This morning the second email message I answered was from a friend of mine, and it read… “So, since you are a “health expert” maybe you can explain why I’m not losing weight; I am eating healthy and have cut back on beer, but my waistline hasn’t budged, maybe you can help?”
As I stared at my computer and fought the urge to pull my hair out, I decided to start at the beginning. I asked him exactly what “eating healthy” meant to him. Not surprisingly I was met with… low fat. Sigh.
It never ceases to amaze me the number of people who still believe that antiquated notion, and others like it. The health and fitness industry is full of misinformation, I know, I started out believing most of those misinformations as truths myself. The further you get away from what the mainstream idea is though, the less you remember the days you bought it; hook, line and sinker.
I’m calling this blog series “What’s wrong with nutrition” and it will be 4 parts. Welcome to part 1:
This is a short list of my favorite Nutrition “misinformation” (aka “lies”), we’ve been sold, rest assured there are plenty more and I’ll cover those in a follow up blog. So here we go, let’s look at what people still believe even though science has shown us it just isn’t so:
1. Everyone’s favorite; “Low Fat, High Carb, Heart healthy Whole Grains” – I don’t even have to tell you how much I hate this. In 1977, the government decided to provide us with dietary guidelines and goals (1). Yet, studies have shown repeatedly that a low fat, high carb diet does not aid with weight loss, prevent cancer or reduce the risk of heart disease (2, 3, 4, 5). More unsettling to me is that the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society continue to recommend these diets to those suffering from such diseases, thereby perpetuating the problem. This is another glaring example of how mainstream healthcare fails where understanding nutrition as the basis of total wellbeing is concerned.
In summary: Numerous studies have been conducted on the low fat, high carb approach to dieting. It has been found to have virtually zero effect on long term health.
2. Limit your salt intake to prevent heart attacks and lower your blood pressure. I’ve got to admit, even my husband still believes this one and seizes the sea salt from my hand – I have to beat him off. Someday, he’ll catch on. Especially since my blood pressure is only elevated because I have to pry my sea salt out of his death grip! Let’s just say, there is no real science backing this one up (6). If you have a true medical condition like salt sensitive hypertension, then you are the exception (7) but not the rule. That being said, several studies have shown no link between dietary sodium intake and heart attacks or strokes (8, 9).
I’d like to just take one second to add that if you follow a paleo style diet (paleo approach, real food diet, SCD, AIP, PHD or ancestral based diet of any type) then your diet is naturally LOW in sodium already and often you NEED to add sodium (supplement) back into your diet (10).
3. Whole Wheat is an essential part of a healthy diet. When we first went grain-free, my mother in law flipped her lid because she whole heartedly believed this agricultural lie. She isn’t alone, but I’m here to tell her and you, and everyone else that there is nothing about whole wheat that makes it essential. You will not die without it, your kids will not develop strange appendages or nutritional deficiencies from eliminating whole grains which need to be FORTIFIED in the first place! Beginning in the 1960s the long standing practice of selective breeding changed to outright genetic tampering. Here is a long list of how wheat has changed (11). For a number of these reasons, modern wheat is actually less healthy than its ancestral variety, going back over 150 years (12). In addition, modern wheat has been linked to increased inflammation and increased serum cholesterol levels (13 and 14), and causes discomfort and symptoms of gas & bloating in those with irritable bowel syndrome (15). Keeping in mind that the processing of “whole grains” is really no different than that of refined grains, the concept of the healthy whole grain itself is a misnomer. Ancient practices of preparing grains have been replaced with industrialized processes that completely miss the mark.
4. Saturated fat will raise your cholesterol. Oh my word, I don’t even know where to start with how screwed up this is. The evidence has been overwhelming that dietary cholesterol does not raise serum cholesterol, entire books – good ones at that – have been written just about this one tiny piece of the cholesterol puzzle. But, before I go off on a tangent about how your body NEEDS dietary cholesterol for normal brain function, let me get back to what saturated fat does NOT do. It does NOT raise your cholesterol, it does NOT cause heart attacks, it does NOT cause strokes, it does NOT kill you (16). I’ll talk more about fat in our diet momentarily, but this is a subject it’s easy to go off on a tangent about.
Several studies have been conducted looking specifically at saturated fat and cardiovascular disease (17, 18 and 19). I don’t like to talk about cholesterol in terms of “good” and “bad” because frankly that doesn’t make sense, but here is what saturated fat DOES do in the body. Saturated fats raise your HDL cholesterol and help change the LDL particles from small to large. So, in fact, Saturated fat reduces your risk of Heart Attack and Cardiovascular disease and for a healthy person, eating a varied diet, low in processed foods, saturated fat is downright good for you. ( 20, 21, 22, 23 and 24)
5. The most common myth about fat… Fat makes you Fat. (insert eye roll). I remember sitting in my doctor’s office about 5 years ago, pissed off, angry, confused and depressed. He looked at me, looked at my chart and then at me again and said… “you aren’t depressed, you’re fat.” To which I about fell off the table. I had come in to see him because I had a chronic migraine and was in the middle of a massively stressful exit from my company where myself and the other 5 partners were dividing the firm into two separate entities. It was killing me; I was exhausted, stressed, not sleeping, barely eating and ready to collapse. He was very serious when he said to me “all your problems stem from your diet, you just need to eat less.” At this point, I told him all the healthy things I ate (at the time; low fat, high carb, tons of grains) and how I swam and did spin and made sure I got a ton of cardio in. Not to mention, I was barely eating 1000 calories a day. He just said “eat less” without any mention of my 9 week long headache and severe depression. “Once you lose weight, you’ll feel better about yourself.” That was the last time I ever saw him. Two years later, I found Robb Wolf and the Paleo Solution. I learned that fat wasn’t making me fat and that I needed to eat more, and do less cardio. Essentially everything I thought was right, was backwards. I know I’m not the only person who has gotten this advice, followed it, and failed – repeatedly.
Here’s why: studies have shown that diets low in fat and high in carbs cause weight gain. They’ve also shown that studies high in fat, but also high in carbs cause weight gain. But, get this, science has proven that diets high in fat but low in carbs increase weight loss. What’s the common denominator here? Let me give you a hint… it isn’t the fat. A low carbohydrate diet, is more effective in reducing weight than a low fat diet, even when the low fat diet restricts calories and the low carbohydrate (high fat) diet doesn’t (25, 26, 27 and 28).
That’s not to say that all fat is created equal, it absolutely is not … but for that you’ll have to read part 2, next week!