Debunking Nutrition Myths, Part II

Going vegetarian or vegan is healthier.
Various research efforts have shown that vegetarians and vegans, on average, consume fewer calories and less fat than omnivores. A 2009 Oxford study showed that vegetarians weigh 3 to 20 percent less than their meat-eating counterparts. And a National Cancer Institute study of more than 500,000 people found that participants who consumed four ounces or more of red meat weekly were 30% more likely to die of any cause than those who ate less. But these numbers may be misleading. Often, newly-assimilated vegetarians replace animal protein with more carbs. At a barbecue, for example, a vegetarian may chow down on just pasta salad, cole slaw, and a slice of apple pie, forgoing protein altogether. And because protein is more filling than carbohydrates, vegetarians often feed their hunger with empty calories. Experts recommend that we get about 10 to 20 percent of our calories from protein, or about 1 gram per kilogram of body weight. In order for vegetarianism to actually benefit your health, it’s necessary to replace animal protein with healthy plant proteins, like those found in beans, legumes, eggs, nuts, seeds, low-fat dairy, and soy products. A lesson everyone could stand to learn however? Eat more green, leafy vegetables!

The more fiber you eat, the better.
Over 96% of Americans don’t get enough fiber in their diets, and we can blame a diet of overly processed junk food and a lack of whole foods for this. Depending on age and gender, the recommended intake is 20 to 38 grams of fiber daily. There are two types of fiber; insoluble fiber is not water-soluble and acts as a “bulking agent,” while soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance in the stomach, slowing down the rate at which the stomach empties. In terms of satiating hunger, fiber makes you feel fuller, but its benefits go beyond that: it can help prevent hemorrhoids and colon cancer, decrease blood cholesterol levels, and help control blood sugar levels. So the more fiber you eat, the more benefits, right? Recently, American food brands have started fortifying any product they can with fiber, including yogurt, milk, fruit juices, and even desserts. These foods are often infused with “faux fibers” such as inulin, maltodextrose, and polydextrose, and scientists are skeptical as to whether these have the same health benefits as naturally-occurring fiber. In addition, adding too much fiber to your diet at a time can cause bloating and gas, so if you’re looking to increase your fiber intake, build up slowly to give the natural bacteria in your intestines a chance to adapt. Add in natural fiber from beans, whole grain cereals and breads, fruits, vegetables and nuts.

Skipping meals and/or breakfast will help me lose weight faster.
More than half of America regularly skips breakfast. Whether it’s due to a hectic morning or a desire to cut calories, it’s certainly not doing you any favors: studies show that people who regularly skip breakfast consume more calories throughout the day and are heavier than their breakfast-eating neighbors. One explanation is that breakfast-skippers become so hungry later in the day that they gorge on high-calorie lunches and dinner, usually high in fats and sugars to instantly quell their hunger. In addition, after a night of fasting, a healthy breakfast jumpstarts your metabolism for the day. Eating a healthy breakfast gives you lasting energy for a busy day; try 350 calories of fiber- and protein-rich fare for maximum benefits.

Using a juicer is a great way to get my daily nine servings of fruits and vegetables.
Shoving five servings of vegetables and another four servings of fruit into a juicer seems like a simple and efficient way of getting all nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, juicing fruits and vegetables removes one of their most valuable components: fiber. And, as mentioned previously, fiber’s list of benefits ranges from filling you up instead of out to maintaining stable blood sugar levels. Let’s compare a cup of orange juice with one whole orange. One cup of orange juice has 110 calories, 0 grams of fiber, and 22 grams of sugar; one orange has 62 calories, 3 grams of fiber, and 12 grams of sugar. By removing fiber, you’re left with a vitamin- and nutrient-rich juice – but one that is brimming with sugars and a skyrocketing glycemic index. Ultimately, this will lead to unstable blood sugar levels and hunger, so stick with whole fruits and vegetables for maximum nutritional benefit.

“Skinny-fat” is healthier than being overweight but exercising.
“Skinny-fat” is a term used to describe people who are at a healthy weight but have little, if any, muscle tone, and thus higher-than-acceptable body fat percentages. In one study, 45% of women with a normal Body Mass Index had excessive levels of internal fat; for men, the number was 60%. Internal fat is the fat that surrounds organs including the heart, lungs, pancreas, and liver, and can be more dangerous than fat that accumulates externally. Researchers believe these “thin outside, fat inside” people are at risk for a host of metabolic problems, as well as heart disease, diabetes, and even obesity. On the other hand, people who are overweight and have higher-than-normal BMIs, but who exercise regularly and eat a heart-healthy diet, may be better off. In a study from the Archives of Internal Medicine, half of the overweight people and one-third of the obese people were deemed “metabolically healthy:” their cholesterol, blood pressure, and risk of heart disease were similar to those of a healthy weight. No matter what your size or weight, make sure to exercise regularly and eat a healthful diet for cardiovascular and metabolic health.

Keep reading for Part III!

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