Understanding Healthy Nutrition
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 11 Mar 1992, p. 417-427
Casselman, Barbie, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
A clarification of some common beliefs about which foods are nutritious and which are not. The proper way to lose weight. The role of metabolism. Diet fads and trends. The role of exercise. Finding the hidden fat in foods. How fat gets stored in our bodies. Proteins and carbohydrates. The importance of a well-balanced eating pattern. The dangers of crash diets. A sensible diet. Different kinds of fat. Canada's food guide.
Date of Original
11 Mar 1992
Language of Item
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Fairmont Royal York Hotel

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Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3

Full Text
Barbie Casselman, Nutritionist
Introduction: John F. Bankes
President, The Empire Club of Canada

There is no real excellence in all this world which can be separated from right living.

David Starr Jordan

The humourist Irwin S. Cobb once said that he wished his ulcers and his appetite could get together on a mutually satisfactory diet! If he lived today, Cobb would have available to him a lot of dietary information, opinions and guidance from nutrition counsellors--whether they are called nutritionists, dietitians or diet counsellors.

The relationship between an individual's diet and one's overall lifestyle is certainly not a new observation. As the French physiologist and gastronome Anthelme Brillat-Savorin said more than 150 years ago: "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are." From this old nostrum has evolved the more current maxim: "You are what you eat!"

Or, as pointed out in a recent Globe and Mail article by entertainment lawyer John Riley: "You are what you have been forced to eat." How many of us suffer from the psychological torment inflicted upon us as children in the name of "nutrition"?

My mother, realizing that "It's good for you" had no relevance to a child, tried a number of alternatives while holding in front of my sealed mouth a spoonful of what looked like mashed corn niblets in mud. She would say: "Here comes the airplane with Daddy. Open the airport and let him in. You want Daddy to land safely, don't you?"

It was a tough call. I loved my father, but having him re-route to Buffalo was better than eating this muck. Mom would then turn up the pressure a notch. "Better hurry, the plane is running out of fuel." This was a lot of responsibility for a youngster--to be the cause of the worst aviation disaster in history.

Inevitably, I granted runway clearance and swallowed the "flight." On and on it went, my father returning by every mode of transportation imaginable: trains, boats, horseback, skateboards, dogsleds--each time with his life hanging in the balance! Many of you, I am certain, identify with this age-old ritual.

What is new in the area of nutrition and dietary counselling is the activist approach that we are currently seeing. Books, television programs, newspaper columns and videos are now available to help people plan their diet with the emphasis on maximum nutrition. We are seeing the evolution of a form of "mass nutritionism"--a growth industry--at a time when baby boomers are starting to look uncomfortably at their belt-line and worry about their cholesterol level and blood pressure.

What is especially notable is the hands-on role which many companies are playing in encouraging healthy nutrition among their employees. This phenomenon is most noticeable in the United States, where the absence of medicare puts more pressure on corporate health care plans. Companies are finding that providing nutritional guidance to their employees does not just reduce health care costs, it cuts down on absenteeism. And the savings flow right to the bottom line.

It was Napoleon who first suggested that an army marches on its stomach. Now, many are beginning to say the same thing about a company, or, indeed, an economy.

The preoccupation with nutrition has bubbled to the surface in North American restaurants. The public has voted their health concerns with their dinner plates! We food foot soldiers have seen it all over the last quarter century. The rise of the salad bar, the fall of whole milk, the battle royal of margarine and butter, the phalanxes of low-fat everything!

And the packaging has changed with the times as well. Just like Jerry Rubin, the radical-turned-capitalist, the hippie restaurants of the '60s have grown up and gone mainstream. Woody Allen, who satirized the Los Angeles health-food scene in his movie Annie Hall, would not be able to order a plate of mashed yeast in the '90s version of the politically correct restaurant.

The nutritious diet of the 1960s has evolved into the "designer foods" of the 1990s. Brown rice and seaweed, staples of the counterculture, have been renamed and redesigned by trend-setting chefs. Sea vegetable salad, for example, with bitter greens and toasted sesame vinaigrette or grilled vegetables with arugula-rice salad.

Movie and rock stars, who 10 years ago went out for drinks and drugs, now go out for filtered water and cold soba pasta with hijicki (a form of seaweed), avocados and leeks. So much the better, if it tastes good!

One of the leading figures in broad-based nutrition in Canada is our guest today, Barbie Casselman.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Barbie first became known in the nutrition field through her work with Weight Loss Clinic, shortly after graduating from Ryerson with a BA in home economics, specializing in food science and dietetics.

As well as working with several companies in the development of corporate nutritional programs, Barbie is the creator of the Barbie Casselman line of Spa Cuisine (in partnership with the David Wood Food Shop), and is a consultant to Loblaws in the development of Body Friendly and President's Choice Too Good to be True products.

Often seen on such television public affairs programs as Canada A.M., and read in such magazines as Chatelaine and Canadian Living, Barbie is a frequent lecturer to academic, corporate and charitable institutions. With such a long list of accomplishments, it seems somewhat irreverent to call her simply Barbie.

On a personal note, Barbie has helped me--and quite a number of others in the audience today--separate fat from fiction in the nutrition realm. Until I met Barbie, I thought the four food groups were hamburgers, fries, pizza and potato chips. As my diet police, she has taught me to turn down second helpings of Chocolate Obsession, Cinful Poppyseed Cake and Chocolate Overdose--all names with a whiff of the exotic and more than a whiff of immorality! Now--thanks to Barbie--I opt for Strawberry Saintliness or Raspberry Rectitude.

And, whenever I am tempted by some dietary indiscretion such as a doughnut, I harken back to my father in a holding pattern above the airport, and think: I'm not just eating a doughnut, I'm saving a life.

Barbie, I look forward to your remarks today--and of course, we would be pleased to receive your counsel on the menu for future Empire Club luncheons.

Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to join me in welcoming Barbie Casselman.

Barbie Casselman:

I don't know if I can live up to that speech. Wow. I want to thank the audience for coming today. It's really nice to see that we got such a nice turnout. Since we consider the 1990s the decade of the environment, it's also nice to see that we're all considering our internal environments as well.

I'd like to begin today with a common question. What do you think has more fat and more calories? A commercial bran muffin or a gooey chocolate cream-filled donut? Let's see a raise of hands for the donut. And the bran muffin. There are definitely too many of my own clients here.

What do you think makes a more healthful breakfast--a donut or a muffin? If you said a muffin, you're not alone. In an effort to choose a nutritious good tasting alternative to donuts, danishes and the like, more and more people are opting for the many varieties of muffins found on bakery and supermarket shelves. But the health conscious ones are fooling themselves.

There's a reason many of those good-for-you muffins taste just as sweet and are just as satisfying as the bad-for-you donuts they replace. They contain the same ingredients, plenty of fat and loads of sugar. For instance, a bran muffin from Dunkin Donuts contains 122 more calories than the company's Bavarian Cream donut covered with chocolate frosting. And it has between 35 and 40 per cent more fat.

Mr. Donut's raisin bran muffin is 418 calories; Mr. Donut's good-for-you oat bran muffin is 436 calories.

When it comes to nutrition information, confusion reigns supreme. The biggest problem today is sorting out all this misleading information. The principals of nutrition are really not that difficult to follow; they've just been made impossible to understand.

When I was 20, 16 years ago, I lost 35 pounds. And I had been on every diet imaginable. I started with the grapefruit diet. Then there was the water diet. I was running back and forth to the bathroom so many times I never had time to eat. And then Scarsdale. With every attempt I just kept getting fatter and fatter. And it wasn't until I started with my home program in nutrition that I really started to understand that those diets do little to help you understand proper nutrition and how to make it part of your life.

The bottom line is that to successfully lose weight, you have to find something that fits into your routine and into your lifestyle. If you're eating 50 per cent of your meals away from home--a lot of restaurant meals--it doesn't make sense to walk around with those little baggies of diet food. It's not going to fit into your life style, so therefore it's not going to work.

There's really no magic formula to successful weight loss because there are so many individual factors that come into play. For example, one's age, activity level, size, desired weight. For any of the women here today, I'm sure they've embarked on a diet with their husband, and found it very frustrating because they've only been able to lose half the weight in the same time as their husband.

Women have more fat tissue, that's because they need to make babies. Men have metabolically more active lean muscle tissue. Because that burns more calories, they're allowed to eat more to maintain their weight. So when you go on a diet with your husband--and because he's bigger to begin with and needs more calories--his decreased intake is going to have a greater impact. That's one of the problems between men and women and losing weight.

Also one's age. With each decade of aging, we actually slow down our metabolic rate about 10 per cent. But we can avoid this by continuing to exercise. And exercise is a very very important part of the equation when it comes to nutrition. People often comment to me: "I sweat my guts out and I only burned 300 calories. That's like nothing." But what really happens if you exercise regularly, four times a week, is that you'll start to burn calories at a more efficient rate--all the time. Not just those calories that you're burning when you're exercising, but for 24 hours afterwards. So by regularly stimulating your metabolism you'll start to burn calories more efficiently all the time; you'll actually be able to eat more and maintain your weight.

Every pound of weight requires a certain number of calories to maintain itself. So for a man who wants to weigh 200 pounds, he obviously needs more calories than a woman who wants to weigh 150. There is actually an energy factor that is taken to figure out the desired amount of calories that you eat to maintain your weight--somewhere between 10 to 15.

So if you are very inactive, sitting at a desk most of the day and with no physical exercise, we would use the factor of 10. So if you take the weight the woman wants to be--150--and multiply it by 10, she would be able to eat 1500 calories to maintain her weight.

However, if she were more active, and we used the figure of 13 for somebody exercising three or four times a week, then that same 150 multiplied by 13 would allow her to eat more calories. For somebody who's exercising on a daily basis, we'd use the factor of 15. So the weight you want to be also plays a role here.

The only way to really increase your caloric need is by exercising. The best type of diet to follow is one that you feel you can live with. Diets typically don't work because people go on them with the intention of going off them. After they get down to the weight they want, they go back to eating the way they were before they started the diet. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you go back to the way you were eating in the first place that weight is going to come back. So it's really important to find something that's livable. And the best kind of diet that I've found is something that's low in fat but high in fibre, so you can walk around feeling satisfied without your stomach growling.

I mention fat a lot with my clients because fat is the thing that does the most damage. It's metabolized much differently than carbohydrates and proteins and we don't need nearly as much of it. Proteins we need every day. They're important for cell regeneration, tissue renewal, they have a function in the body. Carbohydrates we also need because they are our energy source. They're like gas for our car. But we need fat in minimal quantities. And because we don't need a lot of it, what we don't need we store. And the other problem here is that fat has nine calories per gram, proteins and carbohydrates four. So fat is twice as caloric but doesn't give you anything extra to eat. One tablespoon of oil has close to the same number of calories as two pieces of bread. But two pieces of bread is a lot more filling.

I often have people complain to me, that they don't really eat that much--a bran muffin for breakfast, and maybe, at lunchtime, a Caesar salad. Sure, they're not really eating a lot of food, but they're eating a lot of fat. And because they don't need that fat, it ends up being stored.

A good example about the Caesar salad. When Druxy's started a program called Heart Smart, they evaluated everything on their menu--the Caesar salad had more calories than the corned beef, pastrami, or salami sandwich. The large Caesar had 650 calories.

So here are these people thinking they're being good by eating a bran muffin and a Caesar salad, not realizing they're doing themselves more harm than good. I'm going to read you one more thing because this is what it all boils down to.

The latest scientific research indicates that calories from fat are treated very differently by your body than calories from carbohydrates or protein. And there in lies your ticket to weight loss. Ninety-seven per cent of all fat calories are converted into body fat. Studies have shown that even on relatively low calorie diets, diets consisting of fewer than 1500 calories a day, people can become obese if 50 per cent of those calories come from fat. The fat you eat is the fat you wear. And typically in that bran muffin and Caesar salad day, about 80 per cent of those calories come from fat.

Another problem I find with people trying to lose weight is that they're eating a lot of carbohydrates in the absence of protein. People will often tell me they're eating cereal for breakfast, maybe shredded wheat with half a banana and a bit of skim milk, salad with bread for lunch, and then, in the evening, pasta with a tomato sauce and a salad.

That's great from a standpoint of fat, as long as that salad wasn't gouped up with dressing, but the problem is they're shutting out protein. The only protein they've taken in a significant quantity might be a cup of skim milk on their cereal. And what happens in the absence of protein, carbohydrates actually retain fluid in the body.

Protein requires a lot of water to digest itself. So if you've ever been on these various high protein, low carbohydrate diets, you lose 10 pounds in the first week--mainly water because protein requires a lot of water to digest itself. When the diet's finished and you eat a slice of bread and gain four pounds you have to know something's not quite right. And that's because your body acts like a sponge because it's been so dehydrated.

So often, when people go onto these high protein diets, they're only losing water; when they go onto high carbohydrates, they end up retaining water.

We need protein on a daily basis, and if our bodies lack protein they will mobilize muscle tissue instead of fat which is not desirable. Muscle is metabolically more active than fat--it burns more calories just sitting still--so you want to preserve as much as possible.

The other reason it becomes difficult to lose weight when you're only eating carbohydrates is because they are absorbed much quicker than any other food. That's why you'll hear people recommend that you eat a pasta meal, for example, if you're going out to play a game of tennis. Because it gives you a very readily available source of energy. If people are only eating carbohydrates all day long, their blood sugar level keeps rising. And every time your blood sugar goes up your pancreas has to secrete a bit of insulin to take that sugar from your blood stream and put it back into the cells. And insulin is actually known as a fat forming hormone. It inhibits fat mobilization. So that makes it doubly hard to lose weight.

So it's really important to have a well-balanced eating pattern. Not to be eating all protein, not to be eating all carbohydrates. When people repeatedly gain weight and go on these yo-yo diets, because there is not a diet they can live with, they will end up losing weight but then go back to their old eating habits and regain it, then lose, then gain.

Particularly on crash diets, people will lose quite a bit of lean muscle tissue because their body's not getting the nutrients it needs. And as they lose the weight, and then gain it back, they're actually fatter the second time around at the same weight because some of that weight they lost was muscle; when they gained it back, they only gained back fat.

And because fat is not as metabolically active as muscle, they can't maintain that weight the second time around. And that's why they say diets can make you fat.

Each time you come back to that 150, all of a sudden you're 153 or 154. And then you start the whole experience again and the same thing happens. So it's important, if you decide that weight loss is what you're after, to make a commitment.

Try to make a commitment to yourself that it's going to be the last time. Because I often find myself counselling people who think they want to lose five or 10 pounds, that it may not be that important in terms of their medical health--they're healthy enough. But they think they want to be five or 10 pounds thinner and they sacrifice their health and their nutrition by eating incorrectly. They're not doing themselves a favour. They don't have the energy they would normally have because they're not eating properly.

So if you decide to embark on a weight-loss regimen, do it sensibly and remember that it's something you want to do for life so that you don't make it worse for yourself further down the road.

I've talked to you about fat because it is really the villain when it comes to most health issues. I just want to differentiate between the three different types of fat because there are quite a few people who seem to be a bit confused about this. Saturated fat is the kind of fat we eat in animal protein typically. And it is also in butter, lard, and, most commonly, beef fat. Saturated fat is the worst type of fat because it increases cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood.

We now know that a diet high in fat is going to have more of an influence on your cholesterol level than the amount of cholesterol in the food. A couple of years ago, they actually took shrimp and lobster and all those forbidden sea foods off the list of foods to avoid. Although they are a little bit higher in cholesterol than beef and chicken, they have literally no saturated fat. Poly unsaturated fats--that's the type of fat that actually helps lower cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood--come from vegetable sources.

Then there's mono saturated fats--those would be the oils, canola, olive oil--and those have been given very good press because they actually help to increase the level of HDL cholesterol and that's what we call high density lypo-proteins. That's known as the good cholesterol because it actually helps clear cholesterol from your blood stream.

There has also been quite a bit of hype around oat bran in terms of lowering cholesterol. Oat bran is known as a soluble fibre, it helps to form a gel around the cholesterol and then helps to excrete it. Soluble fibres are the types that mix with water, as opposed to an insoluble fibre, which would be something like wheat bran. And insoluble fibres are also good for you in that they're not absorbed; they're very good for digestive disorders and that's why people often use them to keep regular.

So although the soluble fibres are good for cholesterol it doesn't mean you have to eat three cups of oat bran cereal in the morning. It just means that, as part of a low-fat diet, oat bran is one good source of soluble fibre. But there are many others--beans and peas and legumes are all good sources. A lot of fruits and vegetables are also good sources. So you can see there are a lot of confusing issues out there when it comes to nutrition.

There are all kinds of books that have reliable information and unreliable information. I think that always looking to a book that's been written by a nutritionist, or somebody who has worked in the field of nutrition, is a good place to start. Canada's food guide is quite reliable. It recommends that 50 to 55 per cent of our calories come from complex carbohydrates--and that doesn't mean only breads and rice and cereals. That also includes fruits and vegetables. Not more than 30 per cent of our calories should come from fat and 20 per cent from protein. When you tell people to eat only 30 per cent of their calories from fat, that doesn't always mean that much to them. They're not going to sit there in the supermarket and try to figure out grams of fat. So I have brought with me today, some menu planners which were distributed through all Loblaws stores in January and met with quite a lot of success.

The products you will see listed in the programs are too good to be true, and they are products that are what I consider too good to be true. They're amazing. A lot of them are already made for you, the frozen dinners, also the soups.

I invite any questions afterwards. If anybody would like to ask me anything, I'd be more than happy to help you out. Thank you.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Anthony A. van Straubenzee, President, van Straubenzee Consulting Corp., and a Past President, The Empire Club of Canada.

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Understanding Healthy Nutrition

A clarification of some common beliefs about which foods are nutritious and which are not. The proper way to lose weight. The role of metabolism. Diet fads and trends. The role of exercise. Finding the hidden fat in foods. How fat gets stored in our bodies. Proteins and carbohydrates. The importance of a well-balanced eating pattern. The dangers of crash diets. A sensible diet. Different kinds of fat. Canada's food guide.