Or you could just eat them…

Crossposted from Dietitian at Home.


Food fads are one of my pet peeves. I fully admit I get my back up when I hear about most new “health” food trends, probably sooner and more often than I should. Each one comes in like a saviour on a steed claiming to cure us of our unhealthy ways, then slowly fades away, only to be resurrected the following decade.

Public domain image of orange juice via Wikimedia Commons.

Public domain image of orange juice via Wikimedia Commons.

Juicing is the trend du jour, purporting to provide mega doses of vitamins and to enable said nutrients to be absorbed more effectively than through the traditional chew-and-swallow method. This article did some great investigation and discusses the truths and fallacies of these claims. In a nut shell, higher doses of vitamins, be it through juice or supplements, are only effective if you’re deficient. Once you’ve got enough, you pee out the rest. To put it another way, if your body’s stores of vitamin C are at 100%, it doesn’t matter whether your orange-cucumber-kale-beet-arugula juice has 100%, 200%, or 1000% of the DRI (daily recommended intake) of vitamin C, you will pee it all out. So, for the people privileged enough to have a huge supply of vegetables and a juicer, nutrient deficiency is incredibly unlikely and juicing couldn’t plausibly realize the claims made in its favour.

This actually brings up a few bigger issues I have with the juicing trend. The first is that for each serving of juice made, frequently 5 or more whole vegetables and/or fruits are used, with some recommendations as high as several pounds of juiced vegetables daily. By most standards, that is a LOT of vegetables. Look, I’m all for encouraging fruit and vegetable intake since fewer than half of Canadians meet the recommended minimum intake. We should fill our plates and fill up on vegetables, but we still don’t need to over consume. This also makes juicing a costly endeavour, making it effectively inaccessible to the large number of people who struggle to afford enough food on a regular basis.

The next issue I have with juicing is the claim that putting all the nutrients in liquid form is somehow needed due to poor digestion (N.B. not likely a real phenomenon for most healthy people) and that this liquid form allows for super-fast absorption for nutrients. Let’s be clear, unless you are seriously dehydrated or have literally swallowed a whole cucumber, standard vegetables WILL be liquid once they reach your small intestines as they have been chewed, mixed with saliva, churned, and mixed with stomach acid. This is basic ingestion and digestion. The real issue with turning solid food into juice is the assumption that we only need vegetables for the vitamins within (like a leafy, green vitamin pill), but this is simply not the case. Health benefits come from eating WHOLE vegetables, including the fibrous parts. The interactions or nutrients within our foods and within our bodies is incredibly complex, and there are undoubtedly many compounds within our veggies and fruits with beneficial effects we have yet to discover. Removing a large fraction of these foods may actually result in us losing nutrients.

My last issue with the juicing trend is that it turns fibre-rich plants into fibre-less juice. Given that most North Americans need more fibre, this seems like a poor nutritional strategy. Luckily (and hilariously) it seems that others have picked up on this and offer suggestions on how to deal with all that vegetable pulp. So this food trend is effectively take all the fibre out and then find ways to put it back in. Which is better than nothing, I suppose.

This whole scenario begs the question: given all the work and expense it takes to make juice, then the additional work to manipulate vegetable pulp into your regular recipes, wouldn’t it just be simpler (and cheaper, and faster) to just eat your vegetables?

Unsexy Nutrition Advice

Crossposted from Dieitian at Home.


Green Tea

Green tea image CC BY 3.0 by user USAGI-WRP from Wikimedia Commons.

In my professional practice I try hard to avoid hyped-up buzz words and phrases like “loaded”, “super-food”, “tonnes of”, “packed with”, “breakthough”, “incredible powers”, etc. These are attention-getters, they draw in the audience. They try to make healthy eating sexy and exciting. The thing is, I don’t feel they have much of a place in the world of nutrition.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the science of health and nutrition is fascinating, and I love teaching people about it. There is always something new and interesting being tested and everyday we learn new things about how our bodies interact with the foods we consume. The problem is that nutrition science is relatively new (we only discovered the first vitamin about 100 years ago) and it is notoriously hard to study accurately and in a way that is meaningful outside of a tightly controlled laboratory setting. These factors necessitate additional scrutiny when new or controversial findings arise and slow, cautious adoption of new guidelines for healthy eating.

Miracle Fruit

Public domain image of miracle fruit image by Hamale Lyman via Wikimedia Commons.

The best nutrition advice you’ll hear is probably the same old things we’ve all be hearing for years: eat lots of plants, drink water, avoid eating out too often, limit or avoid processed foods, get lots of fibre, eat less sugar. There’s really nothing sexy about this, but these are the principles of healthy eating that have stood the test of time and research reproducibility. Stories and claims of “miracle” foods (not to be confused with miracle fruit) generally don’t hold up, and it’s unfair to promote these ideas without sufficient evidence or science-based rationale.

Similarly, labelling foods as being “loaded” with specific nutrients implies that they are automatically healthier than other foods. Foods with less of a specific nutrient are not always worse, and more is not always better; it all depends on the context and an individual’s specific needs. This type of information should be interpreted and dispensed by a qualified professional (aka someone with an accredited education who has done more than just read the wikipedia entry for vitamin X).

We fall in love with nutrition trends quickly. We want a fast, passionate, lust-filled romance with every new bit of nutrition advice and research: a spring fling that has us head over heels for each new way of eating. But, just as in love, the passion fades, the whirlwind of desire ends, and what we often need is a steady, stable companion that has proven it’s worth.

The Most Expensive Streusel Topping You’ll Ever Find

Cross-posted from Laura’s new blog, Dietitian at Home.


NOW for MothersI came across this product a few weeks ago in my grocery store’s pharmacy section. It was located right beside the prenatal vitamins I was about to pick out. It wasn’t until I saw the price that I really paid attention to it: $29.99 for a 276g bag. It also comes with a long list of purported benefits. I decided to scrutinize each claim made to see if it really is worth the small fortune they’re asking.

Based on the ingredients list, I saw nothing out of the ordinary, just some naturalist claims and the implication that organic is automatically healthier:

The ‘Healing Mix’ is USDA certified. It is completely Natural and Organic. There are no additives, preservatives, coloring or chemicals added. The ‘Healing Mix’ ingredients are : Organic Flax, Organic Oats, Organic Almonds, Organic Honey, Organic Cinnamon, Organic Wheat, Organic Butter, Organic Walnuts, Organic Pistachios, Organic Brown Sugar, Organic Raisins, Organic Pine Nuts, and Organic Melon Seeds.

Sounds like some sort of sweet, buttery streusel topping.

I looked at some online reviews and found one glaring red flag: every review I could find was fully funded by the company and the reviewers were basically reading the list of claims right off the package.

Sigh. Well, time for an ACTUAL, unbiased review of the products claims.

Emotional wellness: 300 mg DHA per mother’s needs, will improve cognitive wellness.

There is no specific RDA (recommended dietary allowance) DHA. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States recommends 200mg DHA daily. People can meet this recommendation through two servings of fatty fish each week (good examples are salmon, mackerel, trout, and arctic char). Futhermore, none of the ingredients listed contain any DHA (it is typically found in animal foods); at best the nuts and flax provide some alpha-linolenic acid, a precursor to DHA, which is poorly converted to DHA in the human body.

Cognitive wellness: adequate glycogen stores, 3:1 carb: protein ratio; helps to regain mental clarity.

Keeping up energy levels can be difficult as a parent. New and lactating mothers often need up to an additional 500 calories each day. Most women can easily get these calories from 3-4 additional servings from the basic food groups. Eating a balanced diet with good quality protein will help you feel satisfied and make your energy last longer. A low carbohydrate diet can cause fatigue, low mood, and poor focus. The overall proportions of protein and carbohydrates in the diet may be important for optimal replenishment of glycogen stores, however it is not necessary that a particular food have the 3:1 ratio described.

Physical wellness: nutrients for physical recovery, vitamin C for healing, 600 mg recommended dose for new mothers.

Adequate vitamin C is important for health, tissue healing and repair. The RDA for vitamin C during lactation is 120mg/day, there is no basis for the 600 mg/day claim. The biggest problem with this claim is that, after careful inspection of the product’s nutrition facts table shows that each tablespoon (about ½  a scoop) provides 0% daily value of vitamin C. If you’re looking to increase your vitamin C intake, NOW for Mothers is a poor choice.

Baby wellness: babies need adequate fat and calcium, each scoop has 1000mg Ca++ and 9 g fat.

There are two issues with this claim. First, the nutritional composition of breastmilk is very constant, almost regardless of maternal intake. This is to ensure that feast or famine, infants will get the nutrients they need to grow and develop. If the mother’s diet is deficient in a nutrient, her body will draw on its own stores to maintain breast milk consistency. Additional calcium or fat in the mother’s diet will not increase the fat or calcium content of her milk. Second, according to the nutrition facts table, each tablespoon provides 4% DV of calcium, which translates roughly to 40 mg. The manufacturer suggests taking 2-3 scoops daily, meaning at most you’ll receive 240 mg calcium from the product, not the 1000mg they claim.

Long-term claims:

Stimulates energy flow: Like Chi? There is no evidence or scientific rationale of an “energy flow” in the human body. This statement is essentially meaningless.

Stabilizes blood sugar levels for sustained energy: Plausible, depending on the person’s diet as a whole. See below.

Assists in reducing congestion and phlegm in the body: Wha?… Are they talking about phlegm, one of the four humours of medieval medicine? If that’s the case, enough of a reason to write off this product right there. As for congestion, the most common causes for this include allergies, viri (like the common cold), and in this target population, pregnancy.

Aids in flushing toxins from the system: Without listing any specific toxins, this claim becomes completely meaningless. It is implausible that one food mixture could “flush” ALL toxins, and highly unlikely that it could remove ANY. Remember, the human body has an incredibly powerful toxin removal system through the kidneys and liver; unless damaged, these organs do not need any supplements or special foods to help them do their work.

Under the “how it works” sections:

INTRODUCES:

Sustained Energy: Potentially true, depending on a person’s current diet. Whole foods and foods containing healthy fats and protein can help prevent blood sugar spikes and drops which can lead to low energy. If a person’s diet is already balanced and based on whole foods, she is unlikely to see significant benefit.

Balanced Hormones: See below.

Help in Lactation: Oatmeal is often claimed to increase milk supply, but there is no evidence to show this is the case. Again, if a woman’s caloric intake is too low, her milk supply may suffer, so the additional calories from this supplement may help improve the situation. To be clear, it is the additional calories, not this supplement, that would cause the benefit.

Better Brain Development for Baby: See above. Only if the mother and her diet are highly deficient in key nutrients.

Increase in Metabolism: Plausible, if your caloric intake is really low and you’re slipping into starvation mode. The additional calories may help get you burning calories instead of storing them.

Boost in Immunity: Nope. This article explains how to improve your immune system. NOW for mothers can be part of a healthy diet, but it is not the key ingredient that will keep the colds away.

  • Sidenote: if you have a child between 0-6 years old, good luck keeping illnesses away.

Stronger Bones: 2-3 scoops of the product provide about 25% of a lactating woman’s calcium needs. For women with historically low intake of calcium, this may help them meet their needs.

REMOVES

Toxins: Which “toxins”? How? I’m not putting in any more effort into discussing this until they make some specific claims.

Inflammation: Maybe…if your diet is really low in omega-3 fatty acids and really high in refined foods.

Phlegm: So does a cough, sneeze, and a Kleenex. See above.

Acidity: Actually, the body’s incredibly complex and sensitive homeostatic systems take care of that without any help.

Excess Estrogen: This claim likely comes from the findings that lignans (fat-soluble compounds that are metabolized into estrogen-like compounds) may have anti-carcinogenic effects due to binding to estrogen receptors in place of estrogen. This process does not change the body’s production of estrogen, as implied by this claim. As time passes after birth, and eventually once lactation ends, hormone levels will return to normal. If you have reason to believe they are not stabilizing, this product is unlikely to help. In this case, seek qualified medical advice.

Final verdict: There is no evidence that this exorbitantly priced streusel topping will accomplish any of the claims it sets out. Stick to regular granola, muesli, or oatmeal, eat flax seeds and nuts in small portions regularly, and save your money (the child will take up that extra cash soon enough). If you really love the flavour of this topping, make your own.

Episode 93: Skeptics and Social Media

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Ashlyn sits down with Lauren, Gem, and Laura to talk about some red flags to look out for when evaluating claims on social media and how nuance is impossible on the Internet.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism that is produced by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Don’t be evil (Wikipedia) | What everyone gets wrong about Charlie Hebdo and racism (Vox) | Vox got no threats for posting Charlie Hebdo cartoons, dozens for covering Islamophobia (Vox) | Answering 16 of the Worst #JeSuisCharlie #CharlieHebdo Memes | Episode 69: Québec’s Charter of Values (LUEE) | Thoughts from the Edge (YouTube) | H.I. #7: Sorry, Language Teachers (Hello Internet) | H.I. #30: Fibonacci Dog Years (Hello Internet) | If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say, SAY IT IN ALL CAPS (This American Life) | snopes.com: Sweaters for Penguins | Australian wildlife group says stop knitting koala mittens and start making kangaroo pouches (Telegraph)

Contact Us: Facebook | Twitter | Email

Listen: Direct Link | iTunes | Stitcher | RSS Feed

Episode 90: “Resonance: Beings of Frequency”

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Gem, Ashlyn, Ian, and Laura discuss some terrible films (and one that’s pretty good), including “Resonance: Beings of Frequency”, a YouTube film that rivals “Thrive” in the contest for most misleading documentary.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism that is produced by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Resonance: Beings of Frequency | Schumann resonances (Wikipedia) | Alpha wave (Wikipedia) | Electroencephalography (Wikipedia) | Electromagnetic fields and public health (WHO) | WiFi and Cell Phones: Should You Really Be Worried? (The Winnipeg Skeptics) | Investigation of Anti-WiFi Activism in Canada (Bad Science Watch) | Bees, CCD, and Cell phones: Still no Link. (Bug Girl’s Blog) | Guest Post: Honey bees, CCD, and the Elephant in the Room (Bug Girl’s Blog) | The Coming Beepocalypse (Bug Girl’s Blog) | SkeptiCamp Winnipeg: Self-Proclaimed Diet Gurus and the Shams They Peddle (The Winnipeg Skeptics) | An Honest Liar (2014) (IMDb) | Hungry for Change (2012) (IMDb) | Left Behind (2014) (IMDb)

Contact Us: Facebook | Twitter | Email

Listen: Direct Link | iTunes | Stitcher | RSS Feed

SkeptiCamp Winnipeg: Self-Proclaimed Diet Gurus and the Shams They Peddle

Image of Dr. Oz via CNN.

Image of Dr. Oz via CNN.

Embedded below is Laura Creek Newman’s talk from SkeptiCamp Winnipeg 2014. Laura is a Registered Dietitian and lover of all things edible. Her skeptical focus is on empowering patients and society to make healthy, informed choices and rid the world of dubious nutritional advice.

SkeptiCamp Winnipeg is a conference for the sharing of ideas. It is free and open to the public: anyone can attend and participate! Presentations and discussions focus on science and free inquiry, and the audience is encouraged to challenge presenters to defend their ideas. You can visit our SkeptiCamp page for information about upcoming events and links to past SkeptiCamp talks.

SkeptiCamp is on Saturday!

This marks the Winnipeg Skeptics’ fifth annual SkeptiCamp conference!

SkeptiCamp Winnipeg is all about sharing ideas. Anyone and everyone is welcome to attend and participate, and best of all, it’s free! Presentations and discussions focus on science and critical thinking, and the audience is encouraged to challenge presenters to defend their ideas.

SkeptiCamp Winnipeg 2013

Date: 27 September 2014
Time: 12:00–5:00 pm
Venue: St. Boniface Library, 100-131 Provencher Boulevard

No registration required. All are welcome!

SkeptiCamp Winnipeg 2013

In addition to our usual presentations, this year we will be recording a live episode of the Life, the Universe & Everything Else podcast. There will also be a bake sale and coffee and tea available. (All proceeds go to pay for Winnipeg Skeptics costs, such as website hosting, Meetup fees, and event bookings.)

Here are some of the presentations you can look forward to!

Presentations

Time Talk Speaker
12:00 Life, the Universe & Everything Else Live!
Logical Fallacies Round Table
Ashlyn Noble, Gem Newman, Lauren Bailey
1:30 Short Break
1:40 Did 9/11 Change Everything?
A Brief History of Terrorism
Brendan Curran-Johnson
2:10 Mediums Sharene Gilchrist
2:40 Species and Speciation:
Fun with Fish and Other Animals
Erin Spice
3:10 Victim Blaming Gaz Black
3:40 The Politics of Ebola Lauren Bailey
4:10 Self-proclaimed Diet Gurus and the Shams They Peddle Laura Creek Newman

Please note that our Community Guidelines and Anti-Harassment Policy are in effect at every Winnipeg Skeptics event.