Flavour of the Week

Nutrition 180s and Consumer Confusion

What we thought was good, bad or indifferent 10 years ago may prove to be something else entirely in the future, which results in a revolving-door of nutrition recommendations and rumours – it is no wonder consumers are left confused.

Here’s our follow-up post to last week’s countdown of some of the “oops” moments and missteps in nutrition over the last few decades, including eggs, fat-reduced foods, soy and breast cancer, and antioxidant supplements. Now onto coffee and the big ones: artificial sweeteners, BPA and trans fat.

We’re ‘fessing up to food additives that have done more harm than good and setting the evidence-based record straight!

  1. Coffee is inferior to tea. Although no concrete nutrition recommendations suggested limiting your coffee intake, there always seems to be shame associated with loving your java – shouldn’t you be drinking green tea if you want to be healthy? While green tea tends to get the spotlight in terms of healthy hot beverages, turns out coffee has a lot to offer as well including links to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. In fact, black coffee is actually higher in antioxidants than green tea.

    No Baloney’s advice. Enjoy your java! We do still suggest adhering to the recommended caffeine limit of 450 mg per day – about the equivalent of four 8-oz cups of drip coffee. For more bang for your coffee buck, try an Americano – espresso is actually lower in caffeine than coffee and is loaded with antioxidants too!

    See our previous post on Wake-Up and Smell the Coffee for more information about the proposed health benefits of coffee.
  2. Artificial sweeteners are a better choice. Now this one may be still controversial, but *we* believe that artificial sweeteners are not only NOT a better choice, but may in fact be a worse choice than plain old sugar. There, we said it! While artificial sweeteners like Splenda ® (sucralose) and aspartame ® are still touted in the media (and by some professionals!) as preferable sweetener choices for those looking to lose weight, we disagree. While we are not quite on the artificial-sweeteners-increase-risk-of-CVD-bandwagon (read Marion Nestle’s take on the topic here), we are suspicious when it comes to weight gain. Some new hypotheses suggest that artificial sweeteners may promote weight gain by discombobulating metabolic responses (1) and also by negatively altering the gut microbiota (2).

    Photo: Steve Snodgrass

    No Baloney’s advice. We are by NO means suggesting people use an abundance of sugar in their diet instead of artificial sweeteners – we are suggesting you limit both artificial sweeteners AND added sugars of all kinds – whether in soda pop, ready-to-eat cereals or baked foods. You don’t *need* to eat these foods, so eat less of them. Again, stick with real, unprocessed, whole foods as often as possible. Also, we personally think artificial sweeteners taste terrible!

    The NY Times has an interesting article on “Choosing a Sugar Subsitute” that is worth reading (though a bit on the media-sensationalized side of things). Says Dr. Gary Williams, a pathology professor who has been on safety reviews for artificial sweeteners, “I drink diet soda. I don’t need the calories. My favorite is Fresca, and actually I don’t know what’s in it.” Nothing to brag about – we happen to like knowing what is in our food!

  3. Who needs glass, when you have BPA? Among one of our more colossal short-sighted screw-ups was replacing good, old-fashioned glass jars with cheaper plastic and BPA-lined cans. While we saved on packaging and cost initially, what we have discovered about BPA in the meantime is less than stellar – from possible endocrine disruption to increased risk of heart disease and cancer.

    No Baloney’s advice. While BPA has been banned in ALL food packaging in some European countries, government agencies in the US and Canada do not seem to be in any hurry to do the same. We suggest limiting your BPA exposure as much as possible. See our previous post on Bisphenol A: Less is More, None is Better for tips on reducing your intake.

    And this last one really takes the hydrogenated oil-made cake when it comes to more-damage-than-good nutrition missteps…
  4. Butter vs. margarine. The classic tale of a Frankenfood where what we created ended up being far worse for our health than the original. The advent of hydrogenated margarine was a boon for food producers in the first half of the 20th century – a cheap butter alternative that was better for health? Terrific! Unfortunately, we are still trying to shake off the negative health impact of this low-cost alternative. Despite recent declines in consumption, Canadians’ intake of trans fat remains above recommended limits – it doesn’t seem Health Canada is trying that hard to help consumers either

    No Baloney’s advice. Our policy for trans fat is zero – avoid whenever possible. According to the Trans Fat Monitoring Program 2009 report, commercial baked products, desserts and cookies are commonly above government (voluntary) targets for trans fat. Thankfully, you can live quite happily and healthfully without these foods! As for butter vs. non-hydrogenated margarine, we are still on the less-is-more side of the butter-is-better fence.

There are so many more nutrition controversies we could have included on this list, like industrial farming and pesticide use, but we wanted to stick with those that are still a source of confusion. We hope our myth busting has helped and feel free to suggest others in the comments.


  1. Fowler SP, Williams K, Resendez RG, Hunt KJ, Hazuda HP, Stern MP. Fueling the obesity epidemic? Artificially sweetened beverage use and long-term weight gain. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2008; 16:1894-1900.
  2. Payne AN, Chassard C, Lacroix C. Gut microbial adaptation to dietary consumption of fructose, artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols: implications for host-microbe interactions contributing to obesity. Obes Rev 2012 [epub ahead of print].

One thought on “Nutrition 180s and Consumer Confusion

  1. Pingback: Defending “Nutrition Nannies” | No Baloney

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