Food for thought

Beware of misleading claims about nutrition

Orange or orange juice?

Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, January / February 2017

We live in a time of information overload.

The Internet has made it possible for virtually anyone to post their opinion on virtually anything.

This is not altogether a bad thing; the kind of information-sharing made possible by the Internet and its social media platforms can be quite beneficial for society as a whole. 

Yet with all that information out there, it has become increasingly important that we become careful consumers of the material that is available to us.

Nowhere is that more true than in the field of nutrition and healthy eating.
As a registered dietitian, I often come across information online that is either misleading or not supported by research. In some cases, this misinformation is promoted by celebrities who tout various nutritional products or supplements without any evidence to support their claims. 
 Of course, the real challenge for anyone just seeking reliable information is that much of the misleading claims sound like they might possibly be true.
Take, for example, a suggestion that fresh fruit juice is as good for you as eating a serving of whole fruit. That sounds plausible because the juice is made from fruit. Isn’t it only logical to assume that the juice would be just as healthy as the whole fruit from which it is derived?

Unfortunately, while that sounds like it might make sense, the simple fact is that fruit juice is not as healthy for you as whole fruit.

Whole fruit and fruit juice both contain sugar. Whole fruit has the added benefit of fibre and other beneficial nutrients not found in juice. Fruit juice does contain a high amount of natural sugar that is similar to the amount of added sugar found in a regular soft drink. It is healthier to enjoy a serving of whole fruit.
So, what can a person do to make sure they are getting the straight goods when it comes to nutritional information?

Well, one way to ensure information you are receiving is true and accurate is to check the source. A Facebook friend who is touting one type of nutritional product or program may have thousands of “likes” and followers, but do they actually have the scientific knowledge and training to adequately support what they are promoting? To make sure your information is coming from a credible source, check their credentials.

A trusted source for nutritional information is a registered dietitian. They must have successfully completed a four-year university bachelor’s degree in human nutritional sciences or equivalent, in addition to an internship program at an accredited Dietitians of Canada program or equivalent. They must also adhere to a yearly continuing competence program to maintain registration, which is monitored by the provincial regulatory body. So, the next time you need information about food or supplements, contact a registered dietitian who can provide you with credible information you can trust.

In the meantime, you can check out five of my favourite misleading claims.

1. You need to “detox” your body. Detox, cleanse, refresh. It all sounds good and there is no shortage of detox diets or plans available on the market to help you “detox” your colon.

Yet there is no evidence that the human body benefits from such a cleanse.

Detox programs often appeal to folks who may be looking to kick-start their new year with healthier habits. The marketing around these products and diets is designed to entice prospective customers who have indulged over the holidays or before a special event like a beach vacation.

But the truth is your kidneys, liver and colon are designed to effectively remove waste and filter toxins from your body. In other words, your body has its own built-in detox system, so a detox program is not necessary. Indeed, a detox program can cause health problems. Some colonic irrigation systems can lead to irritation of the colon. Many supplements are expensive and the only thing you lose is your money. Cleanse or detox diets can also cause side-effects such as dizziness, cramping, bloating, nausea, and headaches, and result in a lack of energy.

2. Skip lunch before you splurge at a dinner party. This is not good advice. Your internal hunger is regulated. Your body is designed to be tuned in to your hunger. Skipping a meal will leave you feeling “hangry” (hungry + angry) and it will decrease your ability to trust and respond to your hunger cues at mealtimes.

It is important to fuel your body at regular intervals to maintain your energy and to feel better throughout the day. Waiting too long between meals can deplete your energy and cause dips in your blood sugar levels and increase overeating. Trust your body’s ability to enjoy eating meals regularly.

3. Agave nectar is better for you than white sugar. Sugar is sugar – whether it’s glucose, fructose, white sugar or brown sugar, or agave nectar. Celebrities certainly do a great job of marketing agave nectar, but the body recognizes it as a dense source of sugar, similar to other sugars. Choose whatever type of sugar that you prefer in moderation. Brown sugar has a small amount of molasses in it, but a minimal quantity that does not make it superior than its white sugar counterpart.

4. Coconut oil is the best type of fat to use with your food. The use of coconut oil in cooking has become increasingly popular over the years. The product is made from pressed coconuts. There are two types: refined and unrefined.
Refined coconut oil is further pressed and is useful for cooking at high temperatures, such as when frying foods  Unrefined coconut oil, also known as virgin coconut oil, has a richer flavour and taste. To date, there is insufficient evidence to support claims that coconut oil is healthier than other types of oils and fats. In fact, the evidence suggests that you would be better off to use monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, such as olive oil, canola oil, safflower oil, walnut oil, and sunflower oil. For the record, the evidence also suggests fats found in fresh avocados, unsalted nuts and seeds, and olive oil also provide health benefits and help reduce the risk of heart disease. Just remember to enjoy fats and oils in moderation.

Coconut may have other non-nutritional benefits, such as when it is applied topically for skin, but you need to check with your dermatologist for their advice.

5. Fresh fruits and vegetables are healthier than frozen fruits and vegetables. No, fresh produce is not any healthier than frozen produce. Whether it is fresh, frozen or canned, fruit and vegetables will provide the nutrients you need as part of a healthy eating pattern.

That’s not to say fresh fruit and vegetables may not taste better. For example, nothing beats the taste of fresh local summer berries grown in Manitoba. But the fact is fruit and vegetables are usually picked and frozen quickly after harvest, which helps ensure they retain their nutrient levels after packaging.

The important thing is to make sure you include fruit and vegetables as part of a balanced eating pattern.

Ginette Le Gal is a registered dietitian with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

Wave: January / February, 2017

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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