Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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The skinny on teatox

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Photo by Iyad Tibi on flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

last week a friend tweeted this “Skinny Teatox” cleanse telling everyone to eat real food and cc’ed me. I figured it was worth a blog post because so many people think that tea is innocuous, and of course, when it’s being marketed as innocent “natural” herbs, who can blame them? The thing is, natural is not alway superior, nor is it always safe. There are plenty of deadly toxins of natural origin. This tea, while not in the deadly toxin category, is certainly not the healthiest choice, nor is it likely to help you lose weight.

Before I get started dissecting the ingredients though can I just make a brief comment on the price? $35 for SEVEN days! That’s $5 a day! That’s insanity! You can buy many lovely herbal, green, and black teas for a fraction of that price.

They claim that the tea is“Made with 100% natural ingredients that promote good health and weight loss.” The teas also contain no “chemicals” lol. They may however, contain: “Our products may contain all or some of the following: gluten, malva verticellata, cassia angustifolia (senna leaf), cascara sagrada, arctostaphylos uva ursi, ginseng, liquorice, chrysanthemum, orange peel, cinnamon bark, cloves, rhubarb and ginger. Skinny Teatox produces a laxative effect and can be toxic in high doses. Do not consume more than once every two days.” 

Gluten – safe for anyone who doesn’t have celiac disease or a gluten allergy (a protein found in grains)

malva verticillata – (I assume they just misspelled this one, gives you great confidence doesn’t it?) also known as “Chinese mallow” or “Cluter mallow” it’s commonly used as a laxative. Not much is known about side effects but it may affect blood sugar so those with diabetes should probably avoid it (1).

senna leaf – is a common over-the-counter laxative and should not be used regularly because it can be habit forming (i.e. you may come to rely on it to poop).

cascara sagrada – is bark from a shrub, again, used to treat constipation. It can’t be purchased as a drug because questions were raised regarding its safety but manufacturers didn’t want to comply with the FDA testing (not alarming whatsoever) (2). Most side effects are associated with long-term use.

arctostaphylos uva ursi – the leaves of a plant, generally used to treat urinary disorders, and (you guessed it!) constipation! (3). Short term side effects can include nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and greenish urine. Long-term side effects can include liver damage, eye problems, breathing problems, convulsions, and death.

ginseng – may lower blood sugar, may act as a stimulant (4).

liquorice – a plant used to treat various digestive issues. May cause issues in people with certain health conditions and is not safe for long-term use (5).

chrysanthemum – used to treat, high blood pressure, chest pain, type 2 diabetes… It’s also a popular summertime tea in China. May cause an allergic reaction in some people as it’s in the same family as ragweed (6).

orange peel – I think we’re getting down into the flavourings now so I’m not going to continue. You get the idea. The vast majority of the ingredients in these natural herbal teas are laxatives. They’re not going to “detox” you or make you “skinny”. And if you need help pooping might I suggest that you save your money and go for some cheaper, safer, healthier natural remedies such as: increasing your fibre and water intake, prunes, coffee, exercise. If you suffer from chronic constipation please speak with your primary health care provider. Disclaimer: This is just a blog, I don’t know your personal medical information and can’t possibly provide you with medical advice in this forum.


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The dark green leafy truth about your kale smoothie

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I’ve been slacking again, sorry! No post on Monday and I had plans to write a post debunking this article about how kale is killing us all that a friend sent me over the weekend. My immediate reaction was that if kale is accumulating these toxins then it stands to reason that many other vegetables are, as if people need any discouragement from eating their veggies. My friend responded that it would be best if everyone stuck to corn dogs. Of course, that’s no solution as corn dogs are full of GMOs and carbs which we all know cause “grain brain”. Anyway… I was going to dig a little deeper but before I did, I saw this article by Julia Belluz that did that for me so, please, go read her article about how faulty the “science” is behind the headlines that kale is a killer. Sure, alliteration is a great literary device (possibly my favourite), it makes for great headlines, but it doesn’t make bad science good.

There are just a couple of things I really want to emphasis that Julia just touched on. First, despite what the articles indicate, this was not a strong scientific study. There was no true control group. There was no randomization of participants. This was a very small “sample” of 20 self-selected individuals who went to Ernie Hubbard for “detoxes” for myriad inexplicable medical complaints. Ernie started with the assumption that kale was causing their problems, he didn’t seek out other causes. His finding that they were all kale consumers was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Second, Please, please, please don’t stop eating vegetables because of these sensational headlines. The benefits from eating vegetables far outweigh any real risks. Variety is an essential part of any healthy diet so be sure to consume a wide variety of vegetables, including leafy greens and members of the Brassica family, such as kale.


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Let’s deactivate the activated charcoal detox trend

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Photo by Ken Fager on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

A friend recently alerted me to the latest detox trend: charcoal infused beverages. What?? I haven’t seen any around here (thankfully), it tends to take a little while for trends to make their way to Nova Scotia. All of my fingers are crossed that this will fizzle out before it can catch on here.

The argument for these activated charcoal containing beverages, made by beauty bloggers, good old vagina steaming Gwyneth, and the purveyors of these burnt beverages, is that the charcoal will bind any toxins in your body and remove them. Supposedly they’re great for avoiding hangovers and blessing you with glowing skin. Sandwiched in between these arguments in the article linked above is the sensible advice put forth by a registered dietitian:

She notes that adding charcoal to vegetable juice doesn’t make sense because the charcoal — not the drinker’s body — will absorb the juice’s nutrients.

“I don’t really see a purpose,” she says. “I think it’s going on the fad of ‘detox, detox, detox.’ ”

It’s important to be aware that the human body is designed to filter toxins using the liver and kidneys. Most of these detox beverages are a waste of money at best, some are dangerous at worst. Regular consumption of charcoal beverages could actually leave you nutrient deficient, not so great for your skin and other organs. It also won’t remove bacteria, as mentioned by one proponent.

Activated charcoal has been used for years in hospitals (and prior to that by indigenous populations) to help treat drug overdoses and poisonings. The activated charcoal binds to these substances, removing them from the body. Extremely useful in the case of an overdose. Not so useful on a regular basis. If you’re consuming any medication the charcoal will happily bind to that and remove it from your body. The charcoal will also only remove toxins and drugs that have not already been absorbed from the digestive system. Drinking one of these the morning after over-indulging will not cure your hangover. In fact, activated charcoal is not useful in treating alcohol poisoning, nor a number of other poisonings. There are also some medications that activated charcoal can interact with and cause electrolyte imbalances.

While this trend is quite new, it’s hard to say what many of the long-term effects of charcoal ingestion might be. As we know that burnt food, and foods cooked at high temperatures may increase the risk of some cancers, it’s quite possible that charcoal ingestion could pose a similar risk.

Novel idea: How about instead of trying to rid our bodies of toxins, we put nutritious nourishing foods into them in the first place.


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Cilantro cleanse

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Oh facebook and your unending perpetuation of useless “cleanses” and weight loss scams. I saw this one about cleaning your kidneys by drinking cilantro or parsley water.

The thing is, toxins don’t accumulate in your kidneys. The kidneys act as filters, removing waste products from your blood, and excreting them in your urine. They don’t hang onto these waste products (1).

Okay, so cilantro and parsley won’t rid your kidneys of toxins, but is there any truth to their use as “detoxifiers”? Well, parsley acts as a diuretic (i.e. it makes you pee more) so, in the sense that it will speed the removal of waste products from your body via urine it’s kind of true. However, it won’t remove any more waste than would be eventually removed if you just waited a little longer to pee.

Years ago, it was reported that a cilantro soup increased excretion of mercury following removal of mercury fillings (2). Since then, cilantro has been popularly touted as a detoxifier via chelation of heavy metals. Unfortunately, since that initial study, there has been little research to support the ability of cilantro to remove heavy metals from the body.

If you like cilantro and parsley water and tea, go ahead, there’s no evidence that consuming it will harm you. However, it’s not going to remove toxins from your kidneys, and it’s unlikely that it will remove toxins from elsewhere in your body.


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Follow Friday: Oil pulling

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I had never even heard of oil pulling until a few weeks ago when a customer at work told me about it. Then, all of a sudden, it seemed like everyone was talking about it. I definitely don’t think that it’s the cure-all that many people are touting it as. However, it does seem like it can have some benefits; such as, tooth cleaning and breath-freshening. It’s probably better than using mouthwash but it’s no substitute for regular flossing and brushing (in my non-dental completely personal opinion).

Check out a couple of recent articles about the subject: The “oil pulling” health craze works, just not in the way you think on Jezebel and Oil pulling your leg on Science-Based Medicine.