We’re going to take a look at some of the worst nutrition myths – and bust them!
I’m amazed when I read about or discuss nutrition with fitness trainers and people in the general public and hear the varying impressions most have on this important topic. The widespread lack of misunderstanding on what constitutes good nutrition is surprising.
The exists because there is so much misinformation flying around on the Internet, in books and in the media. It appears to me that celebrity diet gurus, famous show hosts and profit-driven supplement companies have enjoyed a great deal of success by manipulating people’s minds to adopt their commercial agendas.
Fringe authors, celebrities and self-proclaimed experts are cashing in on the obesity epidemic, in particular, by touting diets. Many offer bizarre ideas that promise a quick fix. They seem too good to be true, because they are. They come up with some catchphrase and arrange for publicity on television or in the print media. Often, they have little or no scientific data – just anecdotal evidence that this food plan worked for them or for one of their celebrity clients.
The fact is, the human body works by a set of biological rules, which are basically the same for all of us. Before taking any idea on nutrition as the truth, it must be thought through to the chemical and biological levels. Some people say, for example, that whole grain bread is better for you than white bread. What does that mean? Support for a statement like that should be explained to its molecular form, which most of these “experts” don’t understand.
Our bodies work the same biologically. All people will essentially react in a similar way to eating patterns, with variations occurring only in small degrees. There are no miracle diets exclusive to anyone. Any idea slanted in favour of one of the macronutrients over another is not sound, and is ultimately unsafe.
NUTRITION MYTHS #1
Carbohydrates are fattening.
FACT: Of the three groups of macronutrients – carbohydrates, protein and fats – carbohydrates seem to be the most mischaracterized by many dietary experts, and have unfairly been maligned as bad for you. The real culprit is eating more calories than you require. Carbohydrates contain four calories per gram. Protein also has four calories per gram, and fats contain nine calories per gram. Eating more calories from all three macronutrient categories than you need at any given time during the day will result in the storage of excess calories as body fat.
Carbohydrates are the first choice of use for fuelling our muscles for every movement we perform, and for much-needed energy for our nervous systems and brains so we can think clearly. Our body’s preference is to expend carbohydrates for energy rather than store them in our fat cells. Demanding high-intensity workouts cannot be performed without adequate carbohydrates feeding your muscle cells.
The real offender in gaining body fat is the calories ingested from fats. On a daily basis, we eat foods containing fats, such as butter, animal fats in meat, oils, cheeses, nuts, peanut butter, salad dressings and dairy products.
Some fats are essential to our health, and in fact, I recommend that fats make up a maximum range of 15% to 20% of the total daily calories consumed. Most diet experts recommend a lower carbohydrate intake than I do. Most celebrity diets recommend a higher fat intake of 30% to 35%.
Our bodies automatically store excess dietary fat as body fat (although a small percentage can be used immediately for energy if required), whereas our daily activities are more likely to expend excess calories from the carbohydrates we consume.
I suggest that 50% of your daily calories should consist of carbohydrates. Because a typical exercise program produces gains in metabolically active muscle tissue, carbohydrates are a must-have nutrient. They fuel the muscle cells for exercise, and help drive protein into the muscles for growth and strength. In addition, weight training allows you to store a disproportionate amount of carbohydrates within muscle cells (which is called muscle glycogen), to give your muscles a firm, full and athletic look. Only when glycogen stores are full will carbohydrates seriously impact body fat storage.
In short, carbohydrates are a must! They are your friend; fat is your foe. Carbohydrates make losing body fat easier, because you will have the much-needed energy to exercise hard and slowly reduce your body fat storage as your lean muscle tissue increases your total daily calorie expenditure.
NUTRITION MYTHS #2
You have to eat low-glycemic carbohydrates only to lose body fat.
The glycemic index rates carbohydrates based on the speed they digest after eating. The theory is that faster-digesting carbohydrates, which get broken down into their smallest usable molecule called glucose, enter the bloodstream, stimulating the pancreas to release insulin (a storing hormone), whose job is to clear the blood of excess blood glucose. Otherwise, high-level blood glucose can cause diabetes, strokes, etc. Insulin facilitates the uptake of glucose into muscle cells that require energy, and into fat cells for storage.
If you are weight training in a high-intensity fashion, insulin is your friend; it will replenish the much-needed energy for your muscle cells. Conversely, if you are not exercising at all or in a manner that places little demand on your skeletal muscles, then much less energy is needed by your muscle cells, and chances are you will store the extra carbohydrates eaten as body fat.
Our nutrition plan, although it is higher in carbohydrates than most other diets, slows down the digestion of high-glycemic carbohydrates, because each meal plan we formulate combines protein foods with fast-digesting carbohydrates and fibre-dense vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, spinach and mushrooms.
This greatly skews the index rating and digestion time of high-glycemic carbohydrates. For example, rice cakes, which surprisingly digest very quickly, digest slowly when combined with proteins such as white poultry meat, and even slower if you add small portions of vegetables. Our suggestion is based on combining an assortment of foods (carbohydrates, proteins, fats) regardless of their glycemic levels, because the combination ingested simultaneously will change the index rating of the carbohydrates, thus decreasing the importance of the glycemic rating concept.
NUTRITION MYTHS #3
High protein, low-carbohydrate diets are best for losing weight.
If what you weigh on the scale is important, this popular diet will do the trick during the first two weeks by helping you shed 10 to 15 pounds of body weight. Notice I said body weight, not body fat! The strict reduction of carbohydrates from your diet causes your body to deplete its energy stores gradually over the first two or three days.
First, your muscles will use up their stores and become energy depleted. As a result, your muscle cells start releasing water, because and in particular in our muscle cells, one gram of carbohydrates (glycogen) holds three grams of water (a 3 to 1 ratio). Therefore, in the first three days you will notice the immediate weight loss of 5 to 7 pounds. In an effort to balance your blood sugar level, your liver will start to release its carbohydrate stores into the bloodstream.
This carbohydrate (glucose) will also soon be used by the cells and the brain for its vital needs. Within four days of starting a high-protein, low carbohydrate diet, your total carbohydrate storage will be fully depleted, and you will realize a quick body weight loss. Moreover, consuming a high amount of protein places a greater burden on the kidneys, and in order to reduce kidney strain to flush nitrogen out of the body (from the protein foods), even more water is released to dilute the wastes. This contributes to even more weight (water) loss.
The bad news is, your fat cells remain unchanged by this. Since our muscle cells are 75% water, restricting carbohydrates not only dehydrates them, but also weakens them. People on this type of diet do not have the energy to exercise, and become lethargic.
If they persevere for 30 to 60 days on this eating regimen, they will lose 20 to 30 pounds, leaving them weak. Only a small percentage of the loss will be in the form of body fat. Even though the scale says they’ve lost weight they are really farther behind in the fat loss process than when they started on the diet.
Once they start consuming carbohydrates again, the starved muscle cells will start to store glucose again, which will immediately restore cellular fluids, and so the weight goes back on. This type of unhealthy eating plays havoc on a person’s total chemistry. High-protein, low carbohydrate diets send the body into a state of ketosis, and the lack of carbohydrates impairs your ability to think clearly because the brain uses carbohydrates as its only source of energy. (The brain can use amino acids and fatty acids that convert/break down to glucose, but the process is a strain on the body and not as immediate and accessible as it is from carbohydrate foods.)
Psychologically, this type of diet will cause food cravings. This ultimately leads to binging followed by bouts of diet failure guilt. The worst part is that by starving muscles of vital energy (carbohydrates), you will not have the energy to exercise properly, which would otherwise burn more body fat than is ever possible on these high-protein diets.
NUTRITION MYTHS #4
Calories consumed after 9 p.m. will most likely be stored as body fat.
FACT: The common belief is that calories, particularly carbohydrates, eaten at night will be stored as body fat. In fact, it is not quite that simple. A lot depends on your body’s calorie and nutrient requirement at the particular time that you feel hunger. My view is that it’s fine to have something to eat around 8pm – however, the meal usually consists of a maximum number of snack portion calories that is made up of 50% carbohydrates, 30% protein and 20% fats.
Provided that you have not overeaten during the day, are following a proper exercise program, and are not in the habit of polishing off an entire bag of cookies before bedtime, a well-thought-out snack in the late evening will continue the fuelling process of your muscles.
Most of us who work during the day will work out sometime in the evening. Especially on workout days it is imperative that you eat a meal after training (7 to 9 p.m.) to replenish blood glucose, muscle glycogen and protein requirements. Abstaining from eating after such a workout would be wrong, as you would not be supporting the muscle growth process.
NUTRITION MYTHS #5
FACT: Diet pills can increase a person’s metabolism (slightly), but there are also are negative consequences, since the stimulants in the pills can have adverse long-term effects on the heart, for example. Diet pills that require prescriptions are even more volatile to the body, and were developed for serious obesity conditions of people who cannot exercise. In some, any pill that affects bodily function and fat loss should be respected, and avoided if possible.
As far as the shakes are concerned, they should be viewed as an alternative to a traditional meal or used for purposes of convenience and nothing more. They do not offer any benefit that typical foods, and can make it harder to lose weight since they are not very filling, and you can feel hungry an hour after consumption.
Even if you do prefer shakes, keep in mind that they still contain calories, and they cannot be abused, since over-consumption of so-called “diet” shakes can result in fat gain.
Lastly, because shakes are processed, man-made products, they will not contain many of the micronutrients and phytochemicals necessary for good health that are found in vegetables, fruits, fish, grains, etc. For this reason, I do not recommend diet shakes, but rather, delicious smoothies you can make with natural ingredients.
Also, by following a nutrition plan that is wholesome and relies on fresh, properly prepared foods, you will be following less on a diet and living more of a healthier lifestyle.
NUTRITION MYTHS #6
I’m not fat; I have thick skin.
FACT: Our bodies do contain areas where the skin is thicker than other areas; however, thick skin is primarily located in the palms of our hands, the soles of our feet and on our fingertips. Thin skin covers the rest of our bodies. Skin varies in thickness from 1.5 to 4.0 mm thick, with less than 4 mm found in the fatty areas of the body, including our abdomen, thighs and gluteals.
When a person can pinch less than an inch of flesh around the midsection, then it can be said that the person is lean and in good physical condition (as far as fat stores are concerned). However, when a lot of flesh can be pinched or grabbed, the excess is fat – not skin that has thickened.
There may be a reason why people think (or want to think) they have “thick skin” when they are, in fact, over-fat. The tissue just below the skin is called hypodermis. Besides storing fat, the hypodermis anchors the skin to the underlying structures, such as the muscles, and allows the skin to slide relatively freely of those structures.
The skin being able to slide protects us from blows to the body, and because of the hypodermis fatty composition, it also acts as a shock absorber and insulates deeper body tissues from heat loss. The hypodermis thickens with fat gain, particularly in the thighs and breasts of females and in the waists of men, and because of its connection to the skin, it may be believed that a person’s skin is becoming thicker.
NUTRITION MYTHS #7
High-protein supplements are a must for lean muscle gain.
FACT: Our bodies do require protein to build and repair our muscle tissues, and also required are vitamins and minerals, while carbohydrates are our main source of energy used to perform hard exercise, which in turn builds muscle.
In other words, many nutrients are required in the muscle-building process, but no nutrient is required in very high amounts that exceed a balanced diet. My IPN program is based on a higher daily carbohydrate consumption (50% of your total calories) due to the fact that carbohydrates are “protein-sparing” in that less protein is required when consuming a moderately high carbohydrate diet.
The reason this is, if carbohydrates are low, then protein is required to help produce energy for the body (besides building muscle). However, when carbohydrates are high and the energy needs of the body are met through those means, then far less protein is required to take care of the tissue-building process.
My suggestion is 30% of daily calorie intake being made up of protein. Even though 30% is slightly on the high side of what is commonly recommended, I nonetheless would rather err on a slightly higher protein consumption, provided the person is performing HIIT workouts (high-intensity interval training). The extraordinary demands placed on our skeletal muscles as a result of high-intensity training, in my estimation, does require more fuel of every kind.
Unlike other nutrition programs that recommend specific supplementations that may be purchased in a health food store, my recommendation is 100% based on wholesome, natural produce that can be purchased from your local grocery store. I suspect that most other “diet experts” recommend specific brands of supplements because they either falsely believe in them, or they are somehow commercially tied to that brand, and are therefore profiting.
NUTRITION MYTHS #8
There are supplements that can help improve memory.
Health food stores are loaded with products today that claim to sharpen people’s mental ability. The question is, do they in fact do what they claim? The latest research indicates that the answer is most likely “No.”
B vitamins, for example, are key to manufacturing brain chemicals. Most of the trials that have tested B vitamin supplements, however, have not resulted in memory improvement of the subjects. Another supposed memory enhancer we hear a lot about is Gingko biloba. The herb has been shown to help improve memory in people who have mild and moderate memory impairment due to aging, and interestingly, in young and middle-aged people with good memories. The findings are highly disappointing, however, in healthy older adults.
The jury’s still out on bacopa, which in one study showed memory improvement in healthy subjects, but in another the opposite. In supplement form, choline, which transmits nerve impulses in the brain, has not resulted in improving memory in healthy adults and older people experiencing memory problems.
Vinpocetine was shown in several studies to improve cognitive function in subjects who had dementia, but only one small study in 1985 indicated memory improvement in healthy people. PS, or phosphatidylserine, helps to maintain the brain’s cell membrane structure and has been shown in the past to help with memory problems brought on by old age and Alzheimer’s disease, but the scientific evidence is not solid.
As with most things in life, a pill isn’t the magic formula. If you are interested in mental fitness, the best thing to do is stay interested. Exercise your mind and your body. Yes, aerobic exercise can help, as can eating a good breakfast every day. And dig into foods that in fact can help improve memory, such as leafy greens, blueberries and fish.