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True or False: Expensive vitamins are better for you than store brands?

Posted on February 15, 2019


THE HUSTLE AND bustle of today’s busy world makes it difficult for many people to eat a healthful diet. It takes planning and effort to get to the grocery store, buy wholesome food and find time to prepare   it.

All of the registered dieticians I’ve spoken to over the years about vitamins—R.D.s are the gold standard for individuals giving nutritional advice— have told me it is ideal to get the nutrients your body needs directly from the food and beverages you consume.

But not everyone does that. Too often, it’s easier to opt for processed and fast-food options, a choice that can leave us far short of getting all of the nutrients we need to be healthy. Most of us realize that, which is no doubt why roughly 40% of Americans spend billions of dollars on vitamin supplements every year.

We shouldn’t be surprised that vitamin manufacturers have convinced us that taking vitamins can be fun—especially children’s vitamins that are more like candy than a supplement. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve tried to help my kids decipher if the vitamin they were about to devour was a Tyrannosaurus Rex or a Velaciraptor. The gummy vitamins were even harder to figure out: Was that a penguin, a polar bear or an arctic fox? It didn’t matter … down they went!

Some people ask whether expensive vitamins absorb better in your body. Others are suspicious about contaminants in vitamins. (Because vitamins are considered a dietary supplement and not a food, there are no strict Food and Drug Administration guidelines for manufacturing vitamins.) Yet others wonder if the vitamins really contain the nutrients listed on the label.

In 2010, Consumer Reports surveyed over 2,000 adults and found that over half worried that vitamins contained harmful ingredients, and nearly half feared that their vitamins didn’t contain the nutrients claimed on the label.

The following from Consumer Reports Magazine (2010) details tests and results. “Our tests of 21 multivitamins at two outside labs—including leading brands, five for seniors, and six for children—will allay some of those fears. All but one of the products we tested met their label claims for key essential vitamins and minerals, and none contained worrisome levels of contaminants such as arsenic or heavy metals. Most of the pills we tested  also passed the U.S. Pharmacopeia’s dissolution test, which involves immersing them in a simulated stomach-acid solution to determine whether they’ll dissolve properly in your body. What’s more, we found that store brands did just as well in our tests as national brands, at a lower price.”

My wife and I no longer take a daily multivitamin, nor do we buy them for our kids. Instead, we try to eat lots of whole grains and a wide variety of fruits and veggies. However, when we were taking vitamins, I was aware that some of the brand-name variety could cost two or even three times more than store brands. I found that especially interesting, as many store-brand and national-brand vitamins are produced by the same manufacturer.

Here’s the bottom line: If you do take vitamins, you can feel relatively certain that, regardless of how much you pay for them, they are safe, they contain the nutrients their label claims, and they are dissolving in your body. What might remain uncertain is which of the Flintstone’s characters your child is about to eat.

Consumer Reports. Multivitamins: Most we tested were fine, so select by choice. Consumer Reports Magazine: September 2010. archive/2010/september/health/multivitamins/overview/index.htm. Accessed 1-3-13.

True or False: Drinking water before a meal helps you eat less?

Posted on September 26, 2018


WHEN I STARTED writing about health myths and misconceptions, I had no idea I would be writing so much about water! I reviewed my first book, 25 Ways To Cure The Hiccups: Uncovering The Truth Behind 101 Myths and Misconceptions, and found the  following:

  • Myth 6 explores whether it is possible to drink too much water when exercising.
  • Myth 14 considers the concept that we should drink 64 ounces of water a day.
  • Myth 39 examines whether we are already dehydrated if we don’t drink water until we start to feel thirsty.
  • Myth 59 investigates if water heated in a microwave can erupt and cause severe burns.

So far in this book, we have evaluated if many brands of bottled water are simply tap water (Myth 16) and if you burn more calories by drinking ice water (Myth 17). And there are more water-related topics to come!

I’ve previously shared that roughly 65% of us are either overweight or obese, so I’m seldom surprised to hear the many interesting things people do in their attempts to lose weight. The idea that drinking water before eating can promote weight loss has been around for some time, and I’ve heard more than one registered dietitian advise overweight people to try it. But is it true? I was surprised to learn that this topic hasn’t been studied much. However,I did find research conducted by Dennis and colleagues (2010) and published in the journal Obesity.

Researchers investigated whether having adults ranging in age from 55–75 drink 16 ounces of water (about two measuring cups full) prior to eating breakfast, lunch and dinner resulted in the consumption of fewer calories. Research participants were already on a low-calorie diet: 1,500 calories per day for men and 1,200 calories per day for women.

After three months of following this regimen, the participants who drank 16 ounces of water prior to eating lost, on average, 15.5 pounds compared to an average loss of 11 pounds for participants who drank no water prior to eating. So the water drinkers lost weight at a 44% higher rate than those who didn’t drink water before meals.

Other research suggests that drinking water prior to eating is effective in reducing caloric intake for individuals older than 60 who are not on low- calorie diets, but pre-meal water consumption may not have the same effect for folks in the 20–35 age range.

The idea that drinking water before meals leads to weight loss triggers my “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is” reaction. But it really does appear to be the case, especially for individuals beyond age 50. What’s the explanation? According to the referenced article, drinking water prior to eating “may aid in increasing fullness, thereby promoting a reduction in meal energy intake.” Drinking water might also help decrease feelings of hunger, which could result in fewer calories consumed during  meals.

It also is possible that water consumption could replace sugary drinks people sometimes drink with meals, resulting in even lower caloric intake.

Drinking a couple of glasses of water prior to meals likely won’t lead to pounds of fat magically disappearing, but it does appear to be a reasonable and healthy way to decrease the number of calories we consume. And that calorie reduction is what could have a modest impact on weight-control efforts.

Before writing this chapter, I didn’t make it a habit to drink water before meals, but I’m going to start!

Dennis, E., Dengo, A., Comber, D., Flack, K., Savla, J., Davy, K., & Davy, B.: Water consumption increases weight loss during a hypocaloric diet intervention in middle-aged  and older adults. Obesity (2010), Vol 18, pp. 300-307.