family · sports nutrition

On counting almonds, searching for Devil’s Claw, and remembering Avis

My mother-in-law died recently (see Rough times, tough choices for the background) and I’m spending lots of time thinking about her. We were pretty close, counter almost all the stereotypes of mother and daughter-in-law relationships.

Maybe it helps that I was friends first with her daughter–we were grade nine home economics partners–and so she’s been in my life for a very long while. (And yes, I married the annoying older brother. That’s a longer story for another time.)

Almost every time through the years when she would visit us she’d be on some oddball, stringent diet prescribed by this or that natural healer or written up in this or that life changing book, so it’s natural too that I think of her in the context of this blog. She was a feminist, concerned about health and wellness, spirituality and the good life, a searcher and a seeker, and we always had lots to talk about. I think she liked having a philosopher in the family.

Now my tolerance for alternative spirituality and medicine isn’t what it could be. I’m a philosopher who is all about logic, arguments, and reasons. Skepticism and science rule my world. In the Storm poem, see below, I’m with Tim Minchin all the way.

As you might imagine we usually disagreed about the underlying reasons for this diet or that restriction, but since mostly all of her diets involved eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables we got along just fine at mealtime. She easily fit into our vegetarian family. We did gluten free when she visited but she died before trying the Paleo diet, at least at our house.

I would complain to friends about having to hear the theory behind these various diets and how each one made her feel “better than she’d ever felt in her whole life.” But as long as we stayed away from the reasons, we did okay. (Kind of like me and Waldorf School. When my kids went there I loved what they did and I learned just not to ask why they did it. Wonderful educational practise, bad metaphysics.)

“Must have Devil’s Claw.” I say that in Avis’s voice whenever I hear mention of Devil’s Claw because of a recent visit in which the purchasing of this dried herb was the first stop on her visit.


Many of her diets involved a precision that alarmed me. Last time I stayed with her it was 6 almonds for breakfast. Just six? Not eight?

“Life is too short to count almonds, ” I declared. I don’t mind tracking and eyeballing portion sizes but counting almonds has always seemed over the top to me.

But this infographic made me smile, Snake Oil Supplements?

It pictures the scientific evidence for popular health supplements. It’s very much worth having a look. See, dark chocolate. Told you.

Using bubbles that reflect the amount of evidence available for a particular supplement, ones that rise above the line show tangible human health benefits when taken orally by an adult with a healthy diet.

And look! There’s Devil’s Claw. Avis might have been right after all. Miss you so much, wacky diets and all.

2 thoughts on “On counting almonds, searching for Devil’s Claw, and remembering Avis

  1. Haven’t listened to poem yet, but love love love the infographic! Will be using in courses for sure. And I can completely relate to the your “good practice, bad metaphysics” view; just goes to show how complex and loaded evidential relations are.

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