The Devil’s in the Dietitian’s Details

Recently, we heard an interview with a registered dietician who was advising people on healthy snacks. She recommended three snacks, and we nearly blew a gasket by the time the interview ended. Here’s what she recommended:

  1. Homemade trail mix: roasted nuts, roasted seeds, boxed breakfast cereal, dried fruit
  2. Yogurt parfait: Low fat yogurt (either plain or flavored), boxed granola, and fresh berries layered in a small jar—with a wafer of dark chocolate for garnish
  3. Chocolate milk: Chocolate milk which (she advised) has all the same essential nutrients as plain milk

If you’ve read our book Eat to Save Your Life or if you’ve been reading our blogs, you probably have a pretty good idea why our blood pressure started rising. Can you spot the problems?

Well—let’s start with the homemade trail mix. We’ll be the first to say that making homemade trail mix is a really good idea because you can control what goes into it, and snacking on a little trail mix is healthier than say . . . donuts. But here’s where things went wrong: The dietician’s ingredients included roasted nuts and seeds plus two kinds of boxed breakfast cereal. The oils in the nuts and seeds would have oxidized (gone rancid) due to roasting, and the grains in the cereal would have been processed within an inch of their nutritional lives. Plus, most boxed cereal contains more salt per serving than a serving of potato chips. This from a so-called healthcare professional whose life’s work it is to advise people on nutrition? Sheesh!

When the dietician moved on to the yogurt parfait and advised that either plain or fruit-flavored yogurt is great and touted the benefits of probiotics in the yogurt, Gloria nearly burned a hole in the ceiling. Fruit in the yogurt? You gotta be kidding. As Gloria has been pointing out for decades, the fruit in the bottom is essentially jam. Then, to make things worse, this so-called healthy parfait was topped off with salty, starchy, sugary boxed granola. Argh! The whole thing contained way too much sugar—which actually impedes the healthy balance of bacteria in the gut. So much for the probiotics in the yogurt!

But let’s at least try to be a little positive here and peel Gloria off the ceiling: Thank heaven for the antioxidant-rich fresh berries. At least, there was something in this parfait that may have been healthy. Were they certified organic? And, if the cocoa level was high (at least 75%) and the sugar level was low, the wafer of dark chocolate also may have been a fun way to add more antioxidants to the parfait. After all, plain cocoa is off-the-chart when it comes to high levels of anti-oxidants.

Oh! And we love, love, love the idea of layering the parfait in a glass jar. It was attractive, fun, and a little funky—and easy to serve to kids after school or seal and pop into a lunch bag. Full marks for presentation.

Chocolate milk was the third snack recommended. We don’t even know where to begin when it comes to a dietician recommending chocolate milk as a healthy snack. Has she ever read the ingredients label on chocolate milk?

Well, to be frank, we hadn’t read the ingredients list on chocolate milk in a long time, either, because we just don’t buy it. So, off we went to the store to find some chocolate milk. First, you have to sort through all the chocolate beverages (scary ingredients lists there) to find actual chocolate milk. Milk, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, must be milk straight from the cow or other animal, so chocolate milk is actually milk. Not necessarily so in the confusingly-labeled “dairy beverage”.

Okay, so we shelled out $3.19 for a two-liter jug of chocolate milk, brought it home, and started examining the label. Here’s what our chocolate milk contains:

  • Milk: Okay (although we should, perhaps, discuss milk in another blog to help you determine if you should be drinking milk, at all, and if so, what kind).
  • Cocoa: This could be good. As we’ve said, cocoa can be high in antioxidants.
  • Sugar: Hm-m. Let’s see. This would be sugar added to the milk sugar (lactose) naturally occurring in the milk. One eight-ounce serving of our chocolate milk contains 26 grams of sugar—double the amount in ordinary milk and the equivalent of nearly seven teaspoons of sugar per glass. Can anyone say “overweight” or “diabetes”?
  • Carageenan: In chocolate milk, carrageenan is commonly used as a thickener and stabilizer that increases the viscosity of the milk and helps to suspend the cocoa particles in it. Although it’s been used as a food additive for about 50 years, credible research links carrageenan to an inflammatory response in the gut and throughout the body. Our book Eat to Save Your Life details the enormous dangers of chronic inflammation in the body—including its role in diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, heart disease, and cancer.
  • Colour, Salt, and Artificial Flavoring also are listed on the label of our jug of chocolate milk. How much and what are they? Well, these aren’t explained, but we’d bet the (dairy) farm that they’re not exactly healthy.

And those are just the ingredients for chocolate milk; let’s not even consider the confusingly-labeled “dairy beverages” or “chocolate drinks” that are fast replacing chocolate milk on grocery shelves. Thing is, even savvy shoppers haven’t necessarily noticed the scary difference between chocolate milk, dairy beverage, and chocolate drink. Ah-h! Those tricky labels.

At their core, the snack ideas introduced by the dietician could be good. The nutritional devil, however, is in the details. Here are our (much improved) variations:

1. Homemade trail mix: Raw nuts and seeds, no breakfast cereal, sulfite-free dried fruit.

Purchase the nuts in a health food store that keeps nuts refrigerated, refrigerate them at home, and use them relatively quickly. Keeping the nuts cold prevents the oils in the nuts from oxidizing (turning rancid) and introducing unnecessary amounts of harmful free radicals into your body.

Remember: A serving of nuts is a small handful (about ¼ cup), and the natural sugars in fruit get really concentrated when the fruit is dried, so a handful or two of trail mix is enough. Don’t overindulge.

2. Yogurt parfait: Plain goat yogurt or sheep yogurt, ground flaxseed, slivered or chopped raw nuts, and fresh berries—all certified organic, of course, and with a wafer of fair trade certified organic dark chocolate for garnish.

Because it digests more easily and generally isn’t subjected to the fat-free hype of the modern dairy industry, we prefer goat yogurt and sheep yogurt over cow yogurt. Never tried it? When it comes to flavor, goat yogurt is hard to discern from cow yogurt; sheep yogurt has a remarkably silky texture and fresh flavor that will have you reaching for more.

Of course, we have to give the dietician kudos for recommending antioxidant-rich berries and dark chocolate. We heartily concur—although we prefer certified organic, of course, because several kinds of berries find their way onto the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen ( a list of the most contaminated produce) every year. For more info on the Dirty Dozen, see Chapter 2 of our book Eat to Save Your Life.

3. Chocolate milk: Certified organic goat milk or sheep milk, cocoa powder, real maple syrup or honey or agave nectar, cinnamon, cayenne (optional).

If you make your own chocolate milk, you can avoid the additives in commercial chocolate milk. Here’s how:

Make a paste by mixing together:

  • 1 heaping Tablespoon of certified organic fair trade cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon of maple syrup, honey, or agave nectar (use more or less, as you prefer).
  • Pinch of *cinnamon (or to taste)
  • Scant pinch of *cayenne (optional)

 Adding a little at a time, slowly blend in:

  • 1 cup of milk

Continue blending until the cocoa paste and milk are fully combined and smooth. If you blend the mixture with ice, too, you can make a chocolate shake.

Note: *Cinnamon and cayenne both are known to help reduce inflammation in the body.

So, there you have it: Our take on healthy snacks that we think are a huge improvement over the recommendations made by the registered dietician.

We hope you’ve noticed a little word to the wise, here: Don’t blithely turn over your nutritional health to a so-called expert. Get informed, ask questions, and make your own decisions. After all, some registered dieticians (although certainly not all) work for the milk board or other food companies, so you have to query what they may be recommending. Not sure if we’re right, either? Well—send a note, and ask some questions. In the end, it’s your body.

In the meantime, we’re going to discard that container of chocolate milk and find a healthier snack.

Here’s to your nutritional health,

Jerre and Gloria





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