Thursday, July 26, 2018

Let Me Eat Cake!

Recently I was at a friend’s birthday party when an all-too-familiar comment came my way. It was time for cake and a friend of mine said “well, I guess you won’t be having any”. I said “why?” knowing full well why. He replied “well, you’re a nutritionist, aren’t you?”  This happens to me all the time. Someone expects me to eat, or not eat, something because I’m a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist by trade and training. But comments like this always bother me – for several reasons.
First of all, it suggests that all nutritionists adhere to some sort of Spartan diet program where no food that is deemed "unhealthy" can pass our lips. People make all kinds of assumptions about me. They've assumed I am a vegan vegetarian, that I don’t eat white bread, and that I count calories, carbs, or whatever is in vogue to count at the moment. A colleague once ordered baked chips for me at a lunch meeting. When I reached for the regular chips he said “oh I got you baked chips because I assumed that’s what you ate”. When he offered to eat the baked ones so I could have his regular chips, I took him up on his offer. No one’s going to ruin my lunch because they assumed that when I put “potato chips” on my lunch order I really meant “baked chips”. Chips means chips – and don’t you forget it.
Secondly, comments like this make me realize that most people don’t understand what healthful eating means. Eating a healthy diet does not mean every single thing you eat must be whole grain, unprocessed, unrefined, baked-not-fried, or sugar free. Cake will not kill you. Neither will bacon. No food in and of itself is bad for you.
But the worst part of the “you-can’t-possibly-eat-cake” comment was that I then felt obligated to eat the cake. I felt obligated not because I wanted to be polite but because I felt a need to prove that I am not an extreme nutrition nut who only shops at Whole Foods and drinks kale shakes for breakfast. In reality, I didn’t want to eat the cake. I didn’t want to eat it because it was white cake with white icing. And white cake with white icing, to me, is boring. So is vanilla ice cream. And oatmeal cookies. White chocolate is boring and also an oxymoron. If that had been chocolate cake with chocolate icing, I would have elbowed my way to the front of the line to get a corner piece. Corner pieces of chocolate cake have a one-to-one icing to cake ratio which is perfection. You see, I love food so much that I don’t waste my taste buds on foods that I don’t love – or at least really like. That’s where I do say “I’m not wasting my calories on that”. 

So please, if you see me at a party, let me eat cake. Or not. And if it’s chocolate, you may just want to get out of my way.

Beth Kitchin PhD RDN
Assistant Professor, Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Apple Cider Vinegar: Is It All Hype?

Many of the claims about apple cider vinegar are hyped up. But there is a nugget – or core – of truth to some of them. But if you’re expecting apple cider vinegar to miraculously melt away the pounds or cure your diabetes, you will be disappointed. So far, there is no evidence that apple cider vinegar helps with digestion, balances your pH (which your body does on its own anyway), or reduces heartburn. In fact, some studies have shown that it can worsen heartburn and acid reflux symptoms.

However, it might help a little bit with blood sugar control and weight loss.  Let’s look at what the studies show:
  • A few very small studies have shown that in people without diabetes or with pre-diabetes have shown some benefit. Drinking ½ tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in 1 ½ ounces of water with a meal had lower blood sugar after the meal than people who drank the placebo drink.
  • Apple cider vinegar studies in people who have type 2 diabetes have been mixed. One study showed a slightly lower blood sugar level in the morning after drinking apple cider vinegar with a snack before bed.
  • There have been two pretty good studies showing that drinking apple cider vinegar might help modestly with weight loss. The biggest study was done in Japan. Men and women who drank 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar diluted in a cup of water twice a day after breakfast and dinner lost a little over 4 pounds over 3 month compared to no weight loss in the placebo group.
So while the benefits of using apple cider vinegar aren’t huge – who wouldn’t want a few extra pounds of weight loss just from drinking some in water? There can be some risks. If you don’t dilute it or you drink too much, it can damage the esophagus (the food pipe) or cause heartburn. So be sure to follow these tips:
Tips on Using Apple Cider Vinegar Safely: 

·         Don’t Buy Apple Cider Vinegar Supplements: All of the studies with apple cider vinegar have used apple cider vinegar in liquid form. It’s the stuff you can get in the grocery store for a little over a dollar for a bottle. Apple cider vinegar pills don’t have any studies backing them up and they vary widely in the actual amount of acetic acid they state they have. Don’t waste your money on them.

·         Buy Liquid Apple Cider Vinegar in the Grocery Store: Organic vinegar with “the mother” still in them (that’s the stringy clump of fermented yeast and bacteria and cellulose that ferments the apple cider) are more expensive. We don’t know if they are better, so for right now, don’t feel like you have to spend the money on them. The cheap fermented regular brands may work just as well!

·         Dilute the Vinegar! Don’t drink it straight up or you could damage your food pipe or erode your tooth enamel.

     Take the Right Dose: For blood sugar control, try ½ tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in 1 ½ ounces of water with meals. For weight loss, take 1 tablespoon diluted in a cup of water after breakfast and dinner. 

So, give it a try if you're working on weight loss or controlling your blood sugar. But also do all of the other things that we know have a bigger impact on these health challenges - like eating healthfully, not eating too much, and exercising! 

Beth Kitchin PhD, RDN
Assistant Professor Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Can You Drink Too Much Water?

It’s hot. You need to drink more water, right? Most of us do need more water at this time of the year but surprisingly you can drink too much. When people drink too much water, it dilutes the sodium in the blood to a level that's too low. Low blood sodium is called "hyponatremia". This very low level of blood sodium can cause nausea, vomiting, headaches, convulsions, the brain to swell, and even death. Some of these symptoms are the same as dehydration, which is also dangerous. So how do you know if you’re drinking enough, but not too much, water?

Water & fluid guidelines: 

Follow your thirst. Thirst is actually a good indicator of whether or not you need fluids. An exception to this is older people who can become fluid deficient quickly, particularly in hot weather. 
Drink fluids during activity. Whether you’re out walking, gardening, or running a marathon, you should drink fluids before and during activity – roughly 4 to 6 ounces every 20 minutes. You don’t need gallons of water during activity – which is where some people have gotten into trouble with over hydration.

Weigh yourself after your workout. Wouldn't it be nice if that weight you sweat off wasn't just sweat? If your workouts are intense, you might find you've lost several pounds afterwards. Drink 16 ounces of water for every pound lost during exercise to replace what you've lost.

Check your urine. When you are well hydrated, your urine should be pale to clear. This is the best way to tell if you've had enough water. Don’t drink excessive fluids beyond this. If your urine is dark or very small in volume, then you need more fluids!

The 8-cups of water myth. While the average fluid lost from our bodies does turn out to be around 8 cups a day, you don’t need to replace all of it with plain old water. We get water replacement from fruits, vegetables, and other beverages such as milk, tea, soda, and yes, even coffee! However, water is the best fluid for boosting body fluids because it is absorbed the fastest of all the fluids!

Beth Kitchin PhD RDN
Assistant Professor, Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham