“Junk Food, Without the Junk” is a load of J-U-N-K

We are firm believers in eating lunch away from your desk – mindful eating is key to portion control, and checking email or playing solitaire while you eat your sandwich can wreak havoc with satiety cues. That being said, we might cruise through one of the daily “papers” in the lunch room on the hunt for tasty recipes to try out.

A recent article “Junk food, without the junk” by Romina McGuiness in the Metro News caught our eye. The article is filled with some pretty strong assertions that, unfortunately, lack much in the way of an evidence base.

It started off innocent enough… “When it comes to food, it’s either eating something that’s healthy but without taste, or delicious and bad for us.” While we don’t agree that healthy food always tastes bad, we definitely do not agree with “nutritional therapist” Jessica Bourke’s assertion that we need to avoid all dairy, sugar, and wheat to be healthy.

Let’s counter each of the article’s claims and get a few things off our chests (see our rebuttals in purple):

Dairy. Why you should cut it out. As we have said before, you do not need to eat dairy – there are many legitimate reasons people cut it out. BUT milk is not the “super villian” food it is painted to be and anti-milk information is often wholly inaccurate.

1 It’s high in fat, which can cause weight gain. Ummm, last time we looked skim milk was 0% fat. In fact, milk consumption has been linked to *lower* body weight in several studies (1).

2 That it’s the best source of calcium is a myth. A green smoothie contains just as much calcium as a glass of milk. Depending on just how big this “green smoothie” is, this may be accurate… but you would need about 4 cups of raw kale to provide the 300 mg of calcium in one cup of milk. Keep in mind that calcium is not 100% absorbed from any food and the oxalate contained in most green smoothies actually reduces calcium absorption.

3 Cow’s milk contains the protein casein, needed to build the big bones of baby calves, not humans. Our body doesn’t know what to do with the excess. It also prohibits the absorption of key nutrients including iron and vitamin B12. Give me strength – the “milk is for cows, not humans” argument again! In terms of evolutionary nutrition, scientists have found that a genetic mutation ~ 3,000 years ago has allowed for “lactase persistence” (the ability to digest lactose into adulthood) in cultures where milk is a central part of the diet (2). It’s evolution, baby! 

With respect to absorption inhibition, calcium and iron compete in the gut for transporters regardless of source, dairy or otherwise, and dairy avoidance is actually associated with lower vitamin B12 intake (3).

Top alternative: Soy. Great for our gut. For women, it’s good for their hormones. Go for miso soup, tempeh or tofu. See our previous post on Milk Alternatives for more information. While calcium-fortified soymilk and tempeh are good sources of calcium, tofu must be calcium-coagulated to be considered a source; miso paste, on the other hand, is not a good source… unless you want to eat 17 tablespoons of it.

Sugar. Why you should cut it out. We are by no means suggesting that cutting out sugar is a bad thing, but there is a difference between correlation and causation.

1 It encourages bad bacteria to grow in the gut, which can cause IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). In time, this can exteriorize itself on our skin and lead to conditions such as acne and eczema. While high sugar intake may worsen IBS symptoms, there is no literature suggesting sugar CAUSES irritable bowel. Ditto for sugar and acne: there is some decent evidence to suggest that a lower glycemic index diet may benefit those with existing acne, not vice versa (4). Importantly, sugar is technically only moderate on the glycemic index; it’s the white bread and white rice that really spike your blood glucose levels. 

2 It causes chronic fatigue. Processed sugar has a damping down effect on the immune system. Two hours after ingestion, immune cell capacity is reduced by 50 per cent. Again with the causation. And we’re not sure where this 50% reduction in immunity is from – citation please!

3 Processed sugar triggers a blood sugar imbalance that will eventually make you prone to weight gain and hormone problems. Processed sugar isn’t great – it increases blood sugar, is generally found in foods that are nutritionally-devoid and may contribute to a whole host of health problems IF your diet is otherwise imbalanced. We still stand by the evidence from Unmasking Candy – it’s about a balanced diet.

Top alternative: Xylitol. It may sound chemical, but this natural sweetener is derived from the bark of a tree. Stevia is a another option, which is on it’s way to being approved as a food additive by Health Canada. Just watch your use of sugar alcohols, sorbitol in particular, which in high-doses are notorious for causing diarrhea, especially in those with IBS.

Wheat. Why you should cut it out. We think everyone would benefit from eating less overprocessed wheat products and more whole grains, but unless you have celiac disease, a wheat allergy, or an established gluten sensitivity, let’s not slander poor bulghur just yet…

1 White bread contains calcium carbonate. In other words, chalk. White bread should not be a staple in your diet, of this we do not dispute. Suggesting, however, that eating bread is akin to eating chalk is juvenile. FYI: the aforementioned and approved tofu is calcium-coagulated with calcium sulfate, in other words, gypsum rock – ewww!

2 Gluten, a protein found in wheat, can attack and damage the gut cells. This can lead to a condition known as leaky gut syndrome whereby the intestinal lining becomes inflamed. Ingestion of gluten triggers an autoimmune attack on gut cells and increases gut permeability, or “leaky gut”, in those with celiac disease, but likely not in gluten sensitivity; there is also limited evidence that gluten damages gut cells or increases gut permeability in otherwise healthy people (5).

3 If our immune cells confuse gluten with a pathogen (an agent of disease) the body will attack itself. This is exactly what happens in celiac disease, an auto-immune disease, but not to someone who is otherwise healthy. While a preliminary study of a gluten-free diet in healthy adults (6) did show alterations in gut microbiota (an important part of your immune system), a subsequent study addendum acknowledged that a gluten-free diet is likely lower in prebiotic fibres, such as fructans, which could explain the alteration in microflora rather than due to any harmful effects of gluten. Furthermore, prebiotic fibres have many health benefits and should be increased in the diet not reduced!

Top alternative: Quinoa. Technically a seed, quinoa actually looks and tastes like a grain. Naturally gluten free, it doesn’t cause bloating and contains essential amino acids. A bowl will curb your appetite for a while. We love quinoa and encourage the consumption of whole grains, gluten-free or not, more often! On that note, stay tuned for Monday when we will post on amaranth. 

Inaccurate information in the media is not new news, but it is still disheartening when misinformation is spread. We have fired off an email to Metro expressing our concerns about this article and we suggest you do the same! The squeaky wheel gets the oil! To contact a Metro News office near you, click here for more information.


  1. Louie JC, et al. Dairy consumption and overweight and obesity: a systematic review of prospective cohort studies. Obes Rev 2011; 12(7):e582-92.
  2. Ingram CJ, et al. Lactose digestion and the evolutionary genetics of lactase persistence. Hum Genet 2009; 124:579-91.
  3. Fulgoni VL 3rd, et al. Nutrients from dairy foods are difficult to replace in diets of Americans: food pattern modeling and an analyses of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2003-2006. Nutr Res 2011; 31:759-65.
  4. Reynolds RC, et al. Effect of the glycemic index of carbohydrates on Acne vulgaris. Nutrients 2010; 2:1060-72.
  5. Sapone A, et al. Divergence of gut permeability and mucosal immune gene expression in two gluten-associated conditions: celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. BMC Med 2011; 9:23.
  6. De Palma G, et al. Effects of a gluten-free diet on gut microbiota and immune function in healthy adult human subjects. Br J Nutr 2009; 102:1154-60.

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