Over the past few months, University of Nebraska Lincoln freshman Laura Smith has been of tremendous help to me as the first-ever Small Bites intern.
A few weeks ago, I asked her to visit one or two vitamin stores in her city, assume the role of a regular customer, and ask sales representatives at these stores what they would recommend for her now that “she is under doctor’s orders” to eat more fiber and improve her cholesterol levels (FYI: she isn’t really, I just concocted that).
Here is what Laura was told at a store called Complete Nutrition (in her words):
I was told to take a multivitamin, as this will help improve nutrients and my cholesterol level. I was also told to take Tone, a product that “attacks stubborn fat by shrinking fat cells while maintaining existing lean muscle”. According to the salesperson, Tone has been clinically tested to support fat loss while maintaining normal cholesterol levels and promoting healthy heart functions. The key ingredients are CLA, Omega 3 fatty acids, and GLA. I was also told to make sure to take protein.
Sigh. Wow. Deep sigh. Okay.
If someone were to ask my recommendations to follow these “doctor’s orders”, I would say:
- Increase soluble fiber intake by consuming oatmeal/oat-based cereals/oat bran, beans (especially kidney beans), nuts, psyllium husks (adding one tablespoon to a smoothie), fruits, and vegetables.
- Lower intake of full-fat dairy and red meat
- Prioritize foods with healthier fats (ie: add 1 Tablespoon ground flax to cereal, soup, or smoothie; replace cheese in sandwich with avocado, etc.)
Let’s analyze Complete Nutrition’s advice:
- “Take a multivitamin”: Completely irrelevant within the scope of cholesterol management.
- “Take Tone”: I love the notion of products attacking “stubborn fat”, as if there were some type of special fat that simply did not respond to food. While the presence of omega-3s in this product is helpful, this customer would be better off eating food that offers omega-3 fatty acids and fiber simultaneously (i.e.: walnuts, ground flax). They would save money, too!
- “Make sure you get protein”. Also irrelevant from a cholesterol management standpoint. As I have said many times on Small Bites, no one in the United States needs to worry about not consuming enough protein. The average adult — without even trying — consumes approximately two and a half times their daily requirement.
Here is what Laura was told at GNC:
They told me to take fish oil, either a triple strength variety once a day, or a normal strength three times a day. They also told me to take a fiber supplement, either in a chewable or pill form.
While not ideal (my rule is “food first, then supplements”) this at least focuses on the right nutrients — healthier fats and fiber. I understand, though, that GNC has products to sell and can’t be expected to suggest skipping their products and heading to the grocery store instead.
And, truth be told, I often recommend omega-3 supplementation to people who do not consume sufficient amounts of fish or sea vegetables each week to cover their needs. In my book, omega-3 and vitamin D supplementation are two things almost everyone should be doing.
It’s more the fiber supplement advice that I find comical. Most fiber supplements add 4 to 6 grams of fiber to your day, the same amount you can get from an apple or a medium banana or a half cup of lentils.