Weekly Column_120 / August 16, 2012

Diet Detective: Your Nutrition and Fitness Questions Answered. Sea Salt; Zinc and Colds; Added Fiber; and Weight Lifting and the Heart

By Charles Platkin, PhD

Is Sea Salt Better for you than Regular Salt? What about Kosher Salt?

“Not necessarily,” says Molly Kimball, R.D., of Elmwood Fitness Center in New Orleans. “All types of salt — whether regular table salt, sea salt or kosher salt — are primarily sodium chloride.” The biggest differences are where the salt is mined from and the size of the salt granule. “Table salt comes from underground salt deposits; sea salt is (obviously) harvested from the sea, retaining some of the minerals of the seawater; and kosher salt can be from either type of source,” she adds.

The benefit of using sea salt or kosher salt is that you will probably use less of it than table salt — and that means less sodium. “The reason for this is that sea salt and kosher salt have bigger grains than table salt, so teaspoon–for–teaspoon they both will have less sodium,” says New York City nutritionist Jessica Fishman Levinson, M.S., R.D. Also, “The larger granule stays on the tongue longer, taking more time to dissolve, and so it has a bolder impact.”

In addition, “Sea salt and kosher salt are usually added at the end of cooking, so the flavor is more apparent, meaning people add less salt to a dish,” says Levinson.

Research suggests that too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure. Recent U.S. dietary guidelines suggest that we should consume no more than 2,300 milligrams a day, while the Institute of Medicine recommends as little as 1,500 (the equivalent of 2/3 teaspoon of table salt!).”Currently, Americans, on average, are consuming more than twice that amount,” says Joan Salge Blake, M.S., R.D., a professor at Boston University.

What is Inulin — Is it the Same as Natural Fiber?

Traditionally, food labels have divided fiber content into soluble and insoluble, but according to the Institute of Medicine, it should be classified as either dietary fiber or functional fiber.

“Dietary fiber consists of nondigestible carbohydrates that are naturally found in plant foods, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Functional fiber consists of isolated nondigestible carbohydrates, including those that are not natural but commercially produced. Inulin does naturally occur in some plant foods; however, when it is found in processed foods, it is of the form isolated from chicory root, and, therefore, it is not the same as natural dietary fiber,” says Levinson.

And according to the scientific journal Nutrition Review, “Inulin and polydextrose show many of the same functionalities of grain fiber in the large intestine, in that they are fermentable, bifidogenic and laxative.” However, “The reported effects on postprandial [occurring after a meal] blood glucose and fasting cholesterol levels have been modest…” meaning that inulin may help you go to the bathroom in the same way natural fiber does, but it’s not going to have the same effects on slowing down stomach emptying (making you feel full longer) or helping to lower cholesterol.

Isolated, commercially produced fibers “are nothing like the grainy, bran– and germ–covered whole grains that we envision with products like brown rice, whole wheat, oats, etc. Instead, inulin is a fine white powder, about the same consistency as Sweet’N Low — certainly not providing that belly–filling fiber that we expect from a bowl of bran flakes or oatmeal,” says Kimball.

“Food makers can add these isolated fibers without significantly altering the taste or texture of the product, yet it jacks up the fiber count on the nutrition facts label. The result: a cookie or candy bar that’s now a ‘fiber cookie’ or a ‘fiber bar.’ Fiber One bars? The first ingredient is chicory root, indicating that there’s more chicory root than anything else in the product. The problem is that these ‘pseudo fibers’ give even nutritionally aware consumers the green light to reach for foods they otherwise wouldn’t typically consume. If they’re reaching for a Snickers or an Oreo, at least they know what they’re getting into,” says Kimball.

Does Zinc Really Reduce the Common Cold?

According the prestigious scientific journal The Cochrane Library, yes: “Zinc supplements reduce the severity and duration of illness caused by the common cold.” The current Cochrane Systematic Review looked at data from 15 trials involving 1,360 people. According to the results, “Zinc syrup, lozenges or tablets taken within a day of the onset of cold symptoms reduce the severity and length of illness. At seven days, more of the patients who took zinc had cleared their symptoms compared to those who took placebos. Children who took zinc syrup or lozenges for five months or longer caught fewer colds and took less time off school. Zinc also reduced antibiotic use in children, which is important because overuse has implications for antibiotic resistance.”

Does the Order in which You Do Your Weight Training Matter?

Yes, according to researchers at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, who looked at strength and muscle volume after 12 weeks of resistance training. Many fitness trainers suggest training large body parts first; however, the researchers found that “if an exercise is important for the training goals of a program, then it should be placed at the beginning of the training session, regardless of whether or not it is a large–muscle–group exercise or a small–muscle–group exercise.”

Does Weight Lifting also have a Cardiovascular Effect?

Dr. Scott Collier, an exercise scientist at Appalachian State University, researched changes occurring to arteries and blood flow “after 45 minutes of moderate intensity resistance exercise.” He found that resistance exercise, such as weight lifting, increases blood flow, which reduces blood pressure. The results “continued about 30 minutes after the exercise had ended and as long as 24 hours in individuals who trained for 30–45 minutes three times a week.” The findings demonstrate that aerobic exercise isn’t the only way a person can improve cardiovascular health.

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