supermarkets & nutritional advice

I rather like our local supermarket. Lovely staff, generally excellent products, & close to home as well. 

But I really wish the organisation would stay out of giving nutritional advice – or at least, that they do the right sort of consultation about their claims. For example, under 'recipes' there's a post about 'hyper-functional' beverages A. These, it's stated, will 'boost' energy levels, 'improve' skin quality, or 'help' with immunity. (In fact, the words 'boost immunity' come up quite often. Mark Crislip, an infectious diseases medical specialist who until recently blogged on Science-Based Medicine, has commented that "in my world, we call the boosted immune system an inflammatory response", which is fine as an immediate response but can be risky if it goes on too long.)

Apparently, "overseas beverage makers are doing this by consulting nutritionists and naturopaths, then incorporating the specialists' recommendations into their drinks". Frankly, I'd rather be hearing that they'd consulted dieticians and medical doctors.

Why? Well, for starters, in New Zealand someone can't describe themselves as a dietician unless they are registered under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance (HPCA) Act of 2003. This is fairly stringent & means they must complete a post-grad qualification, abide by a code of professional ethics, & take part in ongoing professional development. Here in NZ this means they'll have a BSc (Bachelor of Science) or a BCApSci (Bachelor of Consumer & Applied Science) and a Postgraduate Diploma in Dietetics. 

For comparison, the term 'nutritionist' doesn't necessarily imply any professional background – a short non-accredited programme may do the trick (ie some nutritionists may not have any formal training), although someone with a PhD in some aspect of nutrition could also use the title. Someone describing themselves as a 'registered nutritionist' must have an accredited qualification, or a lot of relevant professional experience, before the Nutrition Society will accord them registered status, and this must be reapplied for every 3 years. 

Anyway, I couldn't help noticing that one of the 'hyper-functional' ingredients mentioned on that page is turmeric. 

It is also becoming more common in cafes to find drinks such as teas or smoothies that contain turmeric to reduce inflammation throughout the body and promote general wellness.

Unfortunately, you're unlikely to get anything like a bioactive dose in one of those drinks. This is because the actual active ingredient in turmeric, a substance called cucurmin, isn't actually particularly easy for your body to use: instead, it's rapidly metabolised by both your liver & the gut wall. For example, this study found that at a dose of 2g/kg of curcurmin (not turmeric – you'd have to eat a lot more of that!B) given to human volunteers, there was no measurable amount of cucurmin in the main circulation. This could be changed by giving 20mg of piperine (found in pepper; presumably 20mg/kg, although this isn't clear from the abstract) at the same time. But remember, these are the purified active substances, not the raw spices. (And I'm not sure that I'd like to pop a few peppercorns alongside my turmeric smoothie, as advocated here.)

So, eating or drinking foods with turmeric in them is enjoyable – but let's not expect them to work miracles.


A To be far to our national food emporium, the actual information on that page seems to be linked to a site called nzrealhealth. In which case, I wish they'd check their sources…

B Apparently pure turmeric powder is up to 3% cucurmin, so you'd definitely have to eat a lot

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