Nutrition Forum Debunks Common Food Myths


Published: October 30, 2008

On Oct. 16, Rebecca Dietzel held a forum in McMahon Hall at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC), which was aimed at uncovering common myths about nutrition. Dietzel is a professor of anatomy at the Alvin Ailey School, with a formal degree in biochemistry. Seven undergraduate students attended the event.

Dietzel opened the forum by advising a sniffling audience member to “drink lots of ginger tea and rest up.”  She continued by telling the attendes to “always be weary of where [they] are getting [their] nutritional information.” It is not uncommon to overhear a peer in the cafeteria assuring a friend that a surefire way to lose weight is to only eat meat, or that carbohydrates are the enemy. In response to these misleading statements, Dietzel jokingly said, “Dr. Atkins is dead,” referring to the founder of the Atkins diet, which advocates eliminating all fruits and carbohydrates from meals.

The first myth Dietzel “busted” was one pertaining to high fructose corn syrup. Contrary to recent television commercials that portray the artificial sweetening agent as healthy, Dietzel said that high fructose corn syrup actually has detrimental effects on the body. “It is often used to induce inflammation in animals, and this inflammation can cause diabetes, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s in humans,” she said.

The “10-A-Day” ads that can be found on television and in magazines, prompting ten servings of fruits or vegetables a day, prescribe a healthy daily fructose intake of 15 grams that is proven to help maintain a healthy metabolism, Dietzel said. She also said that high fructose corn syrup is a manipulation of the sugar dextrose, in which the fructose to glucose ratio is drastically altered. The normal ratio is 50/50, and in some corn syrups, this ratio is been altered as much as to make it 90/10, making it much sweeter than normal sugar. Therefore, corporations that use high fructose corn syrup as sweeteners in their products need much less of it than they would of natural sugar, making the usage cost effective.

Dietzel informed the group that consumption of high fructose corn syrup can lead to weight gain because it is often consumed in very high quantities. She said, “Two cans of soda contain as much as 50 grams of fructose, which is 35 grams more that the healthy, suggested [daily] amount.” According to Dietzel, consuming more than the recommended 15 grams of fructose a day actually leads to a slower metabolism. She cited studies that show that 200 calories of high fructose corn syrup are actually more fattening than 200 calories of regular cane sugar.

The next myth that Dietzel addressed was in regard to vitamin and mineral enhanced beverages such as Vitamin Water, as well as energy drinks. As it turns out, many of the supplements added to these drinks either cancel each other out, as is the case with B2 and Vitamin C, or are not water-soluble and are therefore useless to the body, as with Goldenseal, which is intended to boost immune systems. Dietzel said that energy drinks like Ginseng-enriched Arizona Ice Tea are not only unhealthy, but are carcinogenic. She said, “Ginseng was originally intended for the sick and elderly, and [it] actually feeds cancer cells and raises blood pressure in young and healthy individuals.”

Dietzel also “busted” the notion that caffeine wakes you up. She explained that caffeine is a stimulant, creating the illusion of increased energy, when in fact, just the opposite is occurring in the body. She said that caffeine attacks the body’s adrenal glands, limiting its amount of potential energy. She recommended looking into the cause of fatigue and attempting to change habits and lifestyle as a possible remedy for tiredness, instead of ingesting caffeine. She suggested considering “whether or not you are getting enough sleep and nourishment, and whether or not your body is undergoing hormonal changes,” as possible causes for drowsiness.

After clarifying these nutritional myths, Dietzel also offered some dietary and weight loss tips. She recommended probiotics, which are metabolism-stimulating indigestible carbohydrates that benefit the body’s “gut bacteria.” Milk, eggs, barley, miso and cooking spices, according to Dietzel, all help maintain the body’s general health.

She advised daily consumption of these foods as an important part of a healthy diet and added that they also help digestion and can aid in weight loss if supplemented by proper exercise. Dietzel advised drinking green tea, preferably self-brewed tea, to boost the body’s metabolism and recommended Alice’s Tea Cup on West 73rd Street as a nice venue to go “tea-tasting.”

Fana Tesfagiorgis, FCLC ’10 and a dance major, said that she had heard some of the information Dietzel provided in her anatomy and kinesiology class during freshman year. After listening to Dietzel’s lecture, Tesfagiorgis said that she “definitely plans to check more labels” when she goes shopping. Tesfagiorgis said that she was “in the process of making some dietary changes and cutting out high fructose corn syrup,” in reaction to the information Dietzel provided.  “Ms. Dietzel should write a book on nutrition from a biochemist’s perspective,” Tesfagiorgis said, “It would open a lot of eyes.”

Another dance major in the audience who also took Dietzel’s anatomy class as a freshman, Lara Wilson, FCLC ’09, said that she “always” tries “to eat healthily, and [Dietzel’s lecture] was a good refresher course on why to do so.”