Category Archives: DietMythseries

COCONUT OIL : superfood or hype?

Can I just start out by saying that I really, really, really do not like Dr Oz.

Or rather, I dislike the outrageous claims he makes on national television without having the scientific evidence and clinical research to back them up.

Last year on his show, Dr Oz told us that “superpowers” are what coconut oil is full of.

…..what???? Where did you get this, Dr. Oz????! That’s a pretty bold statement considering how little solid research we actually have.

One of the things I am most proud of as a dietitian is that we are truly focused on evidence based research. We do not (or most of us, anyway) become swayed by the fads and claims of the media. When presenting nutritional information, we carefully highlight if things are “still being researched” and use words like “potential” and “possible”. That’s because we can’t make hard and fast claims off of one or two clinical trial or a few testimonies. You cannot make guarantees that may never actually come true. It’s just wrong, not fair to the general public, and an abuse of power.

That being said, there is a decent amount of research in progress on the effects of coconut oil on the body. Some of the trials are neutral, others are supporting the benefits, but there still ISN’T enough research to make an educated claim.

Let’s go over two of the most common claims:

1# COCONUT OIL IS A CURE FOR ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE:

Dr. George Cahill in the 60’s was the first to discover that the brain is actually able to use ketones for energy.

Why is this important?

Our brain , in normal conditions, uses glucose for energy to process information. During starvation, when our glucose supplies are depleted, our body uses its fat stores for energy and uses “ketones” instead of glucose. The problem in Alzheimer’s disease is that the brain starts to forget how to use glucose and begins to “starve”. In an ideal situation, the brain would switch to ketones for energy , avoid starvation and also the progression of disease, keeping mental function intact. Part of the reason that coconut oil has been toted as a “cure” for Alzheimer’s disease is that the oil is composed of 60% medium chain triglycerides (MCT’s) which are a faster metabolizing fat that produces small amounts of ketones when broken down for energy. The problem is, this small amount of ketone production from dietary intake alone is not enough to counteract the starvation of the brain because the levels are not high enough to make a substantial difference.

There ARE documented cases of individuals (google Dr Mary Newport and her husband Steve Newport, for example) who have testimonies to the benefits of coconut oil in combatting mental diseases. But, there just isn’t enough solid research to make a true, scientific claim. The studies available are preliminary at best.
The NIH is currently in the middle of a 3 year study to determine the effects of coconut oil on adults with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. The study is set to conclude in December 2016. I’ll definitely be following up on this one.

#2 COCONUT OIL PROMOTES WEIGHT LOSS

This claim comes from the fact that coconut oil is primarily composed of MCT’s, like I mentioned earlier. This type of fat is more easily broken down by the liver and is a quicker energy source for the body. There is some indication that this type of fat produces a mild thermogenic (calorie-burning) effect when broken down for energy.

One particular study divided two groups of obese women into one group which consumed 30ml of coconut oil and another group which consumed 30ml of soybean oil. Both groups followed a reduced calorie diet and exercise program. The group who consumed the coconut oil experienced a reduction in abdominal fat.

Yet another study involving animals found that the group of animals consuming a controlled amount of MCT’s did not experience any difference in body fat loss compared to the group consuming a placebo oil.

Another study involving 30 adults did find that those adults who consumed coconut oil as a part of their diet and exercise program did experience, on average, more fat loss than their placebo counterparts.

There are multiple smaller studies performed on the effects of MCTs on fat loss, but many of them have limitations or just simply didn’t include enough information in their trials to come up with an educated result. More research is needed to come up with a conclusion.

The take away….
Even though there’s still alot of questions unanswered, I see no harm in substituting the fat in your diet with coconut oil. I would treat it just like you would any other calorie dense item: in moderation. I think coconut oil has alot of potentially promising benefits that we just need to take with a grain of salt, and I’m really looking forward to the results of the Clinical studies that are in progress to learn more.

Thanks for reading! Would love to hear any opinions, opposition or agreement.

My references and sources:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19437058
https://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/clinical-trials/coconut-oil-alzheimers-disease
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26667739
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25997382
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25301680
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19437058
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25865422
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25636220
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18326600

Diet myth series #3: High fructose corn syrup is more harmful than sugar

hfcswordpress

photo: health.com

Before I begin, I want to say I completely understand why the average consumer would believe that High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is somehow more “dangerous” than regular sugar. Any google search on the subject will bring up multiple results enforcing this belief. Many of these page results come from the media and from non-scientific sources. One of the beautiful things about being a dietitian is you learn to only trust evidence based claims, and you become very careful about what you believe when it comes to new research. It is very hard to sift through all of the information as an average consumer. This is a very hot topic in the media right now, so I thought it was perfect for my next diet myths post.

The claims against high fructose corn syrup are many. They include claims like, it causes diabetes and, your body cannot process it the way it processes sugar. The reality is that we don’t have enough experience with HFCS under our belts to fully understand the long term effects of high fructose corn syrup like we do sugar – HFCS was only invented in the 1960’s, where sugar has been in use for thousands of years. So there are still many studies to be done. But as for now, here’s what we know:

1.) High fructose corn syrup and sucrose (table sugar) are very similar in composition.

Per tablespoon, they contain roughly the same amount of calories.
They both consist of glucose & fructose in aproximately the same proportions.
The only difference between sucrose & glucose is that in HCFS, the fructose & glucose are merely “blended”, while in sugar, they are chemically bonded.

2.) HFCS does not cause obesity any more than does regular sugar.

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is the latest to blame for the obesity epidemic. What people do not realize is that high fructose corn syrup is much cheaper than sugar and thus, is chosen over regular sugar by manufacturers to sweeten many foods. AKA, it’s everywhere! Excess consumption of ANYTHING, especially empty calories found in (any) sugar, will contribute to obesity through excess caloric consumption. This is not because HFCS is processed in your body any differently than sugar is, but because you’re likely consuming a large quantity of it , thus contributing to more calories than your body needs. There is no “special relationship” between high fructose corn syrup and obesity. Too much sugar can contribute to obesity, too.

3.) HFCS does not “cause” diabetes.

For that matter, neither does sugar consumption alone. Obesity is a risk factor for diabetes. Just like the point I made above, consuming too much of anything – whether it be sucrose or high fructose corn syrup, or anything else that has calories – can cause weight gain, making you more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes later on in life.

4.) Your body does not process HFCS any differently than sucrose.

HFCS

photo and study credit: Science Direct

This study analyzed the effects of sucrose vs HFCS on the following: insulin (horomone that turns the food we eat into energy) ghrelin (horomone that increases appetite), leptin (horomone that decreases appetite), and glucose (our body’s source of energy). As you can see from the charts, the effects of sucrose and HFCS on all of these horomones almost mimic each other.

 

 

In closing….

 

The USDA recommends less than 10% of your calories come from added sugars…so nobody is claiming regular sugar is “better” for you. If you limit your consumption of any kind of sugar (cane sugar, honey, brown sugar, HFCS, etc.) you won’t have to worry about whether or not there are negative effects associated with long term consumption of any sweetener.

Sources used:

Advances in Nutrition

FDA

Pub Med

science direct

Myth series #2: Red wine is good for your heart

redvelvet-_x550

You’ve seen it in magazines, on the news, and on the web. Red wine is good for your heart. Drink it and you will “slash” your risk of heart disease dramatically…Right?

Sort of.

It all started with the French – we observed over the years their consumption of red wine and also observed their rate of heart disease still remained well below that of America, and we started to correlate the two with each other. There have been multiple studies and loads of research on the topic. So is there at least some truth in red wine’s ability to lower our chance of heart disease? Yes, but it’s benefits are HIGHLY exaggerated and are not enough to warrant starting a new drinking habit.

Here’s what the research says: Red wine is full of antioxidants called polyphenols, specifically one called resveratrol. It’s found in grape juice & white wine as well, but the levels are higher in that of red wine. The stated benefits of red wine consumption include elevating your HDL cholesterol, which is desirable in preventing heart disease. It is also thought to keep the platelets in your blood from becoming “sticky” and clogging your arteries.

There have been many studies toting the benefits of red wine consumption due to the presence of these polyphenols, but what they don’t specify is that the amount of red wine you would have to consume to equal a significant dose of polyphenols is astronomical. Don’t think that’s an excuse to binge drink, however. Excessive alcohol consumption actually increases your risk for elevated triglycerides and high blood pressure, in addition to several types of cancers, cancelling out any benefit you would have received from moderate alcohol consumption.

Red wine consumption is not the only way to raise your HDL (“good”) cholesterol – regular physical activity has an even greater impact, as does the consumption of healthy fats like those found in nuts & seeds.

Furthermore, the American Heart Association does not recommend drinking wine to reap any potential benefits, because with all the research that is out there (and still needs to be done), the cons outweigh the benefits. Maintaining a healthy weight, controlling your blood pressure and following a healthy diet will prove more beneficial to preventing heart disease than a glass of red wine.

So should you continue to drink red wine? I do. I’m a huge fan and I treat myself to a glass or two at least two or three times a week. My favorite is the Red Velvet by Cupcake Vineyards, and I love myself a good glass of Cabernet. But I don’t do it with the expectation that it will be a cure-all\prevent all. If I end up redeeming some of these health benefits, more power to me.

So in conclusion, don’t begin drinking for the proposed health benefits if you do not currently drink. The studies suggesting the health benefits of red wine specify “moderate” alcohol consumption which is equal to one drink a day for women and one to two drinks a day for med.

Realize that the health benefits of wine, while they do exist, are highly exaggerated and nothing to get excited about! The antioxidants in red wine don’t even compare to that of many fresh fruits and vegetables. If you struggle with getting enough fruits & veggies, see my post on juicing 🙂

Diet myths series – #1 Eating cholesterol raises your cholesterol

Yup, I said it.

egg

Every 5 years the USDA releases new dietary guidelines for Americans.
Limiting cholesterol has always been a key part of these guidelines, that is, until 2015 (potentially).

The 2010 guidelines recommended a daily consumption of 300mg cholesterol or less per day: that’s equal to about less than 1 and 1\2 eggs! as a meat loving girl, that’s not a whole lot, i agree.

To be fair, the 2015 guidelines have actually not yet been released.

However, they did release the preliminary scientific report which now specifies that: “cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for over-consumption”, and also, that “no available evidence shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol, consistent with the conclusions of the AHA/ACC report”.

Whoa!

I know as a nation we are still in the “carbs are bad” phase, but I don’t think we all got over the “low fat” phase of the 70’s into 90’s.

Ironically, saturated fat does remain among the category of nutrients of over consumption. I say ironically because usually , foods that are high in saturated fat are also packing a punch of cholesterol. So it goes without saying that in limiting saturated fat, you are often limiting cholesterol without trying. The USDA does continue to recommend that you monitor and limit your consumption of saturated fat to 10% of less of total daily calories.

This isn’t denying that elevated serum cholesterol levels are a risk factor for heart disease. That still remains true. But the question now is, does dietary cholesterol contribute to serum cholesterol levels as much as we previously thought??

More research is needed, and as you can imagine, there are lots of opposing comments to this new research.

Did you know that the body actually NEEDS cholesterol to survive?

Did you know that the body actually produces cholesterol on it’s own, without any help from your diet? Its responsible for the production of vitamin D, as well as healthy brain function.

Off topic, it’s limitations on SUGAR that should have been specified years ago in terms of heart disease, obesity and other co-morbidities…ever wonder why there is no “percentage of daily value” of sugar on the nutrition label of any food item on the market?? …. but more on that in another post.. 😉

What’s my opinion? I believe that if you limit your intake of processed and starchy foods, you won’t have to worry abut whether or not you’re exceeding a specified limit. Trans fat and sugar won’t even be an issue, which are the components that we should really be limiting.
Food for thought 🙂

sources:

today’s dietitian

Dietary Guidelines 2015 – Advisory

Egg photo credit