5 Nutrition Myths that Need to Go
The nutrition community is riddled with misinformation. Everything from bad research, opinion based evidence and general dogma make separating truth from fact very difficult. Although there are literally hundreds of nutrition myths that are discussed every single day, there are some that are most harmful than others, and, in my opinion, these are 5 of the worst nutrition myths that need to go now!
1. Saturated Fat is Bad for You
This idea that saturated fat is bad for you is the foundation for hundreds of other nutrition myths that have come after it. The myth that saturated fat is bad for you is the basis for the myth that vegetable oils are healthy, plant-based diets are healthier than meat-based diets, that eating fat will make you fat, and SO many other nutrition myths. The fear of saturated fat began in the 1950s when Ancel Keys, a researcher, published The Seven Countries Study linking saturated fat and cholesterol with rising rates of heart disease. With a limited understanding and knowledge of the roles of saturated fats at the time, this theory went rather undebated for many years. However, upon further research and understanding, these findings have come under serious question. As it turns out, Keys’ research was heavily flawed and the data presented was not truly representative of his findings. In recent years, new studies have disproved the diet-heart hypothesis and debunked it many times, but, unfortunately, the concept that saturated fats are unhealthy and cause heart disease remains one of the largest nutrition myths, that continues to be perpetuated by mainstream media today. In truth, from whole foods, saturated fat is an essential source of nutrition for the human body. Saturated fat is an essential building block for cells, and vitamins A, D, and K2 cannot be absorbed into our bodies without saturated fats acting as a carrier. When chosen with care, and consumed in a well-balanced diet of whole foods, saturated fat is incredibly important and beneficial for optimal health.
2. Eating Mini-Meals Boosts Metabolism
The concept that eating many small meals per day “boosts” metabolism is an easy one to buy into because, at first glance, it appears to make sense. Because the process of digestion raises your metabolism slightly, one might assume that eating more frequently would help to keep your metabolism elevated throughout the day and, in turn, burn more energy and more fat. In theory. In reality, evidence shows that eating multiple mini meals per day actually contributes to unbalanced blood sugar, increases in cravings, excess snacking, and often weight gain. The metabolism itself is the sum of all chemical processes in the body that gives you life, and it is affected by everything including diet, age, gender, muscle mass, blood sugar, hormones, stress, environment, and so much more. So, the concept that simply eating “mini” meals during the day will “boost” this is simplistic at best. Whether you eat 2000 calories across 3 meals or 6 meals does not make a difference. Rather it comes down the quantity, quality and balance of food you consume, not how you decide to break it up.
3. Artificial Sweeteners are Healthy Substitutes
Found in everything from diet sodas to protein powder and energy bars, artificial sweeteners are the darlings of the food industry as manufacturers can use them in products to provide a sweet taste without increasing calories. Although created with good intentions, artificial sweeteners are one of the most detrimental additives in our food system today. Not only have artificial sweeteners been shown to increase cravings, and in turn weight gain, but artificial sweeteners are manufactured laboratory chemicals that have no place in the human body and are shown to be detrimental to gut health and microbiome. If you want something sweet, you are much better off just consuming the real deal as opposed to using a synthetic chemical that causes far more harm than good.
4. Vegetable Oils are “Heart-Healthy”
Based on the myth that saturated fat is unhealthy, vegetable oil rose in popularity in the late 70s and 80s, and remains one of the most heavily marketed foods today. Vegetable oils, oils that have been extracted from seeds including canola oil, corn oil, soy oil, rapeseed oil, and safflower oil, were essentially non-existent until the early 1900s when new industrial processes allowed them to be extracted. The process of creating vegetable oils involves chemical extraction, degumming, refining, bleaching, deodorizing and hydrogenation in the case of margarine and spreads. Given their high level of processing, vegetable oils are incredibly fragile and can easily be damaged by exposure to light, heat, and air, making them a poor choice as cooking oils. One of the primary health concerns of vegetable oils is their high content of polyunsaturated fatty acids, also known as PUFAs. Polyunsaturated fats are highly unstable and oxidize very easily. Omega-6s are the PUFAs found in vegetable oils, and although they are essential to human health, in excess are dangerous and inflammatory to the body. Instead, opt for natural cooking fats like butter, ghee, tallow, lard, coconut oil or olive oil for cooking and dressings. When buying liquid oils such as olive oil or avocado oil, look for versions sold in dark glass bottle as light can turn oils rancid, and ensure they are stored in a cool, dry place away from heat sources.
5. All Calories are Created Equal
Calories, calories, calories. People love to talk about calories, but the thing is, most people don’t know what calories are or where they come from. A calorie is a unit of energy and calories are derived from the macronutrients in the food that we eat. In fact, calories are just simple math; 1 gram of protein contains 4 calories, 1 gram of carbohydrate contains 4 calories, and 1 gram of fat contains 9 calories. However, the concept that a “calorie is a calorie” is simply wrong, and it is damaging. Thinking that all calories are created equal is like thinking that a golf cart is like a Rolls Royce just because they both drive. Although a calorie does measure the total amount of energy in a food, the source of the calories is what determines how beneficial they are. Eating a 100 calories of Oreos is not the same as eating a 100 calories from an apple. Why? Because whole foods come packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that are essential for human health, while processed foods come packed with dangerous food additives that are detrimental to human health. Yes, the human body requires calories to function, but the human body will only function optimally if the calories we consume contain actual nutrients that it can utilize.