Posts Tagged ‘nutrition’

Nutritional ‘No-how” Misleading Labels

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Grocery shopping for healthy foods can be a real treasure hunt. This is particularly true when it comes to packaged items and their misleading labels. We often times assume that many of the items we pick up at the grocery store labeled “whole grains” or “reduced fat” are healthy. For example, a carton of 1% milk makes us think we’re doing the right thing for ourselves, and our families, but truth be known that 1% milk in reality is 18% fat by calories. Ouch! The dairy industry marks it’s product by volume, not actual calories. This is also true of the meat industry. A package of 93% lean ground beef, for example, is actually 45% fat by calories, (Nutrition for Professional, Jane Penz PhD 2008). Shocking, I know….

It seems the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) labeling guidelines allow meat and poultry products, as well as dairy, to label fat content by volume, or weight, rather than actual calories per portion. We assume it is by portion. Also, by definition The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines for “low fat” is “a product containing less than 3 grams of fat.” This allows 2% fat milk, which actually contains 36% fat, to be labeled “low fat”. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided in 1998 to disallow this claim. Now the new claim is “reduced- fat.” This still leaves our 1% milk to be “low fat”, with a whopping 18% fat content.

Other labels to be on the-look out-for are “fat free” and “calorie free.” Items claiming to be “calorie free” can actually contain up to 5 calories per serving, according to labeling laws; and, “fat free” is even more misleading. An item containing less than 1/2 gram of fat per serving can be called “non-fat.” This becomes a BIG problem when we believe such claims and end up eating the way more than the actual serving size listed. Other shockers are: Promise fat-free is 100% fat and Pam cooking spray contains 1638 calories, based upon actual spraying time and sprays per can – not even close to calorie free.

Other grocery store label culprits are “whole grains.” There are no rules regarding the amount of actual “whole grain” in any product. There could actually be very little in the product. You are best off actually examining the list of ingredients on the item. FYI: Ingredients must be listed from the most prevalent item to the least. So, a package of wholegrain crackers may actually be nothing more than processed flours stripped of all nutritional value, glued together by some Trans fats. Trans fats are one of the most dangerous culprits out there. These items hide behind labels claiming they are free of Trans fats. How does this happen? The same labeling laws that govern the “fat free/calorie free” products govern these. Because the item contains less than 1/2 a gram of fat per serving it can be called “fat free”- regardless of it’s content. Partially hydrogenated products are Trans fats. These products turn oily foods into solid foods. They are used primarily in bakery items (cakes, cookies, and pastries), margarine, edible oil products, coffee creamers, fast foods and many others. These dangerous products are linked to many diseases and have zero nutritional benefit.

With this said, what can you do? Read the label! Make sure to read all labels carefully. Then, do the math. Make sure things add up on the side panels. Make sure you really know what is in your food. A good rule of thumb is if you can’t pronounce an ingredient or don’t know one or more of an ingredient listed, just don’t buy it! Also, avoid store bought bakery items; eat home made items if you must indulge. Eat fresh produce, or flash frozen. Limit dangerous Trans fats; get them out of your diet if you can. It takes time and self-denial, but it is truly worth it!

If you would like more details on any of the above mentioned in this article, please email at I would love to hear from you.

Wendy Cole ACE-CPT/ACE-CES/NS, is a life long fitness enthusiast with a deep desire to help others to live physically, mentally and spiritually clearer. She deeply believes that many of today’s illnesses can be overcome, or at least controlled by proper exercise, and diet. Wendy has been a part of the Function First team for the past year and has been helping clients attain both their corrective exercise and personal training goals.

You are What You Eat….But Careful Who Says So

Monday, June 28th, 2010

I EAT THEREFORE I AM….A NUTRITIONIST! If it were really that simple, we’d all be experts by now! It seems like every time we turn on the television or open a health magazine, there’s some self-proclaimed health guru telling us what we should and shouldn’t eat; try this diet, take that supplement. But how can we know who to listen to?

Sifting Through the Science
The sheer volume of information available is overwhelming, and it’s no easy task sifting through the claims and determining which have merit and which are nothing more than hollow marketing promises. As health and fitness professionals, our clients look up to us as the real experts, so we must base our recommendations on something more than conjecture and opinion. The following list is a valuable tool for evaluating the science behind nutrition claims. Keep a copy close at hand and refer to it when considering new research findings.

Checklist for scrutinizing scientific research

    Number of studies
    Consider how many studies were conducted. A single study might suggest efficacy, but numerous studies conducted by a variety of researchers from independent labs without vested interests would hold more weight.

    Number of subjects
    The higher the number of subjects in the study, the better. More subjects give a greater degree of statistical power. That is, we can say with reasonable confidence that the results were due to the intervention and not to random chance.

    Look for consistency in the dosages employed in the studies and what is found in commercially available diets/products. If large dosages were used in the studies, say 1000mg, then how does this compare to the comparatively small dosages (i.e. 10mg) used in commercial products? We need to compare “apples to apples” and “oranges to oranges.”

    In the case of dietary supplements, many nutrition products are cocktails comprised of a number of ingredients. If a study was conducted on just one ingredient, then it’s difficult to confirm that a mixed commercial product would yield the same results. Cross-ingredient interactions might potentiate the effect and pose safety issues as was the case with combined herbal preparations containing ma huang (ephedra) and guarana (caffeine).

    Population group
    One size does not fit all. Look at the population group upon which the research was conducted and consider how it applies to real life situations. For example, it is difficult to apply results from a study on young, university-level female athletes to bed-ridden morbidly obese, middle aged diabetic women since their metabolisms would be markedly different. Experimental conditions Consider how “life-like” the experimental conditions were. For example, a diet study conducted on elderly cardiac patients living in a metabolic ward for a month would reflect very different conditions to a young, free-living adult subject to a variety of real-life factors.

    Appropriate methodological controls help to ensure that the results are due to the intervention and not to random chance. Ideally, a study should be randomized, controlled, and, when appropriate, double blind—neither the subjects nor investigators know who received the experimental or control intervention.

    Confirm that the studies were published in reputable peer-reviewed journals. While even this is not a 100% guarantee, it at least confers a higher level of academic scrutiny to minimize bias and ensure the integrity of the research.

    If You Can’t Convince ‘Em Confuse ‘Em
    While claims based on science are always preferred, many diet book authors and product manufacturers are determined not to let the truth get in the way of a good marketing campaign. Clearly not everyone’s a research scientist, but we all have a built-in baloney detector that can help keep us from getting taken for a ride. Cut out and give the following quick reference checklist to your clients.

    Quick reference guide for evaluating popular health claims

    Too good to be true
    Infomercial watchers beware! The age old adage “if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is” rings true in most cases. Often the repeating of lofty, seemingly unrealistic claims will cause you to lower your guard just long enough to make you lift the phone and surrender your credit card details. Always do your homework and thoroughly investigate all health products.

    While a heart-wrenching testimonial makes for great late-night infomercial viewing, this is not a guarantee of efficacy. Testimonials do not separate cause and effect from coincidence. For example, if someone begins taking a “fat-burning” supplement while exercising every day for 3 hours per day, then it’s difficult to conclusively ascribe those results to the pill or the radical change in exercise levels.

    The use of trendy buzz words is not an accident. Marketing research focus groups are explicitly conducted to determine which terms resonate with consumers and will likely translate to greater sales. For example, the term “natural” has been associated with safe and effective in the eyes of most consumers, yet even natural remedies may carry potential health risks. After all, even arsenic and cobra venom are also naturally occurring substances.

    No effort required
    Humans are pleasure seekers and pain avoiders and will avoid logging the hard yards if at all possible.
    Beware of any diet, supplement, or health product that claims quick, easy results. It took us nearly a century to reach these epidemic levels of obesity and disease and it certainly won’t go away overnight. Diet books have claimed to have the “secret” to health for over 50 years, yet if they worked in the first place, we’d all be skinny by now.

    Strictly business
    Advertising is meant to do one thing: sell product. Altered, airbrushed images, changes in lighting, body positioning, and body angle all give the appearance of a miracle transformation. Again, marketing materials are meant to sell, not inform.

    Confusing jargon
    Sometimes advertising is littered with science-sounding jargon. Glossy images of confusing biochemical pathways mean nothing to most people, yet it seemingly confers a level of scientific scrutiny. For example, because a substance is part of a fat burning metabolic pathway does not mean that taking it as a supplement will enhance the process.

    Out of context claims
    Sometimes it’s not what you’re told, rather it’s what you’re not told. You must be certain to evaluate the original research from which marketing claims are extracted. For example, “statistically significant” fat loss in the context of a research article may, in fact, be scientifically valid, but in the real world might only translate to a half kilo difference. Not quite the 50 kilos you were expecting to lose.

    Persecuted guru
    Beware of self-proclaimed health gurus who trumpet the notion that the “establishment” is trying to persecute them. If their theories are valid, then in time they will stand up to scientific scrutiny and eventually be vindicated. However, in the case of the vast majority, there is a reason why you’ve never heard of them and a reason why next year they’ll be off the health radar.

    Final Thoughts
    As health professionals, we are the ultimate gate keepers between our clients and the multitude of new diets and nutrition products entering the market. We are bombarded by an incessant mélange of both fact and fiction, and it is our responsibility to view each through the lens of science in order to discern the difference. We should never maintain a dismissive attitude because science is always changing. What we
    believe to be false today may eventually be proven true tomorrow—or vice-versa. Clearly we need to keep an open mind, but not so open that our brains fall out!

    About the author
    William R. Sukala, MSc. is a Clinical Exercise Physiologist with two decades of experience in both clinical cardiac rehabilitation and preventive health care settings. He holds a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology and a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition, and is currently completing his PhD with a research focus on type 2 diabetes, obesity, and associated metabolic syndrome risk factors. William is a popular international presenter on medical exercise topics and has authored articles in major publications both domestically and internationally. He is frequently cited as an expert in his field by magazines, newspapers, and television news media. For more information, please visit his website at:

Do you know why you want to eat that?

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

There is no denying the role exercise plays in good health. One of the benefits of exercise includes avoiding the negative health effects associated with excess weight and higher percentages of body fat. Equally important is the role proper nutrition and eating habits play toward the same,overall good health. Research has shown that to lose weight AND maintain the desired weight loss, eat right and exercise. New research is even telling us about the differences in the way many of us metabolize food.

But our choices of food and how much we eat can be related to many factors. Research done in France and published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders (2001; 29, 195-204) concluded the foods you crave may say a lot about the state of your mind and body.
Researchers analyzed the eating habits and cravings of more than a thousand men and women and came to the following conclusions:

*Women crave food more often than men do, with cravings peaking during times of sadness or anxiety.
*Men are more likely to eat when they’re feeling happy.
*Chocolate cravings may signal that you are tired.
*An urge for salty foods or dairy products may be your body’s way of telling you it wants a real meal.
*Those who had the most frequent cravings were more likely to be on a diet or actively trying to lose weight.

Researchers theorize that women may experience more cravings because of the increased social pressure to be thin, which also leads them to diet more frequently than men. The researchers were also sure to point out that relationship between mood and food are complex and are based both on psychological and biological factors.

Do you enjoy watching TV, listening to music or reading while you eat? Or do you like to have the company of friends or family around for good conversation when you break bread? The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study involving 41 “healthy weight” women, ages 26 to 55. The women ate lunch once a week under four different conditions in a laboratory setting.

They were alone without distraction, alone while listening to recorded instruction on how to focus on the taste of their food, and alone while listening to a tape of a detective story. And they ate lunch with three other women who were also participating in the study.

Despite reporting equal levels of hunger under all four conditions, they ate considerably more calories while listening to the detective story.
Researchers recommend that people who wish to maintain or lose weight avoid eating while watching TV, talking on the phone or listening to music, all activities capable of distracting you from your dietary plan.

It can be helpful when we know where some of the speed bumps are on the road to healthy eating habits. Consider your moods and your environment when you are eating. Recognize your motivations for what you are eating during any times you might get off track.