Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Throwing the fish out with the oil

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For the most part I love Fooducate; however, I was a little surprised by this recent blog post on their site. The post referenced a recently published study that suggested our touting fish oil supplements (or even the recommendation to consume fatty fish twice a week) is faulty. They did not offer any thoughts or critique on the new “study”.

The study was actually an analysis of previously published research. They claimed that our recommendation to consume fish (or fish oil) was based solely on a research study of Icelandic Eskimos conducted in the 1970s. They assert that the findings of this study were misinterpreted and that the researchers did not even look at the prevalence of cardiovascular disease in the population they studied. They then looked at the other research on diet and CVD in Eskimo and Inuit populations. They only found one study that performed direct measurements on the Greenland Eskimo
population for assessing the presence of CAD or CAD risk factors”
. They state that this study, conducted before the Eskimo population had adopted a Western diet, found no difference between incidence of CAD in the Inuit population in comparison to American and European populations. Interestingly, I took a look at the original research study and the researchers actually found a lower risk of CVD in the Inuit population as compared to the Western population. Essentially the opposite of what the current researchers are claiming.

So… “What the heck does this all mean??” you may be wondering. Should you be eating fish twice a week? Should you be taking fish oil supplements? Well, unless you are a Greenlandic Inuit then this research may not apply to you at all. We can’t say that what’s healthy for the Inuit population is healthy for other populations. We also can’t be certain that it’s the consumption of fatty fish that reduced their risk of heart disease. It may be any of  number of other lifestyle factors that placed them at lower risk for CVD. Recent research into the benefits of fish oil has yielded mixed results. Some studies show benefits of fish oil consumption, others show negative effects of its consumption. As always, the best advice is that variety is the spice of life and it’s best to obtain your nutrients from whole foods. Yes, eat fish (limit the larger saltwater fish you consume though as it can be high in mercury), choose a variety. If you don’t eat fish, you might want to consider consuming a fish oil supplement. There may be benefits other than lower CVD risk associated with consuming omega-3s from fish/fish oil (such as mental and cognitive well-being, bone and joint health). Research is ongoing and you might want to wait before you turf your fish oil supplement or grilled salmon.


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Of mice and omegas

Apparently the anti-omega-3 supplement trend is continuing. The latest piece of research comes from BC and shows that, in combination, omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids may be increasing inflammation in the body. The study concluded that omega-3 supplementation could be increasing gastrointestinal distress in the elderly. According to a news article quoting the lead author, “levels of omega 6 are so high in our bodies that any more unsaturated fatty acid — even omega 3, despite its health benefits — will actually contribute to the negative effects omega 6 PUFA have on the heart and gut”.

I don’t dispute the likelihood that many of us are now consuming too much omega-6. However, this study is not affecting my decision to take omega-3 supplements. As a dietitian, I know that it’s better to get my nutrients from food and I should be eating more fish. Because I don’t eat as much fish as I should, I take an omega-3 supplement.

Why isn’t this study influencing my decision to pop an omega-3 supplement every second day? Well, the study was done on mice and recent evidence shows that mice studies may not be the best models for humans. In addition, the mice were fed a high fat diet (40% of total calories) with fat coming from canola oil and corn oil, with some mice being given fish oil as well. From where I sit, this is not much of an approximation of my fat consumption and I’m sure that applies to many of you as well. I get fat from olive oil, butter, dairy products (especially yoghurt and cheese), nuts and nut butters, coconut oil, eggs, etc. Very little of my fat intake comes from canola or corn oil. In addition, 40% is quite a high intake of calories from fat – the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution (AMDR) for fat is 20-35% of total calories.

If you are consuming all (or most) of your fat from canola and corn oil and you’re eating a high-fat diet (and if you’re a mouse) then perhaps this study should give you pause before you decide to start taking an omega-3 supplement. However, I think that you should be more concerned about the excessive consumption of a limited variety of fats than you should be about adding omega-3 PUFAs to the mix.


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Follow Friday: @offthehookcsf

A little more local love before I leave town again. This follow Friday goes out to Off the Hook Community Supported Fishery, Canada’s first community supported fishery. They’re a great local business that provides fresh fish to members on a weekly basis. You can pick up your share (they offer a couple of options so you can select to best suit your fish needs) from various locations throughout Nova Scotia.

Off the Hook uses the most sustainable methods of commercial fishing: bottom line and hook. To learn more about their methods you can check out their informative website.


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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.