7 Dangerously Common Nutrition Misconceptions

It's the food!

Welcome to the 3rd installment of my National Nutrition Month series. I'm writing this after spending a week traveling through Northern Vietnam where I feasted on an abundance of amazingly delicious healthy food options.  But WHAT IS healthy? There's an abundance of conflicting dietary information out there.  Choosing what to eat while being bombarded by advertisements, magazine articles and the persistent villanization of certain macronutrients that help keep the fad diet industry alive can be downright dizzying.  Carbs are bad, fat is good, wait, now fat is bad, protein is king or it doesn't really matter what you eat as long as calories in equal calories out.  Ahhhhh!!!!!

Home cooked plant based meal in a Hmong Village in Sapa, Vietnam

Home cooked plant based meal in a Hmong Village in Sapa, Vietnam

The truth is diets don't work (if they did so many fad diets wouldn't exist- it's a money making machine) and all macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat) are necessary to maintain health.  Eliminating one of these groups altogether is quite harmful.  The important focus for creating a healthful life is the SOURCE of these macronutrients.  Here I will dispel some very common and dangerous nutrition misconceptions.  The focus is on preventing and reversing life-threatening chronic diseases like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer and diabetes.  Weight loss, improved quality of life, a stronger immune system and a younger biological age are added bonuses.  Score! 

Myth 1:  Poultry and fish are much healthier choices than red meat to prevent high cholesterol. 

Reality: Kudos to the ingenuity of the USDA and meat marketing team.  They have duped us all (and kept us sick)!  Beef contains 89 mg of cholesterol per 3.5 oz (note: this is the 'recommended' serving size, which equals the size of a deck of cards, but most people eat much larger portions).  Chicken contains 85 mg of cholesterol per 3.5 oz. Hmmm, that doesn't sound much better to me. The number one dietary source of cholesterol in the U.S. is chicken because of the volume of chicken eaten. Chicken is also the leading source of sodium (salt) in the standard American diet.  Seafood is also very high in cholesterol, especially shellfish, and contains artery clogging saturated fat.  Beans, grains, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables on the other hand contain zero cholesterol and zero saturated fat.  Bottom line: our body produces enough cholesterol on it's own, which means anything from food is access.  All food that comes from an animal contains cholesterol and saturated fat whereas anything that comes from a plant is free of these heart destroyers.

Myth 2: Sugar causes diabetes.  

Reality: A high carbohydrate diet or too much sugar has never caused diabetes.  The cause of diabetes is saturated fat from meat and dairy.  One serving of processed meat (deli meat, pepperoni, sausage, bacon, etc) per day increases risk of diabetes by 51%.  Once diabetes develops, the body has difficulty controlling blood sugar levels, so people assume sugar is the culprit. In the EPIC study of 5,000 people, carbohydrate consumption was inversely related to diabetes, but animal product consumption was strongly correlated. When you eat a chocolate chip cookie, it's not the sugar in the cookie that puts you at risk for diabetes, but rather the shortening, butter and/or eggs in the cookie.  I'm not saying that refined sugar is healthy, but it does not cause diabetes.  

Myth 3: It doesn't matter what you eat as long as calories in equals calories out.

Reality:  This is not true in terms of weight or overall health. The calorie game isn't a matter of apple and oranges, but rather a matter of beef and kale.  One hundred calories of beef versus 100 calories of kale affects your body very differently.  When you eat 100 calories of beef, your body hangs on to the cholesterol, heme-iron (which can be damaging to your organs in high amounts), hormones, anti-biotics and saturated fat (whose favorite hangout is around your belly).   These things literally become the building blocks of your cells.  When you eat one hundred calories of kale, your body hangs on to the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and non-heme iron.  Added bonus: kale contains MORE protein per calorie than beef and certainly more fiber.  Don't count calories, do count your fruit and vegetable intake (more, please).  

Rice paddies in Sapa, Vietnam

Rice paddies in Sapa, Vietnam

Myth 4: Eggs are a perfect health food.  

Reality: Eating 1 egg a day may be equivalent to smoking 5 cigarettes a day in terms of life expectancy.  Both the American Heart Association and the National Cholesterol Education Program recommend less than 200 mg of saturated fat per day for people at risk for cardiovascular disease (though zero saturated fat would be a much better recommendation!). The amount of cholesterol in one egg exceeds this recommended maximum amount. The bulk of the cholesterol and saturated fat is in the yolk.  So what about egg whites? Well, they contain 100% animal protein, which may SOUND good, but besides the fact that an egg comes from a hen's menstrual cycle, the whites can be filled with salmonella and other bacterial toxins leading to food poisoning and other illnesses. Albumin, the main protein found in egg whites is a common allergen, triggering an allergic response in the body that could include itchy and water eyes, hives, rashes, redness and swelling of the skin, stomach cramps and other gastrointestinal problems.  More on the protein bit in myth 7. 

Myth 5: Salmon and/or fish oil has a lot of beneficial omega-3 which is good for managing cholesterol levels and heart health.

Reality: Sure Salmon, other fatty fish and fish oil pills contain a lot of the healthy and essential omega-3 fats, but the benefit of this is counteracted by all of the saturated fat, cholesterol, mercury and other toxic metal, radioactive substances, pesticides, and herbicides also found in the flesh of our fishy friends. The good news is omega-3 isn't produced by the fish, but rather comes from a diet consisting of algae. Better to go straight to the source and cut out the toxins by taking an algal supplement or eating another natural source of omega-3 like hemp seeds, chia seeds, flaxseed meal, pumpkin seeds and walnuts.  

Myth 6: Milk does a body good.

Reality: This time kudos goes out to the marketing team in dairy land.  They have us fooled too.  In multiple large scale studies, those that drank milk regularly had no protection in fracture risk over those in the control group who did not drink milk.  In fact, people that drink milk have higher rates of hip fractures and more cancer.  Countries with the highest milk (and dairy) consumption have the highest rates of osteoporosis. This is because animal protein, excessive alcohol, sodium and caffeine intake create an acidic PH in the blood.  In an attempt to neutralize the PH, the body draws alkaline minerals like calcium and magnesium from the bones and muscles and into the blood stream.  Osteoporosis therefore is not a problem a calcium deficiency, but rather calcium loss.  Dairy can also be high in cholesterol, saturated fat and casein, a protein found in milk which is tied to prostate and breast cancer.  Did I mention that we are the only species to consume breast milk from another species and that 85% of the world's population loses the enzyme to digest lactose after infancy?  Stick to an almond milk mustache.  

Myth 7: You need to eat animal products to satisfy your protein needs.

Reality: Protein is an essential nutrient that we need to build muscle, cells and organs.  Cows, chickens, pigs and most other animals that serve as 'protein sources' in the standard American diet are all plant eaters.  You know what that means?  They get their protein from plants!  Yes, ALL protein is made by plants.  When you eat meat, you're essentially eating recycled protein.  The amount of required daily protein is grossly overestimated and in the case of protein more is not better.  The average daily protein recommendation is about 50 grams/day, but the average Americans eats >100 grams daily.  Extra protein is stored as fat or is excreted along with essential minerals such as calcium (see myth 6).  Excreting excess protein is especially damaging to the kidneys (note to mention the increased risk of colon, prostate and breast cancer as a result of animal protein intake). As long as you stick to eating an adequate amount of calories and a wide variety of whole plant foods, protein deficiency is nearly impossible, kidneys are protected and cancer risk is reduced by 33%.  #forksoverknives

David Carter, Vegan Linebacker

David Carter, Vegan Linebacker

Torre Washington, Vegan and supplement free body builder since 1998

Torre Washington, Vegan and supplement free body builder since 1998

Our society makes nutrition super confusing, but for good reason.  Our confusion makes dollar dollar bills, y'all.  The reality is that nutritional choices can be quite easy.  The only evidence-based lifestyle to prevent and reverse chronic disease (and pretty much guarantee a healthy weight) is a whole foods, plant-based lifestyle consisting of beans, seeds, nuts, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and minimal oil intake.  It can't get more simple than that.  It may SEEM like a little more work at first because it's not what you're used to, but once you get used to the lifestyle it becomes incredibly easy and even liberating.  I've traveled extensively and spent the last two months living in Malaysia and Vietnam.  For the most part finding something good to eat has NEVER been a problem (as evidenced by the photo of the homemade food cooked for me in a remote Hmong Village above). Unlike many of my fellow travelers I have had zero surprise cleanses or any other illnesses so far on my Remote Year journey.  Just saying...

If you are interested in learning more, please refer to the following resources: