Nutrition [Food News & Facts]

Lead Story: Prefer Plants, Not Pills: Takeaways from the new research on supplements.

by Alexandra Williams, MA


You have likely heard the buzz about vitamin and mineral supplements being ineffective. However, here’s a detail that was less-often repeated in the headlines: The research being reported focused specifically on how supplements affected cardiovascular disease—not on their use to correct deficiencies.

David Jenkins, PhD, led the study, which was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (2018; 71 [22], 2570–84). According to his interview with, Jenkins was “surprised to find so few positive effects of the most common supplements that people consume” (May 28, 2018). After performing systematic reviews and extensive meta-analyses on 179 studies that spanned 4 years, he and his colleagues found that research on the four most popular supplements—multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium and vitamin C—showed no consistent benefit for preventing CVD or all-cause mortality. And, while folic acid and B-complex vitamins with folic acid were shown to reduce the risk of stroke, people who took niacin and antioxidant mixtures with a statin appeared to have an increased risk of all-cause mortality during the study.

According to Kat Barefield, MS, RDN, NASM-CPT, CES, PES, and owner of Inspired Solutions, a San Diego–based consulting company for teams, athletes and celebrities, “This paper shows how challenging it is to study supplements and how they impact the risk of CVD.” For fit pros and clients seeking to prevent or minimize the effects of CVD, the data is not definitive, Barefield says. She adds: “Using supplements to correct nutritional inadequacies would be the reason to use vitamin and mineral supplements, though caution should be taken, since the FDA does not require they be tested for safety or efficacy.”

Ultimately, Jenkins et al. conclude what many of us already live by: You and your clients would do well to focus on ramping up vitamin intake by consuming more plant foods, in which many required vitamins and minerals naturally occur. But follow the advice of your doctor and/or nutritionist regarding individual supplementation needed to maintain good health.

Encourage Clients to “Invest” in Their Health

At the Nutrition 2018 conference hosted by the American Society for Nutrition, Carolyn Scrafford, PhD, MPH, presented an analysis showing that the U.S. could save billions in health-related costs through better adherence to healthy dietary patterns. The meta-analysis, funded by the National Dairy Council, comprehensively examined potential cost savings from improved adherence to the 2015 Healthy Eating Index (HEI) and a Mediterranean-style diet (MED). Today, the average U.S. adult adheres to just 60% of criteria for the HEI and earns only 3.5 out of 9 possible points on a scoring system for the MED. By examining the link between dietary patterns and health outcomes, Scrafford and colleagues calculated that 20% greater adherence to the MED could equal nationwide cost savings of about $12–$38 billion, and a similar uptick in Americans’ adherence to the HEI could equal a U.S. savings of $30-$47 billion. If people met 80% of the criteria for either eating plan, the annual cost savings could be $52–$200 billion! In these estimates, the lower figure includes costs related to breast, colorectal and prostate cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, hip fractures, and Alzheimer’s disease. The higher number includes these conditions and all types of cancer. “It’s worthwhile to educate Americans on these dietary patterns and their components, to encourage them to make little changes to improve their diet quality,” says Scrafford. Considering the individual costs of treating disease, dietary changes might improve a client’s bottom line, too.


Looking for an easy boost during an important performance workout? Here’s something you may want to chew on: caffeinated gum. So says a study of 18 male team-sport athletes, published in International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism (2018; 28 [3], 221–27). Interestingly, though, the gum helped only those who typically consumed less than 40 milligrams of caffeine per day.

In this small but randomized, double-blind study, all of the men performed 10 sprints (40-meter shuttle runs with 30 seconds of rest between them), and the research team assessed their repeated-sprint performance (RSP). After two “familiarization sessions,” the men chewed either gum containing 200 milligrams of caffeine (equal to about 2 cups of caffeinated coffee) or uncaffeinated gum (a placebo).

Participants who habitually consumed low amounts of caffeine enjoyed some “perks,” experiencing less of a decline in RSP throughout the drill when chewing the caffeinated gum. Sadly, for those who habitually drank 3 or more cups of coffee per day, neither type of gum did more than freshen their breath.


Intermittent Fasting vs Continuous Calorie Cuts

With new trends emerging each year, staying on top of the latest research will help you answer clients’ questions appropriately. Case in point: intermittent fasting. A study published recently in Obesity found that people who fasted on alternating days experienced significant fat loss—likely because the body relies on ketones as fuel when glucose (sugar) is not available (2017; 26 [2], 254–68). The study further concluded that the practice may also slow processes related to aging and disease.

However, intermittent fasting may prove tough for some, based on their response to hunger. In the July 2018 issue of Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases, researchers reported on a study of conventional calorie-restriction diets versus intermittent fasting performed continuously for 1 year (28 [7], 698–706). The IF group took in <600 calories on 2 nonconsecutive “fast” days per week, while the other group received meal plans in which calorie constriction was relatively consistent from day to day. Both groups followed a Mediterranean-style diet.

At the end of the year, both groups showed improvements in weight loss, waist circumference, blood pressure, triglycerides and HDL (good) cholesterol. However, the IF group participants reported higher hunger scores and lower feelings of well-being than the other group.

So, while IF can be effective, it may be a tough road for people who lose resolve when hunger hits. Bottom line: Encourage clients to work with a registered dietitian or other allied health professional to ensure their eating plan is best suited to their body’s response.

Go Ahead: Mangia Some Pasta!

Quick quiz: Is pasta high or low on the glycemic index?
You may be somewhat astonished to learn that the correct answer is “low”! (Which, of course, means that it has less of an effect on blood sugar levels than high-GI foods like white bread.) Even more of a surprise: Pasta may not be the culprit in weight gain that so many believe it to be.

A systematic review and meta-analysis of 32 randomized controlled trials involving nearly 2,500 adults was recently conducted on people who ate pasta (about 3.3 half-cup servings per week) instead of other carbs as part of a healthy, low-GI diet (BMJ Open, 2018; 8:e019438).

“The study found that pasta didn’t contribute to weight gain or [an] increase in body fat,” said study author John Sievenpiper, MD, PhD, FRCPC, in a press release from St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto (April 3, 2018). “In fact, analysis actually showed a small weight loss [of about 1.4 pounds]. So contrary to concerns, perhaps pasta can be part of a healthy diet such as a low GI diet.”

When reporting their results, the researchers expressed caution about generalizing their findings to all body weight and adiposity outcomes, given that the trials assessed pasta in the context of low-GI dietary patterns only. Also, in the interest of transparency, it should be noted that pasta maker Barilla provided some support for the study, though its experts hailed from the University of Toronto and St. Michael’s.

We asked Kat Barefield, MS, RDN, NASM-CPT, CES, PES, what the findings can reveal for fit pros. “It’s important to not vilify single foods or food groups,” she asserts. “This study shows that pasta in and of itself does not lead to weight gain and can be part of a healthy diet, though it’s important to keep portions and total calorie intake in check.”



In some energizing news for endurance exercisers, results from a small randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed “less muscle damage as well as faster and full recovery” after exhaustive exercise among participants receiving a daily 400-milligram dose of lemon verbena extract (brand name: Recoverben®) rather than a placebo.

Participants took the supplements for 15 days. On day 11, all subjects (active men and women aged 22–50) were put through an “intensive jump protocol”: While carrying a load equal to 10% of their body weight, they performed 10 sets of 20 standing vertical (aka countermovement) jumps with 4 seconds between jumps and 90 seconds of rest between sets.

Researchers assessed muscle strength, pain and other factors immediately before the jumps, as well as 3, 24, 48, and, for some measures, 72 and 96 hours afterward. The lemon verbena group reported less movement-induced pain following exercise, and their muscle strength was completely back to baseline after 48 hours (it took longer for the placebo group).

Full details of the study, which was funded by Vital Solutions GmbH (maker of a key ingredient in Recoverben®), are available in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (2018; 15 [5], 1–10).


Diet Drinks Can Sink Weight Loss Efforts

For many people trying to slim down, using low-calorie sweeteners seems like a no-brainer, but recent research shows it may not be such a good idea. People who have obesity as well as prediabetes or diabetes are at an even more heightened risk of metabolic syndrome (a collection of risk factors for cardiovascular disease) if they consume low-calorie sweeteners, say researchers at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C. They presented their findings at ENDO 2018, the 100th annual meeting of the Endocrine Society, in Chicago.

By analyzing fat samples from people of different weights, lead researcher Sabyasachi Sen, MD, and his team found “significant evidence of increased glucose [sugar] transport into cells and overexpression of known fat-producing genes” in participants classified as overweight or obese.

Sen and his team also tested 0.2-millimolar doses of sucralose (equal to four cans of diet soda per day) on stem cells taken from human fat tissue. After 12 days, the cells showed increased expression of genes that are markers of fat production and inflammation.

“Low-calorie sweeteners promote additional fat accumulation within cells, compared with cells not exposed to these substances,” Sen reported in a March 2018 press release from the Endocrine Society. Further, as the dose of sucralose increased, so did its negative effects. The sweetener appears to “unlock” cells, allowing more glucose to enter, and sucralose may also contribute to a slowdown in metabolism, both of which may explain the fat buildup.

Because people who have obesity and diabetes are already at risk for heart attacks and strokes, it may be helpful for fitness professionals who work with this population to assess for consumption of low-calorie sweeteners, especially sucralose.


A New Breed of Beefless Burger

For non-meat-eaters who miss the taste of a hamburger, here’s some yummy news: It’s now possible to enjoy a “veggie burger” that tastes like meat. The meaty flavor of this product—made by Impossible Foods, a Silicon Valley startup backed by Bill Gates—comes from heme.

Heme is an essential nutrient normally found in animal proteins, but it also occurs in soy roots, which provide the heme for these burgers.

Food lovers wanting to sink their teeth into an Impossible Burger can visit to find a list of restaurants that serve it. Though the company is now focusing on growing its restaurant-supply biz, it hopes to expand into retail at some point in the future.


Since the beginning of time, or at least since the beginning of research on whey protein, the focus has been on men. Until now! Earlier this year, Nutrition Reviews published a systematic review and meta-analysis looking at the effect of whey protein supplementation on body composition solely in women. There were some interesting findings (2018; 76 [7], 539–51).

“There is a public perception that whey protein supplementation will lead to bulkiness in women, and these findings show that is not the case,” says Wayne Campbell, PhD, professor of nutrition science at Purdue University and senior author of the industry-funded study. “Whey protein supplementation favors a modest increase in lean mass of less than 1%, while not influencing fat mass.”

The lead researcher on the study, Robert Bergia, from Purdue, adds that “the overall findings support that consuming whey protein supplements may aid women seeking to modestly improve body composition, especially when they are reducing energy intake to lose body weight.”

Kat Barefield, MS, RDN, NASM-CPT, CES, PES, notes that these study results are a definite win for women, who may want to consider taking whey protein supplements to protect against age-related reductions in muscle mass and metabolism, as well as to support weight loss. “It takes more calories to digest protein than it does for fat or carbohydrates,” she explains, “and protein is the most satiating of the three macronutrients.”

Super-Simple Pumpkin Protein Smoothies

If you’re in the mood to add some nutty flavor to your pumpkin smoothie, try adding hemp powder. Recipe courtesy of NASM-CPT Nicole Drinkwater ( of Austin, Texas:

1½ cups milk of your choice
1 scoop vanilla hemp protein powder
½ frozen banana
dash of pumpkin spice
½ cup frozen pumpkin purée*

*Nicole’s tip: To make frozen pumpkin purée, transfer canned pumpkin into an ice cube tray or spoon the pumpkin onto a cookie sheet in tablespoon-size dollops, then freeze.

Meet our experts

AFM_Author_Williams Alexandra Williams, MA, A writer and editor, as well as a lecturer at UC Santa Barbara in the department of Exercise Studies, Sport and Recreation. She is a vegetarian who cooks and bakes from scratch. Find her at

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