How to Win an Argument about Nutrition
Ah, nutrition. That fickle trend. New studies are constantly coming out, debunking age-old “myths” that people have grown up vehemently believing.
This can make an argument centered around nutrition decidedly difficult to navigate.
I’ve outlined some of the biggest, most common health-related misconceptions below, to both help you win your nutritious arguments, as well as keep you informed with the latest goings-on in the health world.
#1 Eggs - Yes? No?
Eggs have spent the past few years vacillating between healthy and unhealthy. A common, inaccurate idea around eggs is that the yolk should be avoided, as it is high in cholesterol and can increase the risk of heart disease.
Recent studies have revealed a slightly more negative outlook, resulting in something of a compromise.
However, if you are healthy, bring ’em on. Some of the oldest people alive have made it to and past a century, apparently by eating eggs every single day.
But then again, everyone is different. Just be sure to get blood tests every so often; you want to be positive that your cholesterol levels are where they belong before you indulge in daily six-egg omelets.
- Rong Y, et al. Egg consumption and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke: dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. British Medical Journal, 2013.
- Blesso CN, et al. Whole egg consumption improves lipoprotein profiles and insulin sensitivity to a greater extent than yolk-free egg substitute in individuals with metabolic syndrome. Metabolism, 2013.
- Fernandez ML. Dietary cholesterol provided by eggs and plasma lipoproteins in healthy populations. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care, 2006.
#2 Sugar, why is it really bad for you?
Sugar is commonly understood as something that shouldn’t be consumed in large quantities. However, the reasons behind this knowledge can sometimes get a little murky.
A common belief is that sugar simply acts as empty calories. In other words, they are excess, not being used for energy, and will result in an increase of fat in your body.
The first thing to know is that there are several types of sugar. There is natural sugar found in fruits and vegetables, as well as in honey and maple syrup, which, if they are natural, have high health benefits.
Processed sugar and cane sugar, the stuff found in sweets, junk food, and soda, are severely damaging to your health.
Sugar is an inflammatory agent; people with arthritis who cut out sugar will usually see a huge decrease in their daily discomfort and joint pain.
Further, over-consumption of sugar is known to lead to obesity, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.
- Ludwig DS, et al. Relation between consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and childhood obesity: a prospective, observational analysis. The Lancet, 2001.
- Stanhope KL, et al. Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 2009.
- Schulze MB, et al. Sugar-Sweetened Beverages, Weight Gain, and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes in Young and Middle-Aged Women. Journal of the American Medical Association, 2004.
- Stanhope KL, et al. Adverse metabolic effects of dietary fructose: results from the recent epidemiological, clinical, and mechanistic studies. Current Opinion in Lipidology, 2013.
- Bostick RM, et al. Sweetened beverage consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in women. Cancer Causes & Control, 1994.
- Fung TT, et al. Sugar, meat, and fat intake, and non-dietary risk factors for colon cancer incidence in Iowa women. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2009.
#3 Protein and your Kidneys
A common misconception around protein intake is that high amounts of protein are damaging to your kidneys.
In reality, the effect of a high amount of protein, is that your kidneys might just have to work a little harder to filter it.
It is important to note that people with Kidney Disease can be harmed by high levels of protein. If your kidneys are healthy, however, there is no reason to lower or cut out your protein consumption.
In reality, protein consumption can actually help preserve your kidneys, as the two main risk factors for kidney failure are high blood pressure and diabetes, and protein helps with both.
- Martin WM, et al. Dietary protein intake and renal function. Nutrition & Metabolism, 2005.
- Manninen AH. High-Protein Weight Loss Diets and Purported Adverse Effects: Where is the Evidence? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2004.
#4 Protein and Osteoporosis
Another common protein misnomer is that high levels of protein increase the acidity levels within your body, causing your body to leach calcium from your bones to neutralize the acid, resulting in weaker bones, and thus putting you on the path towards Osteoporosis.
Some studies have shown similar results, but only in the short term. In the long term, studies have shown that protein actually betters your bone health by increasing bone density as well as the prevalence of a hormone (IGF-1) that promotes healthier bones.
- Kerstetter JE, et al. Dietary protein and skeletal health: a review of recent human research. Current Opinion in Lipidology, 2011.
- Munger RG, et al. Prospective study of dietary protein intake and risk of hip fracture in postmenopausal women. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1999.
- Bonjour JP. Dietary protein: an essential nutrient for bone health. The Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2005.
#5 The Dangers of Red Meat
Red meat has long been considered the most unhealthy meat-option available, with a direct link to heart disease and cancer.
The truth is a little more complicated.
For someone who is at risk of heart disease or already has high cholesterol, red meat might be dangerous.
For someone who is healthy, red meat in moderation should have no adverse effects on your health.
As for the cancer claim, there is a moderate risk involved to constant consumption of red meat. The thing that remains less clear is whether this is due to red meat specifically, or to processed meat in general.
Processed meat is proven to increase your chances of acquiring certain diseases, but unprocessed red meat is relatively harmless, so long as you are not already at risk of heart disease or high cholesterol.
- Rohrmann S, et al. Meat consumption and mortality – results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. BMC Medicine, 2013.
- Micha R, et al. Red and processed meat consumption and risk of incident coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Circulation, 2010.
- Alexander DD, et al. Red meat and colorectal cancer: a critical summary of prospective epidemiologic studies. Obesity Reviews, 2011.
- Alexander DD, et al. Meta-analysis of prospective studies of red meat consumption and colorectal cancer. European Journal of Cancer Prevention, 2011.
#6 Salt, should you cut down?
It has long been contended that lower salt levels are a vital key to a healthier lifestyle.
This, however, has never been supported by scientific evidence.
It is true that reduced salt intake could lower your blood pressure, but, unless you have a specific disease impacted by salt consumption, reducing or increasing how much sodium you have will have no effect on the health of your heart.
- Jurgens G, et al. Effects of low sodium diet versus high sodium diet on blood pressure, renin, aldosterone, catecholamines, cholesterols, and triglyceride. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2003.
- Taylor RS, et al. Reduced dietary salt for the prevention of cardiovascular disease.Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2011.
- Garg R, et al. Low-salt diet increases insulin resistance in healthy subjects. Metabolism, 2011.
#7 The Small-Meal Theory
It has been claimed that, to aid in losing weight, you should cut down on portions and change up your daily system of a breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and instead, have many small meals throughout the day.
The thought process behind this is that it will keep your metabolism high, thus burning more calories for a longer period of time.
The reality is less exciting.
Eating 2-3 meals per day has the same result, in terms of calories burned, as eating 5-6 meals in one day. Further, eating too often can put you at risk of increased liver and abdominal fat.
Although, every body is different, and responds differently to certain stimuli. Eating more often may work for some people, if only to keep them less hungry, and thus eating less.
But scientifically, this is a myth.
- Cameron JD, et al. Increased meal frequency does not promote greater weight loss in subjects who were prescribed an 8-week equi-energetic energy-restricted diet. British Journal of Nutrition, 2010.
- Bellisle F, et al. Meal frequency and energy balance. British Journal of Nutrition, 1997.
#8 Low-Carb Diets
Low-carb diets have been popular for years, but there has always been an opposition to them. The claim is that low-carb diets can result in heart disease as well as contribute to a general decline in overall health. This is false.
Over twenty studies have been conducted on low-carb diets that prove that less carbs promote weight loss and heart health.
At the same time, it is important to understand that low-carb does not equal low-calorie. Carbs do have less calories per gram than fat, and it is a general consensus that a low-carb diet is better than a low-fat diet, but it is important to know the complexities around this fad.
The FDA doesn’t have a definition of what low-carb means, so products that tout the “low-carb” label are, in truth, using the health fad to sell out as quickly as possible.
I’m not saying to ignore the possible benefits of reduced carbs, as, biologically, the body turns excess carbohydrates into sugars, and stores them for future use; these stored sugar cells can become fat, and are decidedly unhealthy.
However, the important thing is to be aware of what you’re buying and eating, and definitely check out nutrition labels.
- Santos F, et al. Systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials of the effects of low carbohydrate diets on cardiovascular risk factors. Obesity Reviews, 2012.
- Hession M, et al. Systematic review of randomized controlled trials of low-carbohydrate vs. low-fat/low-calorie diets in the management of obesity and its comorbidities. Obesity Reviews, 2008.
- Westman EC, et al. Low-carbohydrate nutrition and metabolism. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007.
#9 The Low-Fat Diet
The low-fat diet became popular several years ago, with food companies releasing ’healthier’ versions of their products with lower amounts of fat.
Studies have shown that eating less fat is really inconsequential to your health. Further, these low-fat options usually have a ton of added sugar as compensation, and so are less healthy than the full fat option.
This fits into the category of processed foods in general being unhealthy.
Low-fat meat options, and a diet that includes less grease and fat, is never a bad thing, it just might not necessarily equal a healthy lifestyle.
- Howard BV, et al. Low-fat dietary pattern and weight change over 7 years: the Women’s Health Initiative Dietary Modification Trial. Journal of the American Medical Association, 2006.
- Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial: Risk Factor Changes and Mortality Results. Journal of the American Medical Association, 1982.
- Howard BV, et al. Low-Fat Dietary Pattern and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease. Journal of the American Medical Association, 2006.
#10 Fats, Saturated, Monounsaturated, and Polyunsaturated
While it is true that trans fats are incredibly toxic, saturated fats are actually harmless, as long as the amount of it being consumed is relatively limited.
Too much saturated fat, which can be found in red meat and dairy products, can increase cholesterol.
Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated are two fats that fall into the ’good fats’ category.
These types of fats do not come from animal products, rather, they come from fruits and vegetables (olive oil, avocado oil, and most nut oils).
Polyunsaturated fats come in two types; Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and Omega-6 Fatty Acids.
By consuming more Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats, and less trans and saturated fat, the unhealthy fat in your body will be replaced by the healthy kind, which can lower your risk of heart disease, reduce your cholesterol, and extend your life.
- Ramsden CE, et al. Use of dietary linoleic acid for secondary prevention of coronary heart disease and death. British Medical Journal, 2013.
- Ramsden CE, et al. n-6 fatty acid-specific and mixed polyunsaturate dietary interventions have different effects on CHD risk: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. British Journal of Nutrition, 2010.
- Lands WE, et al. Dietary fat and health: the evidence and the politics of prevention: careful use of dietary fats can improve life and prevent disease. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 2005.
#11 The Gluten-Free Diet
There is a common, but inaccurate, claim that gluten free diets are only beneficial to the small percentage of the population that has Celiac disease.
There is also a significant portion of the population affected by Gluten Sensitivity, which requires a diet devoid of gluten.
Going gluten free will not hurt you, especially if the type of gluten you are cutting out includes processed foods and sugars.
Gluten free is an aspect of an anti-inflammatory diet, which can help with a myriad of health conditions, including arthritis.
But if you are healthy, your best option is to reduce gluten, in the form of processed sugars, rather than adopting a gluten free diet.
#12 The Truth about Fasting for Your Health
Health fasts have been conducted for centuries, and many people subscribe to the belief that fasting is a quick, easy, and successful weight loss tool.
This may be true, but it is not healthy, and further, the way fasting reduces weight makes it very easy for it to come right back on.
When you fast, you lose fluid weight, water weight, in other words. This will come back on the moment you resume eating.
Fasting also slows your metabolic rate, which increases your fat content, as your body converts fuel to fat because it does not know when next you will be able to eat.
There is also no evidence that fasting will ’detoxify’ you. Your body has natural defenses against toxins (i.e. your liver, lungs, colon, kidney, etc.).
Fasting for your health is an oxymoron. The only thing ’health-fasts’ will accomplish is a decline in your health, as well as an increase in fat content.
Coffee has long been publicly villainized as an unhealthy drink, despite its universal consumption by most of America.
This is generally because of its high caffeine content. Perhaps because of this, the truth is somewhat startling (and very exciting).
Coffee is absolutely loaded with antioxidants, more, in fact, than fruits or vegetables combined. It is the highest source of antioxidants in the typical Western diet.
There is also some research that suggests that coffee might be able to prevent damage to certain brain cells that is associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Research also suggests that coffee consumption can improve athletic performances.
As to the caffeine contact, there are times when a high, concentrated level of caffeine can be a good thing.
For example, I (as a non-coffee drinker) get chronic migraines. The one thing that will always banish my migraines is a cup of caffeinated coffee.
Now, that’s not to say that you should drink tons of coffee; all that caffeine would have you jumping off the walls when all you want to do is sleep.
It has also long been said that children should not consume coffee because it stunts their growth.
This is another myth (although it’s not the worst little white lie to tell your kids when you just don’t want them to have caffeine close to bedtime).
The jury is out on coffee; there’s really nothing wrong with it (except maybe dental stains).
#13 The Bottom Line
The bottom line about all these health truths and myths, is moderation. Everything in moderation.
Above all, everyone’s diets are different, as everybody is different.
Someone with a severe gluten allergy will have a different idea of what is healthy than someone without.
Just like someone who has no cholesterol problems will have a different idea of what is healthy than someone who has problems with their cholesterol.
But as long as you know what’s healthy (and what’s not) for you, let the feast begin.
I’m a personal trainer based in Denver (Matrix Gym) and a true fitness nerd. If I’m not training clients or working out at my home gym, I’m probably skiing, cycling or hiking with my dog Rufus.