Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


Breathing vs raw food. Should we be getting our oxygen from our diet?


Does everyone remember when that Australian “health coach” told everyone that cancer is actually good for you (see above)? And then everyone piled on and she relented and removed the post and made a sort-of apology video. I was thinking about that recently after reading this article about a naturopath in Montreal who espoused similar views in her blog. I decided to see what Olivia was up to these days on her Instagram.

Her most recent post was extolling the benefits of an “oxygen-rich diet”. According to her post, people who are oxygen deficient, “are nervous, stubborn, hypersensitive, and have an increased amount of bacterial and fungal infections, as well as disease. Low oxygen creates decreased brain function, congestion, bleeding, and a decrease in sexuality.” At this point you’re probably wondering if you’re oxygen deficient and how you can boost your oxygen levels through an oxygen–rich diet. I mean, nobody wants to be a diseased stubborn dim-wit. Fortunately, Olivia has the answer:

Raw foods are full of oxygen, especially dark green leafy vegetables which contain an abundance of chlorophyll. The chemical structure of chlorophyll is almost identical to the haemoglobin in our red blood cells. The only difference is that the haemoglobin molecule has iron in its nucleus and the chlorophyll molecule has magnesium. The bloodstream then delivers this oxygen to every cell in your body. When you eat greens in blended form, such as a smoothie, this process is even more efficient.

Naturally, this tome is accompanied by a sweet doe-eyed photo of Olivia holding a massive bowl of lettuce. Sadly, contrary to popular opinion, being young and pretty are not qualifications for providing nutrition advice.

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The subtext being that you too can become a more glowing, more vital, blonder bluer-eyed version of yourself if you follow her advice. Of course, none of it’s true.

Let’s start with oxygen deficiency. What is oxygen deficiency? Could we all be silently suffering from insufficient oxygen in our blood? Oxygen deficiency is when your body doesn’t get enough oxygen. This can be caused by health conditions such as asthma, COPD and other lung diseases, and anemia. Most of these are treated with medications and/or supplemental oxygen. Of these, only anemia can be related to diet (more on that later). It’s important to note that when your body doesn’t get enough oxygen you may experience hypoxemia (low blood oxygen) which can quickly lead to hypoxia (low tissue oxygen) which can result in symptoms such as changes in skin colour, coughing, wheezing, confusion, and shortness of breath. It’s important to seek immediate medical attention if this should occur as organ damage can occur within minutes of the onset of symptoms. In other words, a salad is not the recommended course of treatment.

Okay, back to anemia. While there are many forms of anemia with many causes, anemia is when your body doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to your organs. Among the many causes of anemia are iron deficiency and vitamin deficiency (B12 or folate). Generally, if you have reached the point of anemia you’ll need supplements to adequately increase your levels (as always, this blog is not to be taken as medical advice and if you think you may be experiencing anemia you should consult with your doctor). To obtain sufficient quantities of these nutrients it’s important to include food sources of them in your diet. Iron-rich foods include: meat, fish, poultry, legumes, eggs, tofu, spinach, and marmite. The form of iron found in plant-based foods is not as readily absorbed by the body as that found in animal foods. Consuming these foods with vitamin C rich foods can help to increase the absorption. Natural sources of vitamin B12 are only found in animal foods (and nutritional yeast). These include: yoghurt, meat, fish, eggs, and cheese. So far, most of these foods are very different from those Olivia is recommending. Finally, folate is found in dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, and fortified flour (in Canada). These foods may help to increase your blood oxygen levels if your red blood cells are low by increasing the hemoglobin in your blood. There is no direct relationship between consumption of “oxygen-rich” foods and oxygen levels in your blood. The metabolic process is not that simple and the quantity of oxygen that you would consume from food is minuscule in comparison to the quantity of oxygen you obtain from breathing.

This all to say, eating a variety of foods including many plant-based foods can form the basis of a healthy diet but that has nothing to do with the amount of oxygen in said foods.

I’ll leave you with the one sensible comment on the post:

danielparasiliti I think you are getting confused… someone who is oxygen deficient Is not stubborn… but more than likely unconscious or dead…



Are dietitians getting too sexy?


A few years ago I wrote a blog post that really hit a nerve with other dietitians. It was about how dietitians just aren’t sexy. This was in the sense that we don’t hop on trends (unlike other unregulated professionals) and instead are moored in evidence-based practice. Unfortunately, I’m noticing a disturbing trend in dietetics and I’m concerned about the future of my profession.

There have always been some dietitians who believe in unproven practices such as detox, fad diets, and questionable supplements. It’s a shame to see others promoting such nonsense as I feel it reflects poorly on all of us but it’s always been the minority. It’s also been somewhat understandable because it can be a tough field in which to find a secure job. And we probably all have some beliefs that aren’t based in evidence. Experience is important in combination with scientific evidence. However, I feel like in this age of fake news where nothing means anything anymore, that this is infiltrating dietetics at a higher level.

Recently there’s been the introduction of “integrative functional nutrition” which sounds very scientific and pretty great, “A central theme of IFNA training is learning to identify “root causes” of disease in a methodical and systematic fashion rather than the mundane prescription of medical nutrition protocols based on a diagnosis”. Who doesn’t want to get to the root causes of illnesses? I think the main frustration with Western medicine is that there’s often a failure to dig deeper to find the root cause for ailments and simply a treating of symptoms. This is why so many people turn to unscientific alternative health practitioners for help. Unfortunately, “integrative functional nutrition/medicine” tends to be code for the smooshing together evidence-based practices and unproven unscientific practices. The creation of bodies of dietetics incorporating these practices lends false credibility to them.

Last week I attended a nutrition conference. It was generally a really great conference with presenters sharing a variety of perspectives and evidence. There were also presentations by people with lived experience. I think there’s a great deal of value in learning from people who have experience with various conditions, circumstances, illnesses, etc. However, the final presenter was by an individual who had “cured” a severe mental illness through nutrition and supplements with the aid of a Christian doctor in the US. I’m not in a position to question this person’s experience but the presentation made me extremely uncomfortable. I don’t doubt that nutrition plays an important role in supporting mental health. Although I do doubt that we can cure most cases of mental illness through nutrition.

As dietitians, we are always trying to promote ourselves as credible sources of nutrition information. Yet here we are, welcoming a presentation from an individual who was treated by a doctor whom would be dubbed as a quack by most. This guy readily fails Dietitians of Canada’s “Five tips to help you spot misinformation“.

1. Is the person or product promising a quick fix like fast weight-loss or a miracle cure? Check!

2. Are they trying to sell you products such as special foods or supplements? Check!

3. Do they provide information based on personal stories rather than on facts? Check!

4. Is their claim based on a single study or a few research studies? Not sure if the claims are based on any research so yeah, Check!

5. What are the person’s qualifications? Unfortunately, he’s a medical doctor which makes it sound like he’s a qualified professional. But we all know that doesn’t stop Dr Oz from operating outside of his scope of practice. Being a MD doesn’t necessarily mean that an individual is qualified to be providing nutrition services (most doctors receive very little nutrition education during medical school). As far as I can discern, he hasn’t received any specialized nutrition education so… CHECK!

Inviting people who are promoting such quackery to professional conferences undermines our credibility as nutrition professionals. It lends false credibility to their practices and allows these unproven beliefs to infiltrate dietetics. It makes it harder for us to present ourselves as credible nutrition professionals and undermines the ability of the public to trust us.

It’s discouraging to see people seeking out healthcare from unregulated professionals with questionable credentials and practices. But I don’t think the solution lies in taking the attitude that if you can’t beat them, join them. It’s important for us to continue to ground our advice in the best possible scientific evidence if we want to remain trusted healthcare professionals. Otherwise we may as well all burn our degrees and licences because they’ll become as meaningless as the credentials of all the self-styled nutrition gurus.


Eating to change your eye colour


I recently came across a post by David Wolfe (yeah, that guy) about the ability of a raw food diet to change your eye colour.

Apparently this is a thing ever since some raw food guru nutritionista chick made the claim that after changing from an unhealthy diet she cleared-up her constipation and her brown eyes became hazel/green.

Naturally I was skeptical. Even David Wolfe was. Yet, he somehow came to the conclusion that it was possible based on this article. The thing is, the article doesn’t actually support the claim that a raw food diet can change a person’s eye colour. It says that eye colour can change as we age, but this is generally referring to children, not adults and is unrelated to diet. It then carries on to state that significant changes in eye colour may be the result of a disease and anyone experiencing such changes should see an eye doctor. No mention of diet.

I did a little googling and found some other articles. None of which were written by anyone with any medical knowledge of eyes. Wolfe and this Vice article both mention “iridologists” which is pretty ridiculous. Iridologists are to optometry what phrenologists are to neurology. Essentially a great source of perhaps entertaining information but otherwise quackery. To be fair, even these iridologists seemed to think the notion of changing ones eye colour via diet was farfetched. Everything I could find through the googles was anecdotal.

I feel the need to voice my disappointment in seeing a dietitian’s name continually come-up in connection with this raw food eye colour change business. As dietitians we are obligated to provide evidence-based dietary advice. Neither advising people to choose a diet to change their eye colour, nor advocating for raw food diets for all are ethical for a member of our profession.

Next I turned to google scholar. Again, nothing. There is absolutely no scientific evidence of a relationship between diet and eye colour. Of course, it’s possible that, that research just hasn’t been done. And I will be happy to revise this post if a study is ever published showing that eye colour can be changed by switching to a raw food diet.

Even if eye colour can be changed by diet, who cares?! I mean, seriously. Having brown eyes does not mean that you eat unhealthily and are constipated. Having blue eyes doesn’t mean that you’re healthy and having regular bowel movements. Are we now judging a person’s health and habits based on eye colour? Could we get anymore superficial? Why would we want to go on an extreme diet just for the purpose of changing the colour of our eyes? A raw diet is not necessarily the healthiest choice. There are many reasons that we cook our food: to kill toxins and microorganisms, to increase absorption of nutrients, to improve palatability. Personally, I would rather keep my grey/blue eyes and enjoy my food.


Supplements: Should I take truBrain drinks?

I guess promoted tweets do come in handy every now and again. Blog fodder. This tweet appeared in my feed last week:


Naturally, my response was: that sounds like complete and utter bullshit.

I went to their website to look for the science to back-up their claims; i.e. an increase in productivity. Naturally, the truBrain research team conducted the study. Surely no bias there. The study itself? Seven. Yep, seven, participants were examined for changes in EEG results following one week of truBrain consumption. The EEG was used to measure brain activity. There was no control group and no blinding (read: high likelihood of bias). Even with the deck so well stacked in their favour, the “researchers” found no significant results at a group level. This pilot study is the only research cited on their website.

Okay, so there’s no real science to support the claim that truBrain can increase productivity. Perhaps a look at the ingredients can provide more illumination:

375 mg of CDP-Choline – The lovely folks at examine.com indicate that there is some minor evidence to support the use of CDP-Choline to support memory and attention, and decreased cognitive decline in older adults. If there is a benefit conferred by CDP-Choline, this might be an effective dose.

200 mg of DHA – This is an omega-3 fatty acid. There may be benefits seen at this dose, although there is no scientific consensus. Also, benefits are most likely seen in individuals who do not regularly consume fatty fish.

375 mg of L-carnitine – This is quite a low dose. While there is some limited research to support the use of L-carnitine to increase cognition in the elderly, there is no research to support its use in the young.

300 mg of L-theanine – This is an amino acid that may promote relaxation. There is no research supporting its use to improve cognition.

375 mg of L-tyrosine – Another amino acid. As a supplement, it may reduce stress and memory in the presence of an acute stressor.

120 mg of magnesium- Many of us don’t consume enough magnesium in our diets so it’s hard for me to knock the inclusion of this mineral in their beverage. However, this is a rather low dose. Some forms of magnesium can cause gastrointestinal distress and diarrhea. It’s also important to note that magnesium supplementation is unlikely to have any effect on cognitive performance.

800 mg of oxiracetam – This is a mild stimulant that may improve memory but there aren’t currently human studies to support this.

In addition to the “medicinal” ingredients, truBrain drinks also contain the following “natural” sweeteners: pomegranate, stevia, blue agave, cranberry, sugar cane, and monk fruit. Six sweeteners. Sweet enough for ya? Not mentioned in any of the ingredient lists is caffeine. The website shows an option for purchasing “non-caffeine drinks” but at the moment they have not yet developed any.

At the low end of the scale you can purchase 15 drinks for a one time fee of $60 or $50 per month. That’s $4 per packet. Unfortunately, the website doesn’t clearly state the size of each drink packet nor the full ingredient list or nutrition information. Without complete information, I can’t completely rip these truBrain supplements to shreds.

Apparently these supplements were developed by neuroscientists. While this might seem to lend an air of believability to their claims, it truly only shows that no profession is exempt from quackery and the desire to turn a profit.


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Follow Friday: The red flags of quackery v2.0


Yeah, I know, this is old but it’s still applicable (unfortunately). Check out the excellent guide to quackery by sci-ence to avoid falling prey to nutritional and scientific nonsense. You can also follow the creator on twitter at: @sciencecomicAnd have a great weekend!