North Dakota State University -- NDSU Agriculture Communication
7 Morrill Hall, Fargo ND, 58105-5655, Tel: 701-231-7881, Fax: 701-231-7044

February 22, 2001

Prairie Fare: Sorting through the Hype

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist
NDSU Extension Service

If youíve read popular magazines, surfed the Internet or watched an "infomercial" on TV lately, chances are youíve seen some enticing health-related advertisements. According to the claims itís fairly effortless to improve your health or appearance. You can "melt fat" while you sleep and wake up slim and trim. You can reshape your body in less than five minutes a day. You can have wrinkle-free skin if you take XYZ dietary supplement.

Look closely. Most of these ads feature genetically blessed models

As I perused a magazine, one ad promising a 15-pound weight loss in three days caught my attention. I actually lost 20 pounds in two days myself. But I had a 9-pound baby boy to take home with me from the hospital.

Billions of dollars are spent each year on health-related books and products, and unfortunately, the products and information often lack merit. In addition to wasting your money, some of the advice can actually be harmful. Dietary supplements, for example, are not highly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. The supplement manufacturers donít have to prove the products are effective or safe. Certain herbal supplements in particular have been shown to be harmful, or even deadly in some cases. Thatís why itís so important to keep your healthcare provider informed of any product you are taking. Some supplements interfere with medications.

How can you decipher fact from fiction? Hereís a checklist of questions to ask yourself before you open your pocketbook.

  • Does the product promise a quick fix? Itís rare that complex issues can be solved as quickly as the ads indicate.
  • Does the promise sound too good to be true? Trust your common sense.
  • Are simple conclusions drawn to complex studies? Scientific research is quite complicated. Sometimes stories about scientific studies are short on details.
  • Are the recommendations based on the results of a single study? When new studies come out, they often make the news, especially if they contradict other information. National recommendations, however, arenít made on the basis of a single study.
  • Are doubts cast about reputable scientific organizations? This is a tactic often used to make consumers fear or mistrust science.
  • Are lists of "good" and "bad" foods given? Some foods may taste "good" or "bad," but when consumed in moderation these foods arenít necessarily "bad" for you. All foods can fit into a healthful diet. Itís a matter of controlling how much and how often you eat foods that are high in calories and/or fat.
  • Is the evidence based on science or on testimonials? People whoíve experienced success with the product are often pictured and quoted. But sometimes the ads feature paid actors or models who have never used the product.
  • Are the recommendations based on studies of individuals or groups of people? You canít draw valid conclusions and make recommendations based on a small study with only a few subjects.

In this information age, where can you go for reliable information about nutrition and health? Government agencies, scientific organizations, professional organizations such as the American Dietetic Association, accredited food and nutrition departments at universities, extension service offices, nutrition units of healthcare centers and reliable industry groups are some sources of good information. Visit the NDSU Extension Service website: for research-based information and links to more than 100 sites.

And what about the old adage: "an apple a dayÖ" ? Thereís really some merit to this one. Apples are a good source of pectin, a soluble fiber that, in combination with a low fat diet, has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels. Try this tasty, nutritious and quick-to-make recipe. One Honey Baked Apple contains 220 calories and 4 grams of fat and counts as one fruit serving on your way to 5-a-Day.

Honey Baked Apple

6 medium baking apples
1 1/2 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup granola-type cereal
1/4 cup raisins

Wash and core apples. Peel top half or slit peel horizontally around each apple, about an inch from the top, to allow steam to escape. Place in baking dish lined with aluminum foil. Bake at 400 F for 40 minutes. Combine butter, honey, cereal and raisins. Fill apples with mixture and bake 10 additional minutes. Makes six servings.


Source: Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor: Tom Jirik, (701) 231-9629,