Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Buzz off with having a personal trainer “debunk” nutrition myths buzzfeed

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What the hell, buzzfeed??? Why would you choose a personal trainer to debunk “diet and nutrition myths”? Sure, not everything he said was inaccurate but his training does not lend itself to providing evidence-informed nutrition information. As a celebrity trainer, it’s his job to help people lose weight and get buff. The advice given to people in that circumstance is likely quite different from the nutrition advice given to people with other health and nutrition concerns. Diets are not one-size-fits-all. What works (i.e. a way of eating that they are happy and healthy consuming for life) for one person will not work for another. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s take a quick look at some of the “myths” that this trainer “debunked”.

1. Full cream milk is actually a better choice over its skim and low-fat counterparts.

This is dangerous advice, in my opinion. When I used to work at a coffee shop I had one customer who would regularly order 20-oz lattes made from heavy cream. That’s just shy of 1600 calories and 88 grams of fat (135% of the maximum recommended daily intake for fat). While the research on milk products and nutrition is mixed, there is little doubt that full-fat dairy products contribute more calories to a person’s diet than reduced-fat products. While a glass of whole milk may be perfectly healthy for many people, a glass of 1% may be a better choice for others. A little cream in one coffee a day is unlikely to have a negative impact on anyone’s health. However, there are very very few people for whom a glass of heavy cream would be a good choice.

2. And be wary of products labelled “low-fat”.

Ostensibly because these products are often higher in sugar. This may be true in some cases. I certainly think that we went overboard with the fear of fat in the ’80s. However, best to read the label before judging a product based on any front-of-package nutrition claims.

3. No, coconut oil isn’t THAT bad for you.

“The recent stuff around coconut oil is categorically wrong. It’s a natural fat, and fat doesn’t make you fat. It will be disproven in the near future, I promise you!”

Well, my thoughts on fats and oils are that we shouldn’t but all of our eggs in one basket. It’s best to use a variety and use them all sparingly. Of course, people with specific health concerns may have different needs and should work with a registered dietitian to determine the best choices for them.

4. Skipping breakfast may not completely “ruin” your metabolism, but it will make you prone to eating worse for the rest of the day.

Getting that first meal in does kickstart your metabolism, and the benefits of eating breakfast definitely outweigh not eating it.

I have mixed feeling about this one. I’m personally a big fan of breakfast, and it can be difficult to meet your nutrient needs if you skip it, but evidence has shown that it doesn’t actually impact your metabolism (whether you eat it or not) and you’re not necessarily going to make poor food choices throughout the day if you’re not a breakfast person.

5. And you definitely are damaging your metabolism with fad diets and juice cleanses.

I’m glad to see he’s opposed to fad diets and juice cleanses. I’m not sure that damaged metabolism is the best of reasons to oppose them but there are plenty of other good reasons.

6. Buying organic is technically better for you – but as long as you’re eating non-processed foods, you’re on the right track.

Yes, organic products are more often than not slightly better for us. There’s less human interference, less chemicals, and less pesticides. But as long as you’re eating ‘real’ food and not processed food, that’s the most important thing. The kind of rules you should go by are if you’re in a supermarket and a product has more than five ingredients, then be wary.

Actually, there’s no evidence to show that eating organic is any healthier than conventional. There are pesticides used on organic crops and plenty of chemicals on (and in) both. There may be other reasons to choose organic (environmental and biodiversity, for example) but health and nutrition is not one of them.

Processing can actually enhance the nutrients in some foods (e.g. tomato sauce) and make other foods edible (e.g. legumes). It’s ultra-processed ready-to-eat foods that we need to reduce our consumption of.

That five ingredients rule is ridiculous. Plain potato chips only have 3 ingredients.

7. Many store-bought protein drinks aren’t actually that great for you.

I’d go a step further and say that most people don’t need any protein supplementation.

8. And be wary of the protein bars too.

True, many of these are like candy bars. And again, most of us don’t need protein supplements.

9. Some superfoods aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

“Tumeric is a really good ‘superfood’ because it has anti-inflammatory qualities, and is great for bloating and if you don’t sleep well. I think kale is a bit overrated! I don’t think it’s that much difference to just having spinach, you know? I think the key message there is just because a food is ‘in vogue’ doesn’t necessarily make it any better or more magical than similar foods in the same family.”

There is no such thing as a “superfood”. Actually, it’s turmeric and research has shown that it does not live up to the hype. It’s still great in curries and lovely with ginger in a tea. Kale is great. Spinach is great. Don’t buy the hype is a good message about any food. No one food is going to make or break your diet.

10. You can actually train your body to need less food.

That is, if you’re currently consuming more calories than you need. Most of us are definitely out of touch with our innate hunger and satiety cues and could benefit from following some mindful eating principles.

11. Eating pasta for dinner (occasionally) won’t necessarily set you back.

If you have pasta for dinner, and that’s in balance with a high-protein and low-carb breakfast and lunch, then it’s probably going to be fine.

Yes, pasta is fine and delicious. Yes, it’s all about balance (and portion sizes). I don’t think you need to go so far as to go low-carb at lunch if you’re having pasta for supper though. Just make sure you’re plate is half veg and you’ve got some protein there too and you’ll survive regular pasta meals.

12. Don’t believe any myths about eggs being bad for you.

Yep, eggs are good. On this we can agree.

13. There’s no real thing as a “calorie negative” food.

Man, two in a row!

14. It’s not a choice between choosing a healthy diet, or choosing to workout – the most effective way to lose weight or stay healthy is by doing BOTH.

Again, true. Although what you eat is more likely to affect a person’s weight than their level of activity. Both are important for health and weight is not necessarily a good measure of health.

15. And it can be good for your mental health to have a piece or two of chocolate!

Again, agreed. Deprivation is probably the top reason why people don’t maintain healthy dietary habits.

I’m glad we could end on a positive note but I’d like to reiterate that personal trainers are not nutrition experts. If you want accurate evidence-informed nutrition information, trust a dietitian. If you want a new workout routine, visit a personal trainer.

 

 

 

 

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Top 10 food and medicine myths brought to you by Big Food and Big Pharma

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Image by publik15 on flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

I know that everyone was rejoicing recently because Natural News was blacklisted from Google search results. However, it seems that such jubilation was a tad premature. Natural News wasn’t disappeared because of its propensity for propagating fake news and it’s right back in Google searches less than a month later. So, I feel that it’s worthwhile to respond to some of the nonsense that they’re spouting.

This article on the Top 10 Food and Medicine Myths You Probably Fell for at Some Point  particularly amused me due to the suggestion that “Big Food” and “Big Pharma” are in bed together. As if somehow there’s a conspiracy in which farmers, food manufacturers, and pharmaceutical companies have some sort of stone-cutters type secret society. At their top secret meetings they’re supposedly conspiring to make us all sick while cramming more of our hard earned dollars into their overflowing deep pockets.

Let’s take a look at each of the ten myths…

  1. Milk… It does a body good. According to Natural News, drinking milk is bad because we’re the only species to drink it past infancy, and from (gasp) another animal; it’s just “not natural”. The truth: I think I’ve made this point before, but it bears repeating that we’re the only species to do a LOT of things: cook our food, wear clothes, watch tv, etc.
  2. Red meat is worse for your body than chicken, turkey, or pig. Their argument being that ALL meat is bad for us. The truth: Plant-based diets may be healthier, but not all meats are created equal. Processed and red meat are linked with slightly higher cancer rates than is poultry. Not all meat is raised and slaughtered under inhumane conditions. This is just fear mongering. If you’re concerned about the origins of your meat, know your farmer.
  3. Organic canola is a healthy choice. I’ll concede that they make a good point here by saying that “everything is organic is not healthy”. However, the arguments canola comes from “toxic” rapeseed and canola contains trans-fat from processing don’t hold weight. The truth: Canola is bred to be low in erucic acid (the toxic component of rapeseed). It’s also high in mono- and poly-unsaturated fats (1). Liquid oils do not contain trans-fat.
  4. Organic soy (that’s unfermented) is good for you. The arguments here are so out-to-lunch that I’m not even sure how to address them. Supposedly, big food and big pharma are pushing organic soy products on us for some undisclosed nefarious reason. Supposedly soy contributes to a whole host of health problems. The truth: Unless you have a soy allergy, or are on thyroid medication, there’s no reason to worry about soy. Despite the prevalent belief that soy causes breast cancer, the evidence shows that soy consumption is actually more likely to decrease risk, than to increase it (2).
  5. Vaccines no longer contain mercury (thimerosal), and the CDC even says so. The truth: Thimerosal is still used in flu vaccines, but no routine childhood vaccines. It’s outside my scope as a dietitian to provide advice about vaccines but I’m fairly confident that having polio or small pox would be much worse than any risk of being vaccinated.
  6. Chemotherapy is the best chance to beat cancer once you’ve been diagnosed. According to Natural News, your chance of survival is 2.3% on chemo and there are loads of successful natural remedies such as garlic and baking soda. The truth: your chance of survival depends on many factors such as the type of cancer and early diagnosis. Chemo and radiation may be awful but they are the most effective treatments to date. Natural “remedies” are not effective.
  7. Many cancer cases are inherited in our genes from our parents or their parents. Supposedly we’re told this to prevent us from seeking out natural remedies. The truth: Why would the cause influence the treatment? Regardless of the source, natural “remedies” are not effective.
  8. There is no cure for cancer. More of the same. The truth: STOP FALLING FOR THIS BULLSHIT. THERE IS NO BIG CONSPIRACY HIDING THE CURE FOR CANCER.
  9. The FDA and CDC function in the best interest of American consumers by inspecting food and medicine for dangerous substances. Again, there is a big conspiracy and Big Pharma is running the show. The truth: Sure, the FDA and CDC may not always be effective but there is no larger conspiracy against Americans.
  10. Fluoride in toothpaste and tap water helps humans keep their teeth strong and free of decay. We’re supposed to watch some video that will tell us “the truth”. The truth: fluoride is effective in reducing tooth decay.


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Can you cure cancer by cutting sugar?

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After a conversation with a reader about ludicrous nutrition advice he was given after receiving a cancer diagnosis I felt the need to address the issue. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by people that cancer cells feed on sugar so people with cancer shouldn’t eat sugar. There are so many things wrong with this.

Sure, cancer cells use sugar in the same way that ALL cells in your body do. Sugar, in the form of glucose, is the energy source for all of your cells. If you have cancer and eat sugar you are not “feeding” the cancer. Conversely, if you stop eating sugar, you’re not going to be able to starve your cancer to death. You get glucose from more sources than table sugar and sugary snacks and if you’re not consuming enough glucose to fuel your body it will start making it for you.

I’m sure that most people who believe that consuming sugar helps cancer grow are simply well-meaning misguided individuals. Unfortunately, there’s a whole industry built on preying on people’s desperation. When someone is diagnosed with cancer, in many cases they’ll turn to whatever cure or treatment they can. As food is “natural” it’s not surprising that people would want to look for dietary treatments. That’s where the predatory wellness warriors come in telling people to cut all sugar from their diets amongst other nutritional “cures’ with absolutely no scientific basis.

A google search for “food cure for cancer” yielded the following results:

Vegetables Juices. The RAW vegetables you should focus on are carrots, cabbage, green asparagus, broccoli, red beets (i.e. beetroot), beet tops, cauliflower and related vegetables. Peppers also have cancer-fighting substances. The spice turmeric can be added as well.

Brussels sprouts, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower all contain sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinols (I3Cs), two potent anticancer molecules. These molecules help the body detoxify certain carcinogenic substances and can help prevent precancerous cells from developing into malignant tumors.

6 Cancer-Fighting Superfoods

A change of diet cured my cancer

How I used the raw vegan diet to beat cancer naturally

Heal all cancer with this diet

It’s all bullshit. If cancer could be miraculously cured by eating “superfoods” or “raw food” or having intravenous mega-doses of vitamins no one would be dying of cancer anymore. Scientists would have stopped researching cancer cures years ago.

Nutrition and your overall diet certainly play a role in cancer risk but it’s not the only risk factor. If you have cancer, I recommend working with a dietitian who specializes in nutrition for cancer patients to optimize your nutrition while you undergo appropriate treatment overseen by an oncologist.


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Let’s Clear It Up makes one thing about the beverage industry clear

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One of the joys of blogging is getting unsolicited requests from PR people telling me what to write about. Some of them are pretty random, like the one I got about promoting the new album from a former reality show contestant, the tenuous connection to my blog? That the singer is committed to living a healthy lifestyle. Ha. Some of the requests are interesting and worth writing about (like the Beyond Milk and Cookies project I wrote about a few weeks ago). And then there are the slightly scary ones.

Those would be the ones from groups such as the American Beverage Association. The message I received urged me to “keep the facts in mind” and proceeded to disparage a new study that purportedly found that “postmenopausal women who sip diet soda are more likely to experience heart attacks and stroke“. Unfortunately, the research has yet to be published so I can’t comment on it directly. However, I think it’s pretty telling that the ABA feels sufficiently threaten by the research that they’re emailing bloggers such as myself (who, if they’d done any reading at all would have seen that I’m generally critical of the food industry) asking us to be critical of such research.

The email included a link to the ABA’s “educational” website “Let’s Clear It Up” which states:

Soda is a hot topic. And the conversation is full of opinions and myths, but not enough facts. America’s beverage companies created this site to clear a few things up about the products we make. So read on. Learn. And share the clarity.

The website presents “myths” and “facts” on topics such as artificial sweeteners, marketing, and caffeine, among many others. Unfortunately, it would take me far too long to comment on each “myth” and “fact”. So I’d just like to make a couple of fairly general comments. The first is in regard to marketing. The ABA claims that soft drinks and energy drinks are not marketed to children. Soft drinks not to audiences younger than 12 years of age, and energy drinks not to those in grade school. Are you kidding me?! Energy drinks sponsoring extreme sports isn’t marketing to teens? Putting cute little polar bears in your commercials isn’t targeting children?? I know that the pledge to stop marketing to children was just last year but I don’t think all that much has changed since Yale reported on broken industry marketing promises in 2011. The second is that many of these “facts” are misleading and while not being outright lies are twisted truths. Take hydration for example. Just because the 8-glasses-a-day has been busted and because other sources of fluid can contribute to hydration does not make pop a good choice for hydration. Sigh.

“Let’s Clear It Up” is a desperate attempt by the ABA to convince the public that their unhealthy beverages are healthy. The only thing made clear by the site is that the industry is running scared.


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Follow Friday: Diet Duchess

Diet Duchess - Eat Fabulously and Diet Easily. Modern Day Lady Conquering Diet

Not long ago I was asked if I would answer a few questions about my diet by fellow dietitian Perryn Carroll. She added a “What do dietitians eat?” section to her fabulous Diet Duchess blog in an effort to help dispel misconceptions about the nutritional proclivities of dietitians. Always happy to help dispel myths about dietitians and to do a little quiz (true fact: I used to wish I had a job at which I could complete surveys, assemble IKEA furniture, and bake/eat all day) I happily accepted her request. You can check out my answers and those of other dietitians here. I also recommend perusing the other sections of her blog: diet advice, diet etiquette, and food reviews while you’re there. You can also follow Perryn on twitter at: @PerrynCarroll.