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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Taking Dietary Supplements Safely: Advice from a NIFS Dietitian

GettyImages-505820296Dietary supplement usage is reaching an all-time high. The 2019 Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements revealed that 77% of Americans consume supplements. This is a dramatic increase from the 53% reported by the NHANES in 2010. Americans are spending $38.8 billion a year on supplements, with more than 85,000 supplements on the market. Reasons for consumption are widespread, ranging from athletes hoping to boost performance to people who need more Vitamin D for bone health.

With the rise in supplement usage, it is important to be an informed consumer. While there are numerous reasons for this, one of the biggest is that supplements are loosely regulated by the FDA, meaning labels may not display what is truly in the supplement. Also, claims marketed about the benefits of a supplement may be false because companies are not required to obtain authorization from the FDA prior to making such nutritional support claims.

How can you know whether what you’re taking is safe and effective? Let’s dive in!

What Is a "Dietary Supplement?"

According to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), a dietary supplement means “a product (other than tobacco) intended to supplement the diet that bears or contains one or more of the following ingredients:

  • Vitamin
  • Mineral
  • Herb or other botanical
  • Amino acid
  • A dietary supplement used by man to supplement the diet by increasing dietary intake
  • A concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract, or combination of any ingredient described in the above.”

Are Dietary Supplements Regulated? Can Supplements Be Trusted?

Technically, yes, supplements are regulated by the FDA under the DSHEA. However, there are loopholes to consider:

  1. The FDA does not inspect products before they are sold, nor do they require registration unless the supplement contains a new ingredient not yet on the market.
  2. The only formulation standard is the Current Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP); however, 2013 report by the FDA revealed that 70% of inspected manufacturers were in violation of GMPs. Not all products even get inspected after being on the market. The FDA states the manufacturer is responsible for ensuring safety and quality, but clearly some manufacturers are doing a poor job, and the FDA is only catching some.
  3. Nutrition supplements may not claim to diagnose, cure, prevent, or treat diseases. Sure enough, some manufacturers have managed to ignore this. A 2003 study found that 81% of 338 herbal supplement retail websites made one or more health claims, and 55% claimed to diagnose, cure, prevent, or treat specific diseases.

What Can You Do to Be Safe When Taking Supplements?

Blind trust in supplements is unwarranted; however, there are steps you can take to ensure your safety while taking them.

  • Check the label for a stamp indicating third-party verification. Independent third parties are hired by manufacturers to thoroughly test products, ensuring accuracy of ingredients, potency, and amounts; absence of toxic compounds; and production in compliance with FDA GMPs. Credible third parties include NSF International and US Pharmacopeia (USP).
  • Athletes: look for the NSF Certified for Sport stamp. The USA Doping Agency (USADA) has recognized this program as best suited to assist athletes in choosing supplements that do not contain banned substances for sports.
  • Download the NSF International App. It shows which products are NSF approved—right at your fingertips anytime, anywhere.
  • Check out the Dietary Supplement Fact Sheets published by the National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements. This government agency has quick fact sheets about a variety of dietary supplements, including vitamins, minerals, probiotics, botanicals and herbs, and more.

Speak with a Registered Dietitian for supplement guidance and which supplements may (or may not) be right for you. NIFS Registered Dietitians are available to help you!

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This blog was written by Sabrina Goshen, NIFS Registered Dietitian. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: NIFS nutrition supplements dietitian drugs sports nutrition dietary supplements registered dietitian

Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss: Does It Work?

GettyImages-1059024598Did you know that losing weight was ranked one of the top New Year’s resolutions for 2020? That’s probably why everyone and their mother is on a diet of some sort. One that is trending, and probably one you have heard about, is intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting has been around for quite some time but has gained popularity over the years. The question is: is intermittent fasting really effective for weight loss? Yes and no. Confused? Let’s dig in.

What Is Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent fasting (IF) is an eating pattern that focuses on meal timing by cycling fasting and nonfasting periods. The eating pattern specifies timing of intake versus quality of food. Three popular methods of IF include the following:

  • The 16/8 method
  • Eat–Stop–Eat or Alternate-day fasting
  • The 5:2 diet

The 16/8 is the most common and entails 16 hours of fasting followed by an 8-hour eating window.

The Evidence of the Effects of Fasting

Several studies have explored the effect of intermittent fasting on weight loss. A 2019 study observed 332 overweight and obese adults. They compared weight loss and weight maintenance across three groups; week-on-week-off caloric restriction (a common IF method), continuous caloric restriction (the traditional daily calorie deficit), and the 5:2 IF method. Mean weight and fat loss at 12 months were similar across the three groups, and all groups saw significant weight loss.

Another study supported these results. Alternate-day fasting did produce significant weight loss, as did the control group who followed the traditional daily caloric deficit. A systematic review also showed that intermittent fasting (ranging from 3–12 months) produced weight loss as long as participants maintained a caloric deficit.

A common theme among all these weight-loss studies is that all groups, both intermittent fasting groups and traditional calorie-restrictive groups, maintained some type of caloric deficit, meaning they were burning more calories than they were eating (calories in < calories out/burned). So, it wasn’t intermittent fasting that produced the weight loss; it was the caloric deficit. Granted, intermittent fasting was a way some could sustain the caloric deficit. However, others reported more pronounced feelings of hunger when following IF, and some studies had significantly higher dropout rates in the IF groups due to people struggling to follow the method.

The Bottom Line

Weight loss requires a caloric deficit to work successfully. The method in which one obtains this caloric deficit and maintains the caloric deficit will vary. One method, such as IF, may work for one person and not work for another. No weight-loss intervention, IF included, is a one-size-fits-all.

If you are one who naturally fasts (for example, you don’t eat breakfast) or one who needs structure, intermittent fasting may be a solid approach to meeting your caloric deficit. If you are one who binges after a fast or struggles to make it through a fast, intermittent fasting is not for you. Stick with the traditional caloric-deficit approach.

Finding the Weight-Loss Method That Works for You

Back to those New Year’s resolutions: statistics show that only 8% of people who make resolutions achieve them. The biggest thing that goes wrong, at least for weight loss, is failing to make a sustainable plan—one that produces lifestyle changes. If the method for weight loss you are trying is not working for you and is something you can’t stick with, it’s time for a change. If you’re struggling to find your sustainable lifestyle approach, consider seeing a Registered Dietitian.

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This blog was written by Sabrina Goshen, NIFS Registered Dietitian. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition weight loss calories registered dietitian intermittent fasting fasting