Dietary Supplements: Why a Nutritional Last Resort is No Cure for a Lousy Diet

Green SmoothieThere are four little words that many a dietitian will cringe upon hearing:

“But Dr. Oz says…”

Although he has long championed healthy lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise, Dr. Oz also has a TV show that is on every single day. And in each episode, he has to find something new and exciting to talk about. He’s not going to get many viewers if he just comes on and says, “yep, fruits and vegetables are still good for you.” That wouldn’t make for a very exciting television series. So in order to entice viewers, Dr. Oz often shares the latest “miracle” weight loss cures.

This is problematic for two reasons: Not only are these “miracle pills” often total garbage, but more importantly, they distract viewers from the big picture of wellness by getting them hung up on random, unpronounceable plant compounds. No amount of raspberry ketones or green coffee bean extract is going to make you healthy if you have a sedentary lifestyle and your diet mainly consists of processed junk food.

This point is hilariously captured in a clip that my brother Jack sent me from “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” (If you have 16 minutes, I highly recommend that you check it out below.) The episode investigates Dr. Oz, and also brings light to another important health issue: the deregulation of the supplement industry.

Contrary to popular belief, dietary supplements DO NOT need FDA approval before they are marketed, nor do they even have to proven safe or effective. In fact, researchers tested 44 different dietary supplements in the US and Canada, and found that a whopping one-third contained NO TRACE whatsoever of the plant advertised on the bottle.

Marion Nestle writes at length about health claims and the supplement industry in her book, Food Politics, where she also reminds readers that “taking single nutrients in moderately high doses may not be a good idea.” Why? “Because many different nutrients are involved in every aspect of human physiology, high doses of just one nutrient can create imbalances that adversely affect the absorption or metabolism of other nutrients.” Nestle often reminds readers that if you eat a balanced diet with lots of plant foods and minimal processed junk food, then you really don’t need to worry about any of this. Similarly, David Katz sums this point up brilliantly: “If you focus on real food, nutrients tend to take care of themselves.”

– Kelly

P.S. Can’t get enough John Oliver? Check out this 6 minute clip on health claims on food products, or this 11 minute clip on sugar.

A Dietitian’s New Years Resolution

An RD's New Year Resolution 2013

The winter season is a great time to reflect on the past and resolve to make changes for the upcoming year. Despite well-intentioned efforts, many people make bold lifestyle changes that are unsustainable in practice, which is why most New Years resolutions are quickly abandoned and forgotten.

Although I am a Registered Dietitian, I am also human.  Living a healthy lifestyle still requires effort and planning, and New Years Resolutions are no exception. Rather than a complete overhaul of current habits, I recommend finding areas of your life that could use small improvements, and then making specific, purposeful, and realistic goals related to the area of concern. For example, rather than “get healthier”, this year I resolve to respect my hunger and fullness cues– a small but important healthy habit.

Are hunger and fullness cues something you would like to work on? If so, I highly recommend this book.

Being a Gastronomy (food studies) student, moving across the country to a new region with entirely different culinary specialty (hello, lobster rolls and clam chowder), continuing to experiment with recipes and hone my cooking skills, working in the food service industry, and traveling to places both familiar and unfamiliar have all led me to get caught up in the cycle of wanting to try EVERYTHING. While I don’t think there is harm in tasting, this year I resolve to improve my tasting skills. By that, I mean that I want to savor my bites rather than eating mindlessly, and make an effort to stop eating when full.

Haven’t read this one yet, but I have heard great things about it.

Strategies: As mentioned above, goals should be specific. In order to make a habit of respecting my hunger and fullness cues, I plan to implement the following specific strategies:

Before eating: Ask yourself…

Am I hungry? Sometimes I am not hungry, yet I find myself wanting food. Just knowing that there are Christmas cookies in the house makes the little piggy in me think “Oh well, they are here so I might as well eat them. Then there won’t be any left for me to eat anymore- problem solved!” Whoa, whoa, whoa, not so fast, Kelly.

  • One strategy I will use is to brush my teeth. Many a time have I easily said “No, thanks” to tempting treats from my parents or roommates, simply because I had already brushed my teeth, and frankly, I really didn’t want to brush them again. The fresh, minty mouth feel is also a great way to mentally signal the end of a meal, and let your body know that the kitchen is closed (note- this strategy will also help me achieve the ever popular New Years Resolution of improving dental care). When I am at work, I use sugar free gum to achieve the same effect.
  • Another strategy to prevent mindless eating is to keep a food log. Part of being successful when making dietary changes is being held accountable for what you eat. While I don’t see myself keeping a detailed diet log with complete nutrition facts, I do think its reasonable to jot down foods in a journal in order to stay accountable for what I eat. Feeling more ambitious than that? Studies have also shown that taking a photo of what you eat before you eat it is another way to stay on track with healthy eating. With food photography being so hot these days, this approach just might work.

Is this food special? Sometimes, tasting when you are not hungry can be justified IF the food is “special” and IF you limit yourself to just a taste. What do I mean by special food? Food that is new to you that you will likely not get to try again, such as exotic food while traveling, food at a really nice restaurant, or even your own wedding cake! Food that is not special is the candy or cookies that your coworker brought into the office. Learn to know the difference, and learn to say no in those situations. Special foods, such as cake, are fine eaten at a celebration (such as your birthday or wedding), but sometimes the only celebration is the fact that your roommate brought home extra cupcakes. You weren’t expecting them or counting on them, and you will be just fine without them. In situations where you are exposed to “special” foods when you are not hungry, remember just to have a taste. Savor your bites and take a mental note of the flavors. Do not feel the need to compulsively finish whatever you are given, even if there is still some left on your plate.

Is this what I want? Why am I choosing this food? Is this food going to nourish my body and contribute to my health? If not, is it something that I am truly craving? Am I just trying to fill a void (such as boredom, stress, or unhappiness), or is this food truly going to satisfy my senses (such as juicy watermelon on a hot day)?  How will I feel after I eat this food? Will I be satisfied? Remember to always eat with a purpose!

While eating: Ask yourself…

Does this taste good? If I food does not live up to my expectations, I sometimes keep eating it in hopes that the next bite will get better. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t. Taste buds change over time, and I strongly believe that it’s important to periodically give foods you don’t like a chance. However, if you are eating something, especially something that is energy dense (high calorie), don’t waste your time on it if it doesn’t taste good. If the food isn’t what you really want, you will likely end up giving in to what you do want later. So spend your calories wisely, and eat with passion.

Am I still hungry? Americans tend to feel obligated to “clean our plates”, a habit instilled in us from a very young age. People rely on environmental and cultural cues to stop eating (my plate is clean, the package is empty) rather than relying on internal hunger and fullness cues. To combat this, I am going to take a mental assessment of my hunger level THROUGHOUT the eating process, rather than just afterwards. I resolve to stop eating when I am no longer hungry. One strategy I will use to more accurately assess my hunger and fullness cues is to eat more slowly. Sometimes I eat so fast that I don’t even realize how full I am until I have already left the table! I resolve to put my fork down between bites, enjoy the conversation of my dining companions, and not inhale my food. Additionally, I would like to challenge myself to leave a little bit of food on my plate, in order to set the habit of eating according to internal cues, and to avoid compulsive eating. This is much easier said than done!

After eating: Ask yourself…

How did this make me feel, both physically and mentally? Did eating this food make me feel energized? Give me a stomach ache? Keep me full for hours? Fill me up at all? Did this meal inspire me to make healthier choices throughout the day? Did it make me feel guilty? All of these things are important to make note of after eating, and will help guide you to the foods that work for YOUR body.
New Years Resolution from an RD

Now, if you need me I will be stocking up on Crest 3D White Toothpaste, electric spin toothbrushes, fresh journals and pencils, and rereading my copy of Intuitive Eating. What do you resolve to do this year? Will you be making any dietary changes?

– Kelly

New Years Resolution Planning: Strategies to Lose Weight and Keep it Off

For many Americans, the start of a new year signifies the start of a new, healthy lifestyle. Are you planning on embarking on a weight loss journey or making a healthy lifestyle change this January? Here are some of my favorite articles filled with strategies to help dieters lose weight and keep it off.

  • According to this CNN article, the 5 habits of highly successful dieters are to 1) be very specific, 2) create an ok-to-eat plan, 3) track your success, 4) be a realistic optimist, and 5) strengthen your willpower. To learn more about each of these strategies, read the full article.
  • According the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 4 strategies proven to keep the weight off include regularly weighing yourself, engaging in positive self talk, becoming a problem solver, and continuing with behaviors that made you a successful loser. Read this article for a more in-depth explanation of these strategies.

Healthy Instagram Inspiration

A few of my favorite Instagram images

  • Are you a fan of Instagram, the popular photo sharing app? Would you like to see healthy, inspiring images to keep you motivated throughout the new year? Check out Intigrative Nutrition’s list of 22 healthy and inspiring people to follow on instagram.
  • According to a recent health study, dieters that use mobile weight loss apps in combination with a diet and exercise education program are more successful at losing weight and keeping weight off than those that didn’t use mobile weight loss apps. Personally, my favorite diet tracking app is MyFitnessPal. However, there are plenty of health tracking apps on the market.
  • From gluten free to Vegan to Paleo to low carb to low fat, there is lots of health propaganda and fad diet talk in the media today. Do you know that your diet needs a makeover, but are unsure where to begin? Consider seeking the help of a Registered Dietitian. An RD will cut through all of the nonsense, and find a plan that works for you  using the latest in evidence based practice. To find an RD near you, you can use this search tool. Also, note that anyone planning on making a major health or lifestyle change should contact their physician.
  • Not planning on embarking on a weight loss program this year, but know a loved one that is? This article is a great read on how to support your loved one during their weight loss journey.

Are you making a healthy lifestyle change this year? As indicated by many of the articles mentioned above, tracking your weight, diet, and/or exercise is one winning strategy to lose weight and keep it off, and is also a great way to monitor health patterns, particularly for those managing chronic diseases. What winning strategies will you be incorporating this new year?

– Kelly