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For Immediate Release: November 13, 2009
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NW: Questions about selenium and diabetes, eating breakfast, nutrition information in blogs

Week of December 7, 2009
Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328–7744

Nutrition Wise
Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: Is it true that selenium supplements help to prevent or control diabetes with its antioxidant power?

A: No. Selenium is an antioxidant, yet research repeatedly links high blood selenium and selenium supplements with increased risk of diabetes and shows no benefit for blood sugar control. Especially in the U.S., where people have selenium intake well above recommended levels and selenium deficiency is rare, adding more selenium does not offer diabetes–prevention benefits. In one study of selenium supplements, among those who began with high blood levels of selenium, those given selenium supplements were almost three times as likely to develop diabetes as those given a placebo. Several other studies also raise concerns about possible increased risk of diabetes, including the SELECT trial that was studying whether selenium supplements could reduce prostate cancer risk. The strongest steps for prevention and control of type 2 diabetes (the most common type) remain weight control, regular physical activity and a healthy, high–fiber diet filled with antioxidant–rich foods.

Q: Breakfast is often said to be a vital meal. But it seems crazy to force myself to eat if I’m not hungry. What’s your advice?

A: Start by considering whether your current eating pattern seems to be working for you. When you don’t eat breakfast, do you have energy to get through your morning well, eat a healthy lunch and avoid overeating the rest of the day and evening? Do you reach recommended amounts of the healthy foods your body needs? Are you maintaining a healthy weight? If your answer to all these questions is “yes,” then there’s probably no reason to force yourself to eat breakfast, unless you have a medical condition or take medicines that necessitate a morning meal. However, if you answered “no” to any of those questions, perhaps you should reconsider. Studies show that people who eat breakfast tend to overeat less throughout the rest of the day. Many people who report lack of early morning hunger are those who eat large amounts of food through the evening. Because this pattern often involves lots of excess calories and “junk food,” perhaps once you address the evening eating problems, you will want breakfast. Some people run around so frantically in the morning they don’t have time to notice or respond to hunger signals. Whether they call it breakfast or a morning snack, they often find that if they take time to re–fuel with a balanced selection of healthy foods once the initial frantic activity subsides, it does help the day go better than when they wait until they’re famished to grab candy, a donut or whatever’s handy.

Q: Can I assume the nutrition information in blogs posted on Web sites of reputable companies and organizations is as accurate as the information elsewhere on their sites?

A: Not necessarily. Blogs have become popular ways of sharing ideas with a wide community of people. Blogs posted on some Web sites may be screened or hosted by a nutrition expert who adds comments to clarify that someone’s posting is not supported by well–controlled research. Other blogs include comments that have not been screened or evaluated in any way. Although you may feel comfortable trying a recipe or considering a new way of tackling a barrier to healthy eating that you see in one of these blogs, it’s not wise to make significant changes, like avoiding certain foods or choosing a supplement based on this advice. Even when the blogger is sharing information conveyed to them by a health professional, advice appropriate to the blogger is not necessarily appropriate for others, and sometimes someone is repeating a misunderstanding of what they were told (kind of like the game called “telephone”). The Internet can be a great source of nutrition information, but make sure that both the Web site and the source of individual information are trustworthy. If what you see seems questionable, check it with another authoritative Web site or a registered dietitian with expertise in that area.

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