Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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I like my coffee with honey and coconut oil?!

I know that I rant about the stupid advice Dr Oz gives frequently. He just gives stupid advice frequently and I can’t let it all pass by without comment.

The other day he was doing some sort of Q&A on twitter and responded to a question from a reader:


What in the heck kind of suggestions are those? I’m assuming that this individual is using splenda because they’re concerned about their weight (correctly as it turned out because I sent them a tweet after seeing this). Honey, while likely a healthier choice than granulated sugar in some respects, has about the same amount of calories (actually a few more) per teaspoon as sugar. And coconut oil?! Perhaps I’m the crazy one here, but I can’t imagine that any type of oil would be a tasty or health conscious addition to a cup of coffee. Milk, while a great alternative to cream is not really an alternative to sweetener. Honestly, if you’re drinking your coffee black, you’re concerned about consuming extra calories, and you enjoy a little splenda in it then that’s a perfectly healthy option. 

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Dr Oz dishes out horseradish

More unscientific advice from Dr. Oz. Last week he tweeted: “To prevent UTI’s naturally, take 2 teaspoons of horseradish per day. Horseradish contains oils that have anti-bacterial properties”. Lovely if it’s true and you like horseradish. Unfortunately, it seems that there is no scientific research to support this claim.

Historically, horseradish has been used medicinally both orally and externally as a poultice. However, a 2012 report states that “There are no scientific studies of horseradish that have attained even the minimum level of scientific reliability”. There is no modern medicine that uses horseradish. This is not to say that horseradish does not prevent UTIs. It’s just to say that there is no science to support these claims and therefore, no reputable doctor would recommend horseradish as a medication for UTIs.

While it appears that there’s no harm in consuming a couple of teaspoons of horseradish a day, its ability to prevent UTIs is yet to be determined.

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GMOs bite back

You know, I honestly don’t know whom to trust or what to believe when it comes to GMO and biotechnology anymore. I don’t see the need to be messing with foods that have grown relatively naturally for years; if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I think that there are probably going to be serious consequences to nature as a result of these foods and there may be unknown risks to our own health as a result of consuming foods.

The prompt for this latest rant was a link to an open letter to the Dr. Oz Show Producers shared by many via twitter over the past several days. As I always enjoy the discrediting of Dr. Oz I decided to give it a read. Something about it rubbed me the wrong way though. It was written by Dr. Bruce Chassy, a professor of molecular biology and biotechnology at the University of Illinois. His undergrad degree was in chemistry and his Ph.D. in biotechnology. As a bit of an aside, why is he teaching courses in nutrition? Food product development and safety, sure, but nutrition? Yet, he’s complaining about the inclusion of Jeffrey Smith as part of the Dr. Oz Show because he isn’t a scientist and therefore, isn’t qualified to comment on genetic modification of food. Pot meet kettle. Sure, his educational background may make him more qualified to teach nutrition than Smith is to educate about GM (he’s a marketing consultant turned activist). Anyway… more to the point… I think one of the main issues with this whole GMO debate is that many of the people who are most qualified to educate us on the topic are also in positions of conflict of interest. Most of these people, including Dr. Chassy, receive research funding from the companies responsible for the development of GMO (1). Can you trust the research results from a study in which the researcher has a vested interest in seeing a certain result? You probably shouldn’t. We need long-term unbiased research studies to know for certain.

This brings to mind the recent controversy over the study from France showing harmful effects of GMO and Monsanto’s Roundup Ready in rats. I actually had a blog post all lined-up and ready to go advising people to be cautious about GMO on the basis of that study. Then I read another post dissecting the study on the basis of the type of rats used and stuff. I don’t know anything about lab rats and I didn’t want to be taken for a fool so I deleted my post. Since then, many scientists have come to the support of Seralini while others have condemned his study. I’m still not entirely sure which side to believe and it’s also important to note that Seralini has backing from an anti-GMO agency, meaning that his research is also unlikely to be free from bias.

Perhaps GMO will prove to be safe but the key word here is prove. At this point we still don’t know enough and I’m personally not keen on being a test subject.


What to do if you’re tired

My recent decision to start following Dr Oz on twitter for blog fodder is now paying off. Yesterday I saw a tweet from him suggesting that if you were feeling tired that you might be suffering from a magnesium deficiency. While this is plausible (most North Americans don’t get enough magnesium – the above photo shows some good sources of magnesium), it’s certainly not the first avenue I would explore when someone complains of being tired. It’s funny how many of us seem to have forgotten about sleep as the most important contributor to preventing and alleviating fatigue. I’ve had people complain to me about feeling tired and then ask me things like “should I eliminate wheat?” Good nutrition definitely plays a role in how you feel and your energy levels but if you’re feeling fatigued and lethargic there are probably other avenues you should explore before nutrition, and definitely other nutrients you should explore before magnesium.

Here’s the line of questioning I would employ when feeling tired: How much sleep did I get last night? If I got less than eight hours I would attribute much of my fatigue to that. If you’re not getting enough sleep try quitting all electronics an hour before bed. Try getting into bed with a book at least half an hour before you actually want to fall asleep. Make sure that your room is as dark as possible. You may need to employ ear plugs and/or an eye mask to block out distractions, sexy no? There are lots of other tips for getting a good nights sleep. I googled some for you here. If duration or quality of sleep are not the culprits I would next ask how much exercise you’re getting? I know it sounds kind of counter intuitive but exercise can actually boost your energy, it can also help improve your sleep. Nutritionally, I would next ask if you’re getting enough water. I always keep a water bottle at my desk and when I get the post-lunch-sleepies I make sure to turn to the water before getting another coffee or tea. Nutrient-wise, I would first wonder if you’re getting enough iron, vitamin B12, and protein. Failing all that then I might explore magnesium, among other nutrients.

If you’re always feeling tired and this is a concern to you then you should probably see your doctor to determine the cause. While many of us don’t get enough magnesium this is rarely the primary cause of fatigue. Don’t diagnose yourself from a television personality.


Dr. Oz, the fantasy continues

Will Dr. Oz ever cease to be an excellent source of inaccurate nutrition information? I really should thank him for being a source of inspiration for my ranting. However, I would much rather that he stopped playing dietitian and stuck to being a surgeon. “What’s he done this time?” you may be wondering. Along with his buddy Dr. Roizen, he’s published an article with Six Steps to a More Youthful You. It’s not all bad, but some of it is.

1. Visit your dental professional every six months to reduce risk of heart disease and diabetes. Umm… I’m pretty sure that association between heart disease and gum disease was thrown out the window months ago. Was there ever an alleged causal link between gum disease and diabetes? As far as I’m aware, diabetes can increase your risk for gum disease, not the reverse, although gum disease may worsen blood glucose control in those with diabetes. Yes, you should all be seeing your dentist regularly but not for the reasons given by these docs.

2. Take 2 baby aspirin daily. As a dietitian, I probably shouldn’t be commenting on this one. I’m just going to point out that after making this broad suggestion the doctors advise you to check with your doctor before starting this regime. Good idea, talk to your doctor. Don’t just start popping aspirins.

3. Go for three servings of salmon or trout a week. Twice a week is probably sufficient. I’d also like to extend the invitation to all “fatty fish”” anchovies, sardines, and mackerel. Also, Atlantic salmon is a far better source of omega-3 fatty acids than Pacific salmon.

4. Exercise is great. Every little bit helps but the higher the intensity, the greater the benefit. You also don’t need to leave rest days in between resistance training sessions, as long as you’re not working out the same muscle group two days in a row. For more about the health benefits and myths regarding exercise, read Tim Caulfield’s The Cure for Everything.

5. Nuts are good. I don’t really have any issue with this advice. Although I’m inclined to think this “real age” business is bullsh*t.

6. Yes, coffee may be good for you. Yes, I myself wrote about this last week. Please keep in mind that you’re not doing yourself any favours if you’re loading your coffee with cream and sugar.