Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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Follow Friday: @sweatscience

Interested in learning more about the latest fitness research? Then you should check out Alex Hutchinson’s blog Sweat Science. His writing style is accessible to even the least scientifically inclined athlete. He’s also the author of a great book: Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights: Fitness Myths, Training Truths, and Other Surprising Discoveries from the Science of Exercise. 


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De-Debunking nutrition and fitness myths

I came across this article the other day Debunking Fitness and Nutrition Myths and feel compelled to debunk some of  the debunking.

Myth #1: You need to focus primarily on calories in versus calories out to loose [sic] weight.

The “trainer/nutrition coach” states that this is not the case, otherwise we would see weight loss if people consumed one or two meals a day with the appropriate number of calories for weight loss. He also argues that the foods we eat wouldn’t matter either. I agree that healthy weight loss should be achieved through a balanced diet and regular meals and snacks throughout the day. However, calories really are one of the most important things. If we eat more than we burn, we’re not going to lose weight. Obviously I think that good nutrition is important, otherwise I wouldn’t do what I do. However, several people have now infamously shown that weight loss is possible on a nearly all twinkie, or other such junk food, diet. Hence, yes, weight loss is more complicated than calories in versus calories out but it is still the primary focus of most effective weight management programs.

Myth #2: You should never eat before bed.

I wrote about this myth myself recently but my reasoning differed greatly from this mans. He says: “if you never spike your blood sugar, you will not store fat.  So, it really depends on what you’re eating before hitting the hay at night.” What? This is complete nonsense. You can gain weight on low-glycemic diets. Spiking your blood sugar doesn’t have any bearing on weight gain or loss.

Myth #4: You get the best results if you exercise on an empty stomach.

The trainer states that you will burn muscle if you exercise on an empty stomach. Now, this is not my area of expertise, but as I understand it, you will burn the glycogen in your muscle first, then fat, then muscle. The average gym-goer is pretty unlikely to get to the point of burning muscle if they workout before breakfast. That being said, for optimal performance you should have something small and easily digested, like a banana about an hour before exercise and ensure that you’re adequately hydrated.


Optimizing your pH?

Is it just me or is there a continuous cycling of “fad” diets? The latest one to pop back into the news is the alkaline diet. In this particular article, a naturopath is consulted. Naturally, this ND recommends supplements, including his own line. While I don’t completely eschew all supplements I’m extremely wary of anyone who is both recommending them and profiting from their sales.

What is the alkaline diet? It’s actually a pretty healthy diet based on plants and avoidance of “acidic” foods such as caffeine, alcohol, animal products, and highly processed foods. Nothing too earth shattering. Personally, I could never give up my coffee so it’s definitely not for me.

The problem with the alkaline diet is not with the food choices, it’s with the claims it makes. The idea is that consuming acidic foods promotes acidity in the body and increases inflammation. Supposedly, consuming an alkaline diet will promote a higher (i.e. more alkaline) pH balance in the body. Here’s where my issue with the diet lies. Our bodies are pretty damn good at regulating the pH of our blood and diet actually has essentially no impact on the level of acidity of our blood. There is also no evidence that an alkaline diet will prevent or cure cancer (1). If you’re consuming a diet that’s high in animal products you may have an increased risk of kidney stones as a result of an increased urine acidity (2).

Sure, most of us could benefit from eating more fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods and animal products. However, an alkaline diet is not going to affect the pH value of your blood and I would think twice before shelling out for (likely) unnecessary supplements.

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Bariatric surgery and diabetes prevention

A couple of studies published this week showed that bariatric surgery is more effective in preventing type 2 diabetes than is medication, diet, and exercise advice from their doctors. Apparently some doctors are using this as an indication that weight loss surgery should be one of the first avenues explored rather than as a last resort. I’m not so sure. I think it’s great that these positive benefits of bariatric surgery are being found. However, I am not sold on the idea that we should now be turning straight to surgery for obese patients.

There are a number of things to consider. I think it’s important to note that the patients in the studies were morbidly obese and had minimum BMIs of 40. These are not your average person who wants to lose a few pounds. Also, the decreased risk of type 2 diabetes most likely resulted from the weight loss, not from anything inherently related to the procedure itself. This means that, had the patients in the diet and exercise group managed to sustain similar amounts of weight loss, they too would most likely have seen the same improvement in diabetes rates. A final important consideration are the risks and long lasting effects of bariatric surgery. As with any surgery, there are risks of complications, more so with some gastric procedures than with others. Life long side effects may include: dumping syndrome, extremely odorous flatulence and feces, nutrient malabsorption (which can lead to nutrient deficiencies if life long supplementation is not adhered to), changes in food preferences and ability to tolerate. Gastric surgery is not something to be entered into lightly. I’m not saying no one should have surgery, for some people it is the best solution. I’m simply saying that perhaps we shouldn’t be too hasty in picking up the scalpel.

Perhaps we should take a closer look at the lifestyle interventions being provided by doctors. I’m fairly confident that the majority of these efforts are ineffective and could be vastly improved. We should also be looking more at prevention than at treatment. As I’m always going on about, obesity is a result of our environment, not individual choices. We need to remove the onus from the individual and start working on changing the world we live in, and the way we live in it.


Nestle Pure Life: A great way to save calories?

As a dietitian I’m always encouraging people to reduce consumption of caloric beverages and increase consumption of water. However, this new commercial from Nestle really rubs me the wrong way! So, by swapping out one sugar laden beverage a day for a bottle of water, while sitting on your ass watching tv, you’ll save 50, 000 kcal over a year. I like the message of drinking more water. I don’t like the message that the dad role modelling drinking water while lounging on the couch watching tv is supposed to be a good example. And I especially don’t like the message that bottled water is the way to go. Sure, if you’re caught on the go without your  reusable water bottle then buying a bottle of water may be the best choice. However, most North American cities have perfectly safe (probably actually safer than most bottled water) and palatable tap water. Tap water is a heck of a lot cheaper than bottled water and far less detrimental to the environment. Drink less pop and juice. Drink more tap water.