Some Common Nutrition Myths vs. Facts
Are you overwhelmed by daily decisions about what to eat, how much to eat to be healthy? If so, don’t be discouraged because you’re not alone. With many choices myths evolve and decisions are difficult, it can be hard to know what to do and which information you can trust.
How do myths evolve?
Most, if not all, myths are based on data, and data is based on associations either based on self-observations or research-based observations. Exposure to conflicting nutritional information (CNI) through different forms of media forms the basis of nutrition-related confusion and gives rise to nutritional myths.
For example, associational data consistently finds that vegetarian tendencies are healthier. Time and time again. We say tendencies because it’s not always total vegetarianism that they have studied, it also includes people with very low meat intakes or even sometimes it’s no kind of meat, but there’s some fish within there. So, studies associate very low meat intake with greater longevity, lower BMI, lower cholesterol, lower mortality from ischemic heart disease by 25% in vegetarians, versus omnivorous meat-eating people. Long term vegetarians have a better antioxidant status and cardiac coronary heart disease risk profile than healthy omnivores do, apparently.
So, is it vegetarianism specifically or is it something else?
Bit of common sense. Who generally becomes vegetarian? It’s individuals who do care about their health, or, you know, they may be doing it just for an animal rights reason. And that’s fine. But having to pick to eat in that way is a big step. It is a big commitment to commit to. So they don’t just go “OK, I’m going to eat like that”. They think more about their diet. And just that simple act really takes them where we want all health seeking individuals including omnivores meat eaters to go.
Think where would you go to find the healthiest people, the most health seeking individuals? In health food shops, subscribers to health magazines and members of health food societies.
When researchers have studied meat eaters, they found meat eaters smoke more than people in the vegetarian groups, they do less exercise, they eat more saturated fat, they eat less vegetables and they drink more alcohol compared to people in the vegetarian groups. They basically do every non health seeking behavior that society tells them that they shouldn’t. Therefore, its not simply about being vegetarian.
What do statistics say?
The statistics basically reveals that there was no significant difference between health seeking vegetarians and omnivores.
However, being evidence-based doesn’t make us infallible. We are still human. We still have bias based on observations and experiences.
In this article we will cover some common myths, where did the myth come from? What gives it credence? Research to refute it. We expect health seeking individual to benefit from it.
Some Common Myths
In this article we are going to cover following common health-related myths & misconceptions:
- Gluten is bad for health & stops fat loss
- Artificial Sweeteners are ‘worse than sugar’
- Eating organic will help fat loss and is healthier
- High protein intakes are bad for kidneys/bones
- Fasted cardio enhances fat loss
Myth: Gluten is bad for health and fat loss.
Where did the myth come from? There’s lots of different myths that surround gluten, it impairs gut health, reduces fat loss, maybe causes weight gain. But there is a study of 24 adults with hyperlipidemia, increased consumption of wheat gluten for two weeks on a weight maintenance diet. This reduced serum triglyceride levels, a marker of health actually improved with having gluten. Is it a proof that we should be adding gluten to people’s diet? No, not really.
And there are people who say “I feel better when I cut out gluten.” When you step back and look at that why that might be the case? Is it specific to gluten? No. Bu why do you lose weight when you’ve gone gluten free? That has nothing to do with gluten and everything to do with calories. To cut down on gluten you cut down on baked food, cakes, and pizzas and you lose weight.
So, where did the myth come from? It’s like the Gurus trying to sound clever writing books on “the wheat of today is nothing like the wheat of 1960”, “Modern bread and wheat are NOTHING like what your great grandparents ate” and “why gluten is harming your health.” And since it’s in a book, so obviously it’s right. And if you go online, you can find an amazing systematic deconstruction of this wheat belly book.
“I cut out gluten and feel better, I could lose weight.” The fact is that junk foods often contain gluten or gluten containing foods contain calories. So, research to refute it.
Cutting out gluten often leads to a reduction in energy intake and weight loss, improved GI symptoms, improved dietary quality. There is no direct effect of gluten. This is due to cutting out suspect foods. So, people will definitely feel a bit better when they do cut FODMAP out. Cutting down on gluten is mostly about cutting down on junk foods, which often contain gluten.
Myth: Artificial Sweeteners are Worse than Sugar! They are bad for your health, will make you fat and cause type 2 diabetes!
Where did the myth come from? Aspartame scares and conspiracy theories in the US from the 1970s-80s. Animal studies! Observational studies associating sweetener intake with higher BMI and the fear of the unknown/unnatural gave the myth credence.
There were some animal studies. When they fed them essentially multiple times their body weight in sweeteners, it had some negative effects on them. It would be like you eating truckloads of the stuff and who knows what would happen, it is just these scenarios of extremism that we can’t account for?
Are artificial sweeteners ‘worse than sugar’? Do sweeteners initiate an insulin response? Systematic review on sweeteners and glucose absorption and insulin response concluded: “There was no consistent evidence that intense sweeteners cause insulin release or lower blood sugar in normal subjects.”
Some observational studies on artificial sweeteners have found that artificially sweetened drinks are linked to weight gain rather than weight loss. However, some recent observational studies noted that artificial sweeteners were associated with a slightly higher BMI — but not with increased body weight or fat mass. It’s important to remember that observational studies do not prove cause and effect but only allow researchers to find patterns that warrant further investigation. Well, when you drink the sweetener, the Diet Coke, your body thinks you should be getting sugar, and you’re not, and then it tells you need to go and get some. I’ll just go get another diet coke, because I think that it is that, and I’ll just keep doing that, I’ll still never add calories. Dieters simply choose diet drinks more.
Meta-analysis of 15 RCT’s (random control trials) showed replacement of caloric sweeteners with low-calorie sweetener alternatives resulted in a significant reduction in BMI, Fat mass and Waist circumference
For weight loss, replacing caloric foods/drinks with low calorie sweetener alternatives works. No strong evidence for the effects of sweeteners on health. Just with one caveat of maybe a link towards gut health that maybe will come out in the future and just look out for those studies.
Myth: Organic Food is Safer and Healthier.
Organic is an interesting topic that can tend to split a health seeking room. Are organic foods healthier? No strong evidence of this.
One of the reasons in favor of organic eating is avoiding possible health risks from pesticides. Studies that examined clinical outcomes of eczema, wheeze, atopic sensitization or symptomatic Campylobacter infection found no significant difference between those that had organic or non-organic foods.
The other attributed reason is that organic produce may have more of certain antioxidants and types of flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties. Studies have found no significant differences in biomarkers or nutrient levels in serum, urine, breast milk, and semen in adults.
However, organic foods were found to have 30% lower pesticide residues than conventional foods. Significantly lower urinary pesticide levels in organic consumers.
But levels in both organic and non-organic foods were within allowable safety limits.
Organic chicken and pork were also about a third less likely to contain antibiotic-resistant bacteria than conventionally raised chicken and pork. However, the bacteria that cause food poisoning were equally present in both types of foods.
Where did the myth come from? The answer is from “Food companies and marketing.”
What gives credence to this myth? Studies to show lower levels of pesticides in organic food vs non-organic.
The health/nutritional benefits of organic are hugely overplayed! It’s a personal choice.
High Protein Diets & Renal Function
Myth: Eating Protein is Bad for the Kidneys.
Where did the myth come from? Individuals with pre-existing chronic kidney disease being put on a low protein diet.
When one has got dyslipidemia, obesity, hypertension, or high blood pressure, one is much more likely to get issues with kidneys, and even in those individuals who have a higher susceptibility, putting them on a high protein diet doesn’t cause any kind of issues of kidneys. Also protein helps in weight loss and weight loss reduces risk of issues with renal function. So by putting someone on a higher protein diet we know there is a high percentage chance it’s going to help them lose weight and that has a massive impact on benefiting the renal function. So you know it should be something that people can be choosing. There’s no clear renal related contraindications to high protein diets in individuals with healthy kidney function.
What gives it credence? Protein restriction is a clinically proven treatment method for chronic kidney disease. It reduces the strain on the kidneys.
Research studies refute it with RCT’s (random control trials). There is no impact of high protein diets on renal function in healthy individuals.
There is no health risk of eating a high protein diet in healthy individuals. And just bear in mind that protein restriction is a clinically proven treatment in chronic kidney diseases.
Myth: Fasted Cardio is Better than Fed Cardio for Fat Loss.
This is the fasted cardio idea: “Performing aerobic cardio following an overnight fast” accelerates fat loss. All of the research shows it hasn’t done anything, no plausible mechanism that fasted cardio offers any fat loss benefit above and beyond energy deficit. Increase in fat oxidation during exercise does not necessarily translate to increased fat reduction.
One thing to bear in mind is if you get up and you normally eat, but instead you don’t and you go and do cardio, you drive to the gym. You then do your cardio, you drive home. You’ve actually just shortened your window of eating, and that might be an appropriate method, but it was nothing to do with the physiological effect. It’s just the fact that you’ve done a windowed eating protocol. Energy balance is the most important factor.
Where did the myth come from? Bodybuilding bro’s walking uphill on a treadmill at 5am…
What gives it credence? Fat oxidation is greater during fasted cardio and anecdotal reviews such as: “XY got shredded and they do fasted cardio.”
Fasted cardio is a personal preference! Energy balance is the most important factor for fat loss (potentially augmented endurance adaptations).
These are just some of the myths, misconceptions and presumptions that exist. You should remain critical in all your advice and evaluate the myth with research.
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Abhinav Malhotra is an award-winning personal trainer, coach and sports nutritionist in Dubai, UAE. He also offers online services to clients around the world. A personal trainer par excellence, Abhi has worked with the world’s leading fitness chains, supplement brands and founded his own fitness academy in India. He has achieved successes for many clients from all backgrounds and has trained the Indian Army Rugby Team. He is the first International Kettlebell Sport athlete from India.