Time for a new Canada Food Guide? A focus on dairy…

I’m not sure I totally understand why dairy is a designated food group for many national food guides – including The Canada Food Guide.  Before starting my job as a Nutritionist with the Toronto District School Board, I read through the Eating Well With Canada’s Food Guide: A Resource For Educators and Communicators several times (check it out yourself by clicking here), and the case for consuming dairy is made with respect to obtaining important nutrients like Calcium, Vitamin A, D, B12, Vitamin B1, Zinc, and Magnesium.  The aforementioned nutrients, according to the educators guide, are important for the development and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth but also for the prevention of the osteoporosis.


The Canada Food Guide states that people should drink 500 ml (2 cups of milk) everyday to ensure that adequate amounts of Vitamin D are obtained.  So, it is very true that consuming milk and other dairy products will provide several important nutrients, however, I don’t believe that the whole dairy store is being told.  The argument surrounding the legitimacy of dairy as an actual food group can be broken down into three main areas; immediate and long-term health consequences, nutrient density, and industry lobbying.

It is estimated that 7.5% of infants have a true allergy to dairy and by true allergy, I mean that there is an immune response to one of the over 25 proteins contained in cow’s milk.  A true allergy is indicated by the presence of an antibody (IgE) which will be detected upon high quality allergy tests such as the ELISA test.


The symptomatic response can be immediate and take place within minutes or delayed where a person will experience symptoms up to 24 hours after eating the food.  Common symptoms to dairy allergy include:

Skin: Itchy, Red Rash; Eczema; Hives; Black Eyes, Canker Sores, Swelling of the Lips, Mouth, Tongue, Face, or Throat.

Digestive: Abdominal Pain; Abdominal Cramps; Abdominal Bloating; Diarrhea; Gas; Nausea; Vomiting.

Respiratory: Runny Nose / Congestion; Sneezing; Watery Eyes; Itchy Eyes; Coughing; Wheezing; Shortness of Breath; Recurrent “colds”; Sinusitis

But where this gets interesting is that while 7.5% of infants are allergic to cow milk, many of them will “outgrow” the allergy, however, it is estimated that 1 in 6 of us have a dairy intolerance and that 70% of the world’s population will become lactase deficient in adulthood.  This means that there is no antibody, however, we have a problem breaking down the dairy due to an insufficient amount of the enzyme Lactase.

Food Intolerance Symptoms

If you experience abdominal pains, cramps, bloating, flatulence, diarrhea, or nausea after consuming dairy products, you might be intolerant.  When food that we are intolerant to is repeatedly consumed it causes poor digestion overall and inadequate breakdown of other proteins consumed as well as a poor balance of good vs. bad bacteria in our intestines.  This may then cause our intestines to become more permeable and allows undigested proteins (diary or otherwise) to enter the blood stream where they are recognized as pathogens.  The result is an immune response which may lead to localized or system wide inflammation and is indicated in the progression of conditions such as; colitis, crohns, frequent colds, rheumatoid arthritis, joint pain, rashes, poor memory, seasonal allergies, chemical intolerance, fevers, intestinal infections, pancreatic insufficiency, eczema, dry skin, and childhood hyperactivity to name a few.

Experts agree that the number one allergy and food intolerance is diary.  But without dairy, we can’t get enough calcium so let’s leave it on the Canada Food Guide.  Not quite.


To say that we need calcium for strong and healthy bones and teeth is true.  But it’s only part of the story.  Calcium works synergistically with other minerals such as Potassium, Magnesium, Vitamin K, and Vitamin D.  The overemphasis of calcium without touching upon the other nutrients that are needed to make calcium work effectively is curious.


Women are encouraged to consume lots of calcium to prevent the development of osteoporosis but this is a bit of a band-aid solution because until the dietary factors that are causing calcium to be leached from the bones is corrected, we’ll always be playing catchup.  For instance, foods that increase calcium loss should be considered (coffee, tea, pop, chocolate, sugar, grains) as well as items high in phosphorus (meat, grains, pop) since it binds to calcium and can leach Ca from bones.  We may significantly increase calcium stores by looking at smoking, alcohol intake, and GI issues that are preventing optimal nutrient absorption.  Interestingly drinking milk can actually cause calcium deficiency when there isn’t enough lactase to break it down.  The fermentation that occurs in the intestine when we’re lactase deficient causes a build up of lactic acid that subsequently binds to Calcium and Magnesium which means that the calcium can’t be used for building bones.

Countries with the highest consumption of dairy also have the highest rates of osteoporosis.

foods with calcium

And what about nutrient density?  I would argue that you can get all the calcium you need through eating a well-balanced diet that is high in greens and nuts.  The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for adults aged 19-50 is 1000 mg’s a day.  While one cup of cow’s milk contains 288 mg’s of calcium, a cup of soybeans contains 460 mg’s.  And if you were to have a salad including 1/2 cup of swiss chard, 1/2 cup of collard greens, and 1/2 cup of kale you’re at 174 mg’s – and think about all the other hugely important nutrients you’re getting from that salad…B Vitamins, Magnesium, Vitamin K, etc.  Check out this handout on sources of calcium and here is another one from Dietitian Leslie Beck from The Globe and Mail.

Canadian Milk

With regards to industry lobbying, it is prudent to recognize that the Canada Food Guide and it’s recommendations have an enormous consequence of the various agricultural sectors.  The food industry in Canada is a 100 billion dollar (per year) industry and you can imagine the result of suggesting that Canadians perhaps do not need to consume 2 servings dairy each day.  The most recent version of the CFG was created with the advice and suggestions of a 12 person advisory board which included; dietitians and academics as well as the nutrition education manager with the BC Dairy Foundation, the head of a group representing 85,000 oilseed growers, oilseed processors and makers of oilseed-based food products, and the director, scientific and regulatory affairs at the Food and Consumer Products Manufacturers of Canada.  These industries have absolutely no interest in the protection and promotion of health – their primary goal is to enhance the legitimacy of their product and to drive sales.  Other main objective is to of course, protect the jobs of those who work in their prospective industry.

I strongly believe that public health education campaigns should be created and communicated by groups with absolutely zero interest in the manufacturing and sale of any particular product or service.  It would seem to be in the real public interest to have a food guide created entirely with the influence of scientific research and a deep understanding of food-related behaviour patterns.


The 2003 WHO report “Diet, Nutrition, and the Prevention of Chronic Disease” is an extensive body of research surround the cause of the alarmingly high rate of chronic disease we are seeing worldwide.  In the report, there were certain foods that were found to have a preventative effect on health, meaning, they help prevent the development of diet and lifestyle related diseases and obesity.  The preventative foods listed include fruits, vegetables, , whole grain cereals, non-starch polysaccharides, legumes, fish, fish oils, unsalted nuts, and water.  Eating these foods help to reduce incidences of cancer, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity.  There was no mention of dairy.

Come back soon for more on ways you can tweak The Canada Food Guide to make it work effectively for you.

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

“History shows that where ethics and economics come in conflict, victory is  always with economics. Vested interests have never been known to have willingly  divested themselves unless there was sufficient force to compel them.”

– B.R. Ambedkar


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The Illusion of Food

A few days ago at work, a fascinating article was circulated from the Nutrition Action Health Letter (published by the Centre for Science in the Public Interest) regarding food serving size, general habits, and consumption patterns.


The gist of the article is that the more food we see, the more food we eat regardless of hunger primarily due to mindless eating and a general feeling of being unaware of our hunger signals.  In large part, I blame industry for creating the level of gluttony and outrageous eating habits we are seeing today which has absolutely contributed to the increase in chronic diseases we are seeing (Type II Diabetes, Stroke, Heart Disease, Arthritis, Hyperlipidaemia, Colitis, Crohn’s, Renal Diseases, etc).

Rate of Type II Diabetes in the United States: 1980 - 2010

Rate of Type II Diabetes in the United States: 1980 – 2010

While industry certaintly plays a role, there is a lot we can do as individuals to take better control of our health…and an improvement in the amount of food ingested can significantly  improve the way you think, feel, move, and life.

In the Nutrition Action Health Letter, author  of the book Mindless EatingBrian Wansink, was interviewed and he reviewed the major findings from his research surrounding eating habits, serving sizes, and the concept of mindless eating (eating without paying attention to hunger signals).  Here are some interesting observations that might make you think, and look twice before you eat.

Mindless Eating

  • When people are given larger servings, they eat more.  In a study where people were given a large bucket of popcorn and others a small bucket, it was found that those who received the larger bucket ate 34% more popcorn.
  • Variety prompts increased consumption.  When people were presented with candy of different colours (as compared a single colour) they ate 40% more.
  • Chicken Wings Are Insightful!  When the bones of the wings consumed were removed from the table (as compared to leaving them on the table in the control group), participants ate more.
  • Health Labels Prompt Increased Consumption.  Labeling a product “low-fat” prompts people to eat more than they would have a normal product.
  • Healthy Restaurants = Underestimation of Calories.  When someone eats at Subway, and then at McDonald’s, they are more likely to underestimate the number of calories consumed at the Subway meal.
  • You are likely to eat more when eating a meal with a fast eater.

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

“We don’t walk. We overeat because we’ve made it easy to overeat. We have  fast-food joints on every corner. By the way, the ‘we’ is all of us. It’s not  the government. It’s all of us doing this together.”
– Dr. Oz


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Myth Busting: Cholesterol-Hysteria & Eggs

The other day on the phone, my mum was talking about how she is thinking about reducing her daily cottage cheese and berry breakfast in an effort to cut down on diary.  When I suggested eggs for breakfast she sounded frightened and said “but I don’t want to risk getting high cholesterol” to which I replied “don’t worry momma, that’s a big old myth”.


Not really my momma

So, why do eggs get a bad wrap especially when it comes to cholesterol?

First up, let’s talk about cholesterol – start here for a prior post.  Cholesterol is part of a response to injury and the whole process starts with damage to the inner arterial wall.  Something nicks the artery usually as a result of viscous blood – or thick blood.  The cut to the arterial wall causes an inflammatory response and macrophages come to help repair the damage.  Macrophages attract LDL “bad” cholesterol where it forms a fatty streak or what we could describe as a sticky band-aide.  Smooth muscle then proliferates over the cholesterol and now we have plaque.  Plaque causes narrowing of the arteries, atherosclerosis, but you can see now that elevated cholesterol is actually a symptom & response to damage and not the cause of the damage itself.

What causes blood viscosity – or thickening of the blood?  There are several risk factors to having viscous blood; obesity (especially around the abdominal area), smoking, heavy drinking, diabetes, high blood pressure, family history, chronic kidney issues, being a man over the age of 40, being a woman over the age of 50.  Most of these risk factors are actually caused though by poor diet and a lack of physical activity.

Lack of physical activity

There are many key functions of cholesterol aside from acting as a “sticky band-aide”; it’s the precursor to hormones, bile, required for the production of Vitamin D and is part of what constitutes the outer layer of our cells.

LDL vs HDL Cholesterol

Have you every wondered what the difference is between LDL and HDL cholesterol?  We are looking at the ratio of lipid (fat) to protein.  So LDL cholesterol has less protein and more lipid and HDL has a higher ratio of protein to lipids.  LDL and HDL cholesterol function very differently too which is why it’s important to look at both types of cholesterol when reviewing blood results with your health care professional.


LDL cholesterol is “bad” because carries cholesterol from the liver to our cells and if there is too much, it’s deposited into the cells.  HDL is good because it carries cholesterol to the liver where it is broken down and excreted by the body.  Interestingly, exercise helps to increase HDL cholesterol and reduce LDL cholesterol.  HORRAY!

Sources of Cholesterol

What is probably a little known fact is that 70-80% of cholesterol is made in the body and the rest comes from food.  Removing high cholesterol foods from the diet will have an impact on total cholesterol levels, sure, but it’s only 20-30% of the larger picture.  The balance of cholesterol is produced internally in response to what is required – if there is a lot of inflammation going at the cellular level then more cholesterol is produced – especially LDL which as you’ll recall takes cholesterol from the liver to the cells to help with repair.


The general recommendation regarding cholesterol intake from food is to keep it around 300 mg’s/day (or 200 mg’s if you have elevated cholesterol levels) – and one egg has about 100 – 200 mg which is in all fairness one of the highest dietary sources of cholesterol available.  What is often missing from the “egg story” is that eggs are one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet and contain every vitamin and mineral (minus Vitamin C), are high in good sources of fat, and are an excellent source of choline.  Choline helps to reduce inflammation is involved with methylation which reduces homocysteine levels – high levels of homocysteine are markers for cardiovascular disease risk and osteoporosis.  Choline is also one of the key ingredients mothers-to-be are encouraged to consume during pregnancy since it is known to be beneficial to overall brain health.


Here is some other interesting research.  Eggs are a good source of protein (6 grams per egg) and help people feel fuller longer which is known to prevent over eating later in the day and is can contribute to the prevention of long-term weight gain.  A 2007 study published in The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (funded by the American Egg Board so take from it what you will) found that when subjects (n=160) were fed either two eggs for breakfast or the caloric equivalent in bagels for 8 weeks, the egg group lost twice as much weight and had an 83% decrease in waist circumference (as compared to the bagel group).  Another large scale study published by Harvard University in 1999 of 115,000 people found no connection between an egg a day and increase risk of cardiovascular disease (a co-factor for elevated cholesterol levels) except for those with pre-existing diabetes.

In summary, eggs are not what is causing high LDL cholesterol.  It’s a lack of physical activity and dietary choices which cause cellular damage such as refined sugars, alcohol, caffeine, and pop.  Inadequate consumption of fiber contributes to the inability to rid the body of excess fats.  Lifestyle choices such as a high degree of stress, lack of sleep, and perhaps most importantly failing to exercise daily are far greater contributors to hypercholesterolemia than the consumption of eggs a few times a week.

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

“The part can never be well unless the whole is well.”

– Plato


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Monday Morning Roundup: Childhood Nutrition in North Korea,The Life Expectancy of Olympians and MORE!

The best in nutritional news from the past few weeks – enjoy!


The use of soy has become somewhat controversial due to the fact that they contain phytoestrogens – these are compounds that mirror the function of our own estrogen. The Toronto Star published an article by Michele Henry titled The Pros and Cons of Soy: Food Fight which I thought was a great starting place for those interested in researching the use of soy in their diet.  The author doesn’t go into the impact of phytoestrogens on specific conditions and disorders but overall I thought this article presented a balanced view.


Dr. Catherine Cook wrote an excellent piece called Distrust Affects Aboriginal Health Care in the Winnipeg Free Press on the issues surrounding Aboriginal Health Care here in Canada.  I enjoyed this story because Cook herself is both Métis, VP of Population and Aboriginal Health for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, and works as a councillor for Health Council of Canada.  Her collection of experience enables a well-rounded viewpoint of why the Aboriginal population in Canada faces such a unique challenge, one which according to Cook boils down to distrust.

Yogurt Covered Pretzels

Healthy Foods That Aren’t Really by Anita Morely of LakeNewsOnline is an easy to read and digest (pardon the pun) rundown of foods that seem like they would be good for you but probably aren’t.  On her list?  Granola, Veggie Chips, Instant Oatmeal, Agave Nectar, Fat Free Anything, and Yogurt Covered Foods.


I never thought we would have access to this kind of information, but results from a survey on childhood nutrition in the Democratic Republic of Korea (North Korea) was released this week.  The survey was conducted by North Korea’s Government’s Central Bureau of Statistics, in partnership with the Child Nutrition Institute and the Ministry of Public Health, with technical assistance provided by UNICEF and additional support from the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization.  That is a mouthful…so what did they discover?  Results centered around the following findings; stunting has decreased from 32% to 27% (from 2009 to today), acute malnutrition is down from 5% to 4%,  and the percentage of underweight children has decreased from 18.8% to 15.5%.  Anemia continues to be a problem for women of child-bearing age and their children.  The bottom line is that over 1/4th of all kids in North Korea are malnourished.

Chrissie wellington

A new study by researchers from the University of Melbourne which has been published in the British Medical Journal studied the life expectancy of over 15,000 medal winning olympic athletes.  On average, it was found they lived 3 years longer than the general population – regardless of the sport.  While the “why” wasn’t studied, Professor Philip Clarke said genetics, physical activity, and healthy lifestyle were the probably factors.  So, forget about becoming an olympian and learn how to think like one by setting small but realistic goals and visualize health success.

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

“Life is beautiful.  It’s us that makes it complicated.”

– Anil Cheetoo, Mortgage Advisor at Alterna Savings


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Can I overdose on vitamins?

Is there any harm in going to town with vitamin and mineral supplements?

Supplement Overload

The long of the short is yes.  Before you waste money and potentially harm yourself, it would be prudent to ask yourself the following questions:

1.)  Do I need to be taking this supplement?

2.)  How much should I take?

3.)  Is it possible for me to avoid a supplementation and get what I want through food?

So, do you need to be taking a supplement?  I will throw that question back at you.  Why are you interested in supplementation?  Sure, there are some great vitamins and minerals that are useful to take daily for prevention of illness.  For example, Vitamin C and Zinc in the winter are excellent at supporting the immune system.  Omega-3 Fish Oil is helpful for those who want to work on supporting cognitive function, healthy skin and nails, and even low mood.

Dr. Oz

Oh No You Didn’t!

But then we get to all kinds of weird supplements that people are taking because of segments viewed on the Dr. Oz Show.  Raspberry Ketones, Blueberry Supplements, and Forskolin for example.  You may want to do some research on what exactly these supplements are indicated for and re-evaluate accordingly.  I’m a big fan of finding scholarly journals to see if the research backs the use of supplementing with a specific nutrient.  Dr. Oz Dr. said Forskolin “explodes” fat right out of fat cells and assists with weight loss” but I have never heard of a supplement that is better for weight loss than activity.  You get the gist.

Multi V

This leads me to Multivitamins.  I’m not a huge fan for a few reasons.  First off, why take a slew of vitamins and minerals that you may or may not need in doses that may or may not be enough for what you?  Secondly, while many nutrients work synergistically, others compete thereby reducing the overall effectiveness of certain compounds.  Thirdly, I believe that many people will make less of an effort to prepare and eat healthy whole foods when they have a multivitamin crutch in their back pocket.

Okay, so now we have narrowed down our list of supplements to those we really need.  The Canadian Government has a handy little chart available online that details how much of each nutrient you should be consuming each day.  You will notice that each nutrient has three columns; EAR, RDA/AI, and UL.

EAR is the amount that would satisfy the needs of 50% of the population.  Don’t pay too much attention to this number.

RDA/AI is the Recommended Daily Allowance and is the number you should be aiming for.

UL just means Upper Limit.  Don’t go above this number without consulting with a health care practitioner.

I remember not feeling well once upon a time after taking a bunch of Vitamin B Complex…my fingers and arms felt like there were electrical currents running through them and it was not pleasant.  It’s best to stay below the UL if you want to avoid potential dangerous side effects.

Pay special attention to Vitamins A, D, E, and K as these are fat soluble and can be stored in your body.  Taking too much of any particular fat soluble vitamin can be toxic.  To find out how much of a specific supplement you should be taking for prevention or therapeutic treatment of a condition, check with your Naturopathic Doctor or Nutritionist.

Food vs. Supplement

Can you get the nutrients required for optimal health through your food?  I would argue it is definitely more advantageous to try through food first but perhaps this is not realistic for certain populations and some conditions where nutrients are being taken therapeutically.  For example, most vegetarian (women) need iron, folate, and B12 supplementation.  People who work with kids and thereby require a super strong immune system might want to consider Vitamin C and Zinc supplementation but that’s not to say you can’t get it from food.  You certainly can.

Health Challenge

Here is a challenge for you.  Check out how much calcium you should be consuming each day and see if you can get to your RDA before the end of the day (here is the clincher) without the use of dairy.  Email me if you achieve this totally doable goal and let me know how you did it:  thehealthjunction@mail.com

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama)

““My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the heck she is.” 

– Ellen DeGeneres


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Monday Morning Roundup: Why the Danes are cool and cats are too fat.

The best in health and nutrition news from around the globe…enjoy!

I LOVED LOVED LOVED this article by Heather  Mallick in Saturday’s Toronto Star (Lessons From Copenhagen) about why the Danes have it figured out when it comes to just being so cool.  There were so many interesting tidbits about why certain components of Danish culture ought to be studied – they are after all the happiest people on earth.  But, what I especially enjoyed about her piece was an examination on cycling culture and why it works so well as an integrated part of their lives.  According to Mallick, “cars move cautiously, bikers are law-abiding and pedestrians are safe”.  Here is a little spoiler:  Danes don’t commute by cycling competitively but instead leisurely and with stylish pants and leather boots.  Sign me up scotty!

Bike Parking Lot in Copengagen.  AMAZING!

And I’m still so tickled by Heather Mallick’s article Lessons From Copenhagen that I want to suggest a site that was listed in her story.  Copenhaganzine.com is a great site if you’re interested in city planning as it applies to cycling infrastructure.  There is also a neat counter at the top of the site that indicated that by only 8:44 am, Copenhageners had already cycled 439,000 km’s.

Anywhere between 35 and 55 percent of house pets are overweight according to a new report published by the Canadian veterinary Medical Association.  Why?  Back in the day when pets were at a healthy weight they were outdoors playing and running around.  Now, they’re indoors most of the day.  The other day I looked at my cat Cleo and realised she looks bloated and fat – time to get her on a diet.  And by diet I mean just not overfeeding her.

Check out Slashfood.com for a great printable resource called “Periodic Table of Produce” which details how long you can store food before it goes bad.

And finally.  Hallelujah!  Twinkies maker Hostess may be going out of business.  They’re looking at selling off their 30 brands to other food manufacturers but lets hope Twinkies and Ding Dongs don’t survive…it’s time to lay those awful “snacks” to rest.

THE DAILY DL (Dalai Lama):

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” 

– Dalai Lama XIV


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Monday Morning Roundup

Happy Monday!  Here are some quick tidbits to kick you off your week!

Leave your car at home and discover the true joy of cycling as a form of commuting.  Of course with bikes come tune ups.  Check out Bitrot, a Danish site, for the ABC’s of keeping you bike safe and strudy.

As the winter months quickly approach, keeping seratonin levels up and ample is something to keep in mind.  This article from The Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience how to increase seratonin without the use of drugs.

Cholesterol gets a bad wrap, but there are different types and there is one that is actually good for you.  Check out this story in Extreme Longevity on why high HDL cholesterol is a predictor of living long.

The by Margaret Wente in Saturday’s Globe and Mail really ticked me off.  Check out “Surprise!  A little fat is good for you” which in my opinion really misses the boat on the correlation between high BMI and poor health.  In it, Wente states “There’s no solid evidence that processed foods, lack of exercise, TV, video games, or any of the other usual suspects are to blame” – misleading, ridiculous, and untrue.  Shame on you Globe and Mail!

Before you get upset that the summer is over, read this story in The Huffington Post on 7 Reasons Why Autumn is Good For You.  Warning:  this will leave you wanting to curl up with a piece of apple crisp and a warm cup of tea.

The Chemistry of Coke

At the very core of human nutrition is chemistry and the millions (literally) of chemical reactions going on in our body at any given time.  The human body is teaming with activity and if you think about what’s going on right now as you read this post, it’s mind-blowing.

So, speaking of chemistry I learned all about the role of pH the other day and it’s application from a food and drink perspective.  From a technical standpoint, pH is a scale that measures the number of hydrogen ions (hydrogen atoms with a positive charge) in a solution.  The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14 where 7 is neutral, 0 is the most acidic and 14 is the least acidic or basic.  Stomach acid has a pH of 1.5, water is 7, and milk is around 9.

Here is where it gets good.  Our blood must remain between 7.35 and 7.45 making it ever so slightly basic or alkaline.  To ensure that the pH stays within that range, our body is constantly working on removing or adding acidic or basic molecules as necessary to maintain homeostasis.  The major body systems involved in maintaining pH are the lungs and kidneys.  You may have heard of acidosis?  This happens when the kidneys and respiratory system can’t stabilize pH and the blood becomes too acidic which is quite dangerous.

So, while you probably know that soft drinks are high in empty calories, and contain artificial colours and flavours you may be surprised to know they wreak havoc on the pH of our blood.

The average cola has a pH of 2.5 and soft drinks in general range from 2.3 to 4.0 and once it’s ingested the contents pass through our stomach, and into our small intestine where it’s absorbed into the body and filtered into the blood via our liver.  The highly acidic influx of pop causes our kidney’s to work extra hard to maintain a stable pH and rid the body of phosphorus which is present in high amounts in pop.  A 2007 study found that drinking two more cans of pop a day increases risk for developing chronic kidney diseases.

Our amazing body does an AMAZING job maintaining a stable pH but why be a bully and force the kidneys to be a slave to our dietary habits?  Coke (or any other soda) isn’t the only culprit of creating an acidic internal environment and unfortunately, our kidneys aren’t the only organ impacted.

Come back soon to learn about common conditions that are related to an overly acidic diet and find out what you can do to improve your health!


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The Down Low on Sweet’N Low (and other synthetic sweeteners)

Everyone’s got something to say about synthetic sweeteners and it seems to be one of those topics in nutrition that garners a lot of attention.  I think the main reason for the constant media coverage is because that research surrounding synthetic sweeteners is so contradictory.  In the 1970’s a study on Saccharin (Sweet’N Low) found that it causes a significantly higher rate of bladder cancer in rodents which is where the controversy started.  After this discovery, there were several failed attempts to ban the use of Saccharin and it has been found safe for humans.

So, why do they get such a bad wrap?  Turns out that when our body ingests something sweet, we expect the number of calories to correlate.  Very sweet in our mind means lots of calories.  When we eat something with synthetic sweeteners which are way sweeter than sugar, our body anticipates a load of food preps our digestive system for a considerable caloric intake.  It never actually materializes though and so we feel unsatisfied which actually leads to overeating down the line.

In fact, it’s been proven that people who consume artificial sweeteners gain more weight than those who eat plain sugar.  The weight gain is the super unhealthy type as well that is centered around the midsection (adiposity) that causes heart disease, stroke, and issues with insulin uptake which eventually results in Type II diabetes.

Each sweetener on the market has a different chemical make up – here is how they are broken down:

Sucralose (Splenda) is 600 times sweeter than regular sugar (sucrose).  This specific sweetener is made from sugar but the molecular arrangement is different.  Instead of using 3 pairs of hydrogen and oxygen atoms sucralose uses 3 chlorine atoms.  In recent studies conduct on animals, sucralose was found to decrease the amount of healthy bacteria in the gut by about 50% – no such studies have been preformed on humans to date.

Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet) is 180 times sweeter than sugar.  When ingested aspartame breaks down into aspartic acid and phenylalanine which are amino acids – amino acids are the building blocks of protein so when ingested our body recognizes it as a protein and both can be digested.  The other component of aspartame is methanol (our body doesn’t know what to do with this substance) which when further broken down becomes formaldehyde which is a recognized carcinogen.  The catch here is that you would need to consume an exorbitant amount of aspartame for it to have a cancerous effect, however, FDA has received more complaints about aspartame than any other additive.  Negative symptoms associated with aspartame include headaches, dizziness, mood changes, and memory loss.

Saccharine (Sweet’N Low) is 300 times sweeter than sugar.  This is the sweetener associated with bladder cancer in animals, however, the evidence to support a similar effect in humans has not been substantiated.  It’s made of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and sulfur atoms – when broken down our body doesn’t know what to do with the compounds and so it passes through our system undigested.  Dextrose and maltodextrine are used to bulk up saccharine and have a quarter of the caloric energy as sugar so there are calories consumed with you ingest this sweetener.

Neotame  is 13,000 times sweeter than sugar but in its chemical structure is basically the same thing as aspartame minus the phenylalanine.  It’s considered same to consume.

So, while synthetic sweeteners are “safe” to consume I still don’t think they’re the answer – we know that they give people a false sense of security, messes with our metabolism, and cause a host of health issues related to weight gain.  Check back soon for a post on healthier alternatives to refined table sugar.  Being healthy doesn’t mean you can exude sweetness!


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Natural Cheetos, Sunny D, and Other Marketing Hoaxes

In a past life, The Health Junction worked at a large media conglomerate.  While my role as a Marketing Project Manager was to manage the resources and timelines of each campaign, it was necessary to work very closely with the clients and educate myself on their product.  Often, I was provided with PowerPoint presentations on their brand DNA – key points on what makes Brand ABC different from Brand XYZ.

Branding 101

It was interesting to watch the writing/production team come up with a script that was allowed by Advertising Standards Council (check this post for issues surrounding ASC) but still grabbed the viewer’s attention.  I sat in on many script review meetings where we brainstormed ways to convey messaging that was deemed “unfit” by ASC.  In essence, how to say something without actually “saying” it.

What I learned from my time in the media industry is that messaging is VERY creative and can be quite deceptive.  Here are a few claims and related products to watch out for:

1.) All Natural.  This isn’t a regulated or clearly defined terms.  As previously mentioned, I worked on a jam commercial where the tagline was all natural but it had 11 grams of sugar in one tablespoon.  There are  lots of “natural” products on the market that have added colour, flavour, and contain high-fructose corn syrup.  Natural Cheetos exists by the way – complete with disodium phosphate and maltodextrin.  The best way to get all natural is to go with organic food in its rawest form.

2.) Multi-Grain.  A bread can be multigrain and still quite low in nutritional quality.  For example, a bread containing more than one type of grain is classified as multigrain but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy because it could still be totally refined.  An interesting example of this is the Multigrain Tostitos which have only 2 grams of fiber compared to regular Tostitos which contain 1 gram.  Furthermore, the Multigrain version actually has 8 grams of fat compared to 7 grams in the regular.  Both versions contain the same amount Iron (2% of the DV) and Vitamin C (0 %).  For a grain to have the most bang for your buck it should be WHOLE GRAIN.  This means the bread will have the germ, the bran, and the endosperm – these three components will ensure you are getting the optimal amount of fiber, protein, and vitamins.

3.) Vitamin & Mineral Claims.  Products may contain a good amount of one specific nutrient and still be totally and utterly full of garbage.  A great example of this is Sunny D which is in marketing gong show of its own.   Sunny D will give you 100% of your daily Vitamin C but it also contains CANOLA OIL, artificial colours, sweeteners, and sodium hexametaphosphate (a food additive that can cause swelling of the kidney’s when consumed in excess).  Another example of this is Glaceau VitaminWater which is owned by Coca Cola – each bottle contains 33 grams of sugar which is almost as much as a can of pop.

 Check back tomorrow for a post on different types of sweeteners – find out which ones are a hit and which are a miss.


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