Fad Diets for Weight Loss Have Long History

Fad Diets for Weight Loss Have a Long History


This blog was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated in July 2013, but you can read the original post here.

As a registered dietitian I have spent as much time battling wacky weight loss diets as my clients have spent trying to lose weight. Sure, it would be great if you could “lose weight while you sleep” as one fad diet promised, but that’s just not possible. It’s just another empty promise that can do more harm than good in the end.

How can you tell if a fad diet is bad for you? Any diet that puts your health in jeopardy for the sake of losing weight is not good. And sometimes you can tell just by the name!

In honor of National Nutrition Month this March, I’d like to expose some of the fad diets from the past so you won’t be as likely to fall for them in the future. It’s a perfect fit with this year’s theme for National Nutrition Month, Get Your Plate in Shape. The theme combines the equally important messages to balance your food choices and be physically active to get your plate – and your body – into good shape.

Questions about how to get in shape have been around for as long as there have been scales and mirrors! Unfortunately, many of the answers have come in the form of fad diets and wacky weight loss gimmicks. See how many you recognize from this Fad Diet Timeline adapted from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that spans over 200 years, and use it as a reminder that while fad diets may come and go, good nutrition is here to stay.

Fad Diet Timeline

1820 Vinegar & Water Diet, requires mixing apple cider vinegar and water to cleanse the body

1903 “Fletcherizing,” promoted by Horace Fletcher, requires chewing food 32 times

1925 Cigarette Diet, recommends that you “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet”

1928 Inuit Meat-and-Fat Diet, includes caribou, raw fish and whale blubber

1930 Hay Diet, does not allow carbohydrates and proteins to be eaten in the same meal

1950 Grapefruit Diet, is based on the belief grapefruit juice can melt fat

1964 Drinking Man’s Diet, is made up of alcoholic drinks and meat

1976 Sleeping Beauty Diet, individuals are heavily sedated for several days, so can’t eat

1981 Beverly Hills Diet, allows only fruit, in unlimited amounts, for the first 10 days

1986 Rotation Diet, rotates the number of calories taken in from week to week

1987 Scarsdale Diet, is low in carbohydrates and calories

1994 First version of the Atkin’s Diet, a high protein, very low carbohydrate plan

1995 Sugar Busters, eliminates sugar and refined carbohydrates

1996 Eat Right for Your Type, is based on eating foods matched to your blood type

2000 Raw Foods Diet, focuses on eating just uncooked, unprocessed, organic foods

2004 Coconut Diet, replaces most animal fats and vegetable oil with coconut oil

2011 Baby Food Diet, starts with 14 jars of baby food a day and an optional adult dinner

How many did you recognize?

Learn what foods can cause diarrhea due to food allergy or intolerance.

Is Your Diarrhea a Sign of a Food Allergy?


This blog was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated in July 2013, but you can read the original post here.

If you experience occasional diarrhea, it could be caused by a food allergy or food intolerance. Most people connect food poisoning with diarrhea, but that is not always the case.

A true food allergy is an abnormal response to a food triggered by the immune system. Research shows that around 3 to 4 percent of people have food allergies. The first sign of symptoms may be within minutes of coming into contact with the problem food – meaning you may have simply touched it, not consumed it – or several hours later.

If you have a true food allergy will cause a reaction every time the food is consumed. The diagnosis may require a combination of lab tests, physical exam, thorough diet history and a controlled food challenge.

These eight foods account for 90 per cent of all food allergic reactions.

  1. Milk – not the same as lactose intolerance, includes milk casein and whey
  2. Eggs – includes both the white and yolk
  3. Peanut – is a legume, not a true nut
  4. Tree nuts – includes but not limited to walnut, almond, hazelnut, coconut, cashew, pistachio, Brazil nuts
  5. Finfish – such as salmon, tuna, halibut
  6. Shellfish – such as shrimp, crabs, lobster
  7. Soy –includes soy milk, flour, oil, and soybeans
  8. Wheat – not the same as gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley

The most common symptoms of a food allergy are:

  • Gastrointestinal: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Skin: Rash, itchiness, swelling
  • Respiratory: Congestion, runny nose, sneezing, coughing, wheezing
  • Other: Anaphylaxis, a swelling of the throat and difficulty breathing that can be fatal

Food intolerances can also result in diarrhea. They are triggered by the inability to completely break down or digest a food. Small amounts of a suspect food may be tolerated without difficulty, while larger amounts will bring on symptoms. It may take some trial and error testing to determine if you have a food intolerance.

Common food intolerances:

  • Sugars: lactose in milk, fructose in fruit, honey and high fructose corn syrup
  • Gluten: protein found in wheat, rye, barley and some other grains
  • Preservatives: sulfites commonly used in wine and dried fruit, monosodium glutamate (MSG) a flavor enhancer

The same types of symptoms can occur with a food intolerance as those experienced with a food allergy. The key is to figure out which food(s) are responsible for your symptoms and how much, if any, you can tolerate if you’re unwilling to give up the food.

You can find more information from The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN)

Learn the signs of low body temperature as winter approaches

A Drop in Core Temperature of the Human Body Can Be Lethal


This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read it here.

Hypothermia means low body temperature. It occurs when we are unable to keep our core body temperature at or above 95 degrees Fahrenheit. If the body remains below 95°F for too long it can kill us. Most of the deaths caused by hypothermia are the result of irregular heartbeats that lead to heart failure.

One reason so many people die of hypothermia in their own homes each year is that it can happen very gradually without their even knowing they were getting too cold. That’s because the brain is the first organ affected as the temperature of the human body drops. In a very short time, we cannot think clearly, become confused and start to feel sleepy. Once that happens, we may not realize we are too cold, so don’t seek help or do anything to keep ourselves warm. Then, we may fall asleep.

Hypothermia Among the Elderly

The elderly are especially at risk since changes in the body can make it harder for them to tell they are getting cold, especially when conditions are not that severe. That is one reason why those being cared for in skilled nursing facilities need to have their body temperature measured regularly to be sure they are not too cold.

Elderly people living on their own may put themselves at risk by setting their thermostat lower to save on the heating bill. Unless someone stops by and tells them how chilly it is in their home, they may not realize it. They may also be unable to put on all the layers of clothing they need to stay warm due to arthritis and other illnesses that make it difficult to move their arms and legs.

Certain illnesses that accompany aging can also make it harder to stay warm, such as hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone), diabetes and circulatory problems. Extra precautions may be needed by people with those conditions to dress appropriately and be prepared for unexpected changes in the weather. Medications used to treat anxiety, depression and nausea can increase the risk of accidental hypothermia along with some over-the-counter cold remedies, so should be checked with the pharmacist.

Signs of Low Body Temperature

Even if someone is shivering it does not mean they are effectively keeping themself warm. Conversely, if someone is not shivering it does not mean they are not cold. According the National Institute on Aging, in either case they could be experiencing hypothermia, so check for the “umbles”:

  • stumbles = poor control over body movements or stiffness in arms and legs
  • mumbles = slowed or slurred speech
  • fumbles = slow reactions
  • grumbles = shallow breathing, confusion

If someone has these symptoms and you suspect they may be suffering from hypothermia, take their temperature. If it is not above 96° F, call for emergency services. While waiting for help to arrive try to keep the person warm by wrapping them in coats, sweaters or dry blankets and towels – whatever is available – including your own body. If they are lying down, just lie against them and gently press your body next to theirs.

Once at the hospital a special thermometer will be used to get an accurate reading of the person’s temperature since most household thermometers cannot read very low temperatures. Treatment with warmed intravenous fluids or more aggressive rewarming with fluids infused directly into the stomach or bladder may be needed.

How are you planning to keep warm this winter?

how can you tell what products are really natural?

What Does “Natural” Mean?

This post was written as a guest blog for SplendaLiving.com. You can read the original post here.

I have been compensated for my time by McNeil Nutritionals, LLC, the maker of SPLENDA® Sweetener Products. All statements and opinions are my own. I have pledged to Blog With Integrity, asserting that the trust of my readers and the blogging community is vitally important to me.

What one word do you think sells the most food in the U.S. when used on a food label? Here’s a hint: It’s not organic, healthy or protein. If you guessed “natural” you are correct! The food industry sold nearly $41 billion worth of food last year labeled with the word natural. Only claims about fat content were higher, but more terms were included in that category.

What exactly does “natural” mean when we see it on a food label? The dictionary says it means “existing in nature” or “not man-made,” but I see it printed across brightly colored boxes, bags and cans of food in the middle of the store containing products that you’ll never see “growing spontaneously, without being planted or tended by human hands,” which is another definition of natural!

As it turns out, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not come up with an official definition for what “natural” means other than objecting to its use on foods with “added colors, artificial flavors and synthetic substances.” That is why you can find it on so many foods that are highly processed and full of salt, sugar and fat – they all make the grade as “natural” ingredients.

Are Food Additives Natural?

Another term whose meaning is a bit ambiguous is “food additive.” Most people have a negative impression of the term when they hear it or believe a food is not “natural” if it contains food additives, but that simply isn’t true.

The FDA considers any substance that becomes a part of a food during processing or the making of the food to be a food additive. These substances can be derived from animal, vegetable, or manmade sources. For example, the vitamin D added to milk and vinegar used to pickle cucumbers are food additives. So are any ingredients used to prevent spoilage, maintain the desired consistency, or improve the appearance of a food. If you want to see them all, there are over 3000 food additives listed in the database directory Everything Added to Food in the United States (EAFUS) on FDA.gov.

Are Low-Calorie Sweeteners Food Additives?

The FDA uses the terms “high-intensity sweeteners” and “nonnutritive sweeteners” for what I call low-calorie sweeteners and others commonly refer to as sugar substitutes. No matter what you call them, the FDA either categorizes them as food additives or generally recognized as safe (GRAS) ingredients.

Of the eight low-calorie sweeteners currently on the market in the U.S., only stevia and monk fruit extract are GRAS, while acesulfame potassium, advantame, neotame, saccharin and sucralose are food additives.

Either way, all of these ingredients must satisfy FDA’s rigorous safety standards to become part of our diets. You can find a helpful infographic illustrating how the two approval processes work here.

If you’d like to know more about how ingredients like sucralose (the sweetening ingredient in SPLENDA®Sweeteners) are approved, be sure to check my other posts on the subject: How are Low-Calorie Sweetener Ingredients Approved? and Is SPLENDA® Brand Sweetener (Sucralose) Safe? Authorities We Can Trust.

Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN, “The Everyday RD,” is an author and nutrition consultant who has headed the nutrition services department in a large teaching hospital and maintained a private practice where she provided diet therapy to individuals and families. With more than 30 years of experience, Robyn is motivated by the opportunity to help people make the best eating decisions for their everyday diet. She believes that choosing what to eat should not be a daily battle and aims to separate the facts from the fiction so you can enjoy eating well.

For more information, visit:

New research provides further evidence why we should prevent zinc deficiency as we age

Today’s Nutrition News: Preventing Zinc Deficiency

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, so the post has been reproduced here.


You don’t hear much about zinc deficiency in nutrition circles. My chief recollection of it from

undergraduate school was that it was responsible for the a loss of taste as we aged. Fearing that possibility, I’ve always paid attention to the zinc content of foods. (Baked beans, dark meat chicken, cashews, chick peas and Swiss cheese are my favorites)

Now a new study helps to explain why we develop zinc deficiency as we age. This research may lead to a better understanding of how we can continue enjoy the taste of our food as we grow older and benefit from the many other important functions zinc performs in the body.

Reasons for Zinc Deficiency

The research was done by scientists at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University and published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. They found signs of zinc deficiency in older rats that had adequate zinc in their diets. The cause was malfunctioning zinc transporters. In a convoluted process, the mechanisms used to transport zinc were disrupted by changes in DNA, and the DNA was damaged by the lack of zinc.

In humans as well as rats, zinc is needed to repair the damage to DNA that goes on in the body throughout life. This study and others suggest our ability to keep up with these repairs becomes less efficient over time while the need gets greater.

One of the most serious effects of low zinc levels is an enhanced inflammatory response. Excessive inflammation is directly linked to many life-threatening diseases, including cancer and heart disease. When the rats in this study were given 10 times their dietary requirement for zinc, biomarkers for inflammation retuned to the levels of younger animals.

Given the aging of the population and rising rates of degenerative diseases, the role of zinc in controlling inflammation may be its most important contribution to a healthy retirement.

Key Facts About Zinc in the Diet

Zinc is involved in the activity of over 100 enzymes and needed for proper immune function, DNA and protein synthesis, wound healing and cell division.

The combination of low dietary intake of zinc and poor absorption can lead to a deficiency. Government food intake surveys found the diets of 35%-45% of people over age 60 did not meet average zinc requirements. When zinc sources from both diet and supplements were measured, 20%-25% still had inadequate intakes.

Current Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for zinc for people over age 19 are 11 mg/day for men and 8 mg/day for women. Due to lowered rates of absorption in older adults, many nutrition scientists believe the RDA for people over 50 should be increased.

Symptoms of zinc deficiency include frequent infections, hair loss, poor appetite, loss of sense of taste and smell, poor wound healing, and mental lethargy. Many of these symptoms are also associated with other health problems so a thorough medical exam is needed to make a diagnosis.

People with higher risk for zinc deficiency are those with digestive diseases, malabsorption syndrome, chronic liver or renal disease, sickle cell disease, alcoholics, and vegetarians.

There are no medical tests to adequately measure zinc status. A dietary assessment is the best tool along with a review of medical history and medication use.

Zinc toxicity can occur from overuse of dietary supplements and over-the-counter cold remedies. Signs include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The Tolerable Upper Intake for men and women over age 19 is 40 mg/day.

Diet plays a major role in protecting eye health

Food As Medicine: Nutrients for Eye Health


This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, so the post has been reproduced here.

Which of your five senses do you most fear losing? I know it’s my sight, and apparently 55 percent of other baby boomers feel the same way. Concerns about eye health are right up there with worries about heart disease and cancer according to a survey by the Ocular Nutrition Society done in 2011.

So why aren’t we doing more to protect our vision?

Nearly half of the survey respondents said they don’t typically have an annual eye exam and even fewer were aware of the ways to keep their eyes healthy. This is a problem we need to focus on (pun intended) since the National Eye Institute projects the number of eye health issues among Americans will double over the next 30 years due the aging of the population.

Nutrients That Protect Your Eyes

Four of the biggest causes of vision trouble – cataracts, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic retinopathy – are linked to good nutrition. Do you know if your diet and supplements are meeting all of your visual needs?

Most people know that Vitamin A is important for good vision after hearing all those carrot jokes growing up. But three other equally important nutrients are less familiar: Omega 3 fatty acids, lutein and zeaxanthin.

The percentage of survey respondents not aware of the role of these nutrients in maintaining eye health were:

  • 60% for Omega 3 fatty acids
  • 66% for Lutein
  • 89% for Zeaxanthin

Omega 3 fats are the ones in oily fish, like salmon and sardines, and in walnuts and flax seeds. Lutein and zeaxanthin are plant pigments most abundant in leafy green vegetables, but also found in pistachio nuts, corn, and egg yolks. A diet including two 3-ounces servings of fish each week 2-3 cups of vegetables every day is a good way to get the needed amounts of each.

If your diet is not that consistent, a dietary supplement may be needed to fill the gaps. The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for Omega 3 fatty acids is 1.6 grams/day for men and 1.1 grams a day for women. The National Academy of Sciences has not established aDRIfor Lutein/Zeaxanthin, butcurrent recommendations are 6-10 mg/day for adults.

Other Ways to Take Care of Your Eyes

  • Wear sunglasses, safety glasses and protective sports lenses
  • Replace liquid and creamy eye makeup every 3 months and whenever you develop an eye infection
  • Look away from computers screens for 20 seconds every 20 minutes

At what age did you first need help to correct your vision?





Signs of an eating disorder need to be evaluated regardless of age

Eating Disorder in Midlife Often Overlooked


This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, so the post has been reproduced here.

The recent sudden death of a 65 year old woman I know made me wonder if she wasn’t one of those women who struggled with an undetected eating disorder in the final two decades of her life. She had become “painfully thin” and looked so frail I couldn’t imagine how she stood up on her own. When I saw her at social gatherings, she never had a plate of food. And although she had some medical problems, her death came as a shock to everyone who knew her.

There’s plenty of evidence to show women do not stop caring about their weight as they age. How they deal with it separates the perpetual dieters from those with anorexia, bulimia or other disordered eating. Unfortunately, the societal pressures on women to be thin have become so persistent that women over 40 are just as likely to have eating disorders as those under 40.

The appearance of an eating disorder in an older woman is often the resurfacing of a problem that started in her youth. Anyone who learned at a young age to cope with stress by controlling her appetite is susceptible to resuming those coping mechanisms when life gets difficult. For women over 40, the trigger may be a trauma, such as the end of a marriage, loss of a loved one, or onset of menopause.

But even a woman who never dieted in her 20s can resort to unhealthy food restriction in her 50s when she realizes her tummy is not flat as it used to be. A study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders in June 2012 found 62% of women age 50 and older said their weight negatively impacted their lives.

The danger for older women is that they are not as readily diagnosed as young girls. Changes in the eating habits of a teenager are noticed by her parents, as is a sudden drop in weight or the absence of menstruation. Since weight loss and a diminished appetite are common side effects of many illnesses and medications, they are not as surprising when seen in an older woman.

Yet the health risks of eating disorders are just as great for older women as young. The heart muscle is weakened, cognitive function declines and bone loss accelerates. If left untreated it can lead to organ failure and death. The goal is to get treated before these problems begin.

Signs of Possible Eating Disorder

  • Excessive concern with dieting and losing weight
  • Dissatisfaction with body weight, shape, size
  • Weighing oneself more than once a day
  • Denial of hunger
  • Excessive or compulsive exercise
  • Self-induced vomiting after eating
  • Binge-eating followed by guilt, shame, regret
  • Use of laxatives, diuretics or diet pills without medical supervision

Even though eating disorders look like food issues on the outside, they are rooted in unresolved psychological issues. The American Journal of Psychiatry reports almost 50% of people with eating disorders meet the criteria for depression. Focusing on how much you weigh can be much easier than dealing with low self-esteem or feelings of worthlessness.

It is important to remember that the behavior of someone with an eating disorder is an expression of their pain. They do not need to be told to eat more or exercise less. What they need is recognition of their pain, and an offer of help to get some relief.

Do you recognize the signs of an eating disorder in anyone you know?

Learn some fun facts about honey during National Honey Month

Fun Facts About Honey for You and Your Family


This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Family Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, so the post has been reproduced here.

Honey is one of those foods that has been around for so long we don’t think about it too much. But any food that is made exclusively by honey bees and has remained in the human diet for over 8000 years deserves our attention. After doing some research for National Honey Month I can say there are many fun facts about honey worth celebrating!

But first, let me interrupt this blog for an important public service announcement.

At What Age Can You Give a Child Honey?

The most urgent question I am ever asked about honey is, “When can I safely give honey to my child?”

It seems many parents hear loud and clear the warning from their pediatrician not to give honey to an infant, but miss the part about when they can offer it. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, honey can be introduced into a child’s diet after their first birthday.

That’s valuable information since the Food and Drug Administration recommended in 2008 that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines not be used in children under age 4 years. Honey is a good cough suppressant and has been shown to be more effective in reducing nighttime coughing than drug store cough syrups. It can also relieve a sore throat, and because of its sweet taste, can help other medicines go down.

Fun Facts About Honey from the National Honey Board

How many types of honey are there?

There are more than 300 varietals of honey in the U.S. alone, each with distinct flavor profile and color based on the floral source where the bees collect the nectar. Popular varieties include alfalfa, orange blossom and clover honey. Less familiar ones are avocado, eucalyptus and sage honey.

How many bee keepers are there in the US?

The U.S. has an estimated 139,600-212,000 beekeepers. The majority are hobbyists with no more than 25 hives, while commercial beekeepers have 300 or more.

How many flowers does a honey bee visit during one collection trip?

Honey bees tap between 50-100 flowers in a single trip.

How many flowers must honey bees tap to make one pound of honey?

At least two million flowers are needed to yield a pound of honey.

How much honey does the average worker bee make in her lifetime?

One worker bee makes about 1 ½ teaspoons of honey in her lifetime.

Where is honey produced?

Honey is produced in all 50 states. The top five producers are North Dakota, California, South Dakota, Montana, and Florida.

How much honey is made in the U.S.?

Honey production in the U.S. in 2011 was 148 million pounds, down 16% from 2010.

How much honey do Americans consume?

Americans consume approximately 1.3 pounds of honey per person annually. About 61% of the honey eaten by Americans is imported to meet demands.

What other value do we get from honey bees?

One third of the total human diet is derived directly or indirectly from insect-pollinated plants, including the cattle and dairy cows that feed on insect-pollinated legumes (alfalfa, clover, etc.). The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 80% of insect crop pollination is accomplished by honey bees.

Are any crops totally dependent on honey bees for pollination?

The almond crop is entirely dependent on honey bee pollination. It takes more than one million colonies of honey pees to pollinate the California almond crop each year. Apples, avocados, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, and sunflowers are 90% dependent on honey bee pollination.

What is the shelf life of honey?

The low moisture content and high acidity of honey makes it an unsuitable environment for bacteria and other micro-organisms, so it can be stored indefinitely. The appearance can change during storage and crystallization may occur over time, but this does not affect wholesomeness.

Tap into some great recipes using honey here.

Most of the factors that affect life expectancy are under our own control

Factors That Affect Life Expectancy


This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, so the post has been reproduced here.

The oldest person in New Jersey died this week. She was 111 years old and lived the final years of her life less than 5 miles from my home. Seeing that headline in the morning newspaper immediately made me think about longevity and the factors that affect life expectancy. It seems the more we learn from and about these hearty centenarians, the more we must all be prepared to answer the question:

If you knew you were going to live to be 100, what would you do differently today?

It is a question worth pondering since health officials using data from the most recent Census predict that by 2050 more than 800,000 Americans will live their lives across two centuries. Another is that research sponsored by the National Institute on Aging found when studying animals that only about 30% of aging is based on genetics. That means as many as 70% of the factors that influence how long we live might be under our own control.

Factors That Affect Life Expectancy

Personal behavior and one’s physical environment are two broad categories that influence our life span. Behaviors such as not smoking, not abusing alcohol, eating a plant-based diet, and being physically active every day are shared by those who live the longest. Research has also shown that keeping socially connected, mentally engaged, and easy going are equally important traits.

Some of the environmental risks we can try to control are our exposure to the sun and air pollution, getting immunized, wearing seat belts, and avoiding toxic chemicals in our homes and workplace. Of course it may not be possible to move to a place where the air and water quality are better, but you can use a water filter.

What Are You Waiting For?

The biggest gains in life expectancy made in the last 50 years can be attributed to our ability to treat lifestyle diseases, such as heart disease and cancer. But it has come at great cost and great suffering. We have also learned how to prevent those chronic diseases, but have not been successful motivating people to make the needed changes in their behavior and environments. Maybe the longevity question holds the key?

If you knew you were going to live to be 100, what would you start doing today?

For other posts on this topic:

  • How to Predict Longevity in Women
  • Feeding the Aging Mind
  • Longevity Secret Revealed
Fish oil supplements provide needed omega 3 fatty acids not found in most diets

Why You Shouldn’t Stop Taking Fish Oil Supplements


This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, so the post has been reproduced here.

If this week’s headlines have you thinking you can stop taking your fish oil supplements, keep reading. The headlines and news coverage of the study they were based on do not tell the whole story. But as I’ve said before, it is never a good idea to make a dietary change based on a single news report unless it’s for a food recall, and here’s why.

The research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association investigated whether people taking fish oil capsules had less risk of heart disease and death than those who did not. While the headlines said they did not, several factors limited the findings. The biggest one being that the subjects were not a healthy population, but people who had already suffered heart attacks and strokes. Since most people with a history of cardiovascular disease are taking multiple medications, it simply may not have been possible to tell what impact their fish oil supplements were having on lowering their risk factors.

Key Take-Away: This study provides no indication of how fish oil supplements benefit healthy people, but plenty of others do.

Why Take Fish Oil Capsules?

Fish oil capsules are a source of essential omega 3 fatty acids. An essential nutrient is required by the body, but cannot be manufactured by the body. That means we must get it from food or supplements.

What Types of Omega 3 Fatty Acids Do We Need?

There is not just one omega 3 fatty acid. The name omega 3 simply indicates that there is a double bond (between two carbon atoms) in a specific location on the fatty acid. For dietary purposes, we are most concerned with the types of omega 3s found in fatty fish, called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and the type found in plants called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

What Role Do Omega 3 Fatty Acids Play in the Body?

Omega 3 fatty acids play a role in several metabolic processes, including reducing inflammation, lowering high triglyceride (blood fat) levels, reducing the pain and stiffness of rheumatoid arthritis, improving cognitive function with aging, aiding the treatment of depression, and enhanced brain development in infants. Research also shows omega 3 may reduce the risk of plaque build up in the arteries, inflammatory bowel disease, Attention Deficit Disorder, bone loss, and psychiatric disorders.

How Much Omega 3 Do We Need?

The Institute of Medicine of the U.S. National Academy of Science establishes the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) for essential nutrients for both the U.S. and Canada. The DRI are intended to satisfy the nutrient needs of most healthy people in each age group. The Acceptable Intake (AI) of omega 3 fatty acids for males and females aged 40-50 years is 1.6grams/day and 1.1 grams/day respectively.

How Much Omega 3 Do We Consume?

Eating 8 ounces a week of a variety of seafood supplies about 1.7 grams of EPA and DHA, which is enough to meet the DRI for adult men and women noted above. But the mean intake of all types of fish eaten by Americans is 3.5 ounces per week, less than half the amount needed to meet the Acceptable Intake. Plant sources of omega 3, such as seed oils, walnuts, and soybeans, supply 1.3-2.0 grams a day of ALA, but less than 5 percent of it is converted to DHA and EPA.

Do We Need Fish Oil Supplements?

All dietary supplements are meant to help fill in the gaps created when we don’t eat all the foods we need in the amounts we need to meet our nutritional needs every day. Fish oil supplement are an excellent way to get essential omega 3 fatty acids if you are not eating 8 ounce/week of seafood, such as salmon, sardines and tuna.

Are you eating all the fish you need each week to get your omega 3s?