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5 Nutrition Myths that Refuse to Die

Neo and Agent Smith, Superman and Lex Luthor, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.

We just love the idea of the hero and the archenemy.

I mean, it keeps things clear cut and easy to understand, right?

Bad guys wear black hats, good guys wear white hats.

And while that may work just fine in Hollywood, the idea of demonizing some foods or food groups while deifying others is little more than modern-day superstition.

It's like the Salem witch trials, only with food.

So, let's check out five of the biggest nutrition myths that refuse to die.

1. Insulin/Carbs Make You Fat

Ultimately, there's only one way to get fat.

That's by having a long-term trend of each day storing a little more body fat than we burn (what science-y folks call a positive net fat balance).

So, how do insulin and carbs come into all this?

Well, here's how the thinking goes:

Consuming carbs increases insulin levels

Increased insulin levels put the brakes on fat burning & ramp up fat storage

Therefore carbs make you fat

So, if you cut out carbs, insulin levels reduce and it's hard to store fat - sounds plausible enough, right?

But let's just take a step back and look at the big picture - I mean, if carbs are solely responsible for weight gain, why aren't Japanese people fat?

And how come Vietnamese POW, Jerry Coffee, ate a diet that was primarily carbs yet lost a massive amount of bodyweight during his 7 years of captivity?

Because you can still be in a long-term negative fat balance while eating carbs, and it's a negative fat balance that ultimately causes us to lose fat.

Don’t believe me?

Consume nothing except 1lb of cooked white rice and 1lb of cooked pasta every day for a week, and see what happens to your bodyweight.

Twenty bucks says it will be lower.

2. Fat Doesn't Make You Fat

Way before my n=1 experiment to see what a year of unlimited eating did to my waistline, I tried an extreme paleo-eating experiment.

That meant stuff like:

A daily 1000 Calorie low-carb protein shake made with cream and peanut butter

Fatty cuts of pork and fried eggs slathered in olive oil

Chicken satay with peanut sauce and shaved coconut

It was just epic.

And the result? A weight gain of 20lbs in just a few short months - so much for fat not making you fat.

Now, that's actually awesome news.

Why? Because our bodies have evolved to be extremely thrifty with resources, having multiple biochemical pathways and back-up systems to make the most of what we're consuming and therefore ensure our long-term survival.

The bottom line is consuming high-fat foods like wagyu, olive oil and butter can make you fat.

It just takes a bit more effort than by eating pizza and ice-cream.

3. Whole Grains are Healthier

I remember seeing a TV nutrition "expert" state that white rice has "no nutritional value".

According to her, brown rice was "healthy" and therefore better.

But get this - 30 years ago, a Japanese research team had a group of folks eat only white rice for 14 days, then only brown rice for 8 days.

The upshot? Well, the brown rice only diet decreased the absorption/utilization of protein, sodium, potassium and phosphorus.

Not exactly "healthy" effects, right?

Now, the reality is a diet where you consume only either brown rice or white rice isn't one that any sane person would stick to.

But it shows how "healthy" or "unhealthy" ultimately comes down to the amount being eaten and the context in which it's being consumed.

Eating white or brown rice (or not eating rice at all) should come down to personal preference, not some perceived dietary advantage that has little practical significance out in the real world.

The take-home point is that looking at foods in isolation and classifying them as "good" or "bad" is nonsensical.

After all, water is essential for life and just 3 days without it could be fatal, yet if you consume too much (~3 gallons in a day), it could kill you.

The dose makes the poison.

4. Grains are Evil

OK, instead of arguing over one being "healthier" than the other, how about we just label all grains "evil".

After all, don't things like gluten sensitivity and celiac disease prove we're consuming something we really shouldn't be?

Well, keep in mind that the rate of celiac disease in the US has been estimated at a tad under 1% while, on the other hand, seafood allergy is over 2%.

Interestingly, we don't hear many folks preaching about the evils of shellfish - I guess it doesn't strike such an emotional chord as claimed corruption and shenanigans over at "Big Wheat".

Now, arguably the most well-known critic of grains is Dr David Perlmutter, author of best-selling book, Grain Brain.

Read some of his theories about the evils of grain consumption, and you'll never look at a slice of bread the same way again.

But in an interview with The Atlantic, Dr David Katz, founding director of Yale University's Prevention Research Centre, has this to say about Perlmutter and Grain Brain.

I also find it sad that because his book is filled with a whole bunch of nonsense, that’s why it’s a bestseller... ...that’s how you get on the bestseller list. You promise the moon and stars, you say everything you heard before was wrong, and you blame everything on one thing. You get a scapegoat...

"OK," some folks will say, "But what about the anti-nutrients in grains? They 'prove' that humans aren't 'supposed' to consume them."

By that logic, people should also be avoiding things like snow crab (those things live deep under water), kidney beans (poisonous), and walnuts (those shells are strong).

But even if we just focus on the anti-nutrients, keep in mind that three foods that contain high levels of these are broccoli, almonds and cranberries.

Yep, the very stuff that the anti-grain crusade would probably consider to be "healthy".

5. Alkaline Diets Work

Our bodies are masters at maintaining homeostasis.

Sit in a sauna at 180F or shivering on a ski lift at -40F, and your core temperature will be pretty much the same.

Well, blood pH works the same way.

Thanks to the lungs and kidneys, the body controls blood pH to a very tight level, something like 7.35 - 7.45 (go much outside of this and you'll die).

The upshot is consuming foods specifically to "alkalinize" the body is completely pointless.

A 2011 meta-analysis (basically a study of existing studies) concluded that:

A causal association between dietary acid load and osteoporotic bone disease is not supported by evidence and there is no evidence that an alkaline diet is protective of bone health

Now, alkaline diets do tend to improve health metrics (blood pressure, fasting blood glucose, cholesterol, etc).

So, what gives?

Well, alkaline diets emphasize nutritionally dense, calorically sparse, minimally processed whole foods.

Which means the alkaline thing is just a shiny wrapper for eating properly, and when you eat properly, you tend to be healthier than when you don't.

There really isn't much more to it than that. 

It's Why We're Here Today

The reality is our bodies have been doing this survival thing for a long time and don't need to be micromanaged.

Focusing on single nutrients or food groups, and obsessing over hormones like insulin is a recipe for a neurotic relationship with food.

Remember, at Superfitdads we believe that food should be enjoyed, not just endured.

As with pretty much everything, when it comes to "healthy" and "unhealthy", dose and context are all-important.

So, let's ignore all the hysteria and hope these 5 nutrition myths soon go the way of the dodo.

It's about time they did.

– Tim

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