Seven Damaging Food Myths: Don’t Get Sidetracked By These Misconceptions About Fat, Protein & Carbs
Nutrition myths are widespread and harmful. They waste time and money and sidetrack you from developing a healthy way of eating the keeps you lean and gives you all the energy you need.
This article will expose some of the most common nutrition myths and tell you what science says to do instead.
Myth #1: Fat Makes You Fat & Is Bad For The Heart
Most people already “know” that fat is good for them and eating it in reasonable amounts won’t hurt the heart. But that doesn’t mean they have dropped the fat-free mindset—avoiding fat when they can in favour of reduced fat foods.
It’s time for everyone to fully embrace the delicious benefits of high-fat foods:
Research shows fatty foods offer greater satiety and lead to lower calorie intake overall. This means high-fat diets may result in equal or greater fat loss than low-fat diets.
Plus, saturated fat has been vindicated as the primary driver of cardiovascular disease. For example, one large-scale review found no effects on cardiovascular or all-cause mortality with reduction of saturated fat.
It should be noted that fat isn’t eaten in isolation. Rather, meals are complicated mixtures of foods that contain mixes of fats, as well as other components such as protein, carbohydrates, micronutrients and fibre.
Some foods containing saturated fats are harmful, such as processed foods that are high in carbs, or processed red meat. Others are benign or beneficial such as organic, grass-fed meats and eggs, particularly when eaten in a well-planned diet with a variety of nutrient-rich vegetables.
What To Do: Eat a variety of fat from nuts, seeds, fish, grass-fed meat, and dairy. Avoid processed fat and be careful of mainstream fat-filled foods that also contain loads of refined carbs because this combination has been shown to raise triglycerides.
Myth #2: Carbs Make You Fat
Everyone likes to say that carbs don’t make you fat, calories do. This is absolutely true—consuming more calories than you burn leads to fat gain. But what a lot of people don’t understand is that when it comes to carbs, you have greater control over what you eat than how much. Choose wisely and you can manage calorie intake for optimal body composition.
Choose wrongly, opting for carbs that are high in sugar, and you’ll stimulate appetite and eat more calories than you intended. This can cause fat gain when done over and over.
In addition, choosing a high-carb diet if you are sedentary can cause dangerous metabolic changes relating to hormone balance and insulin health that occur from a chronic overload of blood sugar. The brain becomes less responsive to hormones that signal fullness and appetite is stimulated, often leading to fat gain.
What To Do: Plan your carb intake based on genetics and activity levels. Some people thrive on carbs, whereas others feel more satisfied and in control of their eating from lower carb diets.
Myth #3: You Can Only Absorb 30 Grams Of Protein At A Time
This misconception comes from the fact that between 20 to 30 grams of protein is the amount that will maximally trigger protein synthesis. If you eat more than this amount, the rest of the protein is used for other purposes such as building enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, immune factors, and so on.
After those priorities are taken care of, the body can use protein for energy. It turns it into glucose via the liver, which you can burn. This process leads to the conversion of nitrogen from the amino acids into ammonia, which you excrete in urine. It’s this elimination of ammonia that appears to be the reason that people incorrectly say that “extra protein is excreted through the urine.”
That’s not true since your body has already absorbed, metabolized, and “used” the protein before the ammonia byproduct is eliminated. If levels of ammonia in the blood get too high, your pH will become more acidic, which the body will balance out with calcium reserves. The other thing that will happen is you will eliminate the overload of ammonia in sweat. If your sweat has an ammonia odor, you should dial back your protein intake.
What To Do: Consuming 20 to 30 grams of protein at once is all you need to stimulate protein synthesis, but that doesn’t mean you can’t eat more if you want to. There’s just no muscle-building advantage but it may be advantageous for managing appetite.
Myth #4: Low-Carb, High-Fat Ketogenic Diets Are Dangerous
Ketogenic diets are very low in carbs and very high in fat so that the body burns ketones instead of glucose from carbs. Ketones are a byproduct of fat metabolism and they have a neuroprotective effect on the brain due to low glucose levels from the lack of carbohydrates.
Ketogenic diets get a bad rap because they have been confused with ketoacidosis, which can occur in uncontrolled type I diabetics and is very dangerous. It is not the same thing as ketosis or low-carb eating.
In fact, variations of the traditional ketogenic, which was designed to treat epileptic seizures, have been used by athletes to reduce body fat. In one study, elite gymnasts who were on a ketogenic diet for one month had a 2.6 percent reduction in body fat.
What To Do: Implementing a ketogenic diet is something of an art form. Do your research so you know what you’re getting into and, depending on your nutrition knowledge, work with us to get the best out of a strategy.
Myth #5: Get As Much Fish Oil & Omega-3 Fats As Possible
Fish oil is well known for being health promoting. This fact has led many people (and aggressive marketers) to think that if some is good, then MORE is better. At first glance, this approach actually has some merit, but when you look closer at the research, it falls apart.
It was thought that a high intake of fish oil (which is made up of the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA) is necessary to counter the high intake of omega-6 fats from vegetable and seed oils that is very common in the Western diet. The average person on a Western diet gets a 25:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats. The goal was to reduce the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio to closer to 2:1 by getting boatloads of omega-3 fats.
The flaw in this plan is that the omega-3 and -6 fats are polyunsaturated fats that are easily damaged by oxidation. A high intake increases the risk that you are accidentally consuming dangerous oxidized fat, which can damage tissue and DNA and increase disease risk.
What To Do: Try to radically lower omega-6 fat intake by limiting vegetable fats to well below 10 grams a day. Then balance that number with omega-3 fats from a variety of sources including fatty fish, pastured meat, and high-quality, stabilized fish oil.
Myth #6: A Calorie Is A Calorie
This one has been pretty well debunked in popular media but nutritionists and health organizations still tend to stress the useless advice that “all calories are created equally.”
It comes from the fact that a “Calorie” is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water one centigrade Nutritionists take it a step further, citing the first law of thermodynamics that says that you have to take in less energy than you expend to lose fat.
Both of these are scientific facts, but they don’t make a calorie a calorie for any practical purpose. For starters, the amount of calories the body burns processing food varies widely among the different macronutrients. This difference is called the thermic effect of food, and the body burns 25 percent of the calories supplied in a pure protein meal, whereas numbers are much lower for carbs and fat.
In addition, the body preferentially uses the amino acids in protein to rebuild tissues in the body, whereas carbs either get stored as muscle glycogen (a fuel source for muscle) or as fat.
That all calories are not equal is evident in real–life too. A recent study had subjects eat either a low-fat/high-carb diet or a low-carb/high-protein diet. The diets were matched for calories. What was amazing was that the subjects on the low-carb diet burned an additional 300 calories.
The “traditional” low-fat diet seemed to make the metabolism more sluggish than the low-carb, high-protein one. Researchers believe that the low-carb diet allowed for a higher metabolism due to three reasons:
- the thermic effect of needing to process more protein (it costs the body more calories to process protein than carbs),
- higher availability of metabolic fuels (the body was able to mobilize and burn fat),
- and greater leptin sensitivity for less hunger.
Longer term studies show similar outcomes. A 2014 randomized control trial found that a low-carb diet led to increased fat loss and an improved health profile at 3, 6, 9 and 12 months compared to a low-fat diet.
What To Do: Get the metabolic advantage of protein by eating it at every meal. Eat protein with fibrous green vegetables and healthy fat for higher satiety and a better body composition.
Myth #7: One Pound Of Fat Equals 3,500 Calories
The prevailing belief in the medical community is that if you can create a calorie deficit of 3,500 calories, you will lose a pound. Unfortunately, when you lose weight, compensatory mechanisms work in the body to prevent further fat loss and promote regain, making the 3,500 calorie rule a major oversimplification.
For example, when you achieve a calorie deficit, not all of the weight lost will be fat. Instead, a good portion of it will be muscle, which will lead to a large drop in the amount of calories your body burns a day.
In addition, levels of a hormone called leptin, which is released from fat tissue, drop leading to increased hunger and the drive to eat. Finally, there is evidence that as weight loss occurs, people become less active in daily life, thereby burning fewer calories in spontaneous physical activity and increasing the likelihood of weight gain.
All this misery comes on top of the fact that most people are very impatient when it comes to trying to reduce body fat. They think that a few days of healthy eating and exercise should strip the pounds away. In reality, one review suggests that if you achieve a deficit of 100 calories daily, you would be able to lose about 10 pounds over the course of 3 years.
What To Do: A more practical approach than focusing on calories is to adopt habits that promote long-term fat loss:
Exercise by training with weights so that you preserve muscle and sustain the amount of calories you burn daily.
Eat a higher protein diet of at least 1.6 g/kg a day because this amount has been found to maintain muscle during fat loss.
Eat whole foods and avoid processed foods while being as active as possible throughout the day.