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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Is it unethical for dietitians to sell supplements?

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Eggcup of Pills photo by John Twohig on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Something happened recently that kind of blew my mind. I was always under the impression that it was a conflict of interest for a dietitian to sell supplements. Short of causing someone harm, in my mind, it was pretty much one of the most blatantly wrong things that a dietitian could do. In my mind, it still is, but according to at least one College of Dietitians, it’s not.

I happened to be exploring a fellow dietitian’s website, as I’d seen them make some questionable assertions in blog posts. You know, the sort of sensational “sexy” hype that I’m always saying we RDs don’t make. I happened to notice that they had a “shop” in which you could purchase several supplements. I shared this information with a friend, another dietitian, who passed it along to a contact at the College in their region. The response indicated that this might be a concern; however, if there is scientific backing for the supplements, as long as clients don’t feel pressured into purchasing supplements, while not ideal, it’s kind of okay. What??

One of the main reasons that many mainstream healthcare professionals take an exception to some alternative healthcare professionals is that they peddle supplements to their clients. It shouldn’t matter how much science there is supporting the use of a supplement. For any healthcare professional to receive direct compensation for the sale of a supplement or drug is a clear conflict of interest. No matter how amazing the supplement may be, no matter how questionable the supplement may be, the potential to profit from its sale to a client can cloud the judgement of even the most upstanding healthcare provider.

I can understand the desire to make money by selling things. It can be tough to make a living as a dietitian. A supplement may seem like a fitting choice. However, it undermines our credibility. For one thing, there is little evidence to support the use of most nutritional supplements. Imagine the more extreme scenario: You go to see your doctor who diagnoses you with disease X. Fortunately, there is cure Y which she can sell you. Can you not see the potential for corruption? misdiagnosis? Unnecessary treatment? Incorrect treatment? Despite the best of intentions, this can happen when the person who is assessing your condition is also selling you the cure. It’s unethical for healthcare providers to profit from a direct sale of a treatment.

If you ever visit a healthcare professional who offers to sell you a treatment or cure, please report them to their governing body. Get a second opinion. Do some research. We need you to ensure that all healthcare professionals are doing their utmost to ethically optimize your health.


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McDonald’s should get rid of their salads

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A few weeks after the McDonald’s dietitian was extolling their healthy menu options during an interview and a week or so after a nine-year-old girl pleads for McDonald’s to stop pushing junk food on kids, the company’s CEO announces that their salads are a failing venture.

Apparently the salads only account for about 2-3% of sales. Does this mean that McDonald’s will ditch the salads? We don’t know, but I think that they should.

Shocking, I know; a dietitian suggesting McDonald’s get rid of their salads. Don’t get too worked-up just yet. I think that in their current incarnation the salads should go. The salads can have more calories and fat than many of their burgers. Yes, they may have a few more nutrients as there’s some vegetables in them, but  not enough to merit the health halo they have for being salads. It’s almost worse for customers to be operating under the false assumption that they’re making healthy choices than for them to be opting for traditional fast food fare.

There may be a number of reasons why the salads aren’t generating much revenue: most customers aren’t there for salads, the cost of salads is quite high, the cost of the ingredients may mean they have a low profit margin, the salads aren’t very good. If McDonald’s could create a better (i.e. more appealing and healthier) salad menu then they might see sales increase. As it stands, it’s a bit of a vicious cycle and McDonald’s can say “we tried to sell salads but people just didn’t want them”. Maybe this is true, but maybe the problem lies with the salads.


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Serving up outrage: Are school food and beverage policies the way to go?

Some students in Ontario have launched a Kony-esque campaign to bring “junk food” back to school cafeterias. You can check out their video here.

As a public health dietitian in Ontario I was mandated to support the implementation of this policy. However, I have very mixed feelings about it and now that I’m no longer in that position I feel that I can voice them more freely. I think that the foods that the policy targets are not necessarily the sensible foods to be targeting (for example, a chocolate chip granola bar will make the cut but the same brand of granola bar with almonds added will not because it contains too much fat!). Replacing regular potato chips with baked chips (and then categorizing those chips as a vegetable) strikes me as ludicrous. Again, the government was swayed by the lobbying of the dairy farmers and chocolate milk made the cut. Many of the foods that are still permitted for sale in schools are of poor nutritional quality but are being pushed as healthy choices. What is this teaching parents and students? Clearly, there are major flaws with the policy.

While I agree with the students that removing all of the “junk food” is not teaching them to make healthy choices I also believe that it is wrong for schools to be profiting from sales of nutritionally void to students. Schools should be nurturing children’s minds and bodies. Unfortunately, I don’t have all the answers. I’m not sure how to reconcile these two concerns. Perhaps school cafeterias should be prevented from being profit-driven. Then we might see the development of more creative and appealing meals and snacks for sale in the schools.