Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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

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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 examine.com 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 examine.com (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.”

Examine.com 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 examine.com. 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.”

Examine.com 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.


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Another example of why nutrition advice should come from nutrition professionals

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A friend, and fellow dietitian, sent me the above screenshots. They were posted by a personal trainer. Of course it’s great to get people eating more vegetables and by no means do I want to discourage that. However, this is yet another example of why nutrition advice is best left to nutrition professionals.

Let’s start with the onions. High in fibre? It’s true, sort-of. Once cup of chopped onion contains a respectable 3 grams of fibre. Not exactly “high” but a “good source”. But… Who among us eats an entire cup of onion in a sitting? Certainly not I. At most, I would say I would have a couple of tablespoons. That brings the total fibre down to a whopping 0 grams. Oops. As for the other claims… Anyone telling you something is “great for fat loss” is probably full of it. No one food promotes fat loss. Following a healthy, adequate calorie diet, and healthy active lifestyle will promote fat loss (should you need to lose fat). Glutathione to reduce stress? Not according to WebMD. And just to be annoying, how on earth could eating onions reduce stress??? Will they ensure you don’t lose loved ones, keep your job, prevent moving? I think he must mean that they reduce the effect of stress on your body. Regardless, I’m pretty sure he’s mistaken. EWG did find pesticide residue on onions, however, they were ranked 50th (out of 51) so I’ll let him have that one; they are low in pesticides. Finally, onions do contain the prebiotic inulin. But, the onions aren’t what provide the benefits listed, the probiotics that use the prebiotics to grow are what provide the benefits. Both pre- and pro-biotics are needed to maintain a healthy digestive system.

As for the claim that grains don’t contain as much fibre as “you think” and therefore, you should consume the vegetables listed to obtain your fibre. Let’s compare: asparagus, cooked 1/2 cup = 2 grams of fibre, 1 cup of raw green pepper = 3 g fibre, 1 cup of raw broccoli = 2 g fibre, 1 cup of raw green cabbage = 2 g fibre, 1 cup of raw cauliflower = 3 g fibre, 1 cup of cucumber (with peel) raw = 0 grams of fibre, 1 cup of romaine lettuce = 0 g of fibre, 1 cup of raw mushrooms = 1 g fibre, 1 cup of raw spinach = 1 g fibre, 1 cup of raw zucchini = 0 grams of fibre. Now for the grains: 1 cup of steel-cut oats = 5 grams of fibre, one slice of multigrain bread = 2 g fibre, 1/2 cup of cooked quinoa = 2.5 g fibre, 1/2 cup of brown rice cooked = 2 g fibre, 3/4 cup of bran flakes = 5 g fibre…. I’d also like to mention that 1/2 cup of black beans contains 7.5 grams of fibre! As you can see, yes some of these vegetables contain fibre. However, grains also contain fibre, generally more than the vegetables. The moral here: include a variety of foods, including grains and vegetables, in your diet to meet all of your nutrient needs. Oh, and don’t take nutrition advice from those without a nutrition education.


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Charles Poliquin fat loss foods

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One of my friends, a fellow dietitian, alerted me to the Charles Poliquin website recently. The link she sent me was to an article about the Top Ten Foods for Fat Loss. I hate lists like that. Sorry readers, there are no “superfoods”, there are no magical weight loss foods. Now I don’t really take exception to any of the foods included in the list per se (i.e. cold water fish, nuts, whey protein, berries, avocados, cruciferous vegetables, eggs, coffee and green coffee extract, kimchi, vinegar). Okay, so I’m not down with the green coffee extract and I think that the “whey” could be omitted and replaced by protein (no, this does not need to be in the form of a supplement, most of us get more than enough protein from actual food). Besides these minor quibbles, I think that these are all great foods to include in a healthy diet. What I take exception to is the statement that they’re all essential to “fat loss”. This article would have the reader believe that by consuming these foods you’re going to lose weight. No necessarily. Even if you consumed only these foods you could quite easily stay the same weight, or even gain weight. How much you eat and when you eat both need to be taken into consideration if you want to lose weight. Following a list of 10 foods is not necessarily going to reduce your body fat.

A little bit more about the website: Charles Poliquin is a strength coach who founded the company Poliquin Performance. They have strength coaches, facilities, and a line of supplements. Through their website you can obtain online certification as a personal trainer (apparently with nutrition and supplement expertise despite no evidence of involvement of nutrition professionals on the site). Yep, that’s right, you can obtain the certification without ever leaving your home. Now, I don’t know about you, but I certainly wouldn’t want to work with a personal trainer who had no hands-on experience and no in-person training. I also wouldn’t want to receive training or nutrition advice from someone who was part of a “rewards” program. The more supplements a “practitioner” purchases the more points they earn.

Unfortunately, in the nutrition and fitness industries there are many people with less than optimal qualifications who are more than happy to take your money and dole out unsound advice in return. Be wary of credentials and if you’re unsure, do a little research for yourself to make sure that you’re choosing a professional with the appropriate education and qualifications.  


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Reader’s Digest new fat-melting diet

I was pretty excited when one of the doctors at my temp job gave me the latest copy of Reader’s Digest to trash it. I know that he intended for me to throw it out but I wanted to trash it figuratively first. How could I not, with a headline like this?

The article touts the weight loss of Reader’s Digest staff after being on the diet for three weeks. The article states: “We lost 151 pounds in 3 weeks!” I’m not even going to get into how poorly the staff at the magazine must normally eat if they all saw double-digit weight loss over the course of 21 days. The fact that it’s a 21-day plan is a concern to me. It reeks of the dreaded “D” word. I wouldn’t be surprised if most, if not all, of the staff had regained the weight by the time the issue hit the newsstands. Sorry, but we all know that diets don’t work. If you want to see sustainable results, you need to makes sustainable changes.

Continuing on, there’s information on “13 essential fat releasers”. Supposedly the calories in these foods actually “thwart your body’s desire to hold on to fat, so you lose weight quickly and without hunger.” I’m not going to get into specifics on each of these foods as that would just take up way too much space and time. Suffice to say, there are no magical fat-loss foods. All of the foods mentioned in the article are certainly healthy choices. However, the benefits that the staff saw from them were not due to their magical properties. They were a result of switching from calorie-dense, nutrient-poor eating habits. One staffer is quoted as saying: “I used to inhale four cheeseburgers in two minutes. Now I’m satisfied by a 35-calorie piece of cheese.” Do we really think his 26-pound weight loss was due to special fat-releasers in the foods he ate? I’m fairly confident that his weight loss was due to the fact that he had a lot of extra weight to lose to being with and from switching from a very high calorie diet to healthier, lower calorie foods in smaller portions, not as a result of magical fat-releasers.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but there’s no magic foods you can eat to “release fat”. If you want to lose weight (and keep it off) you’re going to need to do some work.