DEAR DR. BLONZ: I watched some online videos from a doctor, who confidently stated there are five foods that we should never eat. His list: ice cream, popcorn, cookies, fruit juice, and burgers with a bun. He made some rather startling statements about the first four, saying that they are "poison" because they cause blood sugar to spike and send insulin levels through the roof. The burger and bun were included because they combine protein with carbs, which he said does the same thing.
I checked into him and found out he is not a medical doctor, and that he sells products associated with his message. Is anyone in charge of checking the accuracy of what is presented online? -- G.R., Scottsdale, Arizona
DEAR G.R.: My compliments on your detective work. When reading any nutritional or medical advice, I always check the sources. Specifically, I look for the academic backgrounds and positions of the expert cited, and any objective work in the scientific literature that supports the advice being offered. Does the proponent have training and expertise in the relevant field, or is the material a self-serving sales pitch?
The particular message here relates to specific foods and their effects on blood sugar and insulin. What's lost is the essential big picture of the entire diet. To label these foods as "poison" and imply that any amount will cause insulin to go "through the roof" is nonsense. Excess consumption becomes a problem with many foods, particularly any with added sugars, but there is no logic or evidence that complete avoidance is essential for health. Having a plant-based, whole foods diet, along with a healthful lifestyle, can make it all work.
In terms of who's "in charge" of monitoring such claims, two federal agencies share responsibilities. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees how foods and drugs are made and labeled, and evaluates their safety and their claims of efficacy. Drugs have to go through an extensive approval process prior to marketing. However, the FDA does not review and test dietary supplement products for safety and effectiveness before marketing; this is the manufacturer's responsibility. The FDA can step in if it finds products are not following good manufacturing practices, making unapproved health claims, or if questions arise relating to safety.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) oversees how dietary supplements are promoted, having oversight on advertising in the media and the product label and website. There must be objective substantiation for advertising claims, but there is no routine check prior to marketing. Individual states also have consumer protection agencies.
With dietary supplements, we are dealing with an "after the fact" enforcement model. The sheer volume of information -- and misinformation -- makes for a very undisciplined marketplace, opening the door to outlandish claims and outright nonsense. Skilled marketers set the stage, hoping to turn potential customers from skeptics into believers. Toss in convincing videos, testimonials and money-back guarantees, and a consumer's initial "why" can shift to "why not?"
It is unfortunate that when we want something to be true (or false), we gravitate toward information that supports that desire. This puts natural skepticism, which often serves us well, on the back burner.
Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to email@example.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.