Dietitian Gone Vegan – Nutrient Analysis

When I began this experiment I knew I wanted to track my diet to get an idea of how eating vegan impacted my nutrient intake.  As mentioned in my first post veganism has a few potential dietary concerns including low protein and calcium intakes.  To analyze my diet I used the My Fitness Pal app.  Whenever possible I scanned the barcodes of foods to get the most accurate information possible.

Here’s what I found:


Over the week I averaged 65 grams of protein per day or roughly 10% of my total daily calories.  This might sound low, and while it’s probably less than the typical meat-eater, this actually exceeds my daily requirements.  Protein requirements for healthy adults are 0.8 g/kg body weight.  At the moment I am about 65 kg, so that means the minimum amount of protein I should be getting is 52 grams, which I easily reached.

I will say that I while I didn’t plan my menu with a specific protein intake in mind, I did make an effort to include several higher protein foods (nuts, seeds, chick peas, lentils, tofu, etc..) into my diet each day.  For those who are considering going vegan themselves, I would strongly recommend the doing the same.  If you’re having a difficult time incorporating enough of them, a soy-based protein powder could also help and be added to smoothies, soups, etc.


Most people’s biggest source of dietary calcium is dairy, but since these foods are obviously not allowed many vegans have a difficult time getting enough.  Calcium requirements for adults are 1000 mg/day.  This is a little less than that for teens (1300mg) or women 50 yrs+ (1200mg).  Some vegan-friendly foods that are a decent source of calcium are leafy green vegetables like kale and broccoli, almonds and tofu.

I was a little surprised to see that I nearly met my requirements.  According to my analysis I got 97% of my daily calcium needs during the week.  A big contributor to this was the glass of calcium-fortified orange juice that I drank with breakfast most mornings.  If I didn’t drink this I would’ve only been at 50%, which is significant.  I will admit that I consumed very few leafy green vegetables this week, so that probably didn’t help.  My advice for others would be to also drink calcium-fortified beverages regularly (non-dairy milks or juices) to make sure you’re getting enough calcium in your diet.  If you’re unable to do this a multivitamin may be warranted.


  • I averaged 2270 calories/day.  This is right around my daily requirements for my age, gender and activity level.
  • In terms of macronutrients, I got 62% of my calories from carbohydrates, 28% from fat and 10% from protein. This is a perfectly reasonable macronutrient distribution for a healthy diet.  Many people will often argue for one specific macronutrient percentages over another, however as long as you are meeting the minimum requirements overall diet quality is probably much more important than a particular macronutrient distribution.
  • My sodium intake was 1930 mg/day, which is almost certainly lower than it is most days when I’m not eating vegan.  For reference, we should all be aiming for a maximum daily sodium intake of 2300 mg/day.
  • Iron intake was one of the few micronutrients that my dietary analysis software measured.  Despite meat being a major source of iron in most people’s diets, I was still able to consume 129% of my daily requirements, which is good.

As mentioned in my last post, I don’t think I’ll be going vegan anytime soon.  But frankly, that has a more to do with the fact that I enjoy eating meats, dairy, etc., than any nutrition concerns that I have with veganism. My diet analysis clearly demonstrated that I was able to meet all of my requirements, which I obviously knew was possible, but was unsure if I would given the fact that I didn’t spend a lot of time planning in advance.

I hope this little experiment has been enlightening and that now you have a better idea of what it’s like to go vegan, even if it’s just through my eyes.  Happy eating!


Dietitian Gone Vegan – Part 3

Day 6

Today was the day that I started fantasizing about the foods I want to eat after I’m finished my little experiment.  To this point I haven’t thought too much about this sort of thing, but for whatever reason it really hit me today.  The funny thing is that it isn’t so much the meat I miss, it’s the dairy (yogurt and cheese mostly).

Breakfast was more of the same (oatmeal & fruit) and I basically skipped lunch in favour of snacks throughout the late morning/afternoon.


For dinner my wife made a variation on a staple meal in our home.  The original recipe is from Jamie Oliver for Moroccan Lamb with Couscous, however we substituted tofu for the meat and skipped the yogurt.  The tofu wasn’t bad in this recipe (although it could’ve used more seasoning that we gave it), but the dish certainly wasn’t as good as the original.


Day 7

My wife did something special for me for breakfast today and made me an awesome meal of vegan blueberry pancakes with maple syrup and fresh fruit.  This is another of the few recipes I could see doing again (provided we actually have almond/soy milk in the house!).


Again, breakfast was late so I didn’t really eat again until dinner.  For my final vegan meal I went back to Jamie Oliver for a Sweet Potato, Spinach and Chickpea Curry.  It sounded pretty fantastic and looked great, but unfortunately just didn’t do it for me.  It could’ve been because it was quite similar to dinner from the previous night but it was probably my least favorite meal of the week.  It was pretty bland and the absence of meat in this dish was really apparent.  Overall, very blah.


Recipe – Sweet Potato, Chickpea & Spinach Curry

Overall impressions

I think it’s safe to say I won’t be going vegan again anytime soon, but that’s not to say that there aren’t benefits for doing so.  A few notable pros that I experienced were the lower cost of food and abundance of fresh fruit/vegetables and legumes in my diet.  One of my bigger concerns going into this experiment was that I would feel hungry all the time and aside from a few exceptions that wasn’t really the case.  I also felt no ill effects as I continued my regular workout schedule.

The biggest thing I felt upon completion of the week was a sense of relief.   I’m definitely glad I did it, but I’m happy it’s over.  I have a great deal of respect for people who choose to live this way but a vegan lifestyle just isn’t for me. For me, veganism is just too restrictive. I’m someone who really enjoys good food and I found it difficult to be forced to rely on subpar alternatives to meat, dairy and eggs.   Another drawback I found was the time consuming nature of menu planning, shopping and cooking (although I readily admit this would lessen as I got more accustomed to the diet).

In my opinion if you’re considering going vegan, you need to examine the reasons why you’re doing so.  If it’s related to an opposition of the exploitation of animals, than by all means go for it.  It can be a perfectly healthy way to eat while still satisfying that goal.  That said, I would probably suggest a more gradual transition than what I did.  Perhaps just start by eliminating meat for a few weeks, then move on towards limiting dairy, eggs, etc.

However, if health or the environment is your primary motivation, veganism probably wouldn’t be the first option I would recommend.  After all, it is certainly possible to eat healthy and sustainably while still including animal products in your diet.  I’m a big believer in the notion that long-term lifestyle changes are best done in small increments and for most people veganism is anything but a small change from their current lifestyle.

Finally, I did keep a complete diet record for the week.  In my next post I will highlight and interpret some of my results.


Dietitian Gone Vegan – Part 2

Okay, so I feel like I’m getting into the swing of things now.

Day 3

Breakfast was more of the same today – oatmeal with fruit and juice.  Lunch was leftover stir fry from the night before, but this time I added toasted slivered almonds – wow, what a difference that made.  The extra crunch gave some additional texture this dish was missing from the night before.  I also had some bananas that were going bad so I made an blackberry almond milk smoothie to go with lunch.


Dinner was easily our best one yet.  I made a Lentil and Coconut soup.  It took a couple of hours to prepare and cook, but it was delicious.  I especially liked the habenero gemolata that went with it.  Even after this week is done we’ll be doing this one again.


Recipe – Lentil and Coconut Soup with Cilantro-Habanero Gremolata Recipe

Day 4

Breakfast was oatmeal, etc again today and leftover soup from night before.  Might seem to be getting a little boring, but it’s how I roll.  Truthfully though it’s a real time saver to be able to simply re-heat leftovers for lunch.

One issue I was having was a lack of snacking options in the house.  A recipe happened to pop up in my Facebook feed the day before for Chocolate Orange Protein Balls (I think they could’ve workshopped that name a bit more!) that seemed to fit the bill so I decided to make these today.  They were actually pretty good and should last me for the rest of the week.


Recipe – Chocolate Orange Protein Balls

My original plan for tonight’s dinner was BBQ Pulled Jackfruit Tacos but since I couldn’t
find canned Jackfruit I resorted to a more traditional taco using a soy-based “ground round”.  Nutritionally these veggie “meats” are a great way to get extra protein into your diet when eating vegan.  They actually taste surprisingly close to what real meat tastes like, so if you’re a former omnivore whose missing the taste of meat, they can really fit the bill.



Day 5

Nothing to see here – oatmeal again for breakfast and leftover soup for lunch.

Dinner tonight was a meal exported from our home for the past three years – Koshary.  Koshary is Egypt’s national dish.  It consists of pasta, rice, lentils, chickpeas covered in a tomato sauce and fried onions.  No doubt it’s heavy on the carbs, but the lentils and chickpeas add a decent amount of protein and fibre too.  My version isn’t quite the same as what you’ll find in Egypt but it’s close enough.


Recipe – Koshary


Dietitian Gone Vegan – Part 1


Going vegan for 1 week has been a bucket list item of sorts for me for the past few years.  I’m sure that would come as a big surprise to friends that knew me when I was younger.  In high school I remember spearheading a ‘guys weekend’ at a friend’s cottage where meat (and of course alcohol) were the only acceptable items on the menu.  Things have changed a bit since then.  Like any respectable dietitian, I’ve upped my intake of fruits and vegetables substantially.  And no longer is meat always the centerpiece of a meal.  That said, I still very much enjoy my animal-based foods and even though going vegan has become quite popular these days I honestly couldn’t see up giving meat, dairy, etc permanently.

But, even if I have little interest in eliminating these foods from my diet forever I still have a professional curiosity of the vegan experience.  Throughout my career I’ve been asked lots of questions about veganism, and sure, I can always rely on the textbook answers, but I’ve never been able speak from experience.  That is what this week is all about.

First though, a little background about veganism:

According to The Vegan Society

“Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”

Most people are motivated to go vegan because of their opposition to the exploitation of animals.  Other reasons why people might choose veganism are it’s sustainability, the diet’s lower impact on the environment and of course a perception that it is healthier than the traditional Western Diet.

Veganism requires adherents to follow a plant-based diet avoiding all animal foods.  While it certainly can be a healthy way to eat, this isn’t always the case.  The biggest potential area for concern is a lack of protein.  Attention must be paid to incorporate enough plant-based protein sources such as legumes (beans, peas, lentils, etc), nuts, seeds, tofu and whole grains into one’s diet. Calcium/Vitamin D might also be of concern, particularly with children/teens who have developing bones or post-menopausal women who are at higher risk for osteoporosis.  But if you can manage getting enough protein and consider a multi-vitamin (if warranted), there’s a lot to like from a health perspective about eating vegan, not the least of which is that the diet contains plenty of fruits and vegetables, is high fibre and low sodium.

…so back to my vegan experiment.

The plan is simple – eat completely vegan for 7 days.  I’ll be keeping a food diary as I’m interested in tracking a rough macronutrient intake.  I’m going to report daily impressions of my experiences and share the recipes I’ve used.  I’ll also try to specifically tie in some actual dietitian’s perspective, since really, why else are you reading this, right?  Enjoy!


I spent the better part of the morning today grocery shopping. I underestimated how long it would it take to find everything I needed.  Lots more label reading than I typically do (those milk/egg ingredients can be sneaky!) and a few items on the list that I never buy so had a tough time finding.  I had an interesting recipe for Pulled Jackfruit Tacos that I had to pull the plug on because I couldn’t find canned jackfruit.  I also stopped by The Bulk Barn, which was fantastic for finding a few more obscure ingredients.

My extended shopping trip delayed breakfast to 11:00am.  I’ll be going with mostly oatmeal (with various toppings), fruit and juice for breakfasts this week.  Given the late time, I also added a few slices of bread with peanut butter.


I didn’t eat again until dinner when I prepared a Creamy Garlic and Roasted Tomato Pasta dish.  The cream sauce was made with unsweetened almond milk.  This was the first time I’ve tried almond milk.  It’s okay.  I think I prefer it to soy milk although, I doubt I’ll drink regularly after this experiment is done.  I made a nice salad and had fresh Italian bread to go with it.  I didn’t really miss meat in the pasta, but fresh parmesan sure would’ve been nice.


Recipe – Creamy Vegan Garlic Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes


Breakfast was oatmeal with dried cranberries, almonds and honey.  Yes, I realized afterwards, honey is NOT vegan, but in the moment it honestly didn’t even occur to me.  Hopefully this is the only hiccup I make in that regard.

Normally I eat leftovers from the previous evening’s dinner for lunch the next day, but my wife took the leftover pasta today.  I decided to make a tomato sauce that I could use later in the week for Koshary and just eat it with pasta.  Pretty simple but filling.  I am really missing being able to include grated parmesan cheese on my pasta though.


Dinner tonight was an adventure.  I wanted to eat Asian so I choose a Spicy Udon Noodle Stir Fry recipe.  I enjoy some type of side dish to go with my stir fries (like spring rolls or dumplings).  Unfortunately I was unable to find pre-made wrappers that didn’t have eggs in them when shopping the previous day.  I then stumbled across rice paper (the translucent kind that is used to make those fresh salad rolls), which happened to show a picture of a regular spring roll on the packaging.  It was worth a shot, but I will not be doing that again.  The rice paper is incredibly sticky and only seems to get stickier when it comes in contact with oil.  A bunch of them broke and were inedible.  They also absorbed a lot of oil.  Not great.  The Noodle Stir Fry was fine.  I liked the spice but it was missing something.  Meat, you say?  Perhaps, but I think even tofu and chopped peanuts would’ve added some additional texture, which would’ve been nice.


Recipe – Spicy Udon Vegetable Stir Fry

I felt a little more hungry today than yesterday, so I went to the grocery store to pick up a dark chocolate bar for dessert (hard to find without milk, but they do exist!).  I only ate a few squares, so there’s extra for future nights if I find I’m in the mood for something sweet.



The Low-Carb vs. Low-Fat debate

I hear a lot about the benefits of low-carb diets these days.  Years ago it was all about low-fat.  I decided to explore this debate in a recent Nutrition 101 column.  Enjoy!


low carb low fat

The Low-carb vs. Low-fat debate

It’s one of the age-old debates in nutrition – what diet is healthier and/or helps you lose more weight, low-carbohydrate or low-fat?  It seems almost everyone has an opinion, with fervent supporters of both approaches, but let’s take a look at what the science says.

Low-carb vs. Low-fat

For the purpose of this discussion we should probably first try to define what we mean by low-carb and low-fat diets.  Lending to the confusion there isn’t a consensus definition, but generally speaking with low-carb diets, carbohydrates make up < 10% (very low-carb) or < 45% (low-carb) of the total calories.  In low-carb diets fat can make up as much as 50-60% of the total calories. In terms of food, low-carb diets tend to limit or eliminate grain products, dairy, fruit and legumes.  Conversely, in low-fat diets, carbohydrates make up 45-65% of the total calories, whereas fats make up 20%-35%.  Low-fat diets suggest avoiding foods like butter/oils, fatty meats and full-fat dairy.

Low-fat diets first made their appearance in the 1960’s after research showed that fat intake was associated with higher cholesterol levels, a major predictor of cardiovascular disease.  Over the subsequent years low-fat diets were touted not only for heart patients, but for weight loss and general health as well.  By the 1980’s low-fat was all the rage in the burgeoning nutrition industry.  It was around this time that Dr. Robert Atkins catalyzed a movement against low-fat with his self-titled, low-carb Atkins Diet.  Part of the appeal of The Atkins Diet was that it featured many foods low-fat dieters were expected to avoid. Since then low-carb and low-fat diets have been re-packaged numerous times to varying degrees of success.

Over the past 30 years there have literally been thousands of studies that looked at the benefits/effectiveness of both diets, using many different health indicators including weight loss, various metabolic risk factors and others.  Unfortunately, there is no clear consensus on the best diet overall, but a few interesting truths have emerged.  1) Low-carb diets do not appear to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease as originally feared  2) Weight loss can be achieved with both calorie-restricted low-carb and low-fat diets  3) Low-carb diets seem to provide a greater degree of weight loss in the short-term, however neither diet is particularly effective in doing so in the long-term.  4) Poorer outcomes, including the ability to follow the diet, are associated with more extreme versions of low-carb and low-fat dieting.

What does this mean for you?

Rather than focusing on the percentages of carbohydrates and fats in your diet, it’s probably better to focus on the quality of fat and carbohydrate that you’re eating.  What do I mean by this?  Whenever possible, eat real food that has been prepared using unprocessed ingredients and avoid foods with unnecessary added fats and sugars (aka. carbs).  If weight loss is your goal, overall calories are much more important than the relative amounts of carbohydrates and fat in your diet.

If you’re set on trying to go low-carb or low-fat, make sure you do your research. Avoid diets that appear overly restrictive and only choose plans than you can envision sticking with indefinitely.  At the end of the day, both low-carb and low-fat diets have their merits, but as with most things in life, balance is key.


Canada, travel, ultimate & marathons

Yikes!  It’s even longer than I realized since my last entry.  I’ve had a few interesting things happen in the past 6 weeks, so I’d thought I’d use this post to catch people up on what’s new.

The first is that my wife and I have officially made the choice to return to Canada after the school year.


There are a lot of factors that played to our decision, but the one of the biggest is my wife’s teaching job.  These past 3 years she’s been fortunate to be on leave from her position in Canada.  That would likely not continue if we chose to stay abroad for another year.  While we both love the international experience, neither of us are sure we want to give up the security and benefits her Canadian job provides – especially given the recent downturn in the economy.  We figure if we return and don’t like it, we can always go abroad again. Also, we’ve come to the realization that we’re the type of people who need a change of scenery every few years, and now seems like the right time to move on.

We’ve started letting people in Egypt know we’re moving back, which as anyone who’s experienced a pending major move knows, comes with mixed emotions. I hope to blog a little more about what I’ll miss (and won’t miss!) about our life here in the near future, but the people we’ll be leaving behind is certainly one of the most difficult things about returning.  We’ve both made some really great friends here.

What else?

Well, we spent 8 days in Israel in mid-March.  It was a much needed break for both of us. The excuse for the trip was the Jerusalem Marathon on March 17, where I ran the half-marathon and my wife participated in the 10K.  We both really enjoyed the country.  It was a nice mix between Europe and the Middle East.  We visited the cities of Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv.  Jerusalem was our favorite.  I loved the contrasts – old vs. new, religious vs. secular and traditional vs. modern.  Here are just a few of the highlights from the trip.


Approaching the finish line of the Half Marathon in Jerusalem


The Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount in Jerusalem


On the streets of the Old City, Jerusalem


Jewish pilgrims praying at the Western Wall, Jerusalem


Relaxing on the beach in Tel Aviv

Baha’i Gardens in Haifa

These next couple of weeks we’ve also got a few other big events that we’ll be participating in.  The first is an Ultimate Frisbee tournament in Alexandria next week.  It will be a quick trip, but likely the last time we’ll get to visit before we go back to Canada, so it’ll be worth it.  I’m looking forward to a big seafood meal after a long day of Ultimate. We’ve been thankful to find the Ultimate community in Cairo.  It has been a lot of fun being able to get out once/week to play, as well as see the sport here grow.

The second event is the Cairo Runners Half Marathon on April 15th.  I was very excited to hear that this year’s offering would be taking place in our neighborhood of Maadi, so I won’t even have to worry about taking a taxi out to the race site.  In true Egyptian fashion registration only opened last week and some of the race details haven’t yet been provided (ie. a route map), but it will be fun either way.  And thousands of people will show up.  Plus, since I’m already “trained” from the previous Jerusalem race, it’s really just a matter of maintaining my fitness for the next couple of weeks (and not injuring myself in the process!).

I promise it won’t take another 6 weeks for the next update!


Women’s Nutrition Q & A

Thought I’d share a Q & A I recently put together for the upcoming issue of OASIS magazine about some common nutrition questions for women.  Enjoy!


nutrition-for-womenIn honor of International Women’s Day on March 8th, I thought I’d use this month’s column to address some female-centric nutrition questions.

Does Soy Cause Breast Cancer?

The link between soy and breast cancer stems from the fact that some breast cancers are estrogen-sensitive.  Soy is rich in isoflavones, a class of compounds which are chemically similar to estrogen and actually have the ability to mimic estrogen’s action within the body.

The good news for soy lovers is that it doesn’t appear that a diet high in soy products increases the risk for developing breast cancer.  In fact, a recent study out of China showed that women with high soy intakes actually had lower rates of breast cancer.

That said, a potential area of concern may be soy protein supplements.  It was recently shown that a protein in soy called genistein may accelerate the growth of human breast cancer cells in vitro.   However it’s important to note that this has yet to be demonstrated at the population level.

Bottom line: If you enjoy soy as a regular part of your diet you can continue to do so, but speak with your doctor before you begin taking soy protein supplements to determine if the benefits outweigh the risks.

How Important Is Dietary Calcium After Menopause?

Fairly important.  After menopause women produce significantly less estrogen than they used to.  One of estrogen’s many functions is to help to maintain bone density (men actually have the same issue too with testosterone, but the decline in testosterone production occurs more gradually and at a later age).  Making sure you get enough calcium in your diet helps to minimize the amount of bone that you lose, decreasing your risk of developing osteoporosis.

The daily recommended amounts of calcium for women (>51 years) is 1200mg/day.  Some common calcium-rich foods include cow’s milk (1cup – 300mg), yogurt (3/4cup – 300mg), cooked spinach (½cup – 140mg), canned salmon with bones (2.5oz – 200mg), tahini (2 tbsp – 130mg) and semi-hard cheeses including cheddar and gouda (1.5oz – 300mg).  If you’re not eating many of these foods, a supplement may be warranted, however you should not exceed 2000mg/day from all sources.  Supplements should also contain vitamin D, which enhances calcium absorption.

Bottom line: After menopause it is especially important to consume adequate amounts of calcium in your diet to prevent bone loss.

 When You’re Pregnant Are You Really “Eating for Two”?

It’s actually more like eating for one plus a little bit extra.  During the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy women should only be consuming an additional 300 calories/day.  The appropriate amount of weight gain during pregnancy is something to be discussed with your doctor, but generally speaking women who start their pregnancy at a healthy weight should gain on average 11-16kg over the course of their pregnancy.  Women who are underweight should aim for the high end of this range, whereas women who are overweight should aim for the low end.  Gaining much more than the recommended amount could put you at risk for certain pregnancy problems including gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, preeclampsia, pre-term birth and caesarian sections.  Also, babies born to overweight mothers are also at higher risk of childhood obesity.

Bottom Line: Yes, calorie requirements during the 2nd & 3rd trimesters are a little higher than normal, but it’s important not to go overboard by gaining an unhealthy amount of weight during pregnancy.


Dietitians of Canada calls for “soda-tax”

sugary-drinks-soda-obesityEarlier this week Dietitians of Canada (DC) put out a press release calling for a 10-20% tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.  For those of you who complain that this would just be another example of the government sticking it’s nose where it doesn’t belong, here is my counterargument.

We eat too much sugar

The World Health Organization recommends that free sugars should not make up more than 10% of a person’s daily caloric intake.  As mentioned in the DC press release, Canadians are exceeding this by a fair margin (~15%).  Diets high in free sugars put individuals at risk for overweight and obesity, as well as dental caries. Given the fact that roughly 66% of Canadians are overweight or obese, the government needs to look for ways to reduce the amount of free sugars we consume.

A significant portion of free sugar in our diet comes from sugar-sweetened beverages

Are soft-drinks the only problem?  No, but they’re one of the biggest contributors to free sugars in our diets. It has been estimated that 7-8% of the daily caloric intake of Canadian adolescents is from sugar-sweetened beverages.  If we want to reduce the amount of free sugars we consume, sugar-sweetened beverages seems like a logical target.

Taxes have an impact on purchasing decisions

As someone who just got stuck with a bill from Egyptian Customs of 100 USD (a tax rate of nearly 200%!) on a recent purchase of running shoes I had shipped from the US, I understand as good as anyone that taxes affect purchasing decisions.  If something costs more, we buy less of it.  That’s economics 101.

We happen to have a real life example of a soda-tax working to reduce the public’s consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. In 2014 Mexico implemented a 1 peso per litre tax, essentially raising the prices of sugar-sweetened beverages by 10%.  You know what happened?  In the first year, Mexican’s reduced their purchases of sugar-sweetened beverages by 6%. That may not sound like a lot, but as far as other health policy initiatives go, it’s significant. No one is arguing that this alone will solve the obesity epidemic, but it certainly appears to be part of the solution.

I have no doubt that the food industry will provide major push-back on such a tax, but I would hope that government could stand up to them in the interest of public health.

We already tax other products deemed unhealthy to deter use

It’s not like a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would be unprecedented.  We already tax things like tobacco and alcohol.  The taxes are built into the price, just like they would be for sugar-sweetened beverages. One might debate the government’s motives for such taxes (revenue generation vs. public health), but I would argue, does it really matter? If you’re making certain unhealthy choices less desirable, regardless of the motivation, the outcome is still the same – less consumption.

Sugar-sweetened beverages won’t cease to exist

What annoys me most about this debate are those who cry that a soda-tax takes away our freedom of choice.  They make it seem as though under such a plan we would no longer have access to our beloved Coca Cola, etc.  Similar arguments were made years ago when New York passed legislation banning the use of large soda cup sizes (which have unfortunately since been repealed).  It’s an absurd position.  No one would be preventing you from purchasing your favorite sugar-sweetened beverage.  It just might mean that the next time you head to the convenient store, because of the added cost of sugar-sweetened beverages, perhaps you’ll chose them less often..  That’s all.

As far as public health initiatives go, a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages seems like no real no-brainer to me.  Have I convinced you?


“What is your profession?”


I’ve been in the fortunate position of being able to do a lot of traveling in the last few years.  My wife and I have visited a variety of countries ranging from those that are completely modern and developed to others that would traditionally be considered “third world”.  When meeting people from all these different places, you tend to get asked a handful of very similar questions.  “What is your name?”  “Where are you from?”  “How do you like our country?” And of course “What is your profession?”

Depending on where you come from this last question about what I do for a living might seem like an easy answer.  However, the more I travel, the more I realize this is not really the case at all.

In Canada and other similarly developed countries dietitians are like any other healthcare professional.  While there still may be confusion about the differences between dietitians and nutritionists, the general public is quite familiar with the term and have a decent understanding that a dietitian is an expert on diet and nutrition.  Not so, in less developed countries.  It’s something I’ve encountered elsewhere, but I’m not sure it was highlighted ever more so than our recent trip to Ethiopia.  It seemed that very few people I met had any idea what I was talking about.

Of course language is part of the issue.  Most people that even speak a little English are rarely familiar with the term dietitian and honestly I can’t really blame them for that.  If you only speak enough English to get by, learning the word “dietitian” is probably pretty low on your priority list.  Overall I tend to have a little better luck with “nutritionist”, but usually I’ll just describe my job as “teaching people how to eat healthy”.

However, after moving to Egypt something I found out that honestly surprised me a bit was that many languages don’t even have a term for dietitians or nutritionists.  In Arabic for example (at least in Egypt), the profession is sometimes referred to by a term that translates to “food doctor” (which almost certainly contributes to the notion that nutritionists are more qualified than they actually are, but that’s another issue for another blog).  But when you think about it, it totally makes sense why.

For much of the world’s population all food is in a sense healthy.

Aside from the past 50-100 years, at no point in human history would making optimal dietary choices been a priority to anyone because most people didn’t have the luxury of making “healthy choices”.  Food was simply something that nourished us and kept us alive.  It’s tough to get more healthy than that.

Unfortunately in Ethiopia (and many other places in the world) this is still true.  For the most part people there literally still need to eat whatever is food available to them just to survive.  It may not always be what we in Canada consider healthy, but it’s all they’ve got. It stands to reason that in such a place you would never need a word for a profession for someone who tells what you should be eating?  It was a humbling revelation to say the least.

Just another example of how travel and exposure to different people and cultures can really flip your preconceptions on their head…


Ugh… Cairo’s “Chocolate Run”

Cairo Runners Snickers2

There are some types of partnerships that shouldn’t exist.  You know the type I’m talking about.  The kind that make you cringe because it’s clear to everyone from the outside that the two entities involved have objectives that just don’t jive.

Cairo Runners’ recent Chocolate Run, sponsored by Snickers is exactly that.  And while it may not be on the same level as something like Pepsico sponsoring the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the American body representing dietitians) or Coca Cola sponsoring the American Academy of Pediatrics, it’s clearly another example of the food industry attempting to create corporate goodwill and market their products (while coincidentally co-opting the public’s health) by linking up with otherwise health-minded organizations.  Admittedly Cairo Runners doesn’t have the same moral obligation to act in the public’s best interest as the aforementioned organizations, but as an entity founded out of a desire “to change Egyptian’s lifestyle to a healthier one where it would be a normal thing for people to hit the streets of Cairo and exercise which was never a familiar thought before“, it seems curious to choose a partner whose product possesses little nutritional value, 250 calories and nearly 7 teaspoons of sugar (27g)*.

*Based on the normal size version.  From the photos I’ve seen from the event the bars being handed out were smaller (124 calories), but as evidenced by the photo below, it appears you could take as many as you wanted.

Cairo Runners Snickers4

What’s the big deal you say?  It’s just a chocolate bar.  People aren’t naive enough to think that a Snickers is healthy.  Everyone knows its just a treat.

Sure, that may be true, but it’s the other things that are reinforced by this partnership that worry me.

The first is the message that obesity is dictated primarily by how active one is, not by what one eats.  Despite mountains of evidence to the contrary (as an example, here’s a recent report by the World Health Organization that concluded the major driver of the world’s obesity epidemic is increased food energy supply), junk food companies continually stress the importance of exercise in a healthy lifestyle, while minimizing the role that diet plays.  It comes as no surprise when you hear that a company like Coca Cola spent $1.5 million on the recently disbanded Global Energy Balance Network, whose goal was to focus its message on the “need for people to increase their physical activity as the key to achieving a healthy weight”.

The other issue I have is the idea that most people tend to grossly overestimate the calories they burn during exercise and underestimate the calories they consume.  Providing people a venue for a short 4 km run, then giving them a chocolate bar as a reward (assuming they take and eat just one) basically negates any of the caloric benefit they just achieved.  Again, I understand Cairo Runners’ never promised anyone to help them with their weight loss goals, it just sends the wrong message.

The final problem I have with this particular event is the more overt forms of marketing that occurred.  On the event’s Facebook page Cairo Runner’s included the following text:

We want to start a new year with an energy boost and having lot of fun with Snickers Chocolate!  If you are going to Sweat. Sweat Sweetly!

Cairo Runners Snickers3

Heck, they even gave away certificates of participation that proclaim “You’ve completed 4 KM, and now it’s time to treat yourself”

Cairo Runners Snickers

Now I know I’ve heaped a ton of criticism on Cairo Runners (and justifiably in this particular case) but what they’ve accomplished here in Egypt is nothing short of remarkable.  In a culture that traditionally eschews all forms of non-football related activity they’ve created a community of literally thousands of people who come together to run the streets of Cairo every week.  They organize regular running trips all around the country and host Cairo’s only annual half marathon race.  It’s safe to say they are a major contributor to the recent rise in running culture in Egypt. I mean they’ve only been around for 3 years and their Facebook page has nearly 400,000 likes!  That’s pretty impressive.

But to quote my favorite superhero – “With great power, comes great responsibility.”  It’s time to recognize that as the biggest player in the Cairo running scene, with all the influence that this provides, these types of partnerships no longer make sense.  Regardless of how much money they take in it’s not worth the hit to their credibility.  Here’s hoping this is the last we see of Cairo’s Chocolate Run.