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    Archive for the ‘myths’ Category

    “But That Lady on TV Said It!”

    3716_GoodMorningAmerica_logoLast weekend, Good Morning America did a segment titled “What To Eat When.” For it, they booked Kimberly Snyder, a self-proclaimed nutrition expert who, in this particular instance, spouted off a variety of inaccurate facts and misleading information.

    Even more disturbingly, several magazines have recently turned to Miss Snyder for nutrition tips.  SOS!!

    Watch the video (linked above) first, and then read my detailed response below.

    Protein bars are unhealthy because they contain soy protein isolate, a heavily processed ingredient than can impair thyroid function.

    Yes, soy protein isolate is processed, but the main reason to limit protein bar consumption is because they are high in added sugars, generally low in fiber, and do not offer the same amount of nutrition real foods do.  While soy can exacerbate already-existing thyroid problems, it does not cause them.

    100% fruit snacks are not the best choice for children because they are too dense.

    I agree that 100% fruit snacks are not as healthy as they sound (they are basically pure sugar), but what on Earth does her critique of “it’s too much density” mean?  The problem isn’t that fruit snacks are calorically dense, it’s that they offer very little nutrition.

    “Peanut butter has a lot of sugar.”

    WRONG. You can find plenty of peanut butter brands that do not add sugar.  Additionally, even the ones that do add sugar do not add a lot (two grams, or half a teaspoon, per serving is the average).

    Almonds are better than peanuts because they have vitamin E and protein.

    Absolutely misleading.  Peanuts have just as much protein and vitamin E.  Besides, both almonds and peanuts contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and plenty of mineral and phytonutrients.

    Artificial sweeteners score high on the glycemic index.

    Wow.  Absolutely incorrect.

    Besides, if this ‘expert’ is so worried about the glycemic index of foods, why does she then recommend watermelon, which has a very high glycemic index?

    “An acidic body tends to hold on to more weight.”

    Oh, no — not that school of thought!

    No fruit after dinner — it sits in your stomach on top of what you ate and bloats you.

    Pardon me while I repeatedly smack my head on my desk.  This is absolutely false.  The human digestive system can handle a piece of fruit at any time of day.

    Good Morning America producers, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do!


    You Ask, I Answer: Am I Making Trans Fats In My Kitchen?

    20496371Someone recently told me that when vegetable oils are exposed to high temperatures, most of their molecules transform into trans fats.

    The temperatures that cause this are ones you often see in recipes (350 or 400 degrees Fahrenheit).

    Does this mean that if I make a stir-fry with a vegetable oil I am eating a lot of trans fat?

    — Tom (last name withheld)
    Queens, NY

    I hope whoever told you this tale is not offering nutrition advice to the masses.

    He or she is making an inaccurate mountain out of a molehill and causing unnecessary panic.

    The conversion of fats (either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated) to trans fats requires the use of hydrogen atoms (this is why you can spot trans fats on a food label by looking for partially hydrogenated oils).

    Partial hydrogenation is achieved by mixing hydrogen atoms with plant oils, applying tremendous amounts of pressure (under specific conditions that can create a vacuum), inserting a metal catalyst (usually nickel) to cause a reaction, and cranking up the heat.

    That is worlds away from roasting minced garlic in olive oil in your kitchen for five minutes.

    Research on trans-fat formation from plant oils that are simply heated has concluded that this only happens when an oil is heated continuously for roughly 14 hours.  Again, not even close to what happens in anyone’s kitchen.

    Myth debunked.


    You Ask, I Answer: Cooking Sprays & Cancer

    pam300Is it true that oil sprays [like PAM] can cause cancer?

    — Henry (last name withheld)
    Miami, FL

    Sounds like someone has been visiting some questionable websites!

    I really dislike the idea that foods “cause” cancer.  I find that correlation better suited to things like smoking or exposure to radioactivity.

    Certain components in foods — when consumed consistently over time — can certainly increase cancer risk.  The leap from that to “[food x] will give you cancer!” is too sensationalist and “Chicken Little” for me.

    Let’s discuss cooking sprays.  The ingredients listed on your average canister are: oil, grain alcohol, soy lecithin, and propellant.

    It’s silly to think of oil, grain alcohol, or soy lecithin as “cancer causing”.  Clearly, then, the ingredient at the center of such fears is that last one — propellant.

    In the case of cooking sprays, though, the two most commonly used propellants are nitrous oxide (yes, laughing gas!) and carbon dioxide.

    There is absolutely no reason to believe that the presence of either of those in a cooking spray canister can somehow increase cancer risk.

    If you’re looking for a more natural way of spraying a little oil on your foods, though, I recommend placing the oil of your choice into a small spray bottle and using that instead.

    Keep in mind, though, you must use a non-plastic spray bottle, since oil can absorb PVCs.  I recommend stainless steel sprayers, such as this one.


    You Ask, I Answer: Sulfites

    redwineglassWhat are sulfites?  I recently read an article that blamed them for the headache some people get after drinking red wine.

    The article also suggested buying European or organic wines, since those don’t have sulfites.

    Why don’t organic wines have sulfites?  Is it a pesticide?

    — Maureen Rosen
    New York, NY

    Sulfites are one of the most misunderstood nutrition-related concepts.  I am often amazed at the gross inaccuracies passed off as “fact.”  Allow me to guide you through the information maze via this interview I conducted with myself!

    What are sulfites?

    Sulfites are compounds naturally found in certain foods, including garlic, onions, apricots, and grapes.  Mother Nature utilizes sulfites for a specific reason — preventing microbial growth on these plants.

    Notice the words “naturally occurring.”  This means that all wines have sulfates in them simply by being made from grapes.  There is no such thing as a sulfite-free wine.

    Are sulfites unhealthy?

    Much like gluten (the protein in wheat), sulfite concerns have little to do with health and more to do with allergies.

    Gluten-free products are not healthier, they are simply labeled that way to let consumers with celiac disease and wheat allergies know those products are safe for them to consume.

    Wine bottles sold in the United States must carry a “contains sulfite” warning on their label for the same reason that many food products carry warnings if they are processed in facilities that also process a variety of allergens (i.e.: soy, peanuts, and wheat) — liability concerns.

    According to current estimates, 0.28 percent of the United States population is allergic to sulfites.  Mind you, that number could be higher since that statistic is solely based on documented complaints.

    For all we know, there could be millions of people allergic to sulfites who are not reporting symptoms and, therefore, are unaccounted for.

    Individuals with asthma appear to be more sensitive to sulfites.

    If sulfites are already contained in grapes, why are they added to wines?

    Sulfites are added in the form of sulfur dioxide to keep wines from oxidizing, developing rancid flavors, and harboring bacteria and other microorganisms.  This is not a modern development by any means.

    Wines without added sulfites have much shorter shelf lives and should be consumed as soon as possible after being bottled.  The naturally occurring sulfites in grapes can only prevent oxidation for a few months.

    Does red wine have more sulfites than white wine?

    No.  As far as naturally-occurring sulfites go, sweet white wines contain more.

    How do I know if I’m allergic to sulfites?

    Wines vary in their sulfite content, so a simple and anecdotal way to help you determine if you have an allergy, have a serving of a sulfite-rich food.  Dried fruit is a good choice.  If you have a reaction to dried fruit, you’re probably allergic to sulfites.

    What symptoms would I have if I’m allergic to sulfites?

    The most common symptoms are shortness of breath and dermatological manifestations (mostly rashes or hives).    Headaches have not been shown to be caused by sulfite intake among those with allergies.  Headaches associated with wine drinking are more probably caused by tyramines and tannins.

    Is there such a thing as sulfite-free wine?

    No.  A wine bottle that does mention sulfite content still contains the naturally occurring sulfites in grapes.  In the United States, wines must be labeled as “containing sulfites” if these compounds exist at levels higher than 10 parts per million.  Wines without added sulfites have anywhere between 2 and 4 parts per million.

    What about organic wines?  They don’t have added sulfites but have long shelf lives.

    Organic wines use different types of additives that prevent wines from oxidation.  In order to be certified organic, a wine may not add sulfites during processing.

    Is it true that European wines do not have added sulfites?

    Not always.  Food law and regulation varies from country to country.  In many European and South American countries, organic wines can contain added sulfites.  I am unsure where the notion that only wines made in the United States contain added sulfites came from.

    Two more things to keep in mind:

    • Sulfites are also added to fruit concentrates, instant tea powders, prescription medications, soup mixes, and syrups.  Some of these products can contain sulfites in amounts higher than 1,000 parts per million.
    • Our bodies produce approximately 1 gram of sulfites on a daily basis!  These sulfites are crucial for immune system function.

    Class dismissed!


    Three Useless "Facts"

    Bite-size nutrition trivia is not limited to Registered Dietitian Jeopardy!

    Magazines of all sorts (rom Us Weekly to Details to Forbes) occasionally pepper sidebars or “Did You Know…?” features with short bursts of “diet-friendly” tips.

    Television shows, e-mail chain letters, news broadcasts, and even advertising campaigns often rely on nutrition “facts” to captivate their audiences.

    Alas, here are three often-mentioned facts I consider useless, irrelevant, and better off erased from the collective consciousness.

    “If you put a nail in a glass of Coke for four days, it dissolves because of all the acids!”

    The “logic” here is that if Coke can corrode metal, just imagine what it does to our stomachs!

    Although all soda is nutrition-void sugar water (and the phosphoric acid in it can contribute to osteoporosis in individuals with insufficient calcium intake), it is not corroding our gastrointestinal system — particularly when you keep in mind that stomach acids are more acidic than anything in Coke.

    If you put a nail in a glass of our stomach acids, that sucker would probably disintegrate in just TWO days.

    Initially shocking fact? Check.
    Completely irrelevant? Check.
    Absolutely useless? Double check

    “I lost weight by cooking with olive oil instead of butter and choosing healthy fats, like avocado.”

    It seems like every other “celebrity who lost weight shares diet secrets!” (it seems to me that celebrity magazine editors think the only two secrets are to eat lots of fish and hire a personal trainer) article I read contains this quote.

    Yes, olive oil and avocados are heart-healthy fats that, if consumed regularly, can benefit cardiovascular health. However, all fats — regardless of how heart-healthy — contain nine calories per gram.

    I suppose I can somehow “vouch” for the avocado logic since they also offer a good deal of fiber (contributing to a quicker feeling of fullness and lowering total caloric intake).

    However, a tablespoon of butter actually contains approximately twenty fewer calories than a tablespoon of olive oil.

    From a weight loss standpoint, replacing two tablespoons of butter with two tablespoons of olive oil in a dish serves no purpose.

    “Twinkies are so processed they have a shelf life of 20 years!”

    You need the exclamation mark at the end of that one for complete pearl-clutching effect.

    Twinkies are by no means a health food, but they will not outlast a nuclear explosion (that honor only belongs to cockroaches and Cher).

    While Twinkies have a longer shelf life than many other mass-produced baked goods (mainly thanks to their dairy-free ingredient list), expect them to start spoiling after a month.

    PS: although foods with long shelf lives are usually highly processed and offer plenty of sodium, sugar, trans fats, and/or artificial preservatives, they do not take that same amount of time to be digested.


    You Ask, I Answer: Skinny Bitch

    What do you think of the book Skinny Bitch?

    — Jamie Pierce
    Salt Lake City, UT

    Skinny Bitch advertises itself as “a no-nonsense tough-love guide for savvy girls who want to stop eating crap and start looking fabulous!”

    While I do give the book credit for rightfully criticizing the treatment of farm animals and dedicating a Marion Nestle-inspired chapter to the politics behind the approval process of artificial sweeteners and other substances, I summarize it as “an often inaccurate, wannabe-“shocking” nutrition book that sometimes spouts crap and is under the impression that insulting the reader is fabulous!”

    Skinny Bitch claims to “finally tell you the truth about what you’re feeding yourself.”

    However, despite its “hip” title and grrrrl-power writing style that launched it to the top of the New York Times bestseller list, it is riddled with faulty facts, bad science, hyperbolic pronouncements, and silly suggestions.

    Skinny Bitch makes the argument that the only way to be healthy is by becoming a vegan who shuns alcohol, white flour, and caffeine. Let me make one thing very clear — I don’t doubt for one second that one can achieve health by being vegan and avoiding those three things. However, it is untrue to claim that is the only way.

    Disturbingly, the author prey on readers’ body image fears by making the case that not only does even the smallest amount of meat and dairy make you sick, it also makes you — gasp! — fat.

    Allow me to share some passages that elicited groans and eyerolls from me.

    * “Soda’s high level of phosphorus can increase calcium loss from the body, as can its sodium and caffeine.”

    While phosphoric acid in soda has indeed been linked with leached calcium from bones, the sodium mention is odd.  Did the authors take look at the nutrition facts on a can of soda?  A 12-ounce can of Coca Cola contains 35 milligrams (that’s 1.4% of the suggested daily maximum intake). Ironically, the frozen vegan burger products the authors endorse so enthusiastically can contain as much as 500 milligrams of sodium per serving.

    As for the caffeine-calcium loss link — it’s weak, at best.

    * “One study even links caffeine to an increased susceptibility to diabetes.”

    Bad science alert! The studies they refer to are ones suggesting that people who already have diabetes may benefit from cutting back on caffeine in order to improve their blood sugar levels.  Besides, certain compounds in coffee — such as chlorogenic acid — have been linked with reductions in blood sugar levels (and, therefore, a decreased risk of Type 2 diabetes).

    * “When we eat fruit with other foods… it rots and ferments in our stomach.”

    Not surprisingly, that ludicrous statement is not attributed to any source. Right, because it’s science fiction. Feel free to enjoy nectarines in a salad, bananas with almond butter, and sliced apples with oatmeal.

    * “We have food rotting, decomposing, and fermenting in our intestinal tracts and colons, hence the need for colonics.”

    Did the author with the Masters degree ever take a human physiology course? I assume she didn’t; otherwise, she would know that nothing can cling to the colon and “rot away” since the cells that line that organ slough off several times a day. There is no physiological need for colonics. The best thing you can do is consume plenty of fiber and remain well-hydrated.

    * “You don’t see many tigers getting colonics, do you?”

    A very weak argument. I also don’t see tigers brushing their teeth, wearing contact lenses, or making green smoothies.  Does this mean I shouldn’t, either?

    * “Your body can’t handle animal fat, so it settles like lumpy shit all over your ass, thighs, sides, arms and stomach.”

    I’ll let that ridiculous quote speak for itself.

    * “If you want to get skinny, you’ve got to be a vegetarian.”

    The idea that vegetarian = skinny is ludicrous. After all, vegetarians can eat ice cream, cakes, cookies, muffins, pizza, french fries. They can consume more calories than they need and, consequently, gain weight.

    There is no doubt many vegetarians eat whole, minimally processed foods and enjoy plentiful health benefits.  However, the mere act of not eating dairy or meat does not equate with weight loss.  Furthermore, this quote is disturbing in that it is focused on weight, rather than health.

    * “Dairy products produce mucus.”

    Another myth these authors clearly didn’t research (spoiler: dairy sticks to existing mucus; it doesn’t produce it).

    * “[Dairy products] are the perfect thing to eat if you want to be sick and have a diseased body.”

    As much as I dislike the narrow-minded notions that dairy products are the only way to get calcium and absolutely necessary for human
    health, I am also irritated by the frantic and inaccurate warnings that dairy products are equivalent to chugging Draino.

    * “Eggs are high in saturated fat.”

    Absolutely untrue. One egg contains approximately 1.5 grams of saturated fat — that’s 0.4 fewer grams than a tablespoon of olive oil!

    After pages upon pages of criticizing processed foods and sugar, the authors go on to recommend a variety of frozen vegetarian burgers, soy ice creams, and tofu hot dogs. HUH? Frozen vegetarian foods, like other frozen items, are hyper processed, high in sodium and offer minimal nutrition. Soy ice creams are high in added sugars; the fact that they are free of dairy does not turn them into a “health” food or a daily staple.

    * From the FYI chapter: “Donate blood. You can save a life and lose weight at the same time.”

    I think that was when my eyebrows hit the ceiling.

    Alas, I could go on (trust me, I could!), but I think you get the point.

    To “make up” for their verbal abuse at the reader, the authors conclude the book with positive-thinking mantras lifted right out of The Secret (“every day in every way my stomach is getting flatter”) and a clearly-tacked-on-by-a-public-relations-friendly-editor reminder that, despite the title of the book, unrealistically thin illustrations on the front and back cover, and constant references to weight, “they couldn’t care less about being skinny.”


    You Ask, I Answer: Eating at Night

    Why did you say [in your Michelle Obama post] that the principle of not eating late [at night] is hogwash?

    Doesn’t the digestive system interfere with sleep if it is still working full-time at bedtime?

    — Elsa (last name unknown)
    Via the blog

    The recommendation of not going to bed with a full stomach makes sense if you are talking about acid reflux or heartburn.

    Finishing up a large dinner and falling asleep on the couch half an hour later can be problematic since acidic gastric compounds from the stomach can enter the esophagus and cause symptoms that disrupt sleep.

    I was referring, though, to the common myth that not eating after a certain hour (usually 7 PM) leads to weight loss, as if there were a “magical” caloric bewitching hour.

    Eating after 7 PM will only result in weight gain if whatever you consume puts you over your caloric needs. A piece of fruit or a cup of low-fat yogurt are no more fattening at 10 PM than they are at 2 PM.

    What gets left out of these inane “weight loss rules” is that, very simply, the more hours you are awake, the more calories you are likely to consume. Hitting the sack an hour and a half after dinner doesn’t leave as much room for hunger as staying up for another four hours.


    You Ask, I Answer: Swimming & Digestion

    Since I know you like to tackle myths, I have one I’m curious about.

    Should you really wait an hour after eating a meal before you go swimming to prevent cramps?

    — Heidi Conprisi
    New York, NY

    Ah, one of those old wives’ tales that will not go away.

    Every Summer I still come across news articles warning beachgoers and pool enthusiasts to avoid the water for at least an hour after enjoying their lunch.

    Let’s lay this one to rest with some Human Physiology 101.

    After a meal, blood is mainly “dispatched” to the digestive area to aid in nutrient absorption.

    The “don’t swim within an hour after eating a meal” assumes that getting in the water while this is happening leads to cramping.

    Not quite. If you are simply immersing yourself in the ocean or engaging in some light swimming in the pool, your body can most certainly handle digestion all while providing blood to the muscles.

    Unless you are planning on starting a 10 mile swim as you swallow your last morsel of lunch, there is absolutely no need for concern.

    The only thing you may experience if you push yourself too hard — as with any vigorous physical activity performed minutes after eating — is an unpleasant queasy feeling.


    You Ask, I Answer: Oxygenated Water

    My local health food store now has a pretty big display case for a brand of oxygenated water.

    It’s supposed to have 25 times more oxygen than regular water and help with energy levels, cellular health, and endurance.

    One of the company’s pamphlets also said that since a lot of bacteria and pathogens are anaerobic, having lots of oxygen in your blood would prevent you from getting sick.

    This was all new to me, I had never heard any of it before.

    What do you think?

    — Jessica Deanly
    New York, NY

    What do I think? I think I will never cease to be amazed by the amount of nutrition-related quackery out there.

    The concept of oxygenated water — and its supposed health benefits — is absolutely ludicrous.

    Taking in more oxygen via bottled water accomplishes nothing other than provide expensive burps.

    The only way oxygen gets into our bloodstream is through the lungs.

    Oxygenated water, on the other hand, ends up in the small intestine, an organ that does not absorb oxygen — much less carry it to the blood.

    Besides, even if a company managed to inject lots of free-floating oxygen into their water, all of it would escape the second you unscrewed the cap!

    In 2003, the Journal of the American Medical Association addressed this issue and summed up the research showing that all claims regarding oxygenated water are completely unsubstantiated.

    Please do not spend your hard-earned money on this.  Remember, deep breaths are free!


    You Ask, I Answer: Sugar Addiction

    Is it true that sugar is addicting?

    For example, if I am at a party and there is a whole box of [Dunkin’ Donuts] munchkins it is very hard for me to only have one!

    — Laura Bulner
    Miami, FL

    That is one very popular myth.

    Sucrose (table sugar, and what most people refer to when they say “sugar”) is simply not an addictive substance.

    When singled out and studied as an individual component, it has not been shown to induce physical or psychological addiction.

    I do not believe any foods in and of themselves are addictive.

    I think too many people jump to that conclusion by not recognizing the strong emotions that are behind many people’s food choices.

    The fact that someone may binge on Oreo cookies when feeling intense loneliness, sadness, or anxiety does not mean those cookies are addictive.

    What it DOES point to is an addictive personality that, for whatever reason, uses food as an emotional release.

    I also find that foods that get blamed as being addictive are ones that many people often severely restrict. Not surprisingly, these extreme positions then lead to overconsumption of the “forbidden” food, be it chocolate or fries.

    What I always find semi-comical is that people are quick to attribute addictive qualities solely to high-calorie, sugar-laden foods, as if to make themselves appear helpless.

    You never hear, for example, someone who loves celery and eats ten stalks every single day claim that “celery is addictive.”

    Besides, those who are somehow convinced that sugar is addictive only feel that way about the added sugar found in pastries, chocolate, and candies.

    If this supposed addiction is as powerful as they claim, it makes you wonder why naturally sweet foods like fruits somehow don’t “hit the spot.”

    Also, Laura, I am not sure why not being able to stop yourself at one individual piece of a particular food automatically makes it addictive, even more so in a situation where the food is in front of you for a long period of time.

    The same thing you say about munchkins could be said about cheese, tortilla chips, sushi rolls, or blueberries!


    You Ask, I Answer: Vitamin B17

    Yesterday I attended a talk by wellness coach who talked about vitamin B17 and its cancer curing properties.

    This person was saying the government knows about B17’s ability to cure cancer

    I had never heard of it before and thought it was all sounded a little weird.

    Are you familiar with it?

    — Deborah Yee
    (Location withheld)

    Oh dear.

    “Vitamin B17” does not exist.

    This all goes back to a gentleman named Ernest Krebs Jr., who in the early 1950s claimed that a chemical compound found mainly in apricot pits (known as laetrile) could cure cancer.

    Seeing a potential profitable market, Krebs later contended that laetrile was actually vitamin B17 (despite the fact that laetrile does not have the necessary qualities from a chemical or molecular standpoint to be called a vitamin).

    Despite federal lawsuits contending that these claims were false, laetrile continued to be sold in some health food stores (sometimes as “Vitamin B17.”)

    Fast forward to the early 1970s and you have G. Edward Griffin publishing a book titled World Without Cancer in which he claimed the terminal disease is caused by a vitamin B17 deficiency.

    According to Griffin, this knowledge had been kept hidden from the general public due to massive conspiracies.

    Quite a silly statement, considering that the first laetrile nonsense was first made public in the 1950s.

    Scientific studies on laetrile make it absolutely clear that there is not one single reason to believe it has anything to do with cancer prevention.

    However, some believers of this science fiction affirm that seven apricot seeds a day “guarantee a cancer free life.” An absolutely shameful and false claim.

    So-called “experts” on B17 claim that Alaskan Eskimos and Pakistani Hunza communities have high intakes of this “vitamin,” thereby “explaining” why there are no recorded cases of cancer among their people.

    That is another blatantly false statement, as scientific literature has recorded instances of cancer cases among those groups of people.

    What raises my quackery red flag even more is that a look at the supposed list of foods “high in B17” (which consists only of plant foods and includes blueberries, peaches, and pears) does not in any way resemble your standard Eskimo diet.

    Your question demonstrates precisely why people should be ware of credentials like “wellness coach.” That is often a self-appointed title that does not guarantee expertise on — or even basic knowledge of — nutrition or human health.


    You Ask, I Answer: Celery & Negative Calories

    Does celery really have negative calories?

    Ted Allen’s new show Food Detectives recently tackled this question.

    They claim [it is true, since]the process of digesting the “tough to digest” fiber present in celery takes more calories than the 8 calories per stalk of celery.

    — Nicole (last name withheld)
    Alberta, Canada

    I disagree.

    Although cellulose (the “tough to digest” fiber the show refers to) can not be broken down by humans, it does not make celery a “calorie-negative” food.

    The Mayo Clinic specifically looked into this nine years ago and concluded that celery does not result in negative calorie deficit.

    Simply put, its thermic effect (the amount of energy it takes for the body to digest it) does not surpass its caloric content, especially given that its thermic effect burns approximately 0.5 calories.

    Even if celery was discovered to be a negative calorie food, it wouldn’t be a life-changing discovery.

    If each stalk resulted in a two calorie deficit, that would mean it would take 25 stalks of it (plain — no dips allowed!) to simply burn an additional 50 calories.

    Or, you could quickly slash 50 calories from your day by replacing your standard Starbucks Venti beverage with a Grande, or starting off your morning with a medium orange rather than a cup of orange juice.


    You Ask, I Answer: Calcium & Weight Loss

    What are your thoughts on the belief that high calcium intakes help with weight loss?

    — Flor (last name withheld)
    Buenos Aires, Argentina

    Since the public loves the idea of magic bullets and fat-burning foods, the notion that a little extra calcium in the diet results in more effective weight loss really struck a nerve.

    A few years ago, the dairy industry began advertising the claim that three glasses of skim or low-fat milk a day were more than just a good source of calcium — they also helped with weight management.

    Truth is — there is no concrete science to support those statements.

    The vast majority of clinical trials looking at calcium and weight loss fail to demonstrate a link between high intakes of the mineral and higher rates of weight loss.

    Notice that even the “calcium helps you lose weight” campaign ultimately came down to calories. After all, consumers were encouraged to drink low-fat or skim milk, not whole.

    If calcium in and of itself were a miraculous fat burner, it technically wouldn’t matter if the product containing it were fat-free or not.

    I encourage everyone to always be suspicious of specific foods or nutrients marketed as “fat burning,” and instead keep in mind that weight management is more about general dietary patterns.

    Drinking six cups of green tea a day isn’t going to do much in terms of weight loss if your total caloric intake is 1,000 calories higher than it should be.

    Similarly, chugging down a glass of skim milk along with a 450 calorie muffin isn’t going to produce any amazing results.


    You Ask, I Answer: Cucumbers

    The turkey myth posting had me thinking about people putting cucumbers on their eyes because they supposedly help get rid of bags.

    Is that a myth or is there an antioxidant in them that helps reduce puffiness?

    — Rachel (last name withheld)
    Morristown, NJ

    There’s no secret compound to speak of.

    Cucumbers are great at reducing puffiness simply because they maintain their cool temperature and are largely made up of water.

    The mechanism that creates bags under the eyes is the same one that promotes swelling after, say, a baseball strikes you in the face.

    In both cases, the best course of action is to apply some sort of cold compress to the affected area.

    It helps that cucumbers hold well and, since they can be sliced into the perfect shape and size to cover our eyes, provide an aesthetic touch.

    It just wouldn’t look or work the same if you placed celery stalks, apple slices, or something as acidic as lemons, limes, or oranges over your eyes at the spa!


    You Ask, I Answer: Tryptophan

    I am writing to you so you can hopefully help me prove a point.

    My cousin claims the reason why people feel tired after Thanksgiving dinner is because of the tryptophan in turkey.

    I say that’s a myth.

    She insists it has been “scientifically proven” that tryptophan makes you sleepy.

    What do you have to say?

    — Lori Narth
    (Location withheld)

    Ah, yes, the “turkey makes you sleepy” myth. Let’s break this one down.

    Tryptophan is one of twenty amino acids (and one of nine essential amino acids which we must get from food.)

    Tryptophan also happens to be a pre-cursor for serotonin (a neurotransmitter) and melatonin (a hormone), which play significant roles in the regulation of sleep.

    That might make you think there is a direct link between the tryptophan in your turkey dinner and your desire to nap a short while later.

    Not so much.

    First of all, although tryptophan is one amino acid in turkey, it is also found in other foods.

    In fact, chicken breast, tuna, soybeans, and beef contain more tryptophan than turkey! Snapper, black beans, and cod are also good sources of this amino acid.

    More importantly, tryptophan is one of many amino acids contained in a Thanksgiving dinner.

    This means tryptophan is competing with other similar compounds for absorption by the brain. Simply put, you aren’t getting enough of it to make you sleepy.

    Research has shown you would have to eat a significant amount of turkey — almost the entire bird! — on an empty stomach to feel any sleep-inducing effects.

    A much more accurate theory for the sleepiness after Thanksgiving dinner has to do with the sheer amount of food eaten.

    With that much food to digest, the body sends as much blood as it can to the intestinal tract, resulting in an energy zap.

    This is the main reason behind the “small meals throughout the day” recommendation — by not overworking your digestive system at any given time, your energy level is more likely to remain steady.

    Remember, too, that most Thanksgiving meals include white bread, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce.

    Those are precisely the kind of carbohydrates that make blood sugar levels rise and fall rather sharply, making for a more noticeable “energy crash.”

    It is also a known fact that meals high in carbohydrate increase insulin levels, consequently increasing the amount of serotonin produced by the body.

    I also think people forget that the buildup to such events (traveling to someone’s house, preparing the food, and being socially “on”) can be rather tiresome in and of itself.

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