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What Matters More? Quality vs Quantity

What Matters More? Quality vs Quantity
Our next #30in30 #nutritionmonth blog post was originally provided by Kori Kostka, Registered Dietitian, during our 2015 campaign. Thank you for submitting!

What matters more, the calorie count on the box or the quality of the calories in the box? It surprises me how many of us compare food items and purchase the one that has less calories. Yesterday I was seeing a 90 year old women who was weak, under nourished and losing weight and every morning she starts off with a bowl of one of the popular “low calorie” cereals. At one time she may have been more conscious of losing weight because as her husband said to me “she used to have such a good appetite”. So why at this time in her life, when she desperately needs to maintain her weight, is she still consuming this “diet” cereal? 
 
It sometimes frustrates me as a dietitian how many people are lead to believe calories are even worth spending time looking at. It frightens me when I hear people say “I don’t eat bananas because my doctor told me they’re too high in sugar”, “Oh I stopped buying nuts because they have too many calories”, “I’m buying low-fat, sugar-free yogurt (full of artificial ingredients and air) because my cholesterol is high” or “I can’t eat avocados because I was told to eat a low fat diet for my health”. WHAT THEHAPPENED TO NUTRITION? I don’t blame you; if you were to read and follow every bit of advice out there you would not have anything left to eat! Even water has its own controversy. I know many of us think we are doing something good to be happy and healthier and yet the advice we are given just is not good enough (or it is contradictory)!
 
So let’s set a few things straight. First of all, much like when I am seeing a patient, I care more about their personal story than their bloodwork, weight or blood pressure. What I am looking for is the qualitative information or their story, not the quantitative numbers. Numbers to me are misleading, make us judgemental and we assume any number of things about people. When I am looking at a food item, what I really want to know about is the quality. This may have some challenges in itself, as some things are not always listed on the label.

For those of us who are interested in sustainable fishing, the label may not tell us how the fish was caught and where (is it wild or farmed). For those of us who are interested in organics, the label may not tell us just how organic our banana is. For those of us who want to purchase genetically modified (GMO)-free food, the label may or may not tell us if it is GMO free or not. Although with consumer awareness this is certainly trending toward a change. Some of us may choose to buy things only on the perimeter of the grocery store because we have been taught that anything in a package is processed and therefore forbidden in our household. I cannot argue that fully, although there are a few things that I do buy from the interior of the store, such as lentils, quinoa and rice. I personally think we have to decide as an individual just how extreme on the spectrum of nutrition we want to be on and as long as it does not consume our lives and we are receiving sufficient nourishment I accept people where they would like to fit.
 
A few years ago I stopped reading labels. Maybe because I knew enough to know what was already in there. I too was trained to read calories, calculate people’s energy needs for the day based on their weight, height, weight loss goals and activity levels. Oh how I hated doing this and now I am happy to say I do not do this anymore. Why? Now I focus on hunger and fullness. The only way people can truly identify whether or not they are hungry and full is if they are eating real food. As someone recently wrote on a feedback form to me “it can be difficult for people to trust their hunger and fullness cues because food manufacturers tamper with ingredients to make people addicted to their food”.

Yes I would have to agree food manufacturers are smart, mostly because they spend billions of dollars on food marketing and taste panels, but I cannot change them. What I can do is coach people to see how they respond to these food choices and is there a comfortable or uncomfortable amount they can eat. If the person chooses never to eat those foods again for the right reasons, great for them, if not I coach them on how to actual enjoy those foods comfortably. Most people can identify when they eat at a certain fast food chain, they end up feeling tired, gross or even sick after. Some may have found a comfortable quantity, combination or frequency and respond appropriately to their craving and satisfy their need. Many of us already know the calories are higher in these foods, but does that stop us from eating them? Is putting the calorie count on your burger wrapper really going to stop you from eating it? Or is it going to make you feel guiltier about eating it, taking away from your pleasure and satisfaction? Even as a dietitian one of my pet peeves is when a person starts talking about the nutrition value of the meal I am about to eat. I’m off work, let’s not talk about it (although I do respect the person’s need to share this information, or at least try)!
 
My response to all of this controversy is to add in more quality foods rather than focusing on taking out quantity and types of food. I cannot live without chocolate. In fact I have already had some today, enjoyed it comfortably and the world has not ended. I too have overcome my days of feeling guilty about my food choices and now except them as either meeting my true needs by satisfying a craving or experimenting to figure out what is comfortable. So bring on the milk with milk fat, skip the artificial sweeteners, and give me some avocados and nuts! These foods help us to feel full, they are not processed (or maybe not as much) and heck they even taste better! So why not add some quality and check in to see how much your body tells you to have, instead of the nutrition label. How would anyone else but you know how much your body truly needs? After all, bananas, chocolate, nuts, high fat milk products and avocados do not really clog your arteries (some even clean them) or make us fat. It is when we eat past our own fullness levels, when we are disconnected from the quality our body needs that can send mixed messages. So if you received a phone call that your blood sugar is too high, cutting out sugar from your diet may not be the solution your body is asking you for.

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