Debunking Common Nutrition Myths

By: Elizabeth Somer, M.A.,R.D.

Diet dogma has a life of its own. Even when science reveals the truth behind a diet fad or web rumor, the myth lingers on. Here are a few mistaken identities in the nutrition arena.

Myth No. 1: Vitamin supplements are a waste of time.

Fact: Every so often the news reports on a study that found supplements are unnecessary. Before you toss your vitamins, read on.

If a study came out finding that people who drank water had no lower risk for cancer, would you stop drinking water? If another study reported that people who meet their recommendation for protein were at no lower risk for heart disease than people who ate too little protein, would you eliminate protein from your diet? Probably not. Both water and protein are essential nutrients.

Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients, too. The human body can’t make them, yet it needs them to survive and thrive. These essential nutrients must come from the diet on a regular basis and in amounts known to ensure life, as well as health. A lack of even one vitamin or mineral over time can have devastating consequences, in many cases even death.

Just because you’re not on your deathbed, is not a sign you are optimally nourished. National nutrition surveys spanning decades of research repeatedly find that many Americans do not meet the basic requirements for certain vitamins and/or minerals. One study found that 99 out of every 100 Americans don’t meet even minimum standards of a balanced diet. The USDA’s Healthy Eating Index, a tool to assess Americans’ eating habits, rating them on a scale of 0 to 100, consistently finds that most Americans score below or in the 60s, equivalent to an “F” or a “D” ranking on nutrition. Why not fill in the gaps with a moderate-dose, well-balanced multi-vitamin supplement on the days when you don’t eat perfectly? There is no harm in taking a moderate-dose multi-vitamin and mineral, in fact, people who supplement tend to be healthier. Supplementing responsibly is one of the lowest cost preventive measures you can adopt. (11,12,23)

Of course, popping a pill is not license to eat junk. That’s why they are called supplements, not substitutes for an excellent diet. Even the most staunch supporters of supplements agree that no pill can replace a healthy diet and lifestyle. It is one factor in a pattern of living that helps prevent disease and prolong the healthy years. (13-15)

Myth No. 2: Carbs are fattening.

Fact: Just the opposite. Starchy vegetables, like potatoes and corn, and 100% whole grains are quality carbs that are the mainstay of all diets worldwide, since they supply glucose, the main fuel for everything from muscles to brain. They also are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. For example, the fiber in oats (called beta glucan) helps to lower blood sugar and cholesterol, thus playing an important role in the management of diabetes and heart disease. That fiber also fills you up without filling you out, so is a great addition to any weight-loss diet. But, avoid their refined counterparts, such as white bread, and their high-fat friends, such as butter, cream cheese, and sour cream, since ounce for ounce these add-ons contain more than twice the calories. For example, a generous smear of butter has more calories than a slice of bread (108 versus 61 calories), while a plain potato has only 88 calories compared to the same potato French-fried, which packs more than four times the calories (354 calories). (25,26)

Myth No. 3: Women naturally gain weight after menopause.

Fact: Many women believe that weight gain is part of “the change.” But numerous studies, including one from Michigan State University, offer some surprising results. In this study of 28 postmenopausal women, menopause by itself was not the reason for weight gain. It was the level of physical activity that had the biggest impact on body weight – older women who were vigorously active maintained their girlish figures. (1-3)

Myth No. 4: Drinking a glass of water before a meal helps curb appetite.

Fact: Water does curb appetite, but mostly when it is incorporated into food, not gulped from a glass. Several studies from Pennsylvania State University found that only water in soups, thick beverages like tomato juice, and other liquid foods fills us up. In one study, women were given a snack of chicken rice casserole with a glass of water or a chicken rice soup that contained the same amount of water as broth. Results showed that the soup was more filling even though it contained 27% fewer calories than the casserole. The reason – water bound to food is filling, while a glass of water is not, is unclear, but it could be that the bound water slows digestion, whereas a glass of water just passes right through. (4)

Myth No. 5: Shellfish is high in cholesterol.

Fact: Yes, shrimp is high in cholesterol, containing more than a third of your daily quota or 130 milligrams in a 3-ounce serving. But, shrimp is low in fat and contains a smidgeon of heart healthy omega-3s, which might explain why a study from the University of Southern California found that eating shellfish, like shrimp, every week reduced heart attack risk by 59 percent. Besides, most of the cholesterol in your blood is made in the body from saturated fats consumed in the diet, and shrimp is very low in that artery-clogging fat. The bottom line: shrimp is a healthy addition to your diet, just don’t batter or fry it! (5)

Selected references

Landmark Study Supports Supplementation for Heart Health

By: Elizabeth Somer, M.A.,R.D.

Nutrition science has finally caught up with common sense. In a landmark study from Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, the researchers conclude that men who supplement with a multivitamin have a significantly lower risk for serious heart disease issues.
What makes this study different from others? In contrast to previous studies on relatively few subjects followed for a few years, the Harvard study was a long-term investigation on a large group of men (18,530 to be exact). The men averaged 40 years at the start of the study and were initially free of disease. Continue reading “Landmark Study Supports Supplementation for Heart Health”

The One Vitamin You Are Low In


By: Elizabeth Somer, M.A.,R.D.

Unless you’re supplementing daily with vitamin D, it’s likely you are deficient and don’t even know it. Up to three in every four people tested are low in this vitamin. What’s the risk?

Until recently, vitamin D’s sole job was to support calcium absorption and deposition into bone, thus lowering osteoporosis risk. This role is now considered the tip of the nutritional iceberg.

Every cell in your body has receptors for vitamin D, which means every cell, tissue, organ, and system, from the top of your head to the tip of your toes, needs the vitamin. It’s no wonder research shows that vitamin D might aid the body in muscle weakness, gum disease, diabetes, insulin resistance, hearing and vision loss, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, hypertension and depression, among other health conditions. It also supports pregnancy outcome and reduces the incidence of falls by up to 60 percent in seniors, while a deficiency can mimic symptoms of fibromyalgia. Preliminary studies also show a possible link between low vitamin D intake and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease and more.

Continue reading “The One Vitamin You Are Low In”

5 tips to help you age healthier

HappyMother's DayAre the foods on your plate helping you stay healthy through the years? We know what foods are ‘good’ for us, but did you know that what’s on your plate today could affect the way you age?

A recent study, by DSM and Groningen University, looked at why some populations age healthier than others. The researchers found evidence that a lack of nutrients can have long-term health effects. The results of the study support what we already know about the importance of a balanced diet throughout our lives.

It’s not always easy to ensure we’re getting proper nutrition, particularly as we age and need fewer calories and our bodies may absorb less nutrients. To help you stay healthy, try following these five rules:  Continue reading “5 tips to help you age healthier”

Common Misconceptions about Supplements

In our last article, we talked about the difficulties of meeting recommended guidelines for essential nutrients. iStock_000011975542_sm“Even if you follow a healthy diet, a busy lifestyle can make it difficult to obtain the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals from food alone,” says Elizabeth Somer, a leading registered dietitian and author of several books, including “The Essential Guide to Vitamins and Minerals.”

So, how else can we get the nutrition we need? One easy way to maintain good nutrition is to enhance your diet with supplements. The problem for many is that the frequency of new studies combined with the staggering number of supplements available makes it increasingly confusing to know what is right.

To help you put nutrition news in context, Somer is debunking a few of the common misconceptions about dietary supplements:

Continue reading “Common Misconceptions about Supplements”

Making the nutritional grade

As we enter 2016, many of us are thinking about our health and nutrition. After the indulgences of the holiday season, it’s time to take a closer look at what’s on our plate. When it comes to getting essential nutrients through food, it’s not enough to add the right foods to your menu, you also need to look at how often and how much of those foods you are eating.

Do you regularly eat a whole cup of sautéed spinach or get three weekly servings of salmon or other fatty fish? Research shows that Americans aren’t making the nutritional grade and, therefore, can lack important vitamins and minerals like folic acid, vitamin E, vitamin K and even vitamin C.

Data on dietary intake from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which used the USDA’s Healthy Eating Index to compare what people say they eat to recommended dietary guidelines, found that children and adults scored 56 points out of a possible 100 (equivalent to an “F” grade), while seniors fared only slightly better at 65 points (equivalent to a “D” grade). The American Heart Association agreed with those findings in its 2013 report on heart disease and stroke, concluding that poor diet and lack of exercise are two of the main factors contributing to the high prevalence of heart disease in the U.S.

While many of us are falling short on meeting recommended dietary guidelines, it’s clear from the sheer amount of healthy lifestyle articles, diets, methods and tips out there that we are striving to be healthier. 

Here are a few easy to ways to add extra nutrition to your meals:

  •  Add a cup of spinach or other leafy greens to your next smoothie. You won’t taste the spinach at all and your drink will be a pretty shade of green.
  • Add finely chopped veggies to your pasta sauce, soups and casseroles.
  • Swap out white pasta and bread and cereals for whole grain (aim for low-sugar and high-fiber options too).

Do you aim to meet the recommended dietary guidelines? How do you get your get your essential nutrients?

5 reasons that older adults need to exercise

A recent study published in the New York Times found that exercise might increase the brain’s flexibility.  Yet another reason in a long list supporting the health benefits of physical activity as we age. Not convinced? Here are our top 5 reasons why you need to prioritize exercise.


  • Get out of your comfort zone: Trying something new, like a community Zumba class, or developing a new skillset, like boxing or rock-climbing, helps keep your brain stimulated. As you exercise your body, you’ll also be exercising your mind.
  • Manage your weight: Another added benefit of exercise? Dropping excess pounds. Staying within a healthy weight range can help stave off a myriad of health conditions – like hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes.
  • Maintain your healthy brain: Grow your brain along with your muscles – regular exercise can encourage the growth of new brain cells and connections. Overall physical health is closely linked to brain health, so a healthy body is key to a healthy brain.
  • Keep your social life buzzing: Physical activity often goes hand in hand with group activities – aerobics class at the gym, dance lessons, weekly tai chi sessions in the part. Even walking dates with friends are a great way to stay active and stay connected.
  • Show what you can do: When you started, you could barely jog to the mailbox. Now you can make it around the block without taking a break. Exercise shows us what we’re capable of – often beyond our own expectations. Setting, and reaching, new goals is a great way to stay motivated.

What’s your favorite benefit of exercising?