Category: Nutrition

FDA Crackdown on Misleading Dietary Supplements

The United States is in the midst of a scientific wave. We are lucky to live during a time where new and effective medicines have changed the way we can prevent and treat chronic disease. However,  we have begun to see that fraudulent claims and products accompany this innovation. Amongst these deceptive products, dietary supplements are amongst the guiltiest parties.

The dietary supplement industry is extremely prosperous, with a market size of nearly $112 billion. Although some dietary supplements are effective, there are many which provide no benefit or can even cause harm to a consumer. Many false products make sweeping claims which have absolutely no backing evidence – such as dietary supplements which advertise that they can prevent Alzheimer’s Disease. Dietary supplements do not have to be reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before hitting the market. They can only be taken down afterwards if they have shown to cause adverse health outcomes or if the product is fake/misleading.

Just this week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released a statement regarding just this. This press announcement calls for a new, massive regulation of dietary supplements. The FDA is addressing this issue because they believe ineffective dietary supplements can cause a great deal of harm when people take them as alternatives to approved treatments. This new statement provides a hopeful potential of establishing a more honest and less misleading supplement market.



Blame it on the Alk(aline)?

These days, it’s hard to keep up with what’s truly “good” or “bad” for your health. However, through all the changing trends, one thing has been steadfast: water. Water is one of the most necessary and obvious components for healthy living. Now, people are turning their eyes towards alkaline water, wondering if there’s a way to make drinking water even more healthy.

Alkaline water is just like regular water, except it has a higher pH level. pH levels dictate how acidic or non-acidic (basic) your water is. If it has a higher pH level – like alkaline level – it’s more basic than regular water. Alkaline water has salts and metals which make it unique from normal drinking water. It’s more common than you think, brands like Smart Water and Essentia offer alkaline water products.

So why drink it? Many sources claim drinking alkaline water has a number of health benefits. According to those who support it, alkaline water is rich in antioxidants, can help balance pH levels, lead to better hydration, boost the immune system, and many more benefits. However, like many nutritional fads, there is still not conclusive evidence these claims. And like anything going into your body, it’s important to consume everything in moderation.


Eggs and Heart Health

Eggs are a staple ingredient in my fridge. I use them in my baking and I sometimes eat them for breakfast. Over the years, however, I would often hear many mixed messages about their health benefits such as that eating too many eggs would raise your cholesterol. Because of this, I would often limit how many I eat. That said, I was interested to read a recent study (1) in which researchers found that eating an egg a day may lower cardiovascular disease risk. Researchers of this study, which included over 400,000 adults in China, found that those participants who consumed up to less than one egg per day had an 18% lower risk of cardiovascular disease death compared to those participants who do not consume eggs.

According to an article (2) in the Harvard Health Letter, Dr. Anthony Komaroff, MD, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, asserts that an egg a day does not increase your risk for a heart attack. Dr. Komaroff believes it is wise for individuals with diabetes or at high risk for (or already have) heart disease to consume no more than 3 eggs per week. Further, he describes that while eggs were known for having lots of cholesterol which can increase cardiovascular disease risk, research has shown that most of our body’s cholesterol comes from our liver and not what we eat. Research has also found eggs to have many healthy nutrients that are good for the body. Finally, Dr. Komaroff describes the importance of considering the other foods one eats with their eggs, such as foods with saturated fat like butter, bacon, or muffins that can raise blood cholesterol more than eggs themselves.


(1) Qin c, et al. Heart2018;104:1756–1763. doi:10.1136/heartjnl-2017-312651

(2) Harvard Health Publishing. (2017, January). Are eggs risky for heart health?: Ask the doctor. Retrieved from

Yogurt: a health food packing stealthy sugar

It seems as if everyone is always trying to find foods that are both nutritious AND delicious. Recently, it seems as if yogurt has become many people’s go-to option. Yogurt is praised for its nutritious profile: it’s high in protein, calcium, and “healthy” probiotics. While all this remains true, it’s important to consider the looming sugar content within these products.

A new study is criticizing many popular yogurts for their deceptively high sugar contents. Within the study – which examined over 900 yogurt brands found in UK grocery stores – only 9% of general yogurts can be considered low in sugar. What’s worse, only a measly 2% of yogurts marketed exclusively to children can be classified as low sugar.

Along with these findings, it became apparent that products marketed as “organic” may be among the worst offenders. Organic is a term used to described the processes behind a food’s production. Although items which are USDA Organic Certified may be produced ethically, this label does not have specific nutrition implications. Despite this, people often think an organic product is healthier than a non-organic option. The study found quite the opposite: that organic yogurts have substantial amounts of sugar, especially when compared to their natural and Greek yogurt counterparts.

As a snack, yogurt is not a bad choice. The health benefits prevail, and it often beats out many other sugary snack options. But when picking out your next yogurt at the store, it’s worthwhile to pause and consider the varying sugar contents. This way, you can pick the healthiest option… or just call it dessert.




Hurricanes & Our Health

As Hurricane Florence approaches, there are many worries on the minds of those who live in its path. Residents in the South Eastern United States are anxious about the wellbeing of their property, belongings, surrounding environment and loved ones. Along with these concerns, it’s important to be weary of how a destructive hurricane can also have serious implications on medicine and public health. Considering these risks before the onset of the storm could eliminate smaller preventable problems and render larger issues easier to address.

Before the hurricane arrives, it’s advised that any medical prescriptions be refilled and retrieved promptly. Resultant power outages and infrastructural damages may limit a pharmacy’s ability to operate and supply their patients’ needs. If you know you are at risk of power outages, it’s important to stock up on non-perishable foods, water, and anything else necessary for your individual health. Along with this, following proper safety precautions to protect your home from water and wind damage can also prevent a number of storm-related injuries.

In North Carolina, the magnitude of rain expected to come with Hurricane Florence is especially worrisome. Excessive rainfall could cause flooding in farmland which contain animal manure lagoons. Such lagoons could overflow, spreading waste and increasing risk of disease transmission. Additionally, North Carolina is home to a number of dangerous coal-ash ponds. If these sites flood, it could unleash this waste into the surrounding environment. Coal-ash is toxic, and if released from ponds could contaminate people’s public drinking water.




The Keto Diet: Healthy or Unhealthy?

It seems like every couple of years a different diet fad takes the world by storm, often touting weight loss and/or a host of health benefits, and the ketogenic “keto” diet is no exception. This latest diet trend has produced quite the buzz in recent years for its potential weight loss benefits, but the verdict seems mixed on just how healthy this diet may be.

The keto diet is a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet. This includes eating foods such as meats, cheeses, eggs, fish, and oils, and avoiding foods such as breads, fruits, starchy vegetables, and sugars.  Carbohydrates provide our bodies with glucose that gives us energy. By consuming less carbohydrates, our bodies are forced to turn to fats as a source of energy, placing our body in a state of “ketosis.”

While the keto diet has only recently made headlines, it has actually been used for nearly a century as a sort of last medical resort for treating individuals with epilepsy, particularly children. However, while beneficial for these individuals, it may not necessarily benefit those with other health conditions. Further, it is still  unknown what the long-term effects of a ketogenic diet are.

In an interview with Plant Based News, Dr. Kim Williams, former President of the American College of Cardiology, claimed that, while it may offer short-term weight loss, the keto diet offers limited health benefits. Furthermore, in a recent study by Seidelmann et al. (2018), researchers found that low-carbohydrate diets that relied on animal proteins and fats were associated with greater risk of death. As Dr. Marcelo Campos, lecturer at Harvard Medical School, describes, the keto diet can include heavy red meat and unhealthy foods that are fatty and processed. Further, the keto diet may lead to nutritional deficiencies given its high-fat diet. Ultimately, Dr. Campos suggests that individuals engage in long-term, sustainable change, consuming a balanced, unprocessed diet as opposed to a short-term diet like the keto diet.

What are your thoughts on the keto diet? Let us know in the comments below!


Belluz, Julia. (2018, June 13). The keto diet, explained. Retrieved from

Campos, Marcelo. (2017, July 27). Ketogenic diet: Is the ultimate low-carb diet good for you? Retrieved from

Chiorando, Maria. (2018, August 24). ‘No One Should Be Doing Keto Diet’ Says Leading Cardiologist. Retrieved from

Epilepsy Society. (2016, March). Ketogenic Diet. Retrieved from

Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. (N.d.). Diet Review: Ketogenic Diet for Weight Loss. Retrieved from

Seidelmann, S. B., Claggett, B., Cheng, S., Henglin, M., Shah, A., Steffen, L. M., … & Solomon, S. D. (2018). Dietary carbohydrate intake and mortality: a prospective cohort study and meta-analysis. The Lancet Public Health.

WebMD. (2017, February 1). What’s a Ketogenic Diet? Retrieved from



New things to know about your cup of joe

The general public loves to scrutinize the coffee drinking habit. Multitudes are drinking it (in relatively large amounts) – so what does that mean for us? In recent years, research and public opinion has begun to favor the pros of drinking coffee. Some studies have even shown that there are significant health benefits which may be associated your daily cup of joe.

Despite this trend, news has recently surfaced which may upset these well-received findings. When coffee beans are roasted at a high temperature, they produce a chemical called acrylamide. It has been shown that higher doses of acrylamide can be harmful, and has been linked to cancer. This chemical cannot be separated from a coffee product; if someone drinks coffee, they are likely exposed to the chemical.

This evidence appears grim, but don’t dismay coffee drinkers. There are a few silver-linings to this story. The formal research on acrylamide is still inconclusive, as exposure has not been directly linked to any specific cancer. Along with this, the amount of acrylamide in coffee appears to be minute. Due to this, California has recently pushed back against labeling coffee as a cancer-causing substance. Acrylamide intake can also be avoided by considering the amount and type of coffee consumed. Drinking a little less coffee means a little less exposure. Additionally, opting for dark-roasted beans tends to minimize exposure to chemical.





“Organic Pesticide” Feels Like an Oxymoron

North Carolina was in the top ten states (we were number 10, but still) of certified organic commodity sales in 2016. People purchase organic because they believe that it is healthier and safer. How true is this? Admittedly, this is an overwhelming question. My primary response is that more research is needed. Until then, here is a general synthesis of what we know so far.

Nutritionally speaking, some research has found higher levels of nutrients/vitamins in organic while other research has found no significant difference to nutritional quality. The jury is out on that—did I mention the need for more research?

Pesticide-wise, just because something is “natural” does not mean that it is safe. Arsenic is natural. Here is an excerpt from the National Pesticide Information Center:

Organic foods are not necessarily pesticide-free. The pesticides that are allowed for organic food production are typically not manmade. They tend to have natural substances like soaps, lime sulfur and hydrogen peroxide as ingredients. Not all natural substances are allowed in organic agriculture; some chemicals like arsenic, strychnine and tobacco dust (nicotine sulfate) are prohibited.

Well thank goodness they don’t allow arsenic, I would’ve thought that went without saying.

The EWG’s Dirty Dozen list we talked about a few weeks ago only noted the presence of residue, not the amount or the type. In 2011, Winter and colleagues published a paper in the Journal of Toxicology in response to these lists. Their conclusion was that exposure to the 12 most commonly detected pesticides in conventional farming pose negligible risks to consumers and that substituting organic pesticides does not decrease this negligible risk.

After trying to make sense of this issue of whether organic is objectively (and empirically) better than convention, my sentiment is mixed. A common notion I came across in researching this was that the dose amount of pesticide is what makes the difference in toxicity. The naturally-derived substances seem to have the capability of being toxic just like the conventional ones.

So what should the takeaway be? Rinse your produce, just rinse it no matter what you buy.

A Beginner’s Experience with Container Gardening

We’re often encouraged to eat fresh veggies as part of a healthy diet (1), but the produce section can be expensive (2). Container gardening may be a cheaper alternative (3).  This is my second year attempting to grow plants in containers, and I have found that plants require a little more than just sun, dirt, and water.  Below are some of the lessons I’ve learned.

Lesson #1: Choose the Right Plants
Make sure to choose plants that will grow in your area at the time you’re trying to grow them.  For the second year in a row, I’ve had the vision of growing my own tomatoes, peppers, and cilantro for salsa, but I’ve planted all of these plants outside at the same time.  After planting, I learned tomatoes grow in the summer (4), but cilantro turns to seed in the heat (5).  This means I won’t be able to make salsa from my garden again this year.

Once you’ve decided what to plant, you’ll need to decide between plants and seeds.  If you’re using seeds, start them in small containers and then transfer them to your larger container once they’ve grown several pair of leaves (6).  It’s hard to tell how many seeds will survive from the original planting (6).  If you try to start them directly in the final container, you could end up like me with way too many peas to trellis and no surviving spinach.  If you are buying plants from the store, make sure the leaves look whole, green and healthy, and the plant is compact and full (7).

Lesson #2: Choose the right containers
Most plants come with a tag stating how far apart they should be spaced.  This spacing allows plants to get enough nutrients and keeps them from casting too much shade on each other (8).  Your containers should be large enough to accommodate this spacing and allow for proper planting depth.  This year, we almost planted tomatoes in a 5” high pot when their roots need to grow 12” deep.

Lesson #3: Location, Location, Location
Even if you have space for containers, make they get enough sun.  Most vegetables require at least 8 hours of sunlight each day (9).  However, sun may not be your only location issue.  Unless you want to rub your plants with cotton swabs (10), you may want to consider how your plant gets pollinated.  Carrots and spinach typically rely on the wind to help pollinate them (11).  This means they need to be far enough away from the building that the wind can reach them.  Other plants like cucumber and squashes like insects to help pollinate them (11).  Therefore, there needs to be enough flowers in the area to attract pollinators (12).  Last year, my tomatoes were too close to the house and I didn’t have any flowers around my garden.  I only harvested 4 tomatoes, and I didn’t get a single pepper.

Lesson #4: Beware of Dog
Your pets may be curious about the new smells and fresh dirt.  Especially, if your fertilizer has a strong scent or your containers are light, watch pets around fresh plantings.  I have had to re-plant some plants and clean up overturned buckets.

Container gardening can be a cheap way to get your veggies.  Hopefully, my lessons learned will help you have fresh veggies all summer.


  1. United States Department of Agriculture. Why is it important to eat vegetables? [Online] January 12, 2016.
  2. Increasing Access and Affordability of Produce Improves Perceived Consumption of Vegetables in Low-Income Seniors. Abusabha, Rayane, Namjoshi, Dipti and Klein, Amy. s.l. : Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2011, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Vol. 111, pp. 1549-1555. Research and Professional Briefs.
  3. Cancler, Carole. How to start a vegetable garden on the cheap. Living on the Cheap. [Online]
  4. The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Growing Tomatoes. The Old Farmer’s Almanax. [Online]
  5. Burpee. All About Cilantro. Burpee. [Online]
  6. The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Starting Seeds Indoors. The Old Farmer’s Almanac. [Online]
  7. Ianotti, Marie. How to Choose Healthy Plants. The Spruce. [Online] 2 17, 2017.
  8. The Importance of Plant Spacing. Grow Great Vegetables. [Online]
  9. Banks, Shawn and Bradley, Lucy. Vegetable Gardening: A Beginner’s Guide. NC State Extension. [Online] September 4, 2015.
  10. VegiBee. Garden Pollinators. VegiBee. [Online]
  11. University of Georgia Extension. Pollination of Vegetable Crops. University of Georgia Extension. [Online] November 30, 2014.
  12. Admin. Attracting Bees To The Vegetable Garden. VeggieGardener. [Online] April 8, 2010.
  13. Jones, Gardening. Vegetable Crops That Do Not Need Pollinators. Horticulture Magazine. [Online] January 21, 2014.


“Is it organic?”

No those aren’t transformers you’re not about to be Michael Bay-ed. Last week we talked about the EWG’s Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists of produce with the most and least amounts of pesticide residue found on them. And as promised, let’s take a closer look at what exactly that USDA organic label provides (does peace of mind count).

Below is a very useful breakdown from the Mayo Clinic.

What is organic farming?
The word “organic” refers to the way farmers grow and process agricultural products, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and meat. Organic farming practices are designed to meet the following goals:
• Enhance soil and water quality
• Reduce pollution
• Promote a self-sustaining cycle of resources on a farm

Materials or practices not permitted in organic farming include:
• Synthetic fertilizers to add nutrients to the soil
• Sewage sludge as fertilizer
• Most synthetic pesticides for pest control
• Irradiation to preserve food or to eliminate disease or pests
• Genetic engineering, used to improve disease or pest resistance or to improve crop yields

Organic crop farming materials or practices may include:
• Plant waste left on fields (green manure), livestock manure or compost to improve soil quality
• Plant rotation to preserve soil quality and to interrupt cycles of pests or disease
• Cover crops that prevent erosion when parcels of land are not in use and to plow into soil for improving soil quality
• Mulch to control weeds
• Predatory insects or insect traps to control pests
• Certain natural pesticides and a few synthetic pesticides approved for organic farming, used rarely and only as a last resort in coordination with a USDA organic certifying agent

Me again. So what are those benefits? Organically grown crops have been shown less likely to contain pesticides and 48% less likely to test positive for cadmium (toxic heavy metal). The jury seems to be out on whether organic compared to conventionally grown impacts the level/quality of nutrients in the produce. As mentioned last week it’s a good idea to give produce a good rinse before consuming; it may also be a good idea to peel/remove the outer layer of conventionally grown produce that made the Dirty Dozen to limit pesticide ingestion. This may in turn then decrease the level of nutrients the produce provides. Next post, let’s explore the research on pesticides.