Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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The spice for life

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A recent study was being touted in the media for the benefits of eating spicy foods. The study looked at the diets of 512, 891 people (yes, that’s a huge sample size) in several areas of China. Participants were asked how often they ate hot spicy foods; never or almost never, only occasionally, 1 or 2 days a week, 3 to 5 days a week, or 6 or 7 days a week. Spicy foods were defined as; fresh chilli pepper, dried chilli pepper, chilli sauce, chilli oil, and other or don’t know. They found that those who consumed spicy foods most frequently were 14% less likely to die in the next five years than those who never or almost never consumed spicy foods.

Now, I love spicy foods, but I don’t eat them to live longer and this study isn’t really convincing me that any of us should be. One big precaution is the fact that the research was only looking at people in China. The effects may not apply to people of other ethnicities. Also, “spicy” is subjective. Something that I find only slightly spicy might be unbearably spicy to another person, and vice versa. There’s a huge risk of confounding variables when looking at things like this. It’s hard to say for certain whether any reduced risk of mortality can be attributed to the spice. In addition, the study looked at a huge range of ages (30-79) and many causes of mortality making it extremely difficult to ascertain whether or not spicy foods could be held accountable for keeping people alive. In fact, we don’t know if these people actually lived for longer, just that they were less likely to die during the course of the study.

Go ahead, go for the jalapenos if you like them, but don’t suffer through fiery meals 6-7 days a week in an effort to live a little longer.


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A few more myths about metabolism

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A little bit more on metabolism…

After writing my OptiMYz edits last week a friend alerted me to an article on their website listing 7 Easy Ways to Boost Your Metabolism. I just want to address a few of the claims the author (for whom I can find no online footprint, by the way) makes.

1. Weight lifting builds muscle and the more muscle, the more calories burned. Research found that those who did resistance training burned an extra 100 calories each day, whether they exercised or not. Strength training causes micro trauma to muscles, and your body will attempt to rebuild the tissue by burning protein and carbs.

Yes, exercise is probably one of the best ways to increase your metabolism. That being said, it’s pretty damn hard to increase your metabolism and the effects of increased muscle mass tend to be grossly overstated. As Tim Caulfield states in his excellent book The Cure for Everything: If you were to gain 10 lbs of muscle you would then burn an extra 60 calories a day. “In cookie terminology, that’s one Oreo. Live it up”.

3. Adding spice to meals can boosts your metabolism by 20% to 25%. Cinnamon, cayenne and mustard seed promotes fat burning and increased the effectiveness of your metabolism.

Again, adding spice to meals can boost your metabolism. However, the effects tend to be much less than this and quite short-lived. An article in the NY Times gets at the truth of this claim: “Generally, studies have shown that on average a meal containing a spicy dish, like a bowl of chili, can temporarily increase metabolism by about 8 percent over a person’s normal rate, an amount considered fairly negligible.”

7. The Yoga position ‘downward-facing dog’ gets your metabolism going. Those who participated in a 50 minute yoga session saw a drop in the stress hormone cortisol, known to block fat burning.

I suppose it’s plausible that yoga might reduce cortisol levels by alleviating stress. It’s highly unlikely that downward-facing dog is going to get your metabolism going. Yoga tends to burn very few calories.

All of these things are great for you and I don’t want to discourage anyone from lifting weights, doing yoga, or eating spicy foods; I certainly do all of these things (yoga less than the others because I find it simultaneously boring and hard). I just hate seeing false claims about huge metabolism-boosting effects.