Truth or Trend?

February 28, 2016

New nutrition buzzwords seem to crop up every week. How can you decide what’s helpful, what’s bogus and what might be harmful? Three dietitians help separate fact from fiction.

Go for It

: The microbes in our intestines affect immunity, brain function and possibly even anxiety and depression. Emily Cook Harrison, dietitian with the Centre for Dance Nutrition at Atlanta Ballet, suggests a daily probiotic supplement to replenish your gut’s microbiome, which can be depleted by a poor diet or antibiotics; choose capsules or liquids that contain at least six different live strains. Also fill your diet with fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi, raw sauerkraut and miso soup.

Antibiotics in livestock feed have been cited as a major contributor to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or “superbugs.” Peggy Otto Swistak, consulting nutritionist at Pacific Northwest Ballet, recommends eating meats and poultry with no antibiotics added.

Organic and conventional produce are generally considered equally nutritious. But for produce with edible skin, like strawberries and bell peppers, buying organic will help you avoid synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.

Berries, leafy greens, hemp hearts, chia and other plant foods deliver loads of nutrients with each calorie, including hard-to-get micronutrients.

Question It

“Dancers mistakenly think that going gluten-free is healthier,” says Harrison. In fact, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness estimates that just 1 percent of Americans have celiac disease and cannot safely consume gluten (a protein found in wheat and other grains), and only 6 percent more have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. “For everyone else, it’s not a big deal,” Harrison says. Needlessly going gluten-free means losing out on good sources of the carbohydrates and B vitamins that fuel long dance days.

Rumors abound that adults aren’t designed to digest dairy. “That isn’t true unless you’re lactose intolerant,” says Kristen Gravani, director of sports nutrition at Stanford University. Going nondairy can increase dancers’ risk of stress fractures. “You want as much calcium and vitamin D as you can get, and the body absorbs them better from natural sources than supplements.”

There is still some debate about the health ramifications of eating genetically modified crops. Harrison’s bigger concern is glyphosate, a weed-killing chemical farmers use because GMO plants are bred to resist it. “The World Health Organization has labeled glyphosate ‘probably carcinogenic,’ ” she says. “When we eat GMO foods, we expose ourselves to it.”

Locally grown produce tends to be very fresh, so it is healthier than produce that’s traveled farther. But both are nutritious—as are frozen options, says Swistak.

Avoid It

“Cleanses are harmful at best,” Gravani warns. “You’re not getting enough calories, and it’s going to mess with your metabolism.” Typically, weight loss is mostly water weight that will come back within a few days.

Credited for everything from healing cartilage to restoring immunity, bone broth is little more than soup stock: animal bones simmered with vegetables. “There is zero science showing that bone broth is helpful,” Harrison says. That doesn’t mean it’s harmless: “Bone broth is known to be high in lead and arsenic.”

Get Those Probiotics

The appendix stores healthy bacteria, so ever since Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal’s Ashley Werhun had hers taken out, she’s had to be extra mindful of probiotics. Werhun usually takes probiotic supplements, but they can be hard to bring or buy on tour. Instead, she looks to these sources:

“Somehow the yogurt in Europe tastes better, and it’s always available at hotel breakfasts.”

“My family is Ukrainian.”

“I drink it a few times a week— after dancing, since it’s quite fizzy and fills up your stomach. I have tried to make my own, but that did not end well.”

Jennifer Stahl