Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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From Fact to Fiction: Diet Supplements?


So many times when a particular nutrient shows promise with disease prevention, the diet supplement industry goes into  full swing on hyping its benefits in the  form of a pill, aka a  diet supplement. The claims are often exaggerated and when put to the test (if ever) they fail to meet expectations.

What are the actual facts about these supplements?  Do they really meet the claims that are promised? That is why nutrition research becomes important in order to sort out the facts from the fiction.



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Coconut Oil: Is It Healthy or Not?

The benefits of coconut oil have been debated for quite some time. A new study came with some surprises! Read about the study HERE. For a fair assessment from Harvard Medical School about some benefits of coconut oil click HERE.

Bottom Line:

As with most nutrition news, premature conclusions can be reached and headlines can be misleading. For coconut oil adherents, the most recent study is good news; however, coconut oil is a highly saturated fat oil unlike most vegetable oils, and in my opinion should be used sparingly until further research sorts out this debate and reaches some kind of consensus. In the meantime, it’s great for moisturizing your skin and smells good, too.


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Fabulous Fiber

The debate over the benefits of dietary fiber has lingered for many decades.  By itself, it doesn’t provide any vitamins and minerals and is not broken down or absorbed in the digestive tract as are  other nutrients.  However, fiber is found in foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans (legumes) and grains that do provide us with the essential nutrients we need. So it rides along with these nutrients.

Fiber is classified as soluble and insoluble  but most foods contain a mixture of both types.

Good sources of soluble fiber: legumes, prunes,  apricots, raisins, oranges, bananas, oats, apples, eggplant, flax seed

Good sources of insoluble fiber: wheat bran, whole-wheat bread, broccoli, corn, eggplant, apple skins, nuts and seeds

How much do we need?  For young men the recommendation is 38 grams/day and for young women, 25 grams a day. Consider this example:

“Eating a bowl of Raisin Bran with a 1/2 cup of strawberries for breakfast, a sandwich on whole wheat bread with lettuce and tomatoes and an apple for lunch, eggplant Parmesan for dinner, and popcorn for a snack will provide about 25 grams.” Smolin and Grosvenor, Nutrition, Science and Applications, Third Edition.

Based on diet analyses I have seen, the average daily intake is only about 9-11 grams a day.

So you can see that it is not easy to get enough fiber that is best explained in the linked article below.

What does it actually do for us?


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Are Probiotics Ready for Prime Time?


A Bacterial Superbug

The microbiome is all over the nutrition news with studies pouring in on how just about every aspect of our physiology or pathophysiology is dependent on some degree on the kinds of bacteria that make up our collective species found there. As with any supplement, there are pros and cons.

A lot of these studies are done with animals or small samples in human studies.Even though this research shows promise, there are always precautions when taking any supplement since they are not regulated by the FDA. The following article was updated in 2014 and after checking more recent research, I found the same problems exist – inconsistent results, small sample sizes, study flaws, etc. etc. common in nutrition research.

The most common species of bacteria used in probiotics (among a potential 3,000 or more) are species of Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium.  You’ll want a product that explicitly states a “sell-by” date. Once you have identified the right strain or strains (which at this point seems next to impossible), it’s important to find a product that is labeled correctly in terms of the number of bacteria in each dose. Tests from found that some probiotic supplements did not contain the amount of organisms claimed on the label. The organisms must survive stomach acid and therefore should contain an enteric coating to enhance their survival.

The best advice is to talk to your  doctor before taking probiotics as well as any supplement. People who have an immune deficiency or cancer should not use probiotics without a doctor’s okay.



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Are Fish Oil Supplements Helpful?


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Since the 1980’s, the benefits of fish oil has been a hot nutrition topic. I was a graduate student at the time and my research involved the hypothesis that omega-3 fatty acids (as menhaden oil) would suppress breast cancer tumors when compared to omega-6 fatty acids (as corn oil) in rats. Previous research had suggested that there was enough evidence to warrant the study. Bottom Line: There were no significant differences in tumor formation even when rats were fed high or low menhaden or corn oil diets. This was a surprising finding at the time; therefore, the study was replicated the next year and results were the same. At the present time, further research has shown some promising results in breast cancer research, but some studies with omega-3 fats in humans have been inconclusive.

Since then fish oil (omega-3) fats have been extensively studied in a wide range of afflictions to see if any beneficial effects occurred. This interest was a boon for the supplement industry due to the sale of fish oil capsules that still continues to this day. How effective have fish oil supplements been in supporting some of the health claims that have been made?

First of all, it is important to know the article does not pertain to eating fatty fish high in omega-3 fats. The picture becomes very complicated when it come to fish oil capsules. The news is both good and bad; the research is both positive and negative. The best takeaway is to be careful of the quality of fish oil capsules you choose. The article suggests that fish oil be of pharmaceutical grade so read labels carefully. However, this term is not regulated or clearly defined so it may be meaningless according to  If you take fish oil capsules, this article is a must read. Then talk it over with your doctor as to whether fish oil supplementation is for you.


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Is Soy Safe? Or Not?

Soy foods have been the subject of such controversey in the past decades, it is almost impossible to sort out the sense from the nonsense. The latest article I could find explains the confusion. The article is a long read, but well worth it if you are a tofu, soy, edamame lover  or eat any type of vegan diet and rely on soy foods for your protein source.