Tag Archives: Myths

Debunking Nutrition Myths: Part III

Diet soda is harmless.
The nutritional panel on a diet soda reads all zeros: zero calories, zero sugars, zero fat. These numbers have led many weight-conscious Americans to switch from regular soda to diet soda – it’s an easy way to cut out 12 teaspoons of excess sugar a day (per drink!). Statistics tell us that diet sodas may not be so friendly to your waistline, however: a University of Texas study found that  people who drank three or more diet sodas per week have a 40% greater chance of being obese. Experts believe this oddity is due to the fact that artificial sweeteners tend to trigger your appetite – making you want more and more sugar – but without actually satisfying a desire for sweets like normal sugar does. Diet soda-drinkers end up eating tons of sugary and fatty snacks in order to satisfy their cravings. Diet sodas are also often loaded with additives, including caramel coloring. Although it sounds harmless, this caramel coloring is made by reacting sugars with ammonia and sulfites, resulting in 2-methylimidazole and 4-methylimidazole – two compounds that have been found to cause lung, liver, and thyroid cancers in mice. Gradually wean yourself off the diet soda by switching to fruit juice mixed with seltzer, and eventually switch entirely to water flavored with fresh fruit and green tea.

I’ll lose weight faster if I don’t eat before working out.
Some exercise experts advise against eating before a workout in order to burn more fat. Their reasoning is that exercise normally burns away your glycogen (carbohydrate) reserves; when you’re done burning those, you’ll start dipping into your fat stores for energy. So when you’re already running on empty, you burn fat right away. However, the problem here is that exercise takes energy, and without energy, you might feel weak and lethargic, unable to complete your workout at a high intensity. And energy, of course, comes from calories. A study from the University of Birmingham compared a group of cyclists who ate before their workout and a group who fasted. While the group who fasted did end up burning more fat, the group who ate cycled at a much higher intensity than the fasting group – thus burning more calories. A person needs fuel to run, just like a car. Find the foods that give you the energy to work out at your hardest.

Cravings point to nutritional deficiencies.
This myth is more of an excuse to wolf down cookies, cupcakes, french fries, and ice cream without feeling guilty about it. The foods we often crave – sugary, fatty, salty fare – often have no nutritional value anyway, so what nutrients would our body be craving? And it’s not that often that you see someone deficient in vitamin A crave dandelion greens and kale. Cravings are usually due to either emotional or hormonal reasons or a very restrictive diet that limits yummy treats. With practice, cravings can become easy to control (self-control can actually be exercised, and made stronger, like a muscle); try avoiding trigger foods and environments, sip a cup of mint tea with a good book, or call up a friend to chat. And remember, it is okay to indulge every once in a while and eat that piece of cake!

All saturated fats are bad and should be avoided.
For a while, nutritionists, scientists, and the population believed that all fats are unhealthy. Then researchers found that certain fats – monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and omega-3s, the fats found in nuts, seeds, fish, and oil – have cardioprotective benefits, enhance the immune system, protect against disease, and contribute to skin and hair health. These fats were in, while others – saturated and trans fats – were out. But now, researchers have begun to discover that certain saturated fats, such as lauric acid (found in coconuts), have health benefits as well. Lauric acid strengthens the immune system and stimulates health digestion. These fats are made up of medium-chain fatty acids, as opposed to long-chain fatty acids (found in meat, milk, eggs, and vegetable oils), and are digested differently. Medium-chain fatty acids are used for energy immediately, so they are never stored as fat; they have also been shown to increase metabolism and slow digestion. Even though coconuts are 90% saturated fat, you can safely add them to your diet without raising cholesterol – and with health benefits, as well!


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!

Debunking Nutrition Myths

Myths regarding nutrition are about as common as new diet trends: new ones pop up every day in the media, health magazines, blogs, and from grapevine at your gym or supermarket. And like diets, false information regarding nutrition can get in the way of your health and weight loss efforts. This series takes some common – and not-so-common – myths and deconstructs them into real and usable advice so you can start eating more nutritiously for better health today.

Is gluten-free the same as low-carb?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, as well as some lesser known grains such as spelt, semolina,  farina, bulgar, and matzo meal. Although it sounds like gluten is a component of all dry carbohydrates, there are plenty left that do not contain gluten: buckwheat, millet, amaranth, quinoa, rice, and oats. These grains can all be used to make products that are normally made with wheat, including bread, pasta, cereals, and baked goods. A gluten-free diet, therefore, does not necessarily mean a low-carb diet; a person who eats gluten-free can ingest plenty of carbohydrates from gluten-free breads, pastas, cereals, and baked goods as well as vegetables, fruits, beans, and legumes (don’t forget that these “wet” carbohydrates count as carbs, to!).

Starches and carbs are fattening, and should be avoided when trying to lose weight.
Ever since the Atkins diet (which proposes a high-protein, high-fat diet with virtually zero carbs), starches and carbohydrates have been black-listed in the diet community. Starches and carbs are not inherently fattening, however: it’s when they’re covered in sugary and fatty toppings (butter, alfredo sauce, maple syrup) or eaten in huge portion sizes (the average restaurant serving is 2 to 4 times the USDA recommended serving) that they become diet-derailing. Starches and carbs are actually an important tool in weight management; they provide belly-filling fiber and complex carbohydrates to keep your engine running all day. Carbohydrates also stimulate the production of serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter that regulates mood.

Products that are labeled “reduced fat” or “fat free” are more nutritious than their original counterparts.
Foods that have been modified to become fat-free or reduced-fat might seem more nutritious than their original form. If you take out the fat, you take out some excess calories, and you get virtually the same product, right? Let’s compare one brand’s regular peanut butter to their reduced-fat version: per 2 tablespoons, the regular version has 190 calories, 16 grams of fat, and 3 grams of sugar. Their reduced-fat version has 190 calories, 12 grams of fat, and 4 grams of sugar. Essentially, the reduced-fat version has been stripped of one quarter of its healthy monounsaturated fats, and to replace that flavor, the brand has added in fillings, additives, and sugar.  And all for the same amount of calories! Picking reduced-fat products may even end up hurting your waist-line: in one study, average-weight participants ate 22% more calories if the food was labeled “low fat,” and overweight participants ate up to 50% more. Stick to the full-fat versions to retain the healthy benefits of peanuts and their monounsaturated fats: increased satiety and a decreased risk of heart disease and diabetes (and avoid those empty fillers!).

Another marketing ploy to watch out for: naturally fat-free products that are marketed as being healthier because they are “fat free.” Candy is naturally fat-free, but that doesn’t make them a health food: it’s still loaded with high-glycemic sugars.

Organic or natural foods are more nutritious.
In one study, two groups were asked to rate the nutritional value and sensory attributes of the same cookie; one groups’ cookies were labeled as organic, whereas the other groups’ cookies had no label. The participants whose cookies were labeled as organic estimated that their cookies contained 40% fewer calories, significantly more fiber, and were more appetizing than other brands. Trigger words like “organic,” “natural” and “local” promote misconceptions about the true nutritional value of a food and can give otherwise junk food a health halo. A cookie is a cookie, even if it’s made with organic grains, cage-free eggs, and local honey – and it still contains calories, fat, and sugars!

Any food you eat after 8 PM turns directly into fat.
Calories are calories, no matter when you eat them. What does it matter is what and how much of it you eat. Late-night snacking gets a bad rap because often, the foods that are consumed late at night are calorie-dense foods, such as chips, ice cream, pizza, and other junk food. In addition, the snacking you do after dinner and late into the night are excess calories to your daily caloric requirements. And because weight gain is a simple equation of eating more calories than you expend, this often leads to weight gain. Your metabolism, however, doesn’t know what time it is, so if you account for a 200 calorie after-dinner snack, you won’t see the scale creep up. Evidence even shows that regular snacking can lead to weight loss, as long as the snack contains filling protein or fiber. Avoid snacking in front of the TV so you don’t mindlessly munch away a whole bag of chips!

Keep reading for Part II…