High steaks: new study with controversial methods questions whether red meat is all that bad

U of T professor David Jenkins, other researchers criticize study’s methods

High steaks: new study with controversial methods questions whether red meat is all that bad

Last month, the Annals of Internal Medicine published an article co-authored by Dr. Bradley C. Johnston — an associate professor at Dalhousie University — that criticizes the scientific backing of public health advice to eat less red meat in order to counter heart disease, diabetes, and other conditions.

Johnston’s study attacked the quality of research of other nutritional studies with a method named the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE), which is used to judge the quality of clinical drug trial research.

GRADE ranks studies based on precision and accuracy. Due to GRADE’s design, it automatically ranks the “large observational studies and randomized trials” common in nutritional science as low-quality research.

Johnston and his team, evaluating the nutritional studies that link meat consumption and health ailments using the tool, could conclude that all studies that find this connection are low quality. As a consequence, this delegitimizes nutritional science.

But the nutritional science community has been vocal in its opposition of the study, largely citing a misuse of GRADE. “You can’t do a double-blinded placebo-controlled trial of red meat and other foods on heart attacks or cancer,” Dr. Frank Hu of the nutrition department at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health said to The New York Times. “For dietary and lifestyle factors, it’s impossible to use the same standards for drug trials.”

Dr. David Jenkins, a U of T professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences and Faculty of Medicine, has also been vocally opposed to this methodology. “What [nutritional scientists] rely on is perspective cohorts — [we]take a group of people and follow them over time and work out what they’ve eaten and what their lifestyle is,” Jenkins told The Varsity. “It works well, but people who smoke, [for example,] tend to have other bad habits.”

In other words, it’s hard to control for a single factor, and thus GRADE “automatically ranks these studies as low-quality, even if there is a consistent response.”

The misuse of GRADE has real-world repercussions on the face of public health.  “I’m concerned about the damage that has already been done to public health recommendations,” Hu told The New York Times. “Certainly, the data are regarded as low-quality [according to GRADE] — let’s accept that,” said Jenkins.

“But it’s not about just one thing. It doesn’t just relate to diabetes or heart disease or an increased cancer incidence — it relates to all of them. Surely, then there must be some significance. It’s the scope… it’s not strong, it’s broad.”

In response, public health organizations are taking action. For example, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which advocates for veganism, filed a petition to the Federal Trade Commission against the journal that published the article due to concerns that it delivers “dangerous advice.”

Furthermore, Johnson was a senior author on a study aiming to discredit international health guidelines that advised against high sugar consumption. The study was sponsored by food and pharmaceutical companies like Pepsico and McDonald’s.

Jenkins also ventures that health should not be the only motivating factor in considering to eat less meat. “We’ve got a global warming situation,” he warns. “We have as many — or more  — four legged friends that we eat on the planet than there are of ourselves. We have to consider all the mechanization that’s used to produce feed for them, which use fossil fuels, and all the required energy and land.”

Dr. Gordon Guyatt, the chair of the peer review panel for the article, said to Coast Mountain News that it is “hysterical… It’s completely predictable and they’re doing themselves no favours from my point of view about these sort of hysterical statements.”

Jenkins is nevertheless eager to reach a point of agreement in the meat debate. “It’s not low quality about just one thing. It doesn’t just relate to diabetes or heart disease or an increased cancer incidence — it’s related to all of them.”

The environmental impact of diets

The intersection of the climate crisis and your eating habits

The environmental impact of diets

Whether due to a facetious New Year’s resolution, a new documentary that spooked you off meat, or a genuine concern for your health, many of us have tried a new diet. It’s normal to experiment with what we consume on a daily basis. However, in the midst of all these trends, the environmental impact of our choices is hardly discussed. Whether you’re a strict steak-lover or a die-hard kale enthusiast, for those who have the means, it’s time to consider the impact your food has before it hits the table.

The keto diet

The keto diet is among one of the most popular ‘trendy diets’ today. In essence, the keto diet is made up of 75 per cent fat, 20 per cent protein, and five per cent carbohydrates.

Since it involves a high level of protein proportionally, many followers choose to consume meat products as their method of choice. However, meat production can have a massive carbon footprint.

For example, the production of livestock such as cows, chickens, and pigs accounts for 70 per cent of all agricultural land usage, and creates 18 per cent of the greenhouse gases released into our atmosphere. Moreover, 43 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions are released for every one kilogram of beef produced. The keto diet is not doing any favours in correlation to environmental impacts.

Vegan and vegetarian diets

According to a 2018 Gallop poll, five per cent of Americans identify as vegetarian. Contrary to the common perception that cutting meat out of your diet correlates to a positive impact on the environment, a strict vegetarian or vegan diet may also have its own shortcomings, though it can still be a much better alternative to an omnivorous diet.

For example, vegetarians in the US commonly replace the meat in their diets with dairy products. Dairy products, an adjacent production to livestock, have a massive carbon footprint, since dairy cows release copious amounts of methane into the atmosphere, as well as other greenhouse gases, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Dairy production also uses high amounts of water in order to nourish cows, and process manure. Moreover, manure runoff can pollute water systems, which can lead to serious health problems for consumers.

Vegans, however, do not consume dairy; in fact, they avoid animal products altogether. In theory, this should remove any negative environmental impact. However, according to the US Library of Medicine, pesticides used in conventional agriculture, such as fruit and vegetable crops, leak into surface level water where it can also pollute soil, poison wildlife, and harm other nearby plant-life.

It’s absolutely admirable to take on a new diet in order to improve yourself —personal growth is important. However, the next time you follow the next trendy diet, consider how much our Earth loses, too. There is no one diet that can save the planet, but individual consumer choices do add up.

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 300 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Healthy snacks to start the summer

A guide to snacking during crunch time

Healthy snacks to start the summer

You just sat down at your desk, ready to study, when the familiar feeling of hunger starts resonating in your stomach. To save you the time of thinking about what to eat, here are seven healthy study snacks to keep you well-fed and motivated. Keep in mind your own food allergies and dietary restrictions when using this guide!

Walnuts are a great ‘superfood’ and for a good reason. They may not look like it, but they pack a punch when it comes to delivering healthy omega-3 fatty acid. Eating a handful offers potential benefits of improved memory and overall brain health. In fact, a 2015 study by the University of California Los Angeles showed that participants who consumed walnuts showed significant improvements in cognitive functions.

Green veggies, like kale or spinach, are your best friends for adding vitamins or minerals into your diet. Pair the veggies with hummus or blend it with some avocado and other fruits for a rich green smoothie.

Berries are a wonderful choice to improve your eye health. Exam season can be a strain in many aspects, so down a bowl of blueberries or strawberries to keep your vision in check. If eating berries alone sounds a bit boring, add them to oatmeal or Greek yogurt for a snack that is filling and nutritious.

Chia seed pudding is the way to go for satisfying a sweet tooth without packing on the pounds. Although they are small in size, chia seeds contain lots of fibre and nutrients. What does that translate to, you ask? Getting the fuel your body needs and staying full for longer, all without excessive calories.

Hard-boiled eggs are a guilt-free way to be rid of hunger during late-night studying sessions. They are high in protein, which means staying full for longer. Egg yolk also contains choline, which helps improve focus and memory. Two birds with one stone, ain’t it?

Edamame is a great option for those who want a savoury snack that is low in calories. If you are unfamiliar with the term, edamame refers to immature green soybeans. The beans contain many nutrients such as iron and don’t take long to prepare, so you can keep your tummy happy without sacrificing study time.

Baked zucchini chips come in and save the day when the craving for chips hits. Add your favourite seasoning and pop them in the oven. As you chow down, have peace of mind knowing these tasty crisps contain vitamin C, antioxidants, and fibre to aid in digestion.

Healthy eating, active living: Optimizing Nutrition Through Exercise

Walk your dog daily, even if you don’t have one

Healthy eating, active living: Optimizing Nutrition Through Exercise

The Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education (KPE) hosted leading experts at the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport on March 5 to present in the Optimizing Nutrition Through Exercise panel to discuss the relationship between physical activity and nutrition.

The event presented a combination of time-efficient exercise strategies with simple evidence-based dietary changes that can help busy professionals and active individuals improve their health and performance.

Assistant Professors Daniel Moore and Jenna Gillen of KPE translated their research insights into practical strategies that you can use to improve your health.

Moore said that as your day progresses, the most efficient way to stimulate your muscles is to eat moderate protein-containing meals, at around 0.3 grams of protein per kilogram of your body mass. Additional levels of protein do not build muscle further.

To determine the right amount of protein to consume in a meal, Moore said that “animal-based protein might be the size of your palm,” or, for plant-based protein, he recommends “half a cup or about half your fist.” If you consume more dense protein-containing meals, the excess protein will instead be stored as an energy reserve for later.

Where Moore’s research focuses on “how physical activity improves our body’s ability to use dietary protein,” his “Move It to Use It” principle suggests that muscle diminishes with inactivity and grows with exercise.

It’s important to “engineer more physical activity and less sitting into your lifestyle to keep your muscle sensitive.” For example Moore suggests walking your dog daily — even if you don’t have one. This means you should get outside and be active.

Gillen’s research, on the other hand, is focused on carbohydrate and fat metabolism. Gillen has three take-home strategies for optimizing blood sugar with exercise. The first two revolve around eating habits; she suggests exercising “after eating carbohydrates to lower the post-meal rise in blood glucose [and] perform[ing] repeated exercise ‘snacks’ to lower blood glucose throughout the day.”

Exercise “snacking” means incorporating short yet frequent bouts of physical activity throughout your day. Studies presented by Gillen show that two-minute walks every 30 minutes is an effective way to break up prolonged periods of sitting and more effective than a 30-minute morning walk for young adults.

If you’re someone who sits a lot at work or school and can’t get up to go for frequent walks, try activity break squats — no equipment or gym membership required. Gillen and Moore are currently testing this strategy in the lab, which includes 15 repeated chair stands in the span of one minute.

The third and final strategy Gillen recommends is to “maintain an active lifestyle to help manage blood glucose on days you don’t exercise.”

These strategies are not just useful to those with diabetes. Gillen said that “seemingly healthy adults can have spikes in blood glucose following meals, too.” Besides, you can never be too healthy, can you?

Toronto Raptors and Gymnastics Canada performance nutritionist and sports dietitian Jennifer Sygo also spoke at the event. She discussed orthorexia nervosa, which is an eating disorder characterized by an excessive preoccupation with eating healthy food. This unhealthy fixation on righteous eating can be destructive to health and wellbeing.

Sygo compared the nutritional habits for elite athletes versus the general population. Elite athletes make up “0.00018% of the world’s population,” according to Sygo’s presentation.

Sygo explained that nutrition can be converted to speed in two ways: aerobic metabolism, which “produces more energy, but does so more slowly,” and anaerobic, which “produces less energy, but does so quickly.”

Athletes often struggle to eat enough calories to meet high energy needs. For example, Tour de France cyclists require between 5,000–7,000 calories per stage, which is why they need low-nutrient, dense foods to ensure good energy availability and support the high demands of training. For the general population, Sygo said that a high-fibre and less-processed foods is optimal.

Asking the real questions about intermittent fasting

Is the popular diet worth the trouble?

Asking the real questions about intermittent fasting

It seems like the past year has been riddled with vastly contradictory and — let’s face it — downright bizarre diet fads. With loud voices swearing by the demonization of carbs or fingers wagging at an imbalanced body pH — thanks, Tom Brady — knowing what to eat to stay healthy or to shed extra pounds has become more confusing than ever.

Among the Instagram-famous diet fads is intermittent fasting, hailed by the likes of J. Lo and Terry Crews for its relative simplicity among the abundance of complicated diets: eat as much as you want, but quickly! According to Harvard Health Publishing, intermittent fasting works by “severely limiting calories during certain days of the week or during specified hours during the day. The theory is that this type of diet will help decrease appetite by slowing the body’s metabolism.” This can mean anything from eating only within a strict 8–10 hour window every day to following the 5:2 method, in which the dieter eats normally for five days of the week and severely restricts caloric intake for two days.

Extreme? Yes. But does it work? Possibly — if you can keep it up. JAMA Internal Medicine cited a whopping 38 per cent dropout rate among participants of an intermittent fasting study. There is also a “strong biological push to overeat following fasting periods,” according to Harvard Health Publishing, which calls into question the long-term sustainability of the diet.

Restriction as an explicit facet of any kind of diet comes with its consequences: health care professionals have noted the potentially damaging mental side-effects of a diet focused only on what you can’t do, raising concerns that intermittent fasting may be a gateway to an eating disorder. Claire Mysko, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association, told Mashable, “Not everybody who gets into this [fasting culture] is necessarily going to spiral into [an] eating disorder, but if you are at risk, this is a really triggering framing.” This could become an excuse to not eat at all, for example, in an era overwhelmingly saturated with expectations of physical perfection.

The final word is still out on whether intermittent fasting is the golden ticket to a six-pack, so as the internet continues to battle it out, maybe just skip the fried stuff and hope for the best.

“I really wish there were healthier options”: a look at UTSC’s food scene

Food options, Highland Hall café, food quality issues at UTSC

“I really wish there were healthier options”: a look  at UTSC’s  food scene

Daria Khalimdarova, a second-year international student from Russia, heats up her food in one of the microwaves at UTSC. This time, it was chicken and rice.

“I am an international student who lives alone in Canada,” said Khalimdarova. “I spend a lot of time at school… so it was challenging for me to start cooking.” However, she said that limited food options, low food quality, and the food vendors’ early closing hours drove her to cancel her meal plan at UTSC and begin cooking for herself.

Most food vendors at Market Place close at 7:00 pm from Monday to Thursday. On Fridays, most close at 4:00 pm. All food vendors at the Market Place are closed on weekends.

According to Food Partnerships’ Assistant Director Frank Peruzzi, they are in the process of developing a new five-year plan to improve the food at UTSC.

“A bubble tea concept is now open at Rex’s Den and a new café called ‘Gathering Grounds’ will soon open in Highland Hall,” Peruzzi told The Varsity. “When the new residence opens in the future, it will include a new dining hall with several new concepts and extended hours throughout the week and weekend.”

He said that when choosing new restaurant concepts, his management team discusses ideas and solicits students’ feedback via student surveys. The surveys are held every two years.

“There are a lot of international students coming from different backgrounds including myself who are struggling to adapt to local food,” said Khalimdarova. “I would love to see some changes towards making different meal options available across the UTSC campus.”

Luke Zhang, a second-year Computer Science student, also complained about the food quality at UTSC. “The healthy options are overpriced in my opinion,” said Zhang.

He cited fruit at Market Place as an example. “I really wish there were healthier options, but there aren’t so I usually settle for a burrito bowl at the local kitchen or a pizza at Pizza Pizza.”

There have also been numerous food quality incidents at UTSC. One of them took place in March, when a student found a winged insect in her food from Asian Gourmet, a restaurant in UTSC’s Student Centre.

Then in August, a “caterpillar-like bug” was found in a first year’s food during the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union’s (SCSU) frosh week.

The most recent bug incident took place on October 15, when another insect was found in Asian Gourmet food.

All restaurants in the Student Centre are separately leased with the SCSU as the landlord.

After the August incident, the SCSU said executives “would be attending Food Handling courses” in preparation for future events.

The SCSU also told The Varsity that it was “disappointed in the recent incident at Asian Gourmet and is currently investigating the matter.”

Zhang thinks that the food quality of the food chain vendors at the Student Centre are poor “compared to the same chain restaurants in other places.”

“Toronto Health Department [assesses] the food safety risk of each vendor and schedule[s] inspections accordingly,” said Peruzzi. “A fresh fruit vendor will likely be inspected fewer times than a burger shop.”

Peruzzi said that each food vendor separately selects its own supplier. He said that he is unaware about whether SCSU executives are trained in restaurant management.

The SCSU has not responded to The Varsity‘s requests for comment.

Another insect reportedly found in Asian Gourmet food at UTSC

Similar incident occurred in March

Another insect reportedly found in Asian Gourmet food at UTSC

Another bug has apparently been found in food from Asian Gourmet, a restaurant in UTSC’s Student Centre. The discovery was made on October 14 by UTSC student Edison Liu, who was having a long study session when he found what appeared to be a larva in his food.

A similar incident occurred last March, when another UTSC student found a “large winged insect” on her bok choy from Asian Gourmet.

Liu posted about the incident on the “UTSC Bird Courses” group on Facebook, where he included a photo of the insect on his food. The insect also seemed to be on a piece of bok choy.

PHOTO VIA EDISON LIU/FACEBOOK

“I asked for a refund,” Liu wrote to The Varsity. “But the lady didn’t even say sorry. She said bugs from veggies [are] not bad for me.”

Asian Gourmet confirmed the incident. “It’s very difficult to control,” said Asian Gourmet to The Varsity. “We [buy] the veggies from the supermarket. Sometimes [the insect] is hiding inside. Even if we cut it very carefully, we can’t see… we clean two times, three times, but now more carefully.”

Asian Gourmet also said that many Chinese restaurants have a similar issue with their vegetables, and that students should always be careful when eating in particular Chinese greens like bok choy.

“Tell the students we’re so sorry, we’re so sorry for what happened,” said Asian Gourmet.

All food vendors in the Student Centre operate with the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) as the landlord.

The Varsity has reached out to the SCSU for comment.

U of T alum’s startup offered $150,000 Dragons’ Den deal

Leila Keshavjee’s ice pops pave path to sweet future

U of T alum’s startup offered $150,000 Dragons’ Den deal

U of T Kinesiology alum Leila Keshavjee’s startup has landed a sweet deal.

On the recently aired season 13 premiere of reality television show Dragons’ Den, Keshavjee’s healthy ice popsicle startup Happy Pops was offered a $150,000 investment and access to a business accelerator in exchange for 30 per cent equity.

“It was definitely a little more equity than I said I wanted to give up initially going in,” says Keshavjee. “[But] I went with my gut… I have this offer now and I think it’s 100 per cent the best fit.”

Happy Pops was born out of Keshavjee’s desire to create a product that was “a healthier alternative to what’s already out there but still tasted good.”

Through her Kinesiology degree, Keshavjee learned about nutrition and the many ways that sugar can be hidden on food labels. “I wanted to have a product [with ingredients] that anybody could pronounce… There was no hiding.”

While still an undergraduate student at U of T, Keshavjee enrolled in IMC200 — Innovation and Entrepreneurship and IMC390 — Internship in New Venture, where she learned about what it takes to start a business.

Later, she sought advice and support from U of T’s Impact Centre, which she credits with supporting her entrepreneurial adventure. “When you’re running a business, you’re often alone in the startup phase… The opportunities to interact with other entrepreneurs… is one of the most valuable things. You can learn so much from each other.”

PHOTO COURTESY OF LEILA KESHAVJEE

She started her ice pop business after graduating from U of T in 2016, when, with funding from her father, she purchased an ice pop business that had a 1,000-square-foot commercial kitchen but no retail products.

“When I started, I made all the popsicles myself for the first month. So I used to cut the fruit, blend it all, put it in the popsicle mould, seal them, wash all the dishes and all that.” Now that the business has grown, Keshavjee’s role is primarily focused on sales and marketing.

She describes running her own business and building a brand as filled with constant ups and downs. “You could be cold-calling for days. Or, someone could reach out to you and say, ‘Hey, I wanna have you in my store’… Getting people to know who you are as a brand and trust you hasn’t been easy but it’s definitely been a great learning experience.”

On the encouragement of her friends, Keshavjee auditioned for Dragons’ Den in Toronto, which was among the 38 stops the show made across the country. She waited for four hours among many other worthy businesses. She describes the audition process as intense: “You really just have to block out everybody around you and focus on your pitch.”

After being placed on the standby list, she was called and given three days’ notice to appear on Dragons’ Den. She had to prepare her presentation over that weekend, making sure it was entertaining and that the product looked perfect.

Going into the den, Keshavjee was nervous. “I was nauseous, I was sleep-deprived, I was excited… I [had] watched this show for so long.” However, she relaxed when she saw that the investors liked her product.

During her 45 minutes of filming, four of the six investors made offers for Happy Pops.

Keshavjee made her final decision in about a minute. Originally seeking $50,000 for 10 per cent equity, she is finalizing an offer from Arlene Dickinson, whom she knew that she wanted to work with going in, of $150,000 for 30 per cent equity.

To other students looking to start their own businesses, Keshavjee says, “Don’t be afraid to fail and don’t be afraid to take a risk, especially while you’re young. Now is the time to try these things.”