February 22, 2018

5 ways to tell if a fat-free product is unhealthy

As a nutritionist, one of the biggest issues I have with makers of commercially prepared salad dressings, crackers, muffins and cookies is their use of the term “fat-free”.  In Canada, a food company is allowed to label their product as “fat-free” if it contains less than 1 gram of fat per serving.  Here’s why I’m concerned about that:

1. The type of fat used in the product may be a source of trans fats, such as hydrogenated oils or vegetable shortening.  These fats lower protective HDL cholesterol and raise risk-associated LDL cholesterol.  Considering that cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of Canadians, none of us needs that.

2.Who actually eats just one serving of their favourite cracker, dressing or cookie at one sitting? Enough said.Healthy munchies

3. Sugar is added to bring flavour to fat-free and low-sodium  foods.  This should concern diabetics and parents with overweight kids in particular, especially if the sugar is listed as ” high-fructose corn syrup” or “dextrose”. These sugars have a high-glycemic index, rapidly raising blood sugar and contributing to hyperactivity in susceptible individuals.

4. Fat-free foods contain extra sodium to make them taste better.  Individuals with breathing difficulties, high blood pressure or PMS need to watch out for this additive.  Salt is a popular and cheap flavour enhancer that most Westerners don’t notice until it’s gone because processed foods can taste bland without it.

5. Fat-free foods reduce the feeling of satiety. Have you ever had a fat-free muffin and wonder why you couldn’t stop there?  Without fats, starchy foods leave the stomach more rapidly, leaving the eater with hunger pangs sooner than if they had eaten a ‘regular’ fat-containing muffin. You’ll probably ingest more calories through a larger serving of the fat-free food than you would have if you’d eaten the fat-full version!

There are more fat-free foods on the marketplace and more obesity than ever before.  Coincidence? I doubt it. Do yourself a favour and avoid products labeled “fat-free”.

Do “fat-free” – labeled products taste good to you?




Why I don’t calculate BMI for my clients

Just the other day, a client attending his first health consultation asked me, “so now can we find out my BMI?”  He was surprised to find out that I was not interested in his BMI despite his goal to shed a few pounds.

In fact, body mass index (a.k.a. BMI) is a limited tool for assessing health risk.

Here are four reasons why I don’t use BMI in my health assessments:

1. BMI refers to a number that is a result of dividing a person’s weight by his height.   This number is supposed to reflect whether or not you have a healthy body weight for your height. It assumes that a high BMI means an individual is over-fat and that a person with a low BMI is unhealthy. Often, this is not the case, and people prematurely slot themselves into categories associated with the appropriate level of risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.  Maybe you have genetic or lifestyle factors that increase your risk of these disease, but maybe you don’t. BMI does not consider this information.

2. BMI does not take into account frame size. Large frames consist of denser, heavier bones, while smaller frames are lighter. If you come from a large -framed genetic stock you will probably be heavier than another person who shares your height. This fact means that the large-framed individual so with a healthy body composition with ample muscle, they are considered “obese” by BMI standards.

3. BMI can’t tell you how much of your weight is muscle.  An NHL player may weigh 200 pounds, but he has to be one fit specimen to have the endurance to play a fast game like hockey.  Take his weight and his height, and just based on that he is considered obese.  This is simply untrue.

4. BMI charts assume that tall, slim people are underweight.  I’d know, because I am one of those people.  As far as I’m concerned, the pantyhose manufacturers still haven’t got it right, because they assume that being tall means being heavy.  Consequently, it’s tough to find the right pair! Having said that, I’ve met many women with hourglass figures who turn out to be dangerously over-fat. Why? Because muscle doesn’t make women look like this—fat does.

So, what did I offer the client who wanted to know his BMI?  A BIA—bio-impedance analysis of his body composition. As a nutritionist I find this to be a far more useful and accurate tool to assess health risk and monitor whether or not weight loss or gain is healthy or unhealthy.

Have you had your body composition measured, and if so, were you surprised by the results?