by Charles Poliquin
Just Eat Real Food. Sage advice. Unfortunately, most people don’t even know what real food is, let alone capable of cutting through the lies that lead them to eat against their own interests. The sad reality is that we are inundated with myths, lies, and rumors from well-meaning friends, the media, food marketing, and perhaps most of all, the internet health information behemoth. This article will take a scientific approach to busting the myths, revealing the truth behind the rumors, and providing practical take away points for a leaner, healthier, saner life.
#1) Myth: Eggs Are Bad For You
Eggs are a near perfect food. They score highest on four scientific scales of protein quality and provide an abundance of vitamins and easily digested amino acids.
For example, choline, which is supplied in the egg yolk, is essential for brain function and helps the liver to detoxify and avoid accumulating fat, which is necessary for optimal liver function.
There is no scientific link between eating whole eggs and elevated cholesterol. In fact, if you eat as much as 3 eggs a day on a carbohydrate-restricted diet, you may decrease inflammation, improve cholesterol markers, and lose fat.
That’s what happened to a group of men who had only 18 percent of their diet from carbs but ate 3 eggs daily for 12 weeks. The men also lost 5 kg over the course of the study.
Practical Truth: Eggs are an excellent protein source that can be included in a lower carb, higher protein diet for optimal body composition and health. They do not cause heart disease or raise cholesterol.
#2) Rumor: Eating Extremely High Doses of Protein Is Bad For You
In the fitness and training world, we love to debunk the myth that eating a high-protein diet is bad for the bones and kidneys: The literature consistently agrees that eating a lot of protein in the 1.6 to 2 g/kg of body weight range improves bone health (bone is made up largely of protein), and there’s no evidence that it damages healthy kidneys.
Doses up to 2.8 g/kg appear to be safe, however, with an intake that is well above the U.S. RDA of 0.8 g/kg, you need to consciously eat nutrient-rich plant foods to prevent inflammation and counter the high acid load.
The evidence supporting this is peripheral: A recent study found that young, lean individuals who had more muscle mass and less body fat also had more evidence of inflammation.
Researchers suggest their better body composition is due to their high-protein intake, but that their diets are lacking antioxidants and alkaline plants that prevent elevated inflammation from the protein.
In addition, recent study showed found that a 2.4 g/kg dose of protein was no more effective for fat loss and improving body composition than a 1.6 g/kg dose of protein a day in young lean subjects.
Practical Truth: You can’t go wrong eating a boatload of protein. But avoid force feeding yourself.
It’s unlikely anyone will freely eat much more than 2 g/kg everyday because protein is so satisfying, and doses higher than this are going to present a serious acid load that will be a challenge to overcome.
#3) Rumor: Everything is Fine in Moderation.
If moderation works for you, that’s impressive, because the majority of the evidence (a third of Americans are obese and two-thirds are overweight) shows moderation isn’t working especially well.
Not only is moderation bad advice, adults and children are inundated with food marketing campaigns that function like a stealth machine. Food companies pour billions of dollars into shaping the public conversation about our food system and the insidious development of food rumors that aren’t true.
In addition, processed foods are being made “hyperpalatable” for enhanced taste with the intention of enticing as many people as possible so they become hooked.
For instance, in a 2011 article in the New Yorker, the CEO of Pepsi said she intended to pursue “scientifically advantaged” products that will keep people coming back for more.
Practical Truth: It’s not weak to realize that “moderation” doesn’t work. Forget the argument that “you don’t want to deprive yourself of anything.” It’s not about deprivation, but about making an informed choice?
Ask yourself, is choosing to eliminate a food that causes you to lose control, eat too much, and feel physically horrible depriving yourself?
Think of it like smoking cigarettes. Choosing not to smoke cigarettes is not deprivation, is it?
#4) Myth: Low-Carb Ketogenic Diets Are Dangerous
Low-carb ketogenic diets are not inherently dangerous. Traditional ketogenic diets, which emerged in the 1920s to prevent epileptic seizures, are very low in carbs and very high in fat. They have a neuroprotective effect on the brain due to low glucose levels from the lack of carbohydrates.
More recently, other macronutrient distributions that are higher in protein have emerged to aid fat loss and improve health. For example, a one-month ketogenic diet in elite male gymnasts allowed them to reduce body fat by 2.6 percent.
Ketogenic diets get a bad rap because they can be confused with ketoacidosis, which can occur in uncontrolled type I diabetics and is very dangerous. It is not the same thing as ketosis or low-carb eating.
Practical Truth: Don’t be scared of low-carb ketogenic diets. Do perform significant research into how to best use one, and depending on your nutrition knowledge, work with a dietitian or physician who has experience with them.
#5) Rumor: You Can Lose Fat by Changing What You Eat
A recent study that compared low-fat, high-carb and low-carb, protein-fat diets found that over the course of a day, the subjects on the low-carb diet burned an additional 300 calories simply by changing what they ate.
The “traditional” low-fat diet seemed to make the metabolism more sluggish than the low-carb, high-protein one.
Researchers believe that the low-carb diet allowed for a higher metabolism due to three reasons:
• the thermic effect of needing to process more protein (it costs the body more calories to process protein than carbs),
• higher availability of metabolic fuels (the body was able to mobilize and burn fat),
• and greater leptin sensitivity.
Practical Truth: This study tested resting energy expenditure but not long-term fat loss, so it doesn’t directly answer the question of whether you can lose fat by changing what you eat.
Nonetheless, the outcomes suggest changing your macronutrient ratios can help: 300 extra calories a day and the preservation of lean muscle mass are convincing benefits of higher-protein diets.
#6) Myth: All Calories are Created Equally When It Comes To Fat Loss
New research shows the impact of a single calorie varies not only based on whether it’s derived from protein or carbs, but by the insulin health of the individual eating it.
For example, a large yearlong study found a stunning 60-pound variability in the amount of fat lost by overweight women on either low-carb or low-fat diets. The low-carb diet produced the best results overall.
Most interesting, the scientists concluded that the amount of fat the women lost was most determined by their insulin health. Those with greater insulin resistance tended to lose more weight on the low-carb diet, whereas women who were not insulin resistant had better outcomes on a higher carb intake.
Practical Truth: A clue to the best fat loss diet for each individual is to identify their insulin status and then plan the diet accordingly.
#7) Rumor: Always Avoid Fish Oil In Favor of Eating Fish
Low-quality studies and media madness has contributed to the rumor that fish oil delivers few benefits. In fact, the majority of the literature shows positive results from fish oil supplementation.
For instance, fish oil has been found to reduce inflammation, lower the stress hormone cortisol, enhance protein synthesis, and support fat metabolism.
Most important is to get a pharmaceutical-grade fish oil that is fresh, stabilized, and not undergone oxidation. It also must be free of contaminants, such as heavy metals, dioxins and PCBs.
All these qualities are hard to find: Analyses of fish oil show that anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of products on the market are contaminated with toxins or have oxidized fat.
This is one reason that eating fish is often favored. Yet, this too has its pitfalls. Farmed fish is high in toxins, low in omega-3s and high in omega-6 fats due to the grain in fish feed.
“Wild” fish may also be a risk: Fish can be labeled as “wild” even if it spends half its life in a hatchery before being released into the wild.
Practical Truth: There’s no danger to fish oil if you opt for quality. Focus on getting a balanced omega-3 to omega-6 fat intake. Evidence suggests that intake of both should be relatively low.
#8) Rumor: Avoid Soy Like the Plague
Soy may be one of the most controversial foods out there right now. All of the non-organic soy on the market is genetically modified, and soy filler is popping up in the most random processed foods.
It’s completely reasonable to avoid GMO soy, processed soy, and soy oil. But, fermented soy such as miso or tempeh does have redeeming qualities due to the probiotics it contains.
In addition, research from the University of Connecticut suggests soy protein will not lead to pro-estrogenic activity or blunt muscle growth.
Researchers call the idea that soy protein raises estrogen in male bodybuilders an “urban myth” and write that “contrary to popular misconceptions, soy protein supplementation does not appear to hinder anabolic signaling post-exercise by means of eliciting increases in estradiol concentrations.”
Practical Truth: It’s fine to avoid soy since it doesn’t contain any nutrients or antioxidants that you can’t get from other sources. Still, there’s no need to avoid organic fermented soy like the plague. It can be a flavorful addition to your diet in small quantities.
Finally, organic soy protein could be a useful alternative as a protein supplement post-workout if you are allergic to whey because it has performed well in helping trainees put on muscle mass.
#9) Rumor: Eating More Fiber Will Help You Eat Less & Lose Fat
As you’ll see, there’s some deeper truth to most rumors, and in the case of fiber, fat loss, and health it’s all in the details.
Foods with added fibers, such as juice with added fiber, or muffins and breads with fiber baked into them don’t significantly reduce calorie intake or lead to fat loss.
These are the most commonly eaten fiber-containing foods in the American population but they are largely useless for improving body composition and health.
Fibers that reduce food intake and aid fat loss tend to be in “whole” form and naturally occur in the food itself, such as almost all vegetables, certain whole grains that have the kernel on, and beans. Spinach, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, various types of potatoes, whole-grain rye, oats, and barley all score high for reducing food intake.
In addition, resistant starch, psyllium, and other plant fibers will also improve health markers, although they don’t appear to significantly reduce food intake in most people.
Practical Truth: Certain whole fibers can aid fat loss, but you need to consume large quantities (well above the USDA recommended 25 grams/day, of which 99 percent of Americans are not even close to reaching). Foods with added and/or processed fiber are largely useless.
#10) Rumor: Dairy Is Healthy & Can Aid Fat Loss, but it Must Be Low Fat
Mainstream nutrition leaders, such as Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health, have finally begun to argue that there is little data to support the idea that skim and low-fat milk lead to better health than whole milk.
And, emerging studies show the use of whole-fat dairy is either neutral or beneficial for health markers and body composition.
Willett and colleagues argue against reduced fat dairy because it provides none of the benefits of whole-fat dairy: It increases circulating triglycerides, doesn’t lower calorie intake, and often has added sugar.
In contrast, whole-fat dairy provides the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K, has cancer-fighting conjugated linoleic acid, and some contain beneficial probiotic bacteria.
Research has found negative associations between whole-fat dairy intake and weight gain, meaning that people who eat more whole dairy are leaner.
Practical Truth: If you eat dairy, opt for whole-fat versions from local or pasture-raised, organic animals—organic dairy has been found to have a superior nutrition profile to conventional and it doesn’t contain growth hormones or antibiotics.
Draemer, W., et al. The Effects of Soy and Whey Protein Supplementation on acute Hormonal Responses to Resistance Exercise in Men. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2013. 32(1), 66-74.
Harrison-Dunn, Annie-Rose. Myth Busting: Soy Supplements are not an Issue for Bodybuilders, Say Researchers. 11 October 2013. Nutraincgreients.com.
Mickleborough, Timothy D. Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Physical Performance Optimization. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Metabolism. 2013. 23, 83-96.
Farmed Vs. Fresh Fish. National Cooperative Grocers Association. Retrieved 13 December 2013. https://www.ncga.coop/newsroom/fish
Rothberg, Peter. Busting Food Myths for Two Generations. 21 October 2013. Retrieved 12 December 2013. http://www.thenation.com/blog/176760/busting-food-myths-two-generations#
Seabrook, Joan. Snacks For A Fat Planet. The New Yorker. 2011 May 16.
Philpott, Tom. Anna Lappé Is Ready to Bust the Food Industry’s Biggest Myths. Mother Jones. 2 October 2013. Retrieved 12 December 2013. http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2013/10/anna-lappe-food-mythbusters-interview
Ratliff, J., et al. Eggs Modulate the Inflammatory Response To Carbohydrate Restricted Diets in Overweight Men. Nutrition and Metabolism. 2008. 5(6).
Poortmans, J., Dellalieux, O. Do regular high protein diets have potential health risks on kidney function in athletes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 2000. 10(1), 28-38.
Beasley, J., et al. Higher biomarker-calibrated protein intake is not associated with impaired renal function in postmenopausal women. Journal of Nutrition. 2011. 141(8), 1502-1507.
Paoli, A., Grimaldi, K., et al. Ketogenic Diet Does Not Affect Strength Performance in Elite Artistic Gymnasts. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2012. 9(34).
Cordain, Loren. Rebuttal To U.S. News and World Report Top 20 Diets. The Paleo Diet web site. Retrieved 20 March 2013.
Darling, A., Millward, J., et al. Dietary Protein and Bone Health: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1009. 90, 1674-1692.
Lustgarten, M., et al. Serum Predictors of Percent Lean Mass in Young Adults. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2013. Published Ahead of Print.
Jourdan, C., et al. Body Fat Free Mass is Associated with the Serum Metabolite Profile in a Population-Based Study. PLoS One. 2012. 7, e40009.
Seabrook, Joan. Snacks For A Fat Planet. The New Yorker. 2011 May 16.
Liebman, Bonnie. Glimmers of Light? New Clues to Weight Gain and Loss. Nutrition Action Health letter. December 2013.
Mobley, A., et al. the Future of recommendations on Grain Foods in Dietary Guidance. The Journal of Nutrition. 2013.
Ebbeling, C., et al. Effects of Dietary Composition on Energy Expenditure During Weight Loss Maintenance. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2012. 307(24).
Rosell, M., et al. Association Between Dairy Food Consumption and Weight Change over Nine Years in 19,352 Perimenopausal Women. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2006. 84(6), 1481-1488.
Sifferlin, Alexandra. Skim Milk is Healthier than Whole Milk, Right? Maybe Not. Time. 3 July 2013. http://healthland.time.com/2013/07/03/skim-milk-is-healthier-than-whole-milk-right-maybe-not/.
Clark, M., Slavin, J. The Effect of Fiber on Satiety and Food Intake. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2013. 32(3), 200-211.