by Alexandra Bernardin
Eating well begins with separating facts from fallacies. Nutrition MythsTo many people, the subject of good nutrition is a maze of conflicting advice. Low carb vs. high carb, low fat vs. high fat, unsaturated fat vs. saturated fat, organic vs. conventional – the list goes on. Even the experts can’t agree on much, which leads many people to simply give up and eat whatever they like.
I received my bachelor’s degree in dietetics and human nutrition from McGill University in Montreal. I learned about the RDA, the food pyramid and how cholesterol and saturated fat will kill you – in other words, I learned what the government wanted me to learn. This is not a good thing, because lobbyists of large corporations often dictate government policy.
Corporations also exert their influence by providing grants for certain studies. Corporate connections can lead to bias and skewed outcomes. To give you an example, vegetable oil production (mostly corn, soybean and canola) is a multibillion-dollar industry. Farmers receive government grants for growing these crops, and there is plenty of funding for studies and marketing. In contrast, the coconut oil industry is small and has no real governing body. These small companies, mostly located in Asia, where most coconuts are grown, can’t afford to pay for university studies.
During World War II, when coconut and palm oil importation was limited, the food industry had to come up with something other than tropical fats that was stable and solid at room temperature. This is when hydrogenation of vegetable oil took off, and the need for those tropical fats disappeared. However, studies were needed to convince the population that unsaturated vegetable fat was better than the tropical saturated fats. So, the health effects of these two types of fats, vegetable oil and coconut oil, were compared in numerous studies. The results were misleading because the studies compared vegetable oil to hydrogenated coconut oil. The problem here is that the hydrogenation process produces trans fat, and trans fats cause heart disease, unlike saturated fat. The results of the skewed studies provided the edge the vegetable oil industry needed to push out the tropical oils.
But I digress, back to me. After graduation I knew I didn’t want to work in hospitals and clinics. I had been a competitive gymnast and had transitioned to being a gymnastics coach, so the logical thing for me was to get a degree in kinesiology. With two bachelor degrees in hand, I ventured into the world of personal training and nutritional lifestyle coaching.
Soon after, I met my husband-to-be, Stéphane Cazeault – now the Poliquin Strength Institute (PSI) director – and he opened my eyes to a whole new world. He introduced me to the Poliquin method, which he had been following since the mid 1990s. I realized that what I had learned in school was not cutting edge, and was far from being enough if I truly wanted to succeed in this business. So I continued my education by taking seminars on nutrition, health and training – and, of course, reading lots and lots of books.
Despite its limitations, I value my university education; it taught me to have an analytic mind and question everything. My education helps me understand complex information and conflicting claims so I can make informed conclusions. Obviously, not everyone has that ability, and in fact, this is why I do what I do: I help people, my clients and readers, make informed decisions.
To leave you with some practical advice that will help you make better decisions about nutrition, here is the truth about six common myths:
Myth #1: Eating foods that contain cholesterol, such as eggs, increases your blood cholesterol levels. Not true. Cholesterol is auto-regulated, so if you eat more cholesterol one day, then your body produces less, and vice versa.
Myth #2: High cholesterol (LDL) puts you at higher risk for cardiovascular disease. Actually, elevated levels of fasting blood sugar and triglycerides are greater predictors of cardiovascular disease.
Myth #3: You need to restrict your salt intake. The evidence to support this advice is very weak. You need to replenish salt especially if you sweat a lot and if you follow a Paleo diet.
Myth #4: Eat carbs in the morning so you can burn them off throughout the day. Carbohydrates boost the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which aids with sleep. Therefore, if you consume carbs, do so at night.
Myth #5: Eating lots of fruit is good for you. Sounds convincing, but no. You should limit your fructose consumption to less than 25 grams per day. This includes fruit. If you are on a low-carb diet, no fruit for you!
Myth #6: Butter is bad for you. On the contrary, organic butter from pasture-raised cows is very healthy. It contains CLA (conjugated linoleic acid, a healthy fat) and vitamin K2, and it has a 1:1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3.
Myths such as these make it difficult to be certain you’re making the healthiest nutrition choices. One thing is for sure: You can’t rely on news headlines for guidance. Dig a little deeper, inform yourself. Buying into a myth never made anyone healthy.