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5 Things You Need to Know about that Red Meat Study

A piece of marbled red meat on a plate.
[Image: Canva]

Yes, red meat is in the news…again. Headlines last week announced that we may not have to cut back on red meat or processed meat after all, based on conclusions published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

This stirred up quite a bit of controversy especially since many health organizations offer different advice. The Canadian Cancer Society for example, recommends limiting red meat (beef, veal, pork, lamb and goat) to 3 servings a week (a serving is 85 grams or 3 ounces of cooked meat – smaller than the size of a deck of cards) and avoiding processed meats.   The World Cancer Research Fund (WRF) advises that if you eat red meat, limit it to no more than about three portions per week (total of 350-500 grams or 12-18 ounces per week). And the WCRF also recommends eating very little, if any, processed meat like bacon, ham, hot dogs and sausages.

So, is that confusing or what? It sure is! And it took me a while to read through the science to figure it out.

Here are 5 things you need to know about the study to help you understand how and why the guidelines were made:

  1. This wasn’t a new study about red meat. Basically, a panel of scientists reviewed existing studies looking at the impact of red meat on health. They looked at “absolute risk”. In other words, they considered how many people per 1000 people would likely benefit from eating 3 fewer servings of red meat or processed meat (e.g. going from 7 servings/week of red meat to 4 servings/week or going from 4 servings/week to 1 serving/week). They found that out of 1,000 people, only between 1 to 18 people would have a lower chance of heart disease, type 2 diabetes or cancer if they ate 3 fewer servings of red meat or processed meat.
  2. The evidence for this guideline is “low” to “very low”. The panel found “low” to “very low” certainty evidence for their conclusions. The panel even admitted that their guideline for adults to “continue current unprocessed and processed red meat consumption” is a weak recommendation. In fact, three out of the 14 panel members didn’t agree with this recommendation.
  3.  Observational studies were reviewed. In observational studies, researchers observe the effect of something – in this case, the effect of eating red meat and processed meat. When it comes to making recommendations though, observational studies aren’t as strong or conclusive as experimental studies in terms of showing a cause and effect relationship. In experimental studies, typically two or more groups are compared – for example, an experimental study could compare the health status of Group A who ate red meat versus Group B who didn’t eat red meat. Plus, many of the observational studies lumped red meat and processed meat together, and didn’t consider other dietary factors or the cooking methods (e.g. broiling versus BBQ).
  4. Pros versus cons. The researchers believed that for most people, the desirable effects from eating less red / processed meat (a potential lower risk for cancer and heart disease) did not outweigh the undesirable effects (impact on life, burden of modifying cultural and personal meal preparation and eating habits).
  5. Other issues were not considered. The researchers acknowledge that their guideline didn’t consider issues of animal welfare and potential environmental impact. They admitted that their guideline may be less relevant for people who see these as important issues.

So what’s the bottom line?

Remember that we choose foods for many different reasons – cost, taste, nutrition, health, animal welfare and environmental concerns. No single food completely causes or prevents a health condition. But we do know that an overall healthy pattern of eating plus lifestyle habits can make a big difference to your well-being. News headlines can be sensational and the stories may not always give you the full picture.

As a dietitian and chef’s daughter, I wholeheartedly believe in enjoying delicious, wholesome food. Processed meat can add extra saturated fat and sodium to the diet – these are the nutrients we’re trying to limit. From a nutrient point of view, red meat is packed with protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B12. Whether you choose to eat red meat or not, keep your portions in check. Moderation is truly the key. And make sure to fill at least half your plate with Mother Nature’s superheroes – fruits and veggies.

Spot the Sugars

New food labels are coming and for the first time, you’ll see a Daily Value (DV) for “Sugars”. Health Canada has set a DV of 100 grams for total sugars. This includes sugars naturally found in foods such as fruits, veggies and unsweetened milk products, plus the sugars added to foods and the sugars found in foods like honey and maple syrup. Packaged foods with a Nutrition Facts table will now show the “Sugars” content as a percent of the 100 grams Daily Value (%DV).

Nutrition Facts table showing % Daily Value for sugars

But do most Canadians know where the sugars are in their foods?

Watch Sue’s fun TV Interview with Ben Mulroney (Co-host of Your Morning) to spot the sugars in different foods or find the interview here.

The Sweet Spot Workshop – with Chef Claire Tansey

Sue cooking with Chef Claire Tansey
Sue with Chef Claire Tansey

I love food! And a big part of my job as a dietitian is to help Canadians love food too! I’m passionate about translating the complex science of nutrition into everyday healthy eating tips that make sense and are easy for people to follow. So when my dietitian colleagues at the Canadian Sugar Institute invited me to a hands-on cooking Sweet Spot Workshop with Chef Claire Tansey, I was excited to learn more!

First, some nutrition background

Recently, Health Canada announced new guidelines for sugars and also some new changes to how sugars will be shown on food labels.

Specifically, for the first time ever, there is a Daily Value for sugars, set at 100 grams. According to Health Canada, 100 grams isn’t meant to be the recommended amount of sugars to consume, but instead it’s an amount of sugars that is consistent with a healthy eating pattern. On food labels, the sugars content of the food will be listed in grams (g) and also as a percent of the Daily Value (% DV) (see below for the “NEW” image of the Nutrition Facts table).

 Now remember that 100 grams is the total from all types of sugars:

  • naturally occurring sugars (like the sugars found in fruit, veggies and unsweetened milk products);
  • added sugars (like different sugars that are added when cooking or processing food); and
  • free sugars (these are added sugars plus sugars that are naturally found in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates).
A comparison of the original Nutrition Facts table to the new one. The new one shows a % Daily Value for sugars.
Image source: Health Canada

Now, the food!

So what exactly does 100 grams of sugars look like when it comes to real food? That’s where the Sweet Spot Workshop comes in. Dietitians teamed up at the workshop to make a day’s menu of food – adding up to 100 grams of sugars, staying within the sodium and fat recommendations, and totalling no more than 2,000 calories (the average number of calories needed by an adult). So here’s what we made. All recipes were inspired by Claire’s latest cookbook Uncomplicated.

Breakfast

Instant Bircher Museli – made with oats, unsweetened apple juice, nuts and fresh pears and paired with a single serving of Greek yogurt – 28 g sugars

Lunch

Chilled Cucumber and Sesame Noodles with Tofu – made with soba noodles, maple syrup, sesame oil, cucumbers, tofu and edamame, served with sweet and sour bok choy – 7 g sugars

Snack

Assorted berries and cherries with a fruit / kale Greek yogurt smoothie – 29 g sugars

Dinner

Coconut Chicken Curry – made with chicken, coconut milk, ginger, curry paste, tomatoes and peas, served with steamed broccoli – 7 g sugars

Dessert

Plum-Almond Galette – made with fresh, local plums – 30 g sugars

The bottom line

You can definitely enjoy a variety of healthy meals with a small dessert AND stay within 100 grams of sugars for the day! Enjoy!


Photos by Flora Wang. Disclosure: This post was sponsored by the Registered Dietitians at the Canadian Sugar Institute, and I have received monetary compensation. As always, my own professional opinions and views are expressed.

Kids are back to school…and eating better

Young child washing veggies in the sink.
Father with little son washes vegetables on the kitchen before eating

Image source: Bigstock

With back to school, it’s time to get those lunch bags busy again. A recent study published in the Public Health Nutrition journal found that school kids are eating better than they did 15 years ago. But there’s still room for improvement.

The study, led by researchers at University of British Columbia, compared the diets of about 7,000 kids aged 6 to 17 between 2004 and 2015. The nutritional value of the foods were judged using the Canadian Healthy Eating Index, which considers 11 dietary components such as total vegetables and fruit, whole fruit, whole grain products, saturated fat and sodium.

Overall, there was a 13% improvement in the foods that kids were eating during the school day. Specifically, school kids were eating more vegetables and fruit, as well as eating fewer calories from “minimally nutritious foods” including sugary drinks and salty prepackaged choices.

That’s the good news, but we can do better. Kids still aren’t eating enough dark green and orange vegetables (important for folate and vitamin A) – think spinach, kale, broccoli, carrots and sweet potato. Kids are also falling short on whole fruit and whole grains.

Here’s what you can do:

• Get kids involved in the food experience.
 Ask them to wash veggies, chop ingredients and help with the cooking. Bonus – kids are more likely to eat the meals that they’ve made.
Set them up for success. Make lunches together. Include a variety of fruit, veggies and whole grains. Keep portions manageable for your child’s appetite.
Be a great role model. Monkey see, monkey do. When you eat broccoli, there’s a better chance that junior will too.
• Advocate for healthy eating.
 Canada is the only G7 country without a national school food program. With the upcoming federal election, let’s put this on the agenda to nourish our future generations.

Food Innovation Winners at the SIAL 2019 Show

One of my favourite food shows is SIAL – it’s the premier event for food innovation and food inspiration. Here are just a few highlights from this year’s event in Toronto.


Winners of the SIAL Innovation Contest

It’s always exciting to see the winners unveiled at this 12th annual international competition. This year’s three grand-prize winners are:

GOLD Grand Prize – Vegan Keto Buns by Unbun Keto Foods: Described as 100% plant-based, these buns are made with almond flour, pumpkin seed protein powder, coconut flour, psyllium husk, flax meal and chia seed meal. According to the company’s website, the buns are gluten-free, vegan, keto, grain-free, starch-free and paleo. Each bun (87g) contains 260 calories, 18 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 14 g carbohydrates, 11 g fibre, 1 g sugars, 11 g protein and 370 mg sodium.

SILVER Prize – Yummy Doh Raw Cookie Dough: It’s exactly what it’s says it is – a vegan cookie dough that is safe to eat raw (there’s no egg product) and can also be baked into cookies. Made with heat treated enriched wheat flour, a 2 Tablespoon serving contains 120 calories, 6 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 16 g carbohydrates, 1 g fibre, 8 g sugars, 1 g protein and 120 mg sodium.

Bronze prize – ICE Oat-based Coffee: This innovation is an oat-based coffee drink that’s made from oats and cold pressed sunflower oil. It’s marketed as a dairy-free, vegan drink for coffee lovers. The cylinder-shaped cardboard package is cool! In 100 mL, the nutritional profile is 54 calories, 1.2 g fat, 9.6 g carbohydrates, 4.8 g sugars, 0.2 g fibre, 1.1 g protein, 74 mg caffeine per can.

Hopeful Prize – Partake Pale Ale-Craft Non-Alcoholic Beer: This new award recognizes food startups. Made with water, barley, hops and yeast, and 0.3% ABV, the beer contains 10 calories per 355 ml can.

Canadian Plate Challenge
New to SIAL this year was a culinary competition hosted by the University of Guelph’s Arrell Food Institute. Four chefs from across the country were challenged to create a healthy, sustainable dish that “tastes like Canada”, using 13 ingredients from each province and territory. The competing chefs were:
– Andrea Carlson of Burdock and Co. in Vancouver, British Columbia
– Laura Maxwell of Le Sélect Bistro in Toronto, Ontario
– Josh Crowe of Monkland Taverne in Montreal, Quebec
– Pierre Richard of Little Louis’ Oyster Bar in Moncton, New Brunswick

And the winner is…Pierre Richard for a twist on his traditional chowder. Using a variety of ingredients like dried morel mushrooms from the Yukon and snow crab from Newfoundland and Labrador, Pierre plated the dish with a bannock-inspired tuile and a pour over ‘Ocean Nage’ intended to represent the coming tide of The Bay of Fundy.

Congratulations to all of the winners!

Written by: Sue Mah, Registered Dietitian & Founder, Nutrition Solutions Inc.

[Images: SIAL Canada]

5 Recipes to try for Nutrition Month

Asian chicken sesame chopped salad recipe

Most of us, including myself, usually cook the same 5-7 recipes each week. With the launch of the new Canada’s Food Guide earlier this year and March being National Nutrition Month, now is the time to explore new recipes and take your taste buds on an adventure!

Here are 5 recipes that caught my eye from the Dietitians of Canada. Give them a try and let me know what you think!

Layered Top to Bottom Beet Salad

beet root salad recipe

Bruschetta Fish

bruschetta fish recipe

Greek Salad

Greek salad recipe

Asian Chicken Sesame Chopped Salad

Asian chicken sesame chopped salad recipe

Crispy Chickpeas and Pumpkin Seeds with Lime

crispy chickpeas

Happy Nutrition Month! Eat well, live well – this month and all year long!

Sue

My Chat with Canada’s Minister of Health

Sue + Minister of Health Ginette Jan 23 2019 - 1

I had a serendipitous meeting with the Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Canada’s Minister of Health! She was entering the TV studio green room just as I was about to leave. We were both being interviewed (separately) about the new Canada’s Food Guide.

Here’s a note from our conversation.

Canada’s Food Guide is about the food experience – cooking and eating together, and enjoying food. “When I think about food, I think about family,” said the Minister. As the youngest of 9 kids, she remembers waking up to the smell of fresh bread baked by her mom.

I shared my own experiences. As a daughter of a chef, I grew up eating together with my family. We used our prized Chinese bowls and celebratory red chopsticks every day. We ate everything from apples and bok choy to ice cream and lobster. Food was delicious, wholesome and enjoyed without guilt.

Food unites us! The new Canada’s Food Guide reminds us to enjoy food, eat mindfully and eat with others. I like that message!

Written by: Sue Mah, MHSc, RD, PHEc

The NEW Canada’s Food Guide is here!

Plate

Today, Federal Minister of Health, Ginette Petitapas Taylor launched the new Canada’s Food Guide. The new Food Guide takes a modern approach to communicating guidance to consumers, health professionals and policy makers. This first suite of resources includes a document Canada’s Dietary Guidelines for Health Professionals and Policy Makers, as well as a Food Guide Snapshot.

Here’s just a sampling of what’s new in the Food Guide:

1. Positive key messages for Canadians in a modern format. Key messages are: Eat well. Live well. Eat a variety of healthy foods each day. The new Food Guide delivers healthy eating information in a mobile-friendly web application.

2. Beyond food. Healthy eating is more than the foods you eat. The new Food Guide offers advice on what to eat, what not to eat, and how to eat. Tips include cooking more often, eating meals with others, being mindful of your eating habits, enjoying your food, limiting foods high in sodium, sugars or saturated fat, using food labels, and being aware of food marketing.

3. Food groupings instead of food groups. Bye bye rainbow and the four food groups. A healthy meal is comprised of a variety of foods from three key food groupings: vegetables and fruit; whole grains; and protein foods. These foods should be consumed regularly.

4. Proportions not portions. There are no recommended servings to eat or serving sizes of food. A plate snapshot of the Food Guide gives at-a-glance information on what to eat. In the plate snapshot, 1/2 the plate is filled with vegetables and fruits; ¼ of the plate is comprised of whole grains; and ¼ of the plate is made up of protein foods.

5. Water is the beverage of choice. To help Canadians stay hydrated without adding calories to the diet, water is recommended. Alcoholic beverages are also flagged as potentially adding calories with little to no nutritive value.

The suite of online resources replaces the old “all-in-one” version of the previous Food Guides. More information and recipes are available from Health Canada. Additional consumer resources are expected to be released later this year.

Read about my chat with Canada’s Minister of Health, Ginette Petitpas Taylor about the new Food Guide.

Sue + Minister of Health Ginette Jan 23 2019 - 1

Dietitians are experts in translating the science of nutrition into practical healthy living messages for Canadians. Contact me for more a presentation or workshop about the new Canada’s Food Guide.

Written by: Sue Mah, MHSc, RD, PHEc – Founder & President, Nutrition Solutions Inc.

The new Canada’s Food Guide is coming soon – Here’s what you can expect

There’s been quite a buzz lately about the new Canada’s Food Guide, which should be released soon this year!

I recently shared my expert insights and answered consumer questions on CBC Morning Live national news. Check out my two interviews to get the full scoop!

Watch Interview Part 1

Watch Interview Part 2

Here are just a few expected highlights of the new Canada’s Food Guide:
– Recommendations on HOW to eat, not just what to eat or what not to eat.
– Recommendations to limit the 3 “S” – sugars, saturated fat and sodium.
– A focus on plant-based foods such as whole grains, vegetables and fruit.
– A new “protein” group which includes a variety of protein-rich foods such as beans, nuts, seeds, soy products, tofu, eggs, fish / seafood, lean red meats, lower fat milk and yogurt, and cheeses lower in sodium and fat.
– Consideration of other factors that affect our food choices such as food accessibility, food affordability and cultural diversity.

Interested in learning more? Contact me to book a Lunch and Learn presentation or seminar.

8 Ways to Get Through the Holiday Eating Fest

Take a deep breath, it’s December! The countdown is on for the holiday parties, cheery celebrations and food fest overload. So what can you do to enjoy the joyous season yet not overindulge? Here are my top eight tips.

1. Give yourself permission to enjoy. First of all, let go of the guilt. Follow the 80-20 rule: 80% of the time, choose the healthy fare; 20% of the time, enjoy your favourite indulgences – in moderation.

2. Be a picky eater. Do a once over of all the choices. In your head, rate each dish as either “I must try this!” or as “I can pass on this today.” Then, take a small portion of your top five “must try” foods, including at least one veggie dish. Go back for seconds only if the food was WOW!

3. Tell a story. You’ve heard that saying, “No talking with your mouth full”? Put it into practice now. Set your fork down, chat with others and tell a story. This slows down your eating and allows time for your brain to register that you’re getting full.

4. Chew your food. Research shows that chewing food up to 40 times before swallowing may actually help you feel fuller and eat less. Alright, this may not apply to that tiny shrimp appetizer, but the point here is to pace yourself and savour every bite rather than wolf down your food.

5. Power on with protein. Eat protein at each meal. You’ll feel full for longer and have sustained energy to keep up with the holiday hustle and bustle. Remember that milk and milk products provide high-quality protein too and can be easily included at brekkie, lunch, dinner, snacks and yes, even desserts! If you’re looking for festive-coloured, protein-packed recipes, try a hearty Lentil Kale and Feta Salad, or this refreshing Lemon Yogurt Cheesecake with Raspberries – both from www.dairygoodness.ca.

6. Eat until you’re 80% full. This is a practice in mindful eating. At 80% full, you don’t feel stuffed and in fact, you could probably eat a few more bites. But you’re no longer hungry and you don’t have to loosen your belt. Over time, you’ll get accustomed to eating to the 80% mark which can be a bonus if you’re watching your waistline.

7. Hold your drink / cocktail in your dominant hand.
This makes it trickier (and messier) to eat with your non-dominant hand while you’re socializing. Stick to Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines: no more than 3 drinks for women and 4 drinks for men on any single occasion. For each alcoholic drink, have a non-alcoholic one.

8. Use smaller plates and glasses. The bigger the plate, the more food we’ll pile on it. Research also shows that we drink more from short, wide glasses rather than tall ones. So use the short glasses for water and save the tall glasses for cocktails and sweetened beverages.

All the best for a happy and healthy holiday season!

(This story, written by Sue Mah, originally appeared in the Toronto Sun, Dec 8, 2017.)

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