Extension and Ag Research News


Prairie Fare: Uncover the Truth of Nutrition and Health Headlines

Asking questions can help you sort fact from fiction.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

“An intern was asking how many cans of pop you drink a day,” one of our program assistants commented a few years ago.

“She said you carry around a can of soda all day,” the program assistant continued with a laugh.

She knew the truth and was teasing me.

“It’s the same can!” I replied. “After I drink the pop in the morning, I rinse out the can and fill it with water twice because I wasn’t drinking enough water. Let her know I don’t drink several cans of pop a day.

“I recycle the can, too,” I added.

Carrying a can of soda was creating false perceptions, and I was feeling guilty about this indulgence.

I gave up my one-can-a-day diet soda habit. I switched to water in a water bottle. I mostly was concerned about bathing my teeth with acidic fluid.

Media from Facebook to TV have been exploding lately with news of a “link” between diet pop and health consequences, including strokes and Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers, however, did not show this was “cause and effect.”

I think we all know that soda of any kind is not a “health food.” The results of the study most likely will prompt further research in the area of soda and health, and that is a good thing. Drink more water in the meantime.

Unfortunately, the short blurbs about scientific research that we read or hear about in the news do not provide all the details or indicate the limitations that the authors of the study disclosed in the article they published about their research.

The scientific details are not always interesting, but catchy headlines get people to pay attention. See https://www.ndsu.edu/boomers and click on “Finding the Truth” for more information on this topic.

I’d like to share part of an NDSU Extension Service publication that lists some questions you should ask. With information coming at us from many directions, asking these questions will help you sort through what to believe. Think about these questions when you evaluate a product advertised in a magazine, on TV, on Facebook, by email or in a newspaper headline about the latest study.

  • Does the advice or product promise a quick fix? Complicated medical problems seldom have quick, effortless or simple solutions.
  • Does the advice cast doubts about current food or lifestyle practices? Question whether you need the product to make you healthier, or can you make some changes for a healthier you? Often some changes in our lifestyle, diet and exercise habits are what could help us feel better and more energetic, not some “special” product or food.
  • Does it sound too good to be true? Be careful when a product is advertised as a “cure” for serious diseases such as cancer, heart disease or arthritis. Be careful when a product is being sold for many different conditions. Some of the conditions a product is supposed to cure run the gamut from migraine headaches, ingrown toenails and fatigue to allergies.
  • Does the advice draw simple conclusions from complex studies? Stories on new research findings frequently omit details that would enable you to judge how the study could relate to your diet and nutritional needs.
  • Are recommendations based on a single study? One study may not prove anything, but several studies in which evidence accumulates bit by bit can uncover the truth.
  • Does the advice cast doubts about reputable scientific organizations? Do not be made skeptical or fearful by implication. Seek facts that support or counter accusations.
  • Does the advice provide lists of bad and good foods? Variety is not only the spice of life; it is the basis of a safe and healthful diet. Don’t exclude foods or food groups. What you don’t eat can affect your health, too. No miracle food or product is available, and healthy individuals have no forbidden foods.
  • Is a product being sold as the solution to the problem? Keep in mind that the seller may be more interested in your money than your health. These people usually are very convincing, and many of them are true believers in what they are selling.
  • Does the advice refer to studies reported in nonscientific sources? Publication in a peer-reviewed journal is a good indication that an expert panel has reviewed the claims. Success based on testimonials and case studies does not prove the usefulness or safety of any product.
  • Does the advice include recommendations drawn from studies that ignore differences among individuals or groups? Animals and people are different. Men and women are different. Also, age, economics, race and many other factors are important.

Each “Yes” answer raises a red flag. Dig a little deeper and look a little farther when the flags go up.

Consider your beverage choices and have water or another healthful beverage when you are thirsty.

Studies with rats and humans have shown that blueberries may help improve memory. Remember that all berries are very rich in antioxidants, which help neutralize the effects of substances that damage DNA and cell membranes. Enjoy a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to nourish your body and brain.

Here’s a recipe courtesy of the Midwest Dairy Association. Experiment with other types of berries, too.

Blues Buster Smoothie

1 (6-ounce) container nonfat Greek yogurt (vanilla or berry flavored)

1/2 c. apple juice

2/3 c. fresh or frozen blueberries

3 to 4 ice cubes

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth and creamy.

Makes one serving with 230 calories, 1 gram (g) fat, 16 g protein, 40 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber and 65 milligrams sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication - April 27, 2017

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, 701-231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford, 701-231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu
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