Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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Of wellness chats, dietitians, and L-Glutamine


The other night I had my first exposure to a “wellness chat” on twitter. It was interesting to say the least. The guest* was a registered dietitian in the US. A few of her statements surprised me, and at least a few other RDs. The most surprising tweet read:

What to do when U have a craving? Have a balanced #PFC (protein, fat, carb) snack AND take an L-Glutamine capsule #cravingfree #wellnesschat

A few of us tweeted back at her asking for her to share a link to the research supporting the use of glutamine to reduce cravings. As far as I’m aware, none of us received a satisfactory response. The only response I saw to our requests for research to support her statement was: “Get your supplements where u like, just make sure they’re high quality for effective results.”  This response was also in reply to our expressed concerns that she is selling these supplements (among many others) on her website. In my mind that’s an ethical concern. No health care professional should be profiting from the sale of medications/supplements. It’s an obvious conflict of interest. It’s also a little baffling that she’s doing podcasts extolling the benefits of real food (while also patronizingly insulting many other dietitians by suggesting that we are “brainwashed” into following obsolete dogma taught in school and don’t keep up with current research. Odd, in Canada at least, as part of our professional standards we must demonstrate continued competence by keeping up with current research and new developments in the field) yet profiting from the promotion and sale of supplements.

But… Back to the glutamine issue. My first stop to answer this question was examine.com. They do a great job of slogging through all of the research to get the facts about supplements. The short version of what they say about glutamine is:

A conditionally essential amino acid, only appears to benefit the body as supplementation when otherwise deficient (vegans, vegetarians with low dairy intake) or during prolonged endurance exercise. Anecdotally reported to reduce sugar cravings.

Yes, anecdotally reported to reduce sugar cravings. That means that there is no actual research to support the use of glutamine to reduce sugar cravings. A search of google scholar shows that there are no scientific studies supporting the use of glutamine to reduce sugar cravings. As dietitians we have an obligation to employ evidence-based best practices. This means that we cannot ethically recommend unproven treatments or supplements. I’m not saying that glutamine doesn’t work to reduce sugar cravings. I’m saying that we have no evidence either way. Until there is evidence to support its use in reducing sugar cravings dietitians cannot ethically recommend its use for that purpose.

I have yet to meet a dietitian who fails to keep up to date with current research. It does a great disservice to our profession when one of our fellow RDs suggests that many of us are not up to speed and that she is somehow special and superior to others in the field  because she is “science-based”, especially when she is making recommendations that are not actually based in science. Please be wary of any healthcare professional who is profiting from selling you a cure.


*Name has been omitted to protect the guilty. This is something that I struggled a bit with. I decided not to identify the RD in question because I don’t want this to be viewed as a personal attack, it is not.

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Beating sugar cravings

As a dietitian I’m always telling people that they shouldn’t avoid any foods (unless they have allergies or intolerances, obviously). Generally, avoiding foods tends to backfire. If you tell yourself that you’re not allowed to have something you’ll want it even more and you’ll end up cracking and indulging in far more than you would have had you just allowed yourself to have a small amount of it in the first place. That being said, I frequently hear people saying that they’re addicted to sugar and having small amounts just doesn’t work for them. In some cases, going cold-turkey may be the best option. If you’re going cold-turkey what’s the best way to curb those cravings?

Here are a few tips that may help in your quest to avoid added sugar:

  • Make sure that you’re eating regularly, and consuming protein at all meals and snacks. We tend to crave things, and be most susceptible to our cravings when we’re overly hungry. Protein will help to increase satiety.
  • When a craving hits, try distracting yourself by doing something that makes eating difficult: e.g. go for a walk, take a bath, knit, read a book, write a blog post ;)
  • Make yourself a healthy sweet treat. Try mixing unsweetened cocoa powder with plain yoghurt and berries (if you use thawed frozen berries the juice from them combines really well). Or have oatmeal with mashed banana or fresh blueberries, add some cinnamon or unsweetened cocoa powder and shredded coconut or nuts. Snack on frozen grapes. David’s Tea also has a lot of delicious dessert flavours that work as pinch hitters for dessert.
  • Meditation can work for some people.
  • Eat mindfully: take the time to look at your food, smell it, savour every bite, devote all of your attention to what you’re eating. Sounds a little hokey but may people benefit from mindful eating.
  • Non-nutritive sweeteners like stevia and splenda may help you wean yourself off the sweet stuff. Although personally, I’d rather have no sugar than the intensity of “fake” sugar.
  • Try to get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Our sleep habits can affect our eating habits and vice versa. Not getting enough sleep can increase the number and intensity of food cravings.
  • Have roasted root vegetables at supper. Roasting foods like carrots, parsnips, and sweet potatoes brings out their sugars. The caramelized vegetables may be sweet enough to stop your cravings for dessert.
  • If there’s a time of day when you would normally have a sugary treat, try to replace that habit with another one.
  • Don’t go it alone. It’s easier to develop new habits if you’re doing it with a partner.
  • Above all, don’t be too hard on yourself. Change takes time. If you do have a sugary treat, don’t let it get you down. Don’t use one cookie as an excuse to binge on sweets for the rest of the day. No matter how badly you fell you’ve slipped-up don’t try to restrict yourself even more the following day. Just carry on with your original efforts.