Nutrition Myths Busted

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Health and diet trends come and go so it was interesting reading this article from Examine.com about their predicted nutrition myths of 2017 now we’re approaching the end of the year.

We’re heading towards the end of the 2017 faster than you can say Father Christmas so I thought it was a good time to reflect on the last 11 months and assess whether we’re any wiser now the hedonistic rush of January detoxes has passed.

 

We’re in the age of information – too much information. And that leaves us with too many choices, not knowing who to believe, and stuck like a rabbit in the headlights when it comes to changing our food habits.

Unfortunately this stuck place is the very one we’re trying to educate ourselves out of – best dietary approaches (low carb? Intermittent fasting? Meal replacements?), useable solutions for when motivation is low, and even cooking skills for knocking up super quick healthy meals in a hurry.

Luckily there is some wheat to be found among the chaff, examine.com being one of them and a resource us health professionals often turn to as a reference point.

But for people not trained in reading scientific jargon it can be a little bemusing, so I’m going to break down each of their predicted nutrition myths of 2017 and explain them in a way you can understand.

Let’s get you out of those headlights!

 

Myth 1: Carbs are bad for you

Carbohyrates are found in sweets, chocolate (sugar), starchy foods like bread and rice, dairy in varying amounts, and even fruit and vegetables. So to say outright that carbs are the problem is saying vegetables are bad and we know that’s untrue.

Some people, often those overweight, already developing the early stages of diabetes, have something called poor insulin sensitivity. To cut the story short this means they can’t process glucose (carbs) so well, and cutting down, either long term or temporarily, can help.

The true statement is that too many carbs are bad, as is the case for any food group. And a typical Western diet is full of them; cereal for breakfast, biscuits and cereal bars to snack on, sandwiches, huge jacket potatoes…..the balance is way off in many people’s daily food intake.

This was partly initiated by the low fat advice of the 80’s (now shown to be inaccurate), so all these carbs are at the expense of adequate protein and healthy fats. Plus carbs are pretty easy to over eat, so add up in calories quickly.

The solution? Find out how many carbs you need personally – it will depend on your physiology, health goals and lifestyle, and eat an appropriate amount for you.

 

Myth 2: Fats are bad

Didn’t I just say the 80’s advice to eat a low fat diet was outdated?

We now know that saturated fat from animal products does not contribute to heart disease.

We know that dietary cholesterol does not impact blood cholesterol.

We do know that certain vitamins won’t be absorbed without fat being present, and that we need a variety of different fats for various bodily functions, for example saturated fat plays a role in hormone production.

The only fat to avoid is hydrogenated trans fats, a man made type in some cheap processed foods.

That’s not to say a ketogenic (very high fat) diet is right for most people either, and since fat is high in calories you still need to be eating appropriate calories for you, but at least cauliflower cheese and buttered veg can be enjoyed once more.

 

Myth 3: Protein is bad for you

Admittedly this myth thankfully isn’t as prevalent as demonising carbs and fat, since the rise in the popularity of exercise, fitness and bodybuilding means people are becoming more aware of the need for protein to build and repair muscles.

But that doesn’t stop some people saying too much protein is damaging to your liver, kidneys and bone density. Of course too much of anything is bad, but studies have shown that even in extraordinary amounts protein is not only safe but very beneficial, playing a role in not just muscle preservation but detoxification pathways (I’ll talk about detoxes later), and certain amino acids (from protein) play important roles in digestion and immunity too.

 

Myth 4: Egg yolks are bad for you

Are people still saying this? Apparently so. They’re a source of saturated fat, which we used to think gave is heart disease, and cholesterol, which we used to think increased our blood cholesterol.

We now know both to be false and in fact eggs contain compounds which complement those in the white, improving nutrient absorption from both. In fact eggs really are nature’s super – fast – food, they’re that nutrient dense!

So why the popularity of egg white omelettes?

Yolks are where the majority of the calories are, so eggs white omelettes are much lower in calories. Also people on strict diets such as athletes, bodybuilders and people with certain medical conditions may be tracking their carbohydrate, protein, and fat intake to strict numbers. Whites are mostly protein and yolks are mostly fat, so if their ‘numbers’ call for a protein only breakfast, they’ll choose egg whites. For the rest of us it’s much better to get our food as nature intended for all the benefits it provides.

 

Myth 5: Red meat is bad for you

Some studies came out last year linking red meat to certain cancers, and the media ran with it, scaring you off your spag bol quicker than you can spell courgetti.

What the study actually said? Large consumption (daily at least) of processed (burgers, sausages, salami etc) red meats were linked to a tiny, almost insignificant increased in some cancers.

That’s very different to saying roast beef, a good steak and the aforementioned spag bol are off the menu.

Correlation does not equal causation. Where do most processed red meats get consumed? Fast food joints, burger bars and hot dog stands. These aren’t health foods in any way. Live off a diet of those and you will undoutably suffer the health consequences.

 

Myth 6: Salt is bad for you

There’s a condition called salt sensitive hypertension which means certain people need to eat a lower salt diet. Other than these few people there appears to be no association between salt intake and high blood pressure.

For most people salt is not only not bad it’s actually needed, like all minerals, for your body to function properly. Like any food (are you noticing a trend here?) you can eat too much, and this may be taxing on kidneys. But in the right amounts, which is more for people who exercise or sweat a lot, it’s a necessary mineral (or rather group of minerals to be more correct) that we need in our diets.

 

Myth 7: Bread is bad for you

Aside from the fact that bread is a carbohydrate (see carbs myth), bread and other wheat foods like pasta have also taken a knocking in recent years. Gluten, a small protein found in wheat and some other grains, does indeed cause severe intestinal damage and a ripple effect of symptoms in people with coeliac disease.

What’s less studied but nevertheless does exist is non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) where someone without coeliac disease also feels unwell and has an immune reaction to gluten. However we don’t yet know how many people have this, and tests are still unrealiable. The nocebo effect (like a placebo, but you feel better when you remove something rather than add it) also makes it difficult without testing to decipher whether someone is genuinely reacting badly to gluten or not.

But even so, the number of people with true sensitivities is still estimated to be very low and the majority of people will be able to eat gluten.

I think that like all carbs, the problem is not the gluten itself, but the sheer amount that’s being consumed. Wheat is in so many everyday foods from toast or cereal for breakfast to snack bars, muffins and deli wraps to your evening family lasagne, it’s no wonder out bodies are becoming more sensitive to this substance. Maybe simply a little more variety is enough change for many people; swapping wheat products for eggs or oats at breakfast (oats only contain gluten if grown in a wheat producing field – coeliacs must eat certified gluten free oats), and swapping pasta for rice or potatoes (in moderation, see carb myths), and making bread an occasional option rather than an everyday staple.

 

Myth 8: Whole-wheat bread is better than white bread

The only difference between whole wheat and white bread is that white bread has been stripped of the fibrous inner and outer layers, meaning whole wheat bread is slightly higher in fiber. However it also contains more phytic acid which bind and prevent absorption of minerals, so it’s got it’s downsides too. If it’s fiber you’re after, however, there are much better sources; beans and legumes, and good old fruit and vegetables eaten with their skins. There is no need to eat vast amounts of wholegrains to get your ‘roughage’ when there are plenty of foods that are fibrous that are actually far more nutrient dense anyway.

 

Myth 9: high fructose corn syrup is worse than table sugar

There are actually a few types of sugar; glucose, lactose, and fructose, and it’s too much fructose that can damage the liver over the long term.

High fructose corn syrup, and similarly the ‘natural’ syrup agave are high in fructose so are thought to be worse for us, but actually they’re only about 5% higher compared to table sugar, a neglidgable difference.

All sugar is unhealthy in too high amounts. Some people need more; long distance athletes need quick energy (sugar) to get through extreme sessions, but for the rest of us it’s best kept to a minimum and we get our sweet hit from fruit, and use natural sweeteners like stevia in moderation instead.

 

Myth 10: Real food is better than supplements

For the most part this statement is absolutely true and most people don’t need to go spending their life’s savings on pills.

But there are times when high quality supplements can work better for certain nutrients, because we now understand how these nutrients work in our body and synergistically with other nutrients.

For example curcumin in turmeric is better absorbed with piperine from black pepper. And vitamin K is difficult for out bodies to extract from food, but is more readily absorbed from some supplemental forms. Folic acid is more easily absorbed than it’s food version, folate.

Unless you have a deficiency or medical reason then a good diet is perfectly adequate for most people, but in certain circumstances quality supplements can be helpful.

 

Myth 11: Supplements are superior to foods

It’s common among people who sell, manufacture or have otherwise vested interests in the popularity of nutritional supplements to claim that our food if nutritionally deficient, the soil crops are grown in is depleted of goodness, and that even a well rounded diet is still nutritionally adequate today.

Being nutritionally deficient is certainly likely in people who have poor diets, eating mostly processed and junk food. But in good diets it’s highly likely you’re getting everything you need. Even common everyday foods like milk and yoghurts are often fortified for an extra boost, though I question whether even that is needed.

There is no evidence that taking a multivitamin every day does anything to preserve or improve health, in fact some nutrients fight for absorption, making a complete multivitamin and mineral the wrong way to go about supplementing even if you needed to.

The best way to use supplements is to plug the gaps, if you have any; for example people living in the Northern parts of the world may need vitamin D in Winter, and vegans could do with a B12 supplement.

Spend the money on higher quality food and the benefits will be much greater for most people.

 

Myth 12: You should eat ‘clean’

There is much confusion around clean eating since there’s no actual definition, however is usually means no processed foods at all, no added sugar, and sometimes no dairy or gluten either. You could argue that’s a very healthy way to eat, and it can be, but is it necessary?

What are classed as ‘dirty’ foods actually are very nutritious for most people – dairy contains calcium, protein, and vitamins, and there are times when sugar is actually necessary, such as for endurance athletes.

Cutting out ‘bad’ foods is patronising your body’s ability to process a wide variety of foods, including the occasional not so healthy treat.

And while clean eating addresses the types of food eaten, it makes no allowance for balance or quantities; you could still be nutrient deficient if you’re eating too much of somethings but not enough of others, and weight gain on a clean diet is absolutely possible – all those date & nut bars will add up eventually!

Organic food, grown without pesticides, is a great option if you can get hold of and afford it. But an organic muffin is still a cake, whereas non-organic roast chicken and broccoli are still a whole protein and vegetable. I know which I’d rather eat if good health was the goal.

 

Myth 13: You should ‘detox’

Alcohol, pollution, sugar…..to counteract this hedonism we must purify our bodies every now and then right?

Actually your body is amazingly smart; your liver, kidneys, skin, lymph glands, digestive system and lungs do an incredible job of eliminating unwanted substances.

‘Toxins’ to be removed during a detox only include external substances we put in ourselves, like chemicals in foods and alcohol, but did you know your body produces waste products (toxins if you want to call them that) every day, naturally, and eliminates them just as efficiently?

Another detox paradox is that most detoxes mean consuming mostly fruit and vegetables or their juices. In fact amino acids, from protein, are one of the substances required for detoxification pathways to work properly in your body, so by going on a ‘detox’ you’re missing the very things you need to detox!

 

Myth 14: To lose fat, eat more often

It used to be thought that to ‘stoke your metabolism’ you need to eat little and often. In fact it’s over all calorie intake that matters, regardless of time or frequency. If you’re eating 1700 calories a day, it won’t matter if that’s split into 3 main meals or 3 smaller meals and 3 snacks. What matters is that the way you consume those calories fits best with your lifestyle and makes you feel your best.

 

Myth 15: To lose fat don’t eat before bedtime

Going back to the previous myth, it’s how much, not when, that matters. Remember you still burn calories while sleeping, and any not used will be carried over and used another time. What you may find is that eating too much, too late, affects your ability to sleep well. And of course if evening munchies for you means family boxes of chocolates in front of the telly then that could be the reason you’re not losing fat!

 

Myth 16: To lose fat, do cardio on an empty stomach

It’s been said that if you don’t eat before doing cardio like running or cycling, you’ll use fat stores instead. But like the previous two myths, over all calorie intake is the overriding factor in fat loss.

Not only that, but trying to exercise to your best ability and put in maximum effort is difficult if you’re not fed. Sprinting, heavy lifting and interval training when you’re not fuelled properly results, for most people, in a floppy, ineffective workout, that burns fewer calories and doesn’t tone your muscles as well. Since burning fat and toning up are most of my reader’s goals, you’re better off being fed and energised enough to give the workout your all and really get the most out of it.

 

Myth 17: You need protein right after a workout

The ‘anaerobic window’, the hour or so after a workout, is when your muscles are ‘thirsty’ for refuelling and need protein for repair, and carbohydrates to replenish stored energy.

But while it used to be thought that this window is set and eating afterwards means you lose the repair & replenish benefits, it turns out the ‘window’ lasts a lot longer than we originally thought. So while you probably don’t want to embark on a 16 hour fast right after your workout, waiting until your next meal is fine for most people. Over all food intake, which includes adequate protein, is much more important.

The caveat is people who are exercising again the same day, such as competitors at an event. In this instance you want to replenish tired muscles as soon as possible so they’re ready to go again not long afterwards. For everyone else, don’t stress if it’s not practical to eat right away. If you feel better by eating afterwards (and I know I do), see if you can time your workouts for before a planned meal or snack anyway, such before you eat your lunch, or on your way home from work before your evening meal.

 

It’s easier than it looks

The truth is, people try and overcomplicate things. This is often encouraged by companies who gain financially by you turning to them for ‘the solution’, when in reality, eating well isn’t that complicated. Normal, healthy, nutritious foods in the right amounts is all you need to look and feel good.

But in reality putting all that into practice when you’ve got into some bad habits is also easier said than done.

I’m now offering personalised meal plans tailored to your exact personal nutritional needs and goals (so that could include weight loss, gain, or maintenance), taking into account your food preferences, lifestyle and schedule. Click Here to learn more.

 

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