In the digital age there is a wealth of information available to us, allowing the discovery of new things about ourselves, our fitness and our nutrition. But sometimes, it’s hard to sift out the useable information from the fog of fad diets and unproven speculation. The same goes for what you hear through the grapevine. Your friends may have heard something from another friend, who heard it from someone else, and so on and so on…and before you know it you find yourself a situation where no one has any idea what the source material was. And that’s where the problem comes in. It’s not always possible to do the research of so-called ‘facts’ that you’ve taken-for-granted for years now, but as we’re in the business of optimising your nutrition and diet habits we’ve taken it upon ourselves to debunk the main myths floating around the industry.
Eggs Are Bad For Your Heart
This is one of those myths that exist because it makes intuitive sense, in line with the old adage “you are what you eat”. Eggs contain cholesterol, so they will have a negative effect on blood cholesterol right? Well… no, not really.
It is true that eggs do contain cholesterol, and high blood cholesterol is associated with cardiovascular disease, but dietary cholesterol actually has a minimal effect on blood levels. Your liver produces far more cholesterol each day than you can take in through food, and in the presence of large amounts of dietary cholesterol, the liver reduces its production.
Other dietary molecules, such as trans fats, certain saturated fats, and high amounts of sugar have a significantly greater influence on blood cholesterol than cholesterol itself, and if aiming to lower your cholesterol levels, focusing on reducing these would be a good start.
Wholegrain Foods Are Good For Everyone
There has long since been a movement away from refined carbs like pasta and white bread, and it’s common advice that if you want to lose weight and be healthier, you should replace these with whole grains.
One issue with this is that people often see ‘contains whole grains’ as a label that guarantees health, when in fact there still could be plenty of other refined carbohydrates and additives in that product. It’s important to be mindful of this when shopping for whole grain foods.
Another aspect is that for people who are sensitive to certain aspects of grains, such as gluten, these compounds are often present in higher amounts in whole grain varieties, as less has been stripped out through the refinement process. If grains don’t agree with you, you may want to switch to other complex carbohydrate sources, such as sweet potatoes.
All Fats Are Bad
Thankfully, even though it’s taken some time, there is more and more research and awareness that highlights the benefits of certain fats, such as mono-unsaturates found in olive oil, which are essential to health.
Genetics play a role in individual sensitivity to fats, and although there are some fats that are universally bad, like trans fats and fats that have been oxidised by high temperatures, many people can tolerate saturated fats from whole food sources very well. Many of these foods, such as organic meats, have the added benefit of containing fat soluble vitamins like A, D and K.
Dietary fats are actually a very diverse range of molecules, so blanket labelling the entire group as either good or bad is misguided. For optimal wellbeing, it’s important to focus on foods your body needs and can handle well, and your lifestyle, along with your genetics, can help inform decisions on this.
You Need To Starve Yourself To Lose Weight
Calorie counting; the restrictive kind of diet, is fast becoming a thing of the past after people who were starving themselves during the day and carefully reading packaging found the difficulty of sticking to such a diet outweighed it’s potential benefits.
The fact is that restrictive calorie counting can lead you to leaving out nutrients that your body requires for normal healthy function. Carbohydrates and fats have both fallen prey to this, often being completely dropped from diets in a bid to lose weight, but complete absence of either can eventually lead to hormonal problems.
Reducing your calorie intake to below the amount you use throughout the day is still fundamental to losing weight, but there are more sustainable ways to go about it than feeling hungry all the time. For long term, sustainable weight loss, eat when you’re hungry but focus on meals that will help you to feel full, such as those high in fibre and protein, without obsessing over the calorie content.
Carbs At Night Make You Fat
When you first think about this one it may seem like common sense, but the body doesn’t always behave in the ways we assume. The myth is that by eating carbs late at night, when you are inactive, you’ll be unable to burn them, and your body is forced to store them as fat. This is untrue for a couple of reasons.
First, your body’s resting metabolic rate at night is actually very similar to during the day, due to the numerous regulatory processes that occur during sleep. Second, if you’ve exercise intensely during the day, then your metabolism will remain elevated throughout the night as your body repairs itself and replenishes fuel stores.
Remember that your body builds muscle when at rest, not while training, and this is an energy consuming process that occurs regardless of the time of day.
Cooking Protein Changes Its Value
If there was a difference between raw protein and cooked protein, then you’d see way more people choosing the raw option when they’re keen on building muscle.
Although the act of cooking changes the structure of protein through ‘denaturing’ it does not mean that there is any more or less useable protein in your meal. During digestion, protein is broken down into in’s constituent amino acids before being absorbed, and this is true regardless of weather it’s raw or cooked.
So cook away, and remember, eating raw or improperly prepared meat raises your chances of infection from any active, harmful bacteria that are present.
Eat Small Meals All Day
This one remains true for you bodybuilders. If your fitness goals are to pack on the pounds, in terms of muscle, then it is recommended that you eat meals frequently throughout the day to stimulate protein synthesis.
For the rest of us, there is no proof that eating small meals allows you to absorb more nutrients than eating the usual breakfast, lunch and dinner. The truth is that you’re more than likely going to be consuming the same amount of calories throughout the day, just in different stages.
While some people prefer small meals because it feels psychologically easier, or they don’t like to feel too full, total food intake throughout the day is a far more important factor than how those meals are broken up.
Nutrition Labels Are Always Accurate
It’s comforting to believe that everything we see presented on the packages of food in the supermarket is true but, unfortunately, that is not always the case. It is very difficult to display the exact information for the particular item you are looking at, as the content of many foods can vary by season, region, weight, and size.
The numbers displayed are often averages, and they can give you a good estimate but are by no means exact.
Low Fat Is Better
For several decades fats, in particular saturated fats, have been held up as the scapegoat for all sorts of diet related maladies, particularly heart disease. More and more, we are learning that it may not be that simple, and that much of the narrative against the inclusion of fats in the diet was based on bad evidence.
Recently, the British Medical Journal has published a number of systematic reviews and meta-analyses [ (the gold standard of scientific evidence which analyses all well performed studies on a topic) which found no link between saturated fat intake and coronary heart disease.
Fat does have a high calorie content, so it’s important to monitor your intake if you’re concerned about weight gain. However, low fat products are not necessarily the answer, as many replace the fat with artificial additives and sugar, which can have other implications for your health. In addition, the sugar calories can quickly add up, hindering your weight loss efforts.
Overall, a measured approach to fats is needed. Consider your personal needs, how well you tolerate fat in the diet, and what your personal sensitivities are – your genes can help inform this. Always aim for healthy, whole food options if you can, and don’t assume that substituting regular yoghurt for the low fat option is a good move by default.
Fad Diets Work To Keep Weight Off
There is always a new diet cropping up that promises the solve the world’s problems, and in record time. It’s easy to fall for the lure of these promises, but don’t be fooled. Effective dieting takes time, and lasting change only comes from picking a strategy that you can stick with.
While fad diets can be temporarily effective, often through extreme calorie restriction, they are not sustainable either psychologically or physiologically, and often lead to people regaining all their previous weight, if not more, when they revert to their previous habits.