Alberta Cancer Foundation

Myth Busting Supplements and Cleanses

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Most adults receive their nutrition information from television and the Internet, and there’s a lot of myths and misinformation out there. Adequate sleep, regular exercise and good nutrition habits go a long way in managing your weight. Consumers should be aware of dangerous “quick fixes” that make drastic promises.

MYTH 1: Supplements help burn fat and cause weight loss.
Recent examples of this claim include the touting of green coffee bean extract, garcinia cambogia extract and raspberry ketone. Green coffee extract is marketed as a fat loss supplement, and while there is research showing it can help with blood flow and circulation, there’s no strong evidence that it increases fat loss. Garcinia cambogia is a small fruit that, when studied in rats, showed it may help with fat loss, but this was not evident in humans. Research into high doses of raspberry ketones in animals showed some fat loss, but the concentration required for humans is unrealistic for an oral supplement.

MYTH 2: Cleanses detoxify the body.
You probably know someone who has tried cleansing. But the word “cleanse” doesn’t mean anything in relation to healthy eating. The liver, kidneys and colon naturally remove waste in our bodies. Some cleanses involve juice fasts (drinking only juice for days), and can be dangerous for people with health conditions such as diabetes or kidney disease. Herbal cleansing kits may include herbs with purported, but not proven, detoxifying effects. To help your body naturally cleanse itself, drink enough fluids, aiming for nine to 12 cups (around three litres) per day.

MYTH 3: Eating a gluten-free diet will help you lose weight.
Grains like wheat, rye and barley contain a protein called gluten. Only about one per cent of the Canadian population has a condition called celiac disease, and cannot eat gluten because it causes damage to their intestines. For those without celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is not a guaranteed or proven method for losing weight. Though some people may lose weight on a gluten-free diet, that’s mostly due to overall changes they are making in their diets. Choosing gluten-free foods does not mean you are choosing low-calorie food. For example, many gluten-free cakes, cookies and snacks contain higher amounts of sugar and fat than the gluten-containing variety. If you decide to eat gluten-free, it’s best to choose whole grains like millet, buckwheat, quinoa, brown rice, amaranth or teff.

The More You Know

Ask yourself these questions when considering nutrition claims:

  • What type of research was done? Are there human studies using this product?
  • How much does it cost? If there is no proof that it works, is it worth spending the money on? Is there any fine print?
  • Is the supplement being promoted by a celebrity or sports figure? Remember that they are highly paid to promote various products.
  • Is there an emotional cost associated with the product, like time, stress and energy? Trying an unproven supplement can be a big disappointment, and could make you to feel like a failure when it really isn’t your fault.

Karol Sekulic is a registered dietitian with Alberta Health Services who has expertise and interest in the areas of weight management, nutrition and communications.