Ask Reece

Dear Reece,

I noticed in your last column, you mentioned that exercise doesn’t affect weight. Really?

Sincerely,
Freely Admiring my Tubbyness

Dear FAT,

I could just say “yup” (Carneiro 2016)! But instead I’ll say that the more studies I read, the more I think we don’t know very much about weight gain, nutrition, exercise, and the multitude of elements that affect how we process and use food. We can’t even reliably calculate the calories in basic foods like walnuts (Baer 2016), and the current popular view of sugar as addictive hasn’t stood up to human testing (Marcus 2017). Personally, I think there are too many factors — psychological, social, biological, and so on for us to really know how this works for each individual. It feels easy to frame one thing or another as the sole cause for something we deem detrimental, and that may be because it sells things — whether magazines or specialty food products. It’s rarely the whole story, though.

I also wanted to say it’s been great getting so much feedback from that last article, both in person at Karma, and over email, so keep it up! Ask questions, and send feedback to the email address below. Bonus points if you can come up with a clever acronym for your name.

Kind regards,
Reece


Dear Reece,

My kind roommate makes his lunches up for the week ahead of time, and recently has been packing up one or two extra for me as well. While I appreciate this, I don’t like the excessive use of plastic wrap and disposable packaging. I would have thought he’d know this since we’ve been friends for a while, and I have always been very environmentally conscious. How do I politely ask him to put my lunches (and ideally his) in a reusable container?

Sincerely,
Yes to the Tortilla Wrap, No to the Plastic Wrap

Dear YTWNPW,

Sounds like a great roommate! I would be very careful about how you make this type of request; a couple lunches a week is a significant gift, and it’s tricky to put terms on gifts. I am old-fashioned in that I think a gift is meant to be accepted as given, if given in good faith.

However, you could use it as an opportunity to do something in return for him and you, and that may solve the issue. There are options for packaging lunches, like reusable wrap and bento boxes, that are on the nicer side — a little pricier but more attractive and more pleasant to use than, for example, a plastic container. If you think your roommate might be open to it, you could purchase a set for each of you. If he still prefers disposable, then you may have to decide if you would rather put up with the excess packaging or forego the free lunch.

Kind regards,
Reece


Ask Reece is the e-Chronicle’s advice column by Karma working member Reece Steinberg, a health sciences librarian and food enthusiast. Reece provides advice with input from a variety of sources including anything from traditional etiquette columns to peer-reviewed scientific articles. He answers Karma member questions about dietary lifestyles, food science and fermentation, eating etiquette, and anything else food-related. Please email your questions to askreece@karmacoop.org.

Ask Reece

Dear Reece,

I joined Karma Co-op recently as I’m trying to eat more fresh food in the hopes of losing a few pounds. I’ve been stocking up on natural groceries, seeing the dietitian regularly, and watching videos from my dietician about the dangers of eating processed food and eating out. It’s been three months, and nothing has changed: my dietitian is frustrated with me, I can’t stick to the meal plans he sets up, most of the produce I buy goes bad before I use it, and I just end up feeling guilty. I want to change my behaviour and am trying, but somehow it never quite pans out. How can I improve my eating habits and lose weight?

From,

A New Member

 

Dear New Member,

First, I am sorry to hear that your dietitian is frustrated with you. Health professionals should be equipped to provide support and information, not judgement.

I took a look at what evidence-based studies have to say about changing eating behaviour, and it’s fascinating, complex, and sometimes counter-intuitive. ​For example, a 2016 paper writes that “health consciousness” — having information about the health effects of food — does not correlate with healthy behaviour. Knowing what is healthy doesn’t prompt body-size change in most cases, and, at best, only shows a weak association, such as increased consumption of organic food. Actions related to health, like meal-planning, also don’t correlate to improved eating but may contribute to anti-fat bias​ (Wood 2016).

An article your dietitian could take a look at talks about the causes of food choice behaviour — examining the variables other than intention that affect what we choose to eat, including beliefs, marketing, food literacy, taste, culture, and more (Scott 2017).

So, if intention and health education don’t work to change eating behaviour, guess what does? Being curious (i.e., non-judgmental) and in the present, and paying attention to the process of eating. Yes, it’s mindfulness, and yes, that can feel a little like cheesy pop-psychology, but it’s been shown to work to change eating behaviour in relatively large trials (Hendrickson 2017). Plus, it’s a lot more inclusive and less shame-inducing than the alternatives. I would add that eating habits are only one small part of what affects weight: genes, intestinal microbiome, and other factors play important roles; though, contrary to popular belief, exercise does not (Science Vs. podcast episode).

My point of view? Relax about weight/weight loss, focus on enjoying quality food, and avoid people (especially professionals) who are judgmental about weight.

 

Ask Reece is the e-Chronicle’s advice column by Karma working member Reece Steinberg, a health sciences librarian and food enthusiast. Reece provides advice with input from a variety of sources, including anything from traditional etiquette columns to peer-reviewed scientific articles. He answers Karma member questions about dietary lifestyles, food science and fermentation, eating etiquette, and anything else food-related. Please email your questions to askreece@karmacoop.org.

Ask Reece

Hi Reece,

I like food and drinks on the sweet side and have recently switched to stevia for seasoning my food (think sweet garlic sauce, salad dressings, etc.) and drinking “lightly sweetened” stevia carbonated waters, for example. When I serve food to guests, is it unethical of me to leave out that there is stevia in the food? If I don’t tell them, how do I respond when they comment on how sweet my food is? (This happened recently — most of my friends think of me as health conscious.)

Hoping to remain,

Sweetly Unaware Guests All Right

Hi SUGAR,

First, I have to guess why you would think it could be unethical to neglect to tell someone that stevia is in their food. Barring specific eating restrictions, or friends asking directly for a list of ingredients, most of the time we aren’t aware of every ingredient in a dish someone else prepares for us. Artificial sweeteners have been getting a fair amount of press for years regarding health concerns, most recently that aspartame and similar products have been the subject of some studies that linked their use to changes in gut microbiomes, potentially leading to diabetes, “sugar spikes,” or unwanted weight gain (Palmnas 2014). These studies are overall short in duration and small (e.g., 31 adults over 4 days; Frankenfeld 2015), and with mixed results in lab rats (Nettleton 2016). And most don’t even study stevia (one exception: Lopes 2017), though logically it is possible that stevia could produce the same sugar spike in the brain, and it could acclimate one to very sweet tastes, leading to use of more actual sugar. Science Vs., a podcast that explores science topics in an engaging way, but with rigorous science, has a fun episode on aspartame that might interest you.

So your question might be: I am aware of potential negative health effects of artificial sweeteners, and stevia is the more natural equivalent. Do I need to tell my friends? The main other option I can think of, for why you would think it was unethical is that nebulous feeling that it’s just not something people expect to encounter in their meals, similar to people who become upset when they have been “tricked” into eating a faux meat product or tofu cheesecake. Healthwise, it’s probably not a huge deal to occasionally have a small amount of artificial sweetener — the tests mentioned above focus on long-term use of the maximum recommended dose, and even they are not entirely conclusive. I am sure your friends having stevia in small amounts on occasion in your cooking could not harm their health. That said, if you believe that the other person would be upset if they found out, or if you feel like you need to hide it, you may feel better mentioning it casually when making the offer. An example could be, “I have some stevia orange fizzy water if you’re into that sort of thing, instead of plain water.” It doesn’t need to be a huge thing, just a mention. Don’t go over the top, and you never need to apologize for food you are giving to someone else.

Hope that helps!

Reece

 

Ask Reece is the Chronicle’s advice column by Karma working member Reece Steinberg, a health sciences librarian and food enthusiast. Reece provides advice with input from a variety of sources including anything from traditional etiquette columns to peer-reviewed scientific articles. He answers Karma member questions about dietary lifestyles, food science and fermentation, eating etiquette, and anything else food-related. Please email your questions to askreece@karmacoop.org.

Ask Reece: Hosting a dinner party & Keeping herbs fresh

Dear Reece,

I am planning to host a dinner party, but even with a short list of friends, I will be accommodating one vegetarian, one vegan, at least one person who has celiac disease (plus some who are wheat/gluten-sensitive), and various allergies. How can I even begin to prepare a menu? I’d like to make an elegant but simple meal without a million different options and without spending an inordinate amount of time or money, or having to learn a lot of new cooking methods.

Sincerely,

Up to Here With Different Diets

 

Dear Up,

This is not an uncommon issue. Many people have health, ethical, and medical reasons for restricting the foods they eat. When you add friends who may switch from Paleo to Sirtfood one week to the next, it can get complicated.

According to my guru, the sassy and long-suffering etiquette expert Miss Manners, it’s the responsibility of the host to inquire about dietary restrictions and provide something for everyone, but it is not impolite to serve dishes that some guests can’t eat.

I have a few guidelines that work for me:

  • Inquire about food restrictions and keep a list. For larger groups, simply offer some gluten-free and vegan dishes. Consider leaving common serious allergens — peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and seafood — off the menu.
  • Choose how much or how little you are willing and able to provide accommodation. Then communicate with guests so they know what to expect. That plant-based dish you were so excited to find among your family recipes may be less enjoyable to the vegan friend who ate in advance. Alternatively, learning that a severe allergen is on the menu may alert an acquaintance that they won’t safely be able to partake in dessert due to potential cross-contamination.
  • Mentally group overlapping food restrictions. Vegan food works for vegetarians and people with milk/lactose intolerances, gluten-free foods are safe for those with wheat allergies, etc. This means fewer diet options to keep track of.
  • Make food you know. If you cook in a certain style, make a number of dishes that fit that style (i.e., one with meat, one gluten-free, two vegetarian, etc.) rather than try to make different versions of the same dish tailored to each individual diet. This will ensure reliably delicious food, and provide variety to many guests.

Remember that entertaining is not the ideal time to experiment. Almost all cuisines and cooking styles include some dishes that work for all diets, or can easily be modified to do so. Take a look at what you currently like to make, and you might be surprised. Even meat-heavy cuisines often have some hearty plant-based side dishes that can serve as mains. Very few styles of cooking rely so heavily on a single ingredient that it’s hard to find dishes without gluten or the allergens listed above. Seasonal fruit-based desserts are simple, satisfying, and fit into most diets. Examples include winter pears or apples in mulled juice or wine, or summer berries with cream (on the side).

Keep detailed recipe notes or ingredient lists of everything you make or buy so you can answer guests’ questions. For larger groups labelling dishes can assist guests.

Additionally, certain types of spread provide some flexibility in what guests choose to eat.

  • Tapas spread: A spread of many simple tapas, or canapés, with other small dishes in whatever style you choose.
  • DIY-style meals: Many styles of foods let guests choose which ingredients they want to use. Examples include shish kabob, barbecue, hot pots, rice bowls (a dressing, base of rice or noodles, and an assortment of veggies and proteins to add on top), gourmet grilled cheese and grilled veggies (borrow a couple extra sandwich presses), DIY salad rolls, and many more. Avoid cross-contamination by providing separate serving tools for different diets.

Relax, enjoy yourself, and remember that dinner parties are really about the company (and sometimes the wine).

Sincerely,

Reece

Martin J, Martin N, and Martin J. (2017, January 29). No Host Can Hope to Please Guests With Multiple Food Restrictions. Retrieved from http://www.uexpress.com/miss-manners/2017/1/29/2/no-host-can-hope-to-please


Dear Reece,

What’s the best way to keep my herbs fresh?

Sincerely,

Wilt Ed

 

Dear Wilt,

Great question. Fresh herbs can really help provide some flavour variety in simple meals, and having a few on hand is key. As a bonus, herbs such as sage, rosemary, and thyme may play a role in helping to prevent a variety of chronic illnesses, even when eaten in small quantities.

If you don’t have easy access to an herb garden, keeping store-bought herbs as fresh as possible in the fridge is the next best thing. I’ve found that herbs last longest if I cut off the bottoms of the stems, stick them in a glass of cold water (like a bouquet of flowers), and loosely cover with a plastic bag before refrigerating.

Hope that helps,

Reece

Opara EI and Chohan M. Culinary Herbs and Spices: Their Bioactive Properties, the Contribution of Polyphenols and the Challenges in Deducing Their True Health Benefits. International Journal Of Molecular Sciences. 2014;15(10):19183–19201.


Ask Reece is the Chronicle’s new advice column by Karma working member Reece Steinberg, a health sciences librarian and food enthusiast. Reece provides advice with input from a variety of sources including anything from traditional etiquette columns to peer-reviewed scientific articles. He answers Karma member questions about dietary lifestyles, food science and fermentation, eating etiquette, and anything else food-related. Please submit your questions to questions to Reece by email to chronicle@karmacoop.org with the subject line “Ask Reece.”