Friday, April 29, 2011

Myth: There is little concern about young athletes taking supplements to improve performance because they are legal, and therefore safe.

supplement capsules
Answer: Busted!

There are many legal performance enhancers on the market, but that doesn’t mean they are safe. Student athletes may be tempted to try some of these aids in order to improve their performance in competition. However, manufacturers of dietary supplements can make outlandish claims without doing the research to back up those claims. Additionally, effects of long term use are unknown and could be harmful. There is even concern about some of the more well-researched supplements, such as creatine. While creatine has been shown to increase body weight, strength and muscle mass, there are several unpleasant and potentially harmful side effects including nausea, diarrhea, cramping and dehydration.

One of the most serious concerns for young athletes is the potential for them to make the jump from legal to illegal performance enhancers. Studies have shown that users of legal substances are more likely to take illegal drugs, such as anabolic steroids. Once athletes begin to see small improvements in their performance, they can be inclined to seek even greater results from illegal aids that can cause detrimental side effects and long term complications such as heart disease and organ failure.

Eating healthy food and training hard is the best and safest way to improve athletic performance. For more information about supplement use in young athletes, see the Missouri Families article entitled, Pills, powders can’t replace training and diet for young athletes.

Contributor: Mary Wissmann, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, St. Louis County, University of Missouri Extension,

Friday, April 22, 2011

Myth: If my Body Mass Index (BMI) is high, I should start trying to lose weight.

Answer: Maybe

Body Mass Index, or BMI, is a calculated number that is used to assess overweight and obesity, as well as health risks for chronic disease. It is based on a person’s weight and height. To calculate, you’ll need to divide your weight (in kilograms) by height squared (in meters²). An easier way to determine your BMI is to use the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s online calculator. The following BMI ranges indicate your weight status:
doctor's scale
  • Normal weight = 18.5 – 24.9
  • Overweight = 25 – 29.9
  • Obese = 30 or greater

BMI is a good general tool to assess health status; however, it is not appropriate for everyone. Healthy adults who exercise heavily, such as highly trained athletes, have a significant amount of muscle mass and will have higher BMIs despite having a low percentage of body fat. This occurs because muscle weighs more than body fat. Additionally, the BMI ranges are also not appropriate to use for children. A pediatrician will use BMI-for-age growth charts that are specific for boys or girls. These charts are used for children and teens, ages 2 – 20 years of age.

Always check with your doctor before starting a weight loss regimen. For more information about achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, check out

Contributor: Mary Wissmann, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, St. Louis County, University of Missouri Extension,

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Myth: If I hard-boil my Easter eggs, it’s safe to use them for the Easter egg hunt.

Answer: Busted!

dyed Easter eggsWith Easter just around the corner, many families are planning Easter egg hunts for the kids. While it may be tempting to hide the dyed, hardboiled eggs for the hunt, it’s not safe if you plan to eat those eggs after the Easter festivities are over. Hard-cooked eggs must be refrigerated within 2 hours of cooking because they actually spoil faster than raw eggs. Purchase reusable plastic eggs for the Easter egg hunt and you’ll save yourself some money and keep your family safe. Save the dyed eggs for eating.

For more Easter egg safety tips, check out the article Follow safety rules when preparing Easter eggs.

Contributor: Mary Wissmann, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, St. Louis County, University of Missouri Extension,

Friday, April 15, 2011

Myth: Gluten-free foods are healthier than foods that contain gluten.

Answer: Busted!

Gluten is a protein primarily found in wheat, rye, and barley products, and to a lesser extent, oats. During the baking process it gives bread and other baked goods their structure, texture and strength. The majority of the population can eat gluten without any problems. However, a very small percentage of the population (1 in 133 people) has a genetic disorder called celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Symptoms include weakness, appetite loss, weight loss, chronic diarrhea, abdominal cramping, muscle cramps and joint pain. Those who have the disorder can avoid gluten in their diets and their symptoms will quickly and dramatically improve.

There is research showing that some people can have a sensitivity to gluten (about 6% of the US population) causing symptoms similar to irritable bowel syndrome, including abdominal discomfort and irregular bowel movements. However, many dieters with perfectly healthy intestines have been misled into thinking that gluten-free foods are healthier options. Gluten-free foods can be just as high in fat and calories as foods containing the gluten protein, and oftentimes they are more expensive. Cutting wheat, rye and barley out of the diet won’t significantly contribute to weight loss and could be detrimental by causing a person to eat fewer whole grains. If you aren’t suffering from celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, there aren’t any proven health benefits to eating gluten free.
bread, pasta, grains
Visit the Missouri Families website for more information about nutrition and health.

Contributor: Mary Wissmann, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, St. Louis County, University of Missouri Extension,

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Myth: I can change my body’s pH by eating certain foods.

Answer: Busted!

Some fad diets claim that you can make the pH of your body less acidic (in other words, more alkaline) by consuming more fruits, vegetables, and milk and less meat, fish, eggs and grains. This diet is based on some studies showing that cancer cells growing in test tubes will grow faster in an acidic environment and some anti-cancer drugs work better in an alkaline environment. Supporters of the diet argue that your urine, and therefore your body as a whole, will become more alkaline by following this diet. They believe that the more alkaline your body is, the better it can protect itself against cancer.

Unfortunately, there are several major flaws in the alkaline diet theory. First, following an “alkaline diet” will make your urine more alkaline, but it doesn’t change your blood pH. Urine is contained in the bladder and is not the same as blood. The kidneys are constantly working to keep blood pH from ever changing significantly; a condition that can make a person extremely sick and even result in death if untreated. Additionally, numerous studies show that no human cells can survive in an alkaline environment, regardless of whether they are healthy cells or cancer cells.

Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is a good way to help prevent cancer because of the many nutrients that fruits and vegetables contain. Don’t be fooled into cutting out other food groups, especially whole grains and heart-healthy fish, which can also protect against some cancers.

Contributor: Mary Wissmann, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, St. Louis County, University of Missouri Extension,

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Myth: I can just consume fruit and vegetable juices to meet the recommended servings for fruits and vegetables.

oranges and juice containerAnswer: Busted!

Several companies are currently advertising their juice products as healthy alternatives to meet the daily recommended servings for fruits and vegetables. Although juice can be considered a fruit or vegetable serving, the current recommendations are that only ½ cup of juice be counted as your daily servings for fruits and vegetables. Fruit and vegetable juices may be packed with all the necessary vitamins and minerals; however, these products have significantly less fiber than the actual fruit or vegetable itself.

Fiber has many health benefits, including lowering of blood cholesterol, maintaining a healthy GI system, and acting as a preventative against certain cancers. Today, it is estimated that the average American only meets around 50% of the recommended daily intake for fiber. Not only do these products lack fiber, they also tend to be high in sodium and have more calories than a piece of fruit or vegetable.

So, remember to:
  • Stick with whole fruits and vegetables that are packed with fiber.
  • Make sure you are getting the daily recommended servings and choosing a variety of fruits and vegetables.
  • Get the recommended 20-35 grams of fiber per day.

Visit MissouriFamilies for recipes and ideas for adding more fruits and vegetables into your diet.

Contributors: Andrea Cossetta, St. Louis University Dietetic Intern & Mary Wissmann, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, St. Louis County, University of Missouri Extension,

Friday, April 1, 2011

Myth: Food packages continue to shrink.


With the cost of ingredients such as corn, soybeans, wheat and sugar rising, food companies have two choices – increase the price of their products or make their food packages smaller. Some companies are continuing to shrink their food packages, yet the price of their foods stays the same or increases. Pasta used to come in 16-ounce boxes, now some brands only offer 13¼ ounces. Canned vegetables used to be 16 ounces, now they are 15 ounces or less. You might find canned tuna in 6-ounce cans but you will also find them in 5-ounce cans. And the good old days of 64-ounce containers of orange juice are gone as it has now been downsized to 59 ounces.

What’s a consumer to do?
  • Choose a lower priced store brand. Quality, taste and appearance may be just as good. And if you are using the product in a recipe like a casserole where appearance is not a concern, then you will definitely benefit by saving money and no one will know the difference.
  • Read the unit price labels on store shelves. They tell you the price per unit such as the price per ounce, pound, etc. You can use these labels to compare packages. Check to make sure these labels are up-to-date.
  • Check out the article Squeezed by rising food prices? for other cost saving ideas.

Contributor: Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., Associate State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension,, 573-882-1933