Today more than ever, an increasing amount of us are seeking nutritional excellence, understanding the benefits of nutrient-dense food, what real health means and correlating what we eat to how we feel. At a time when our society seems to have the worst health and weight problems, more and more of us are awakening to taking our health into our own hands. And although doing this is one of the best things we can do for ourselves, it is not always the easiest of things to do.
As the age of marketing began, so too began the exaggerated claims, half truths and misleading information. Today we cannot trust commercials and package claims, or even trust scientific studies. If there is a product to sell it seems, someone out there is making sure it is presented in the most desirable way regardless of what corners have to be cut to do so. This method of operation in our society may make some people wealthy or keep our fake economy afloat, but it does a much greater disservice to the greater whole.
And so we have many people trying to eat healthy for example, but with so many nutritional claims, do’s and dont’s being circulated around, it leaves many of us confused. We buy into eating or purchasing certain items because we have been led to believe we have to, or ones which make people money but in the end rob us both from a financial and health perspective.
Therefore in this article, in order to help us make more sense and bring more clarity to good nutritional standards we will look at 9 nutritional fallacies that shouldn’t be taught anymore, but are still common today.
1. You need to eat from the 4 food groups for good health.
This is an old view that has been passed down from the early part of the 20th century when we were just learning about the 3 macronutrients—carbohydrates, protein and fat. We knew little then about our body or nutrients, and how they work together. Thus we stated what we felt was right to cover all bases. Today we know differently and it would be prudent to change, but change is difficult when you have a whole economy based on the food groups. Today, we know without a shadow of a doubt that optimal health is in no way dependent on eating from the 4 food groups. We have people like vegans or vegetarians who do not consume 1 or 2 of the food groups and if done properly, enjoy superior health. We know we have people like the Paleo diet eaters who do not consume a food group too (the grain products) and can have way better health, than those eating from the 4 food groups. We therefore have to realize that sticking to or abiding by the 4 food groups is neither necessary, nor any kind of guarantee of good health.
2. Milk is necessary for healthy bone development.
If this is true, then North America which has one of the highest milk consumption rates, should have some of the best bone health, and countries with little or no dairy should have the worst bone health. This is of course not true. Despite a high milk consumption, we have some of the worst bone and overall health. So what’s up with all the milk pushing? Well, according to a 2006 report from the University of Guelph, the United States has the highest cow milk production, more than doubling the second place country’s production. Thus, North America (Canada & the US) come in the top 10 of most dairy consuming countries. What we are often not aware of is that milk is one of the most highly subsidized products and a huge business in the United States.
Cultures throughout the world who consume none or very little dairy, typically have way better health than North Americans who are brainwashed to think that without milk, one cannot have proper bone development and overall good health. At the end of the day, business is business and it should not surprise us that someone wanting to sell something will paint it in whatever light is necessary to make it look good. If you still think that milk is part of a healthy diet, I encourage you to examine literature and research that has not been influenced by the Dairy Farmer’s Organizations or even the USDA, ADA, etc.
3. Meat is part of a healthy diet for adequate protein.
Just as in #2, the meat industry, specifically beef, is a huge business in the United States. Like dairy, many meat products are subsidized by the government and considered the stronghold of the economy that no one wants to tamper with. But whether or not anyone stops to consider how this is impacting our health, is not really the concern of the stakeholders. North America is one of the highest animal product consumers, and so if you are still concerned about your calcium and protein, consider this. As part of the wonderful conditioning for the past few decades, so many of us are still overly concerned if we are going to get enough protein, especially if we reduce our meat intake. It is sad that this is the case, because more of us should be concerned about the consequences of getting too much protein. According to an early study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, when this information wasn’t as censored, high protein diets cause a negative calcium balance to occur, even in the presence of more than adequate dietary calcium. So in the end, as with many other nutritional facts, our meat amount should be limited for best health, as meat has so many adverse health properties. Also when done properly, a completely meat-free diet can be an easy path to optimal health.
4. Take a multivitamin daily.
This is an interesting piece of advice given by many medical professionals, written in many articles or talked about on many health forums. The reason why the advice works and has hooked so many people onto this bandwagon, is because the average person: 1) does not read package labels, 2) does not realize how vitamins or minerals work, and 3) does not realize how their body works. For starters, the average multivitamin contains vitamins and minerals in the most synthetic of forms. These are neither beneficial or healthy for our body to ingest, leading to various imbalances, problems or flat out just not being absorbed, causing a false sense of security. Secondly, they contain a plethora of ingredients that are in no way healthy, like artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, stabilizing agents and then some. Numerous mutivitamins contain vitamin or mineral combinations that should not be ingested together, as they can cancel or inhibit each other’s function, and in amounts that are not ideal for everyone. And while many health professionals know this, they claim that it is like a protective insurance policy for good health, as the average person is too lazy to eat properly. Unfortunately, if they were serious, they would tell us to go home and eat real food, with real vitamins and minerals that our body knows how to use, without causing imbalances, toxicities or other problems.
5. Lots of supplements are good to prevent and ensure optimal health.
Although many people each day continue to move away from pharmaceuticals and seek optimal health, through optimal nutrition, there seems to be a belief among some that we cannot have optimal health without lots of supplements. Some people downright believe that taking lots of different supplements is preventative against various conditions. While there is a little truth there, depending on what supplement and what condition we are talking about, for the most part it is false. For starters all pills no matter how natural, are synthetic. Our body best understands how to digest and assimilate substances when they come in, in whole, natural forms. Secondly, our bodies normally expel anything they don’t need in that moment, leaving a lot of supplements flushed out of our bodies and down our toilets. This of course adds unnecessary strain on our liver and kidneys, among other organs. Any supplements taken should have a precise reason, time and be of the most natural, highest quality possible. The average store or popular brand does not cut it.
6. Saturated fat is bad for us.
This is a classic example of a half-truth that has never been properly fixed. It originated when we learned the basics of saturated fat around the middle of the last century, and seemed to link high saturated fat intake with heart disease. To understand why this is false, we have to understand the basic biochemistry of fats. In making it really easy, there are various types and forms of fatty acids, which make up subsequent fats. In each of the fat categories—monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated—are numerous types of fatty acids. Some fatty acids clog our arteries and make us gain weight, while others feed healthy brain and other organ, tissue and cell development. The other thing to consider is the source of the saturated fat. For the average person today, saturated fat comes from meat and dairy, which each have their own problems. If on the other hand, we were to eat whole coconuts—a highly saturated fat product—that has a plethora of health benefits, the effect on our body is completely different. Thus dismissing an entire category of fats as either good or bad, is too simplistic for our understanding of our body and nutrition today.
7. Yogurt is needed for probiotics and good health.
I don’t know if I need to explain this one any further, if you already read #2. Yogurt, cheese, milk all of these are part of the huge dairy business, and pushed on us in whatever way has the most impact. Today’s yogurt is a processed food, with added sugars, flavors and other ingredients, some natural, some not. The probiotic bandwagon is to a large degree just another clever marketing campaign. While I will not disagree that many people have a completely unbalanced and problematic, intestinal flora, the solution is to re-examine our antibiotic ingestion first, and the use of various sugars, artificial compounds and processed food, which all contribute to an imbalance of healthy versus harmful microorganisms in our intestines. If one does want to increase their probiotic dietary content, the least harmful of all dairy products, would be a natural, organic kefir and then of course there is a slew of naturally fermented foods, rich in probiotics for us to choose from.
8. Counting calories is a valuable method of losing or maintaining one’s weight.
Here again, while years ago we regarded all calories as equal, today we know that is completely not true. 200 calories of cookies has a completely different effect on our body as 200 calories of broccoli. Processed foods, regardless of how many calories they have, are for the most part empty calorie or nutrient-deficient foods. While our bodies need calories to provide energy, those calories come from nutrients—carbs, fats, proteins. Thus, what form and quality of nutrients our calories come into our bodies, makes a HUGE difference on our weight and health. This is why I always advise people not to count calories, but switch over to natural, nutrient dense foods, which for the most part are naturally low in calories. These make us eat less, get more health benefits and are an all around win-win situation.
9. Everything in moderation.
This has always been my favorite one because it is completely illogical. It is nothing more than a convenient statement, more like a cop out if you ask me personally, that has been circulated widely by both the general public and medical professionals alike. There are some things that are not meant to be in the body, causing harm with each ingestion, and just because your body can “deal with them”, does not mean it wants to. Even if we had a universal definition of what moderation means for each food item, it wouldn’t work as we are all too unique in how our body operates, how we think, etc. If we want to eat in moderation, we need to be okay with being sick in moderation. If not, than we need to take what we put into our bodies seriously, respecting how our body functions and what it takes to keep it in optimal health.