bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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5 ways fish oil supplements (probably won’t) help fat loss


A friend recently suggested that I blog about this post touting the five ways that fish oil supplements help fat loss. Of course, the post contains no references for any of the claims so I had to do a little digging and guess at what the existing research supporting them might be. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. “They stimulate secretion of leptin, one of the hormones that decreases our appetite and promotes fat burning.”

The majority of studies I can find regarding fish oil and leptin involve mice, rats, or patients suffering from pancreatic cancer cachexia. Not exactly the general population. Off to where they reviewed two studies involving fish oil supplementation for women who were over weight. Neither study showed a significant influence of supplementation on serum leptin.

2. “They help us burn fat by activating the fat burning metabolic pathways in our liver.”

Back to (why do the work of slogging through google scholar when they’ve done it for me?). They found one study that showed no effect on metabolic rate as a result of fish oil metabolism.

3. “Fish oils encourage storage of carbs as glycogen (an energy source in our liver and muscles) rather than fat.” found one study that showed a very slight increase in fat oxidation with fish oil supplementation. Before you get too excited though, the study (the same as was noted in the response to “reason” number two above) participants were six lean and healthy young men. Probably not the population who is interested in taking fish oil for weight loss.

4. “They are natural anti-inflammatory agents. Inflammation causes weight gain and can prevent fat loss by interfering with our fat burning pathways in the liver and muscle cells.”

There were a lot more studies (17 to be precise) looking at this topic that were reviewed on The results were a mixed bag. A few found a very small reduction in inflammatory markers in subjects taking fish oil supplements. However, most of the studies found no effect on inflammatory cytokines and it’s important to note that even if fish oil supplements do reduce inflammation in some individuals, we can’t be certain that this will lead to weight loss.

5. “They possess documented insulin-sensitizing effects.” looked at 12 studies and stated that the scientific consensus is 100% that fish oil supplementation has no effect on insulin sensitivity. There are, however, a few studies that have shown an increase in insulin sensitivity but also a few that have shown a decrease in insulin sensitivity.

Overall, there is no evidence to support the use of fish oil supplementation to lose weight. Of course, Dr. Natasha would want you to believe otherwise as the purchase of her fish oil supplements is an “essential component” of her “Hormone Diet”. Remember, it’s a red flag when someone is trying to sell you a quick fix.

Don’t forget, the best way you can get fish oil is to eat fish.


BANT Ill-being Guidelines


A dietitian in the UK was questioning BANT about the new “Wellbeing Guidelines” they had posted last week. One of the most significant issues being the use of a skull and crossbones to denote foods that should be avoided. These foods being: Artificial sweeteners, Fizzy/sugary drinks, Alcohol, Pasta, bread, sweets, cakes & biscuits, Dried fruits and fruit juices, Eating between meals, Ready and processed meals (emphasis mine). BANT tried to justify this by saying that these particular guidelines don’t apply to everyone, just the people who are overweight or obese. They actually titled these guidelines “Fight the Fat – Beat the Bloat“. As if it somehow makes it better that “only” those who need to lose weight are being told that these foods are essentially poison. Because we all know that fear mongering and making people feel guilty about their food choices leads to weight loss, SIGH. And never mind that the majority of the population is classified as overweight or obese.

Sure, most of the foods to avoid are ones that people (no matter their weight) should limit. Oddly enough, there’s no skull and crossbones nor mention of foods to avoid on the guidelines for people who aren’t trying to lose weight (just a note to limit refined grains). Which is silly because healthy eating is healthy eating no matter what your weight and attaching a stigma to food for people who are trying to lose weight doesn’t exactly promote a healthy relationship with food.

The other significant oddity about these guidelines is the fact that those trying to lose weight are told to limit their consumption of fruit to no more than one serving a day while the general guidelines tell people to eat 1-3 servings of fruit a day. While I have known people who have consumed fruit to excess this is pretty rare and in any event, 1-3 servings is certainly not excessive.

While these are issues with all of the government issued nutrition guidelines that I’m aware of, these guidelines are not an improvement. Shaming people about food doesn’t promote wellness.


If I quit meat will I lose weight?


This article was ALL OVER my twitter feed last week. I couldn’t help but wonder how much truth the headline “To shed pounds, going vegetarian or vegan may help” contained. You know, I have no doubt that it may help. I also have no doubt that it may not help, and that it may not be the only option.

The article states that the study (meta-analysis) concluded that following a vegetarian or vegan diet lead to greater weight loss than following an “average American diet”. At which point I was like “are you kidding me?!!“. Of course following a prescribed vegetarian or vegan diet is going to lead to more weight loss than a terrible diet consisting of heavily processed foods and few vegetables (aka the “average American diet”)! Especially when you’re only looking at the results over the course of the study. We all know that it’s easier to lose weight than it is to keep it off.

I was also left wondering how the authors decided which studies to include in their meta-analysis. There were only 12 studies used and I can’t imagine that there were only 12 studies that met their inclusion criteria. Is it possible that they were “cherry picking”? Someone want to do some pubmed searching and let me know? I don’t really have time for that so I suppose I’ll let them slide on that count and just leave the suggestion out there.

The authors themselves state that at most, the studies lasted for 18 months and it did appear that weight loss on these vegetarian and vegan diets was often not sustained over time. Therefore, while it’s possible that people will initially lose weight on vegetarian and vegan diets they may not keep the weight off over time. This may be due to reverting to normal dietary intake or to increasing consumption upon conclusion of study participation.

While this article tells us that at least 12 studies have shown vegetarian and vegan diets to be effective methods of short-term weight loss it doesn’t tell us if other diets are any more or less effective. There was no comparison made between low carb, high fat, high protein, calorie counting, mindful eating, or any of the kazillion diets that people undertake to lose weight. Perhaps there is an equally, if not more effective way to lose weight. As everyone is different, I would hazard a guess that, while going veg might help one person to lose weight it might not help another. Don’t feel that you have to give-up roast chicken to lose weight, and don’t be discouraged if you give-up meat and don’t see a change on the scale. There are many factors that contribute to weight loss, the consumption of animal products may or may not be one in your case.


Eat for your microbes: lose weight fast, gain control of your blood sugar in only one week!


Photo by Pacific Northwest Laboratory on flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

I know that I really shouldn’t comment on this research without reading the actual journal article but that hasn’t been published yet and I can’t resist jumping into the fray. Is there a fray? Not really. I just keep seeing people retweeting this and everyone seems all excited about the possibility of these individualized and I need to put a little rain on the parade.

The article starts off sounding great. Who doesn’t want a bespoke diet? Considering the number of people who have asked me as a dietitian to “just tell me what to eat” I think that most people want someone to hand them a nice little meal plan. Of course, most meal plans would be “bespoke” in a sense as any professional worth their credentials is going to tailor the menu to the client. But, I’m not here to quibble about what exactly makes a meal plan bespoke.

So, apparently the researchers looked at how different people react (in terms of blood sugar) to the consumption of different foods. They found a wide range of responses and linked those responses to the types of gut microbes residing in the participants digestive tracts. Then in another study (of only 20 participants) each participants was given a unique diet to control blood sugar and one that was designed to increase blood sugar. Unfortunately, the diets aren’t described in the article so it’s hard to say how much they differed for each participant. There’s also no explanation as to how this ties in to the earlier research looking at the microbiome. In a shocking turn of events, on the diets designed to control blood sugar some (again the article doesn’t indicate how many) participants blood sugar levels returned to normal. On the “bad” diets they had blood sugar spikes that “would be described as glucose intolerant” according to one of the researchers. Essentially, they exhibited diabetes or similar conditions.

The article then goes on to say that this research somehow shows that calories aren’t the only player when it comes to weight loss. What? I thought the research was looking at blood glucose levels. There was no mention of weight change in participants. While I certainly agree that there are many other factors at play, in addition to calorie consumption when it comes to weight management, I fail to see how this research examined this issue at all.

What makes me a little more leery about this study is that the researcher says it’s surprising that ice cream (for example) doesn’t cause huge blood sugar spikes, and that buttered bread has less impact on blood glucose than unbuttered bread. Have these people not heard of glycemic load before? Of course blood glucose responses are going to be mitigated when high carbohydrate foods are consumed with fat or protein. That’s why it’s important to look at how people are consuming foods rather than examining the effect of specific foods in isolation.

I’m trying to withhold full judgement until the research is published. I think that the human microbiome is a fascinating emerging area of research. However, on the basis of this article all I’m envisioning are more scam diet books urging people to eat for their microbes.


Google’s new calorie counting app may be dumb but that doesn’t mean counting calories is


Apparently Google is developing a “smart” food diary that allows you to track calories simply by taking photos of your food. This concept has been around for a little while and is still notoriously inaccurate. From that standpoint, I agree with the reviewer in the verge who called the smart food diary “dumb”. However, I disagree with their reason for calling it dumb.

He states that “calorie counting doesn’t work”. Um. What? Tell that to the countless people who have successfully maintained weight loss with the help of tracking their food intake. Sure, no one thing works for everyone and calorie counting is not 100% accurate. This doesn’t mean that it’s not a useful weight management tool.

You see, the thing about calorie counting is that it’s not really about the calories, or the counting. It does give people a rough idea of how many calories they’re consuming and a sense of how much to increase or decrease depending on whether they want to gain or lose weight. In addition to that, it increases mindfulness. When you have to record everything you eat it makes you pause before you mindlessly snack out of boredom or anxiety or whatever non-hunger related reason that you might be tempted to eat. It can also help you to get a better idea of what and when to eat. If you see that you’re skipping breakfast and then snacking all night then you might be prompted to aim to start your day with a more substantial breakfast to help curb excessive snacking later in the day. Or if you find that you’re always tired in the afternoon you might see that there’s room for improvement at lunch time or that you might need to add a snack and more water to your afternoon routine.

Yes, in the sense that cutting 3, 500 calories does not generally translate to a pound of weight lost over the course of a week, calorie counting “doesn’t work”. However, as a tool to help guide your food choices and timing, food diaries can be invaluable.