by Charles Poliquin
It’s easy to make nutrition mistakes with all the dietary nonsense that we’re inundated with.
Because people tend to get a lot of their nutrition information from well-meaning friends and family, nutrition errors spread like wildfire as we imitate each other in a search for that magic bullet that will make us lean, give us constant energy, and just make us feel good.
A lot of times, if we step back from our own nutrition nonsense and let common sense take over, we can make our way out of dietary errors. Other times we only seeing the light when a useful list like this comes along to help us identify the dangerous nutrition mistakes that have become habit.
This list will review the most common but dangerous nutrition mistakes. We’ll start with simple mistakes and work up to more complex ones that require a bit more education to understand.
#1. Not being patient.
When we change our diets or start working out, we want immediate results, but it takes the body longer to adapt. Fat loss results tend to take weeks to appear, while muscle development takes months. Stay the course.
#2. Not drinking enough water.
Most people walk around chronically dehydrated. In fact, one survey found that in 37 percent of Americans, the thirst mechanism is so weak that it is often mistaken for hunger. Shoot for 0.6 to 0.7 ounces per pound of body weight.
#3. Ignoring how you feel in favor of how food is supposed to make you feel.
Whether it’s lack of carbs, too many carbs, meat, gluten, processed junk, sweet “treats,” caffeine, or something else, if it makes you feel ill, don’t eat it!
#4. Assuming a food that’s called “healthy” can be eaten to abandon.
We overeat foods that have a healthy connotation. And even though a food has health benefits doesn’t mean you need a lot of it—omega-3 fats are an example.
#5. Refusing to eat foods you don’t “like”—we’re talking entire food groups here.
There’s no solution for being unwilling to eat vegetables or to drink plain water other than to get over it and retrain your taste buds.
#6. Using medications to solve gaping holes in your diet or lack of exercise.
This is a relatively new issue due to the rise of the prescription medicine state to solve metabolic issues and obesity. Don’t fall prey to it.
#7. Shunning coffee…or putting processed junk in your coffee.
No need to be afraid of coffee in light of the fact that numerous well-done studies have found coffee is protective against inflammation and lowers disease risk. Just avoid putting processed creamer made of vegetable oil and corn syrup in your brew.
#8. Continuing to try the calorie approach to fat loss despite lack of success.
Abundant evidence shows that there are much more effective ways for losing body fat and reducing hunger than strict calorie counting. Consider better ways of creating an energy deficit (eating more protein, veggies, working out).
#9. Thinking that it’s just one thing.
Humans tend to prefer to believe there’s a magic bullet that will solve their problems. There’s not. But also accept that there’s no mystery about how to eat for health and leanness: Meat and plants, with maybe a few select other foods thrown in.
#10. Using sugar and high-carb foods to “give” you energy.
This is one of the most damaging misconceptions about the human metabolism. Foods that provide sustained energy are higher in an array of amino acids (quality protein), activating energetic brain pathway. Sugar and carbs make you tired.
#11. Fearing meat.
Conventional meat is scary: Did you know that one reason feed-lot animals are fed antibiotics is that it helps fatten them? Antibiotics shift the animals’ composition of gut bacteria so that they are able to absorb a greater amount of carbs and convert them to body fat.
Meat contains traces of those antibiotics, which are thought to alter our gut bacteria as well, increasing fat gain. You also get the growth hormones and a high intake of omega-6 fat due to the heavy grain content of these animals’ diets.
Organic, pasture-raised meat is mostly free of these issues, particularly if you get it from a small local farmer or reputable source. So, the type of meat you eat matters, and it’s a good bet that the overall composition of your diet plays a pivotal role in dictating health outcomes.
Consider that in Asian countries where the diet is vastly different from the typical Western diet, meat consumption, including red meat, has been found to be associated with a lower risk of mortality, and a lower risk of heart disease and cancer.
#12. Being scared of fat.
It’s amazing that people still fear fat with all we know about the benefits you can get from it as part of a well planned diet: easier fat loss, more muscle, better reproductive health, better brain function, less risk of depression, less cancer and heart disease risk, stronger bones, better immune function, and healthier skin and eyes.
It is true that to achieve these incredible benefits, you need to favor “good” fats and eliminate “bad” fats. The “good” fats are unrefined animal fats, fat from fish, and select fats from plants, such as avocado, olive, nuts, and tropical oils.
The “bad” fats are trans-fats, hydrogenated fats, and vegetable fats like those in soy, peanut, corn, safflower, sunflower, and canola oil because they’re highly refined and high in omega-6 content.
It’s also suggested by the evidence that we get better benefits from eating good fats when you limit your carbohydrate intake to well below 200 grams a day from mostly whole plant sources. With a high-carb intake, you can experience elevated triglycerides, which is a form of fat in the blood that contributes to heart disease and leads to body fat storage.
#13. Being scared of carbs.
There’s no need to be scared of carbohydrates or any entire food group for that matter. Although cutting your carb intake in favor of a high-protein diet is the simplest way to get lean fast, glucose is necessary for the conversion of thyroid hormone in the liver, a hormone that is essential for proper metabolism and energy levels.
Glucose, which is most easily derived from carbs, also elevates insulin, which leads to an increase in the hormone leptin a few hours later. The effect is that hunger can be reduced if this hormonal cascade works properly.
Carbs also speed recovery from exercise, dramatically improve athletic performance, and boost mood and sleep. Of course, not all carbs are created equally in regards to their nutrient and calorie density, so the key is to choose wisely.
#14. Being scared of protein.
High-protein diets don’t cause osteoporosis or hurt the kidneys, which are both common myths that tend to confuse people.
The argument that high-protein diets compromise bone strength comes from the theory that protein increases acid in the body. The acid gets neutralized by the body releasing bicarbonate ions from the bone matrix, a mechanism that is accompanied by a loss of sodium, calcium, and potassium.
Although this may appear problematic, large-scale studies show that a higher protein intake actually strengthens bones because the amino acids in protein are used to regenerate bone.
Higher protein intakes also improve lean body mass percentage, which leads to better bone strength, and it improves the action of the hormone IGF-1, which is a major regulator of bone metabolism.
There is no evidence that eating a high-protein diet damages healthy kidneys, however, people with kidney disease do require a reduced protein intake.
The one thing that is necessary when having a high-protein intake is to eat a boatload of plants (lots of veggies and some fruit) to counter the acid load and reduce inflammation.
#15. Being scared of hunger.
For the vast majority of us, hunger is not dangerous. Obviously, for people without access to food, hunger is a problem, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.
Being hungry for a bit doesn’t mean you’re going to lose massive amounts of muscle and get all catabolic. You’re not going to immediately start storing fat as soon as you do eat in order to prepare against future low energy stores. Those metabolic effects are results of longer term energy restriction, not a few hours of hunger.
Being able to deal with hunger will allow you to get some perspective on your eating behaviors and how you feel in different states of fueling. Hunger should not equal panic. Being hungry is a useful way of analyzing the thoughts you have about food and eating.
This doesn’t mean you need to fast or be hungry for long periods, just don’t go around on “auto-pilot” responding to outside cues to eat.
#16. Getting sucked in by the whole grain propaganda.
Grains are not that healthy. They are high in calories but low in nutrients. Many grains contain gluten, which an increasingly large portion of the population is intolerant of.
They contain phytic acid, which binds to minerals in the body and prevents their absorption. They also contain lectins, which compromise gut health, digestion, and may decrease our ability to feel satisfied from eating because they increase our resistance to the hormone leptin.
This doesn’t mean that everyone should eliminate whole grains. Just that you need all the data before deciding to eat whole grains.
If that’s not enough, food marketing has taken the whole grain dietary push by storm, telling you that foods made from what was once a whole grain but have been ground to make flour or meal, contain whole grains.
This is ludicrous. Whole grains are grains containing the hull that are eaten after being cooked, such as boiled rice or cooked whole oats.
#17. Not reading EVERY ingredient label.
A nasty trend is that condiments and other seemingly simple foods are being made from dye and chemical flavorings. Take balsamic vinegar for example; a glance at the label shows that many of the cheaper balsamic products on the market are actually other forms of vinegar with dye added to resemble that silky black of real balsamic.
Or what you think is just whey protein might contains fructose or aspartame, artificial preservatives, dyes or other protein sources added to it. Watch out for pricey berry juices, yogurt, and other dairy products, such as kefir, as well.
#18. Using food labels and media headlines to shape your diet.
Packaged food labels are advertisements. They’re written by crafty copywriters looking for the slogan of the moment to get you to buy the product. This is marketing, not science, folks.
A similar problem is media headlines, which are often fueled by ad copy or press-hungry scientists, looking for further funding. Media outlets are businesses, and their goal is to sell ads and increase readership, not scour respected scientific journals for relevant food and health information that will make a difference in your life.
Stubbornly protect yourself from these messages and find a reputable academically-grounded source for your information.
#19: Not resolutely taking care of your gut.
We’ve already discussed the importance of avoiding antibiotics that kill ”good” gut bacteria in #11, but gut health goes further.
Gut bacteria will live off of what you eat, and some foods we eat promote the proliferation of beneficial bacteria, while others promote dangerous bacteria. People who eat more animal protein tend to eat fewer fruits and vegetables and consume less fiber, which is a dietary profile that promotes inflammatory “bad” bacteria.
Emerging research suggests the microbiota composition in your gut is one of the biggest factors regulating body fat, so it’s important to prevent a poor gut profile.
A possible solution is to encourage the growth of beneficial gut bacteria with a diet high in vegetables, fruit, and something called resistant starch, which is most easily consumed from raw unmodified potato starch, but is also found in foods such as bananas, oats, peas, maize, and potatoes.
#20: Not monitoring your behavior when sleep deprived.Lack of sleep has a profoundly negative effect on eating behavior because it increases our hedonic, pleasurable drive to eat high-fat, high-sugar foods. It also increases our tendency to take risks and leads us to be less active.
In one study, sleep deprived individuals voluntarily increased calorie intake by 300 calories over normal. In another, lack of sleep led them to drastically reduce physical activity so that their total energy expenditure was much lower than normal.
The effect of increased eating and decreased activity is seen in studies that show short sleepers are at greater risk of obesity. Other ill effects of sleep deprivation are poor blood sugar tolerance and reduced insulin sensitivity so that your body favors fat storage from the food you eat.
To counter this, you need to consciously make ideal food choices and stay active when exhausted:
• Call a training partner and track your food intake.
• Promote pleasure in beneficial, nurturing ways, to respond to that hedonic drive to feel good and reduce the suffering from short sleep.
• On tired days, make the extra effort to get a lot of protein, water, and fibrous fruits and veggies.
• Opt for physical activity that you enjoy over modes you dislike.