Debunked By Science: The 15 Worst, Health-Ruining Nutrition Myths
This article is shared with permission from our friends at Paleohacks.
These days, it’s hard to separate fact from fiction when it comes to nutrition.
Numerous authoritative figures give dietary recommendations that are harmful to your health and in the end, you can end up feeling more confused than when you started.
Below we debunk the most common nutrition myths and give you science-backed resources to help you discover more about the truth.
Does Fat Make You Fat?
Fat—even saturated fat—can be good for you, and can support a healthy lifestyle and wellness. What matters most about the fats you eat is their quality and source. For example, saturated fat from grass-fed, pasture-raised animals is healthier than saturated fat from conventionally raised animals.
Who can benefit most from saturated fat and high-fat diets? Everyone needs some fat in their diet, but due to genetic individuality, some do better with higher ratios than others.
Discover More Here: Why Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat
Low Carb vs High Carb
The media has pitted low carb diets against high carb ones, and depending on who you ask, the answer is different as to which is best. The fact is that while some people thrive on low carb diets, others need more carbohydrates to feel optimal. What matters more than actual carb count is the quality of the carbs. Empty, high-starch carbs are nutritionally poor compared to high-fiber carbs that come from vegetables and fruits.
Quality of carbs matter more than the actual carb count.
Women who are pregnant, hoping to become pregnant, or breastfeeding need a high percentage of carbs in their diets to produce hormones to sustain fertility and milk production. People who have thyroid or other hormone imbalances also need carbs, but levels may vary. Athletes and children need carbs for their higher energy output.
Again, it’s a matter of the quality of the carbs, and not so much the quantity. If you’re choosing junky carbs, they’re better eaten in small or limited amounts, but high-quality carbs like vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds can be eaten in greater quantities and still produce healthful results.
Discover More Here: The Truth About Carbs
How Much Protein Do I Need to Eat?
Proteins are the building blocks of life, and without protein, our cells would not be able to regenerate, we would have no energy production, and our hair, skin, and nails would be a brittle mess.
High protein diets have been reputed to be hard on the kidneys, but again, this comes down to individual needs and lifestyle factors. Low protein diets are hard on the detox organs, hormones, and digestive wellness. It comes down to an appropriate macronutrient balance that works for you.
Discover More Here: How Much Protein Do You Need?
Is Sugar Really Bad?
In a word? Yes. Added refined sugars offer no health benefits, and people don’t suffer from “sugar deficiency.” While natural sugars can be found in fruits and other whole foods, these are entirely different nutritionally than processed and refined sweeteners.
Added cane sugar and other sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrups contribute to obesity, weight gain, inflammation, diabetes, chronic conditions, and anxiety. They’re also found in alarming amounts in foods targeted to children. The only way to break the generations of sugar addiction is to start now, by changing the cultural view of it.
Use fruit, honey, or maple syrup as a sweetener instead of refined sugars.
If you’re going to use sweeteners, opt for natural versions like raw honey, coconut sugar, or maple syrup, which do have some health benefits in addition to their sweet taste. Using fruit to sweeten baked goods, or just enjoyed on its own as a sweet treat, is also an excellent way to enjoy “dessert” without settling for highly refined and unhealthy sweeteners.
Discover More Here: The Reality of Sugar Addiction and How to Kick the Habit
Do I Have to Avoid Dairy?
30 to 50 million American adults lack the right enzyme to properly digest lactose. (1) Beyond that, lactose intolerance can also affect children and teenagers. In most cases, dairy eaters experience some level of symptoms, even if they don’t naturally attribute them to the dairy products that they’re consuming. Acne, skin issues, eczema, flatulence, digestive pains, intestinal cramps, diarrhea, constipation—all of those, and more, can be relieved by quitting dairy products for the individual who is sensitive or allergic. (2)
Still, for those who can digest it well, high-quality dairy can be healthy and offers some nutritional benefits. Raw dairy from pastured or grass-fed cows can provide an abundant source of healthy fats, minerals, and vitamins. (3) The decision to include milk or dairy products in a diet should be highly individual, and should be re-evaluated if the individual begins to exhibit symptoms of lactose intolerance.
Discover More Here: Is Dairy Paleo?
Legumes: Good or Bad?
Legumes—a family of foods that includes peanuts, soy, and beans—are notably excluded from a Paleo diet, but critics of Paleo say that it’s an unnecessary avoidance of a healthy food group.
So why are legumes so anti-Paleo? It comes down to phytates, which are a fancy way of saying they’re difficult to digest.
The other critique is that if you aren’t eating legumes, you won’t be getting enough fiber in your diet. The fact is, if you’re eating a Paleo diet that is rich in vegetables, you’re not going to be running short on fiber.
Discover More Here: What Are Legumes?
Is Soy Better Than Meat?
Proponents of soy say that it’s a healthy, plant-based protein that is better than meat. But the problem with soy is that a lot of it is genetically modified. Genetically modified soy is often contaminated with glyphosate, a.k.a. Roundup. (4) I don’t know about you, but I don’t think any nutrition expert will readily embrace consuming pesticides.
Beyond the potential for chemical contamination, soy is also notoriously estrogenic, meaning that it can interfere with the body’s estrogen and other hormone levels. The primary impacts of this come at a price: it can reduce fertility, impact proper reproductive development in children, and even impact fetuses before they’re born. (5)
Discover More Here: Is Soy Bad for You?
Are Grains Hard to Digest?
Grains have gotten a bad rep in the Paleo community, and the non-Paleo communities like to lash out that needlessly eliminating whole food groups is dangerous and unhealthy.
But what nutrients are we missing if we quit grains? Most grains are artificially fortified with B vitamins because they don’t naturally contain them, and any other nutrients get stripped away in the refining process.
Most grain products are artificially fortified and highly refined. Get fiber through fruits and veggies instead!
The argument that fiber will be impossible to obtain without grains is also a faulty one. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, like the Paleo diet, will provide more than enough fiber on a regular basis.
Discover More Here: What’s Wrong with Grains?
Is Gluten Unhealthy for Everyone?
Even if you don’t have celiac disease, do you need to avoid gluten? Research is finally confirming that there is such a thing as non-celiac gluten sensitivity, but there aren’t really any clear methods to diagnose that just yet. (6)
Most cases of gluten sensitivity are either realized when the symptom burden becomes so extreme as to interfere with daily life, or after a period of avoiding gluten and then attempting to reintroduce, with negative results.
Discover More Here: What Is Gluten and Is It Bad for You?
Are Vegetable Oils Good for You?
The term “vegetable oil” is so misleading because vegetable oils aren’t derived from legitimate veggies. The most common vegetable oils are actually made from soy and canola, and are so refined and processed that even if they started with nutrients, they would be void of them after manufacturing.
Refined oils are high in omega-6 fatty acids, and when consumed in disproportionate ratios from omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6’s can contribute to inflammation and even cardiovascular disease. (10)
For oils that contribute to actual health, there are numerous other alternatives that don’t come with the risk of trans fats—including coconut, avocado, and olive.
Discover More Here: The Complete Guide to Cooking Oils
Is All Salt Bad?
What matters is the quality and kind of salt.
Does salt have to be colorful to contain nutrients? Not exactly. But white iodized table salt tends to be the least nutritious option of them all.
Skip white iodized table salt in favor of unproessed sea salts.
Sea salts are healthy because they contain electrolytes and other beneficial nutrients—but since they aren’t processed, they don’t contain iodine, which is essential for thyroid health. (11) The addition of sea vegetables, like kelp, to a Paleo diet, can help balance this out.
Discover More Here: The Easy Salt Guide
Will Cholesterol Give Me Heart Disease?
For decades the government recommends avoidance of cholesterol, believing it to be associated with cardiovascular disease. While recent research has disproved this belief, the concerns over cholesterol still remain. (12) Oxidative stress and inflammation, in many cases due to too much sugar or refined carbohydrate intake, are actually to blame. (13)
Discover More Here: The Ultimate Guide to Cholesterol
Do I Really Need to Quit Coffee?
Ah, the black gold that fuels the mornings of millions of people across the world. Is coffee okay to drink and even healthy, as some sources claim? Or is caffeine health destructive and better avoided?
Research indicates that coffee, when consumed in moderate amounts (2-4 cups daily) can be pretty healthy, offering benefits like antioxidant protection and defense against certain forms of cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. (14) It even boosts cognitive function, which is most likely why most coffee drinkers love the stuff.
Certain people will do better to avoid or dramatically restrict coffee intake, like pregnant women, for whom caffeine can actually cause harm to fetal growth. Menopausal women or women battling hormone disruption should limit or avoid coffee since caffeine can disrupt hormone balance in sensitive individuals. (15)
Discover More Here: Coffee: What You Need to Know
Are All Calories Created Equal?
All calories are not created equal, and the calorie is no longer king. But calorie counting is a hard habit to break for those who’ve been led to believe that it is the only tried and true way to lose weight. The fact is, when people are restricting calories, it usually isn’t in favor of the healthiest foods, but rather in favor of overly processed, artificially flavored products that are marketed for diets and weight loss.
Food and health is so much more than the calorie count on a nutrition label.
Discover More Here: How to Decode Nutrition Facts
Red Meat: Friend or Foe?
Paleo gets demonized because people envision eaters sitting around eating large chunks of red meat and nothing else. While red meat alone is not a balanced plan, it has its place in a well-rounded Paleo diet. Saturated fat, as I’ve already addressed, is not the problem that experts once thought. In fact, when it comes from a quality source, red meat has a lot of nutrient benefits to offer, including B vitamins, vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and omega-3 fatty acids.