits, and relatively dry (i.e., not mushy) – feel free to experiment

Option 1
Mix filler with the rice – typically only one filler is used in any one rice ball, but feel free to experiment with combinations

Option 2
After step 3 below, make a dent in the rice, stick ~1 teaspoon of filler into the dent, and fold the rice around the filler

  1. Dip fingers in water and spread over both hands, just enough to moisten – this is so that the rice doesn’t stick too much to your hands
  2. Sprinkle a little bit of salt onto one hand
  3. Grab a handful of the rice and filler mix, and form it into a triangular shape – if it’s easier, just form it into a round ball, it doesn’t really matter
  4. Optional – wrap a small piece of roasted seaweed around the rice ball, just before eating, as a place to hold onto the rice ball; don’t put the seaweed on the onigiri until just before eating, or else the seaweed will get soggy – unless you like it that way**

Notes:
* Other types of rice may not stick together quite as well** These rice balls may be eaten warm or cold – if they are cold, the rice will not hold together as well and be a bit messy, but still just as good

Salmon Onigiri