Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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Dr Oz and banana leaf tea


Oh Dr Oz. Where do you come-up with these gems? I can’t find any research to support this statement. Even if it’s true that banana leaf tea has a metabolism-boosting effect, it’s more than likely that the effect is negligible.

Want to lose weight? Focus less on metabolism boosting gimmicks, and more on what and when you’re eating.

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The tooth-whitening power of raisins!

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I feel like this shouldn’t need any comment. When I saw this tweet my first thought was: @DrOz has been hacked! I mean, really? Raisins for white teeth? This is one of the most ludicrous suggestions I’ve ever heard. I’m fairly confident that any dentist would agree with me when I say that raisins will not whiten your teeth. Raisins, and other dried fruit, actually promote tooth decay as they’re sweet and sticky.

Besides all that, will antioxidants whiten teeth? Not that I’m aware of (that’s not to say they won’t). In fact, hydrogen peroxide (one of the most common whitening ingredients in toothpastes, mouthwashes, and home-whitening kits) is actually an oxidizer.

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Follow Friday: Julia vs Gwyneth


Lots of talk on the twitterverse about Gwyneth Paltrow’s new cookbook It’s All Good. While I haven’t seen it myself, and the recipes therein may be perfectly tasty and nutritious, she’s been slammed for including quackery in her forward. Julia Belluz has an article in MacLean’s detailing what aspects of Gwynnie’s advice are pseudoscience and why these statements are potentially damaging to readers. As I’ve mentioned before, I find it exceedingly frustrating that nearly everyone thinks they’re a nutrition expert and people readily latch on to ideas extolled by celebs. Just because you eat (and seemingly in Gwyneth’s case, this may be an overstatement) does not make you a dietitian.


Fruit: cause and cure for cancer?

A relative recently forwarded me a chain email that she had received several times, suggesting it might be useful blog fodder. The subject line read: Eating Fruit – In Perspective. The message was rather long so I’m not going to paste the whole thing in here. I’ll just give you a summary of the most salient points.

According to the email there is a Dr Stephen Mak who has been curing cancer patients using an unorthodox method. Apparently the trick is to always eat fruit on an empty stomach. “If you eat fruit like that, it will play a major role to detoxify your system, supplying you with a great deal of energy for weight loss and other life activities.” Not only that, “graying hair, balding, nervous outburst, and dark circles under the eyes – all these will NOT happen if you take fruits on an empty stomach.” The article then states that eating fruit on a full stomach causes it to “rot” and “ferment” in the stomach causing gas and bloating.

The top hits of a google search for “Dr Stephen Mak” are sites deeming the fruit email quackery. It also appears that there is no such person as this Dr Mak. There is no reason to believe that cancer can be cured simply by the timing of fruit consumption. It frustrates me to see misinformation such as this being shared with desperate people. Eating fruit after a meal is not going to give you cancer.

Eating fruit on an empty stomach is not going to cure cancer. If curing cancer were so simple no one would be dying from it anymore. Eating fruit on an empty stomach will not cure anything, except maybe, hunger (although, personally, I always find an apple on an empty stomach always makes me feel hungrier).

Finally, it’s a common myth that eating fruit on a full stomach will cause it to rot and ferment. Think about it though… Your stomach is always churning your food around during digestion. It doesn’t matter what order you consume it in. The fruit is not going to sit on top; it’s going to get all mixed together with everything else you’ve eaten at that meal and all of your gastric juices. There is no possibility that it will rot in your stomach.

The only positive aspect of this message is that we should eat fruit.

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Is there poison in your water?

You know, I get why people are sucked in by alarmist quackery. It’s just so damn convincing. A link on twitter recently led me to this article on the horrors of fluoride. As soon as I clicked the link and saw the author, world-renowned quack Dr. Joseph Mercola I groaned inwardly. Despite my instinct to automatically disregard the article on the basis of its author I decided to give it a read.

The headline: Harvard study confirms fluoride reduces children’s IQ does little to indicate the true depth of the anti-fluoride message of the article. To sum it all up: fluoride is pretty much the most toxic element known to man (okay, I may be exaggerating slightly) and the root cause of most modern-day ailments; everything from brain damage to ADHD to cancer, arthritis, and infertility.

Considering that fluoride has been added to many municipal water supplies for over half a century now, what prompted this anti-fluoride resurgence? Apparently a recent meta-analysis (which, despite sounding like the ultimate source of all scientific knowledge, can have numerous drawbacks) found that “children who live in areas with highly fluorinated water have “significantly lower” IQ scores than those who live in low fluoride areas”. If you want to read the 32-page-long report, it’s available here. The researchers used epidemiological studies. The upside of this is that they actually involved humans, rather than lab animals. The downside of this is that epidemiological studies can never prove causation. There could be many other reasons, completely unrelated to fluoride, why lower IQ scores were observed in these locations.

I would like to draw attention to one of the introductory statements in the report:

Opportunities for epidemiological studies depend on the existence of comparable population groups exposed to different levels of fluoride from drinking water. Such circumstances are difficult to find in many industrialized countries, because fluoride concentrations in community water are usually no higher than 1 mg/L, even when fluoride is added to water supplies as a public health measure to reduce tooth decay.

Maybe I’m missing something here but isn’t this statement essentially saying that most communities don’t put high enough levels of fluoride in their water to cause any detrimental neurological effects? Basically, the authors were looking for extreme circumstances, levels of fluoridation of public water that we don’t see in North America. That fact alone, even if fluoride may reduce IQ (and I’m not saying that it does) indicates to me that the entire study is essentially meaningless.

One last point: the report serving as the catalyst for Mercola’s article only looked at the relationship between fluoride and IQ in children. There was no mention of the myriad other ailments that Mercola mentioned in his article. Fluoridation of drinking water is a contentious issue; I don’t purport to have a definitive answer regarding its benefits versus its risks and I am all for continuous unbiased research on the topic. However, I believe that the risks of this sort of alarmist article definitely outweigh the benefits.