Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Grocery Store Lessons: Excel Naturally Sweetened Gum

Last week my friend Mark tweeted this:

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I think our fear of “unnatural” or “artificial” ingredients has gone too far. I’m generally one to go for real sugar any day over artificial sweeteners. I prefer the flavour and I’m of the opinion that a little of the “real” thing is better than a lot of the fake. In some case though it just doesn’t make sense to be choosing real sugar.

There is no benefit to choosing sugar-sweetened gum over gum sweetened with sugar alcohols. We know that sugar consumption, especially when in products that spend a long time in the mouth (such as gum) promotes the development of cavities. While xylitol (the sugar alcohol generally found in sugar-free gums) may not be the great cavity preventer it was originally touted as, it certainly doesn’t promote the development of cavities like sugary gum does.

It’s beyond me why anyone would think that a “natural” (and come on, how natural is commercial chewing gum anyway?) gum containing sugar is a superior choice over artificially sweetened gum. Shame on Excel for taking advantage of the fear of the “unnatural” by reverting to a product that is likely to incense dentists, dietitians, and doctors alike. File this product under another great example of a natural fallacy.


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Aloe vera: healing or harmful?

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Image by Andreas Issleib on flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

A little while ago when I was looking for blogspiration a friend told me to take a look at a certain “nutritionist” on twitter. Since then, I’ve had her on my back burner because she certainly looked like she would have some good blog fodder (cured her incurable illness through diet) but I couldn’t be bothered to look through all her posts. Well, today’s the day I move her to the front burner.

I was reading her post on the healing properties of aloe. I found myself hoping that she would provide a balanced picture because I didn’t really want to write about aloe. Sadly, she did not, so here we are. As I feel that simply extolling the virtues of a food, without providing cautions is irresponsible, even if you don’t have a regulatory body protecting the public from you. Sorry, sorry, I digress.

In her post she writes about the magical properties of aloe: anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory. Unfortunately, there she didn’t link to any research so I can’t comment on the quality of the studies used to make these claims. As far as I can tell, to date there’s been very little (if any) research on human subjects. However, some in vitro studies and animal have shown some promise when it comes to the anti-viral (1, 2) and anti-microbial (3, 4) properties of aloe vera. Of course, based on the current research, there’s no way to know what dose or form of aloe would (if at all) be effective in humans. It’s entirely possible that oral ingestion of aloe would not have any positive benefits in relation to viruses and bacteria.

Some mouse studies and in vitro have shown promising wound healing and anti-inflammatory effects of aloe vera (when administered both topically and orally) (5, 6). Again, there has yet to be any conclusive research done in humans.

Okay, it sounds a bit promising but… Then come the concerns. Before you start adding a handful of aloe vera plant to your smoothie you should be aware that the exterior portion of the leaf has a laxative effect. There are other longer lasting concerns about aloe vera consumption than diarrhea. My friend Helen has written about many of them on her blog Food and Nonsense. These include a risk of cancer and impaired liver function. Over at Examine, the only conclusive research they’ve found so far for aloe supplementation is for increased intestinal motility (i.e. to combat constipation). The Mayo Clinic provides a long list of cautions against the ingestion of aloe vera products, including the risk of inducing uterine contractions in pregnant women. I’ve also blogged about the consumption of aloe vera juice in the past.

I believe that my final statement in that post stands the test of time: Just because it’s “natural” doesn’t mean it’s good for you.

 


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The defence of juice

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I find the ability of people to rationalise things astounding. We all do it in some manner in our lives. But it still amazes me to see people staunchly defending illogical stances. Take for example juice.

I’m not opposed to juice per se. I grew up during a time when orange juice was a standard at breakfast. I drank juice boxes at school. Juice wasn’t the nutritional pariah it’s become. Of course, we now know that juice is essentially liquid sugar, with a few vitamins thrown in for good measure. Drinking a glass of apple juice is nowhere near as nutritious as eating an actual apple. I would never recommend that someone consume more juice but if you’re enjoying a glass of juice a day, or an occasional glass of juice, it’s the same as any other sweet treat and I’m not going to take that away.

What I don’t get are the people who say that juice contains “naturally occurring” sugar so it’s somehow healthier than any other food containing “unnaturally occurring” sugar. Nope. Not buying it. Sugar is sugar. This is not demonizing sugar. This is not demonizing juice. It’s just a fact. Where do people think that refined and added sugars come from? They’re not made from chemicals in a lab. They’re made by processing plants that naturally contain sugar. There’s nothing nutritionally superior about the sugar in juice. It’s no better (or worse) for you than the sugar in a handful of jujubes.

Let’s stop sugarcoating juice and face the facts. Juice is liquid sugar with better PR than other sugary beverages.


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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.