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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

Four Lifestyle Factors that Affect Brain Health

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What’s the most important thing we can do to maintain brain health as we age? According to a new study, it’s not one thing but a combination of several things that may help slow cognitive decline in older adults.

A recent study was done over three years with nearly 1,700 older adults who had mildmemory complaints, slow walking speed, and other daily living limitations. The study participants were randomized into four groups, each with a different regimen to follow. The group who were assigned nutritional counselling, exercise, social and cognitive stimulation along with DHA supplements showed positive results. Even the participants in this group who had a low baseline DHA showed significant results.

The study results reinforce what we already know. The Four Dimensions of Brain Health – a healthy diet, mental engagement, physical activity and social engagement are essential to maintaining our brain health. “The MAPT study shows us that we have some influence in helping to maintain brain health,” says Elizabeth Somer, nutritionist and author. “Lifestyle changes, like making sure you’re eating the right foods and being active for thirty minutes daily, can have a big impact on brain health.”

DHA is an essential nutrient for brain health  but most of us don’t get nearly enough through diet, says Somer. “97% of the omega-3s in the brain are DHA, so it’s no wonder the study found that DHA supplementation can support a healthy brain,” she says. “Aim for a supplement that has at least 200mg DHA.”

How do you take care of your brain health?

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Challenge your brain: Online Brain Teasers

These days, we can do just about anything online. Work, catch up with friends, buy gifts and household items, read the news and play games. Playing games may sound frivolous, but one study found that video games may help maintain brain health in seniors.

Not into video games? You can still challenge your brain online with countless websites featuring brain teasers, logic puzzles and riddles. Here are five of our favorites:

Do you have a favorite website for challenging your brain? Share it in the comments!

Social Connection: Fall Community Classes

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As summer turns to fall, the days get shorter, people refocus on school and work and many of us find our social calendars a little emptier. Our suggestion for keeping your social life, well, social? Take a class.

Continuing education classes are everywhere. Check out the library, community center, senior center and even the grocery store for classes being offered this fall. Enhance your skills for an existing passion, like cooking or computer programming, or step out of your comfort zone and try something new, like knitting or tae kwon do.

The wonderful thing about taking a class – an in-person class, online doesn’t count! – is that you’ll connect with other people with similar interests. Whether you take the friendship outside of the classroom or simply enjoy the time learning together, the social interaction is extremely valuable to your brain health.

Research shows that regular social activity promotes creation of new brain cells. So stimulate your brain this fall by signing up for a class or two.

What community classes do you attend?

Get Moving: Fall Exercise Ideas

Fall is the perfect time to get active outdoors; not too hot and not too cold, the weather is just right. Here are five ideas for making exercise fun this autumn:

  • Leaf Walk or Jog: The changing colors of fall foliage provide gorgeous scenery for a brisk stroll or jog. Check out a local park, trail or your own tree-lined neighbourhood.
  • Sign up for an outdoor boot camp: Challenge yourself with a new workout in a group setting. You’ll gain benefits from both the exercise and the social interaction.
  • Yardwork: Raking leaves, winterizing your garden – it all counts as physical activity! Make it fun by listening to up-tempo music that will inspire you to work to the beat.
  • Farmer’s Market: Make a Saturday morning date with a friend to visit a farmer’s market. Enjoy catching up while getting your body moving and exploring the harvest bounty.
  • Limber up: Fall is a great time to take your yoga, pilates or tai chiworkout outdoors. Breathe in the crisp air, relax your mind and stretch your body.

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What would you tell your younger self?

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With age comes wisdom. With the knowledge gained by years of life experience, what would you tell your younger self?

Submit one photo of your younger self, one photo of your current self and your one-sentence piece of advice to your younger self by email to Beautiful.Minds@dsm.com. We will be creating beautiful images from the advice we receive and will share selected entries on our Facebook page.

We look forward to receiving your words of wisdom!

DETAILS

Submissions:

Email two (2) photos, one recent and one of your younger self and one sentence of advice (10 words maximum) to Beautiful.Minds@dsm.com.

Selected entries will be posted to the Beautiful Minds facebook page as a shareable image (see example below).

By submitting your photos and advice, you agree to grant Beautiful Minds permission to share your image on Facebook and the Beautiful Minds website (www.beautiful-minds.com). By submitting your photos, you warrant that the photos belong to you and you have the right to share it.

Emailed submissions will be accepted until October 10, 2014.

Disclaimer: Beautiful Minds, a program owned by DSM, is not responsible for lost, incomplete or missing submissions. Beautiful Minds reserves the right to reject submissions based on inappropriate images, language and other criteria at the company’s discretion.

Privacy Policy: DSM’s privacy policy can be found here: http://www.dsm.com/corporate/generic/privacy-policy.html