What are some common myths about nutrition? And is there one diet that's right for everybody?
Here is a brief A to Z guide to some common nutritional topics.
Alcohol is one of those things that can be healthy in moderation, but it can be extremely harmful to our health in larger quantities.
Of course, this very much depends on our current health situation and any potential dependence or addiction issues.
Several studies suggest that light to moderate drinkers even live longer than non-drinkers.
On the other hand, those who drink the most (heavy drinkers) tend to have the shortest lives.
While there are many potential confounders with findings like these, there are some plausible reasons why moderate alcohol could be beneficial.
These include the social benefits through drinking with friends, a potential reduction in stress responses, and polyphenol antioxidants in drinks like red wine.
However, for those who don’t already drink, these are not good reasons to start.
Bone broth is trendy right now, but it’s an underappreciated—and exaggerated—food at the same time.
The modern diet is high in muscle meat, but it doesn’t contain the same amount of animal-based nutrients our food used to in olden times. Too much chicken breast and lean meat are to blame, a consequence of decades of low-fat dietary advice.
In the past, we used to eat the whole of the animal; fatty parts, organ meats, and even the bones.
The result is that many modern diets have an imbalanced ratio of the amino acids methionine and glycine, which may have adverse impacts on health.
For instance, diets with a substantially higher ratio of methionine to glycine shorten lifespan in animal studies.
In addition to eating fattier and on-the-bone cuts of meat, bone broth can be an excellent way to get more glycine into your diet.
Bone broth contains various minerals too, but this benefit is a little overplayed, and meat, vegetables, and other foods are much better sources of these nutrients.
Counting calories works, but sometimes it doesn’t.
Generally speaking, there are some problems with the idea that counting our daily calories is the most important aspect of nutrition.
Firstly, calories are important – if we eat excessive amounts of food, then we will put on weight.
Conversely, if we consume a calorie-restricted diet, then generally we will lose weight.
In that sense, calorie counting works very well.
However, focusing solely on calories pays no attention to the health—and satiating—properties of the food we eat.
If we’re always hungry and unhappy, then our calorie-controlled diet won’t last very long. That’s one of the reasons why so many dieters ‘fall off the bandwagon’ so to speak.
Therefore, it’s better to focus on the quality of nutrients rather than calories.
If you are satisfied with the food you’re eating, and you’re getting the right nutrition, then you’re much less likely to over-consume calories anyway.
While it’s better to avoid milk chocolate (which has more sugar than cocoa), dark chocolate can be incredibly nutritious.
In particular, bars of around 85% cocoa or higher contain minimal amounts of sugar and yet they’re very nutrient dense.
For instance, chocolate happens to be one of the best sources of iron and magnesium in the human diet.
Overall, a vast majority of people would be much healthier if they ate more of those minerals.
Additionally, dark chocolate contains a range of polyphenols that may offer various health benefits.
Eggs: Nature’s MultiVitamin
Eggs are cram-packed with nutrients, and they really are nature’s multivitamin.
Notably, eggs contain a whole host of beneficial nutrients, many of which we are deficient in these days.
In particular, they are exceptionally rich in choline, fat-soluble vitamins A and D, B vitamins, folate, iron, phosphorus, and selenium.
If you need some inspiration, the world’s oldest woman at the time, Emma Morano, 116, said that she ate two eggs for lunch every day for 100 years.
Sadly, she passed away in 2017, but she certainly had a long—and healthy—life.
Fasting and Feasting:
This number is plucked from the air, and no credible science says we have to eat every 3 hours.
Continuously eating throughout the day (and the blood sugar and insulin swings this brings) might be why we have so many cases of diabetes in our modern society. Particularly so when most people are eating highly-processed food throughout the day.
However, we shouldn’t feel the need to eat so regularly. For one thing, clinical trials have shown fasting can decrease biomarkers for aging and disease, so we certainly shouldn’t fear 6 or 7 hours without food.
Whether you want to eat once, twice, or three times per day is up to you – but there’s no need to eat every few hours.
Grass-Fed vs. Grain-Fed Meat
Grass-fed beef is something which is a big thing in nutrition circles these days, so what benefits does it bring?
Beef from a grass-fed cow will generally have a slightly better nutrient profile and omega 6 to 3 ratio.
As a result, grass-fed is optimal if you have access to it for a decent price.
On the other hand, there really isn’t anything terrible about grain-fed beef and both are good sources of protein.
The difference in nutritional composition is only small, and it’s still a healthy choice.
Bottom line: go with whatever you can afford.
You may be surprised to hear that, in some cases, animal foods provide more vitamins than do fruit or vegetables.
An excellent example of this is liver and eggs, which are two of the most nutrient-dense foods around.
Many vegetables also contain beneficial compounds, with spinach and seaweed being two of the most nutritious plant-based foods.
On that note, my favorite nutrient-dense foods would have to be steak, mushrooms, eggs, berries, and avocado.
Whole food comes from fields, farms, trees and the ocean.
However, it does not come from a factory.
Most industrial food is full of poor quality ingredients that are far from fresh, thereby justifying the need for copious amounts of preservatives and flavorings.
There is also the saying that “wherever industrialized food processes go, disease soon follows”.
The vast majority of this food is a combination of refined flour, vegetable oil, and sugar, along with various flavoring systems.
Diets high in ultra-processed foods tend to promote weight gain, obesity, and disease; avoiding it is the first step to improving your health.
While eating it occasionally is unlikely to do harm, it’s better to focus on whole food as much as possible.
However, don’t let this ruin social occasions.
For example, perhaps your best friends are going to a pizza restaurant for a birthday, so you can’t go?
Providing there are no underlying health problems, then relaxing your standards for an occasional social event isn’t going to harm, especially if you’re usually living a healthy lifestyle.
After all, social interaction is important to our health too.
High-fat ketogenic diets are one of the ‘in’ things right now.
Although these diets can be very healthy if you do the diet the right way, they can also have various side effects.
For this reason, it’s important to research the diet well before starting it.
A well-implemented ketogenic diet should primarily focus on nutrient-dense foods rather than large amounts of pure fat.
If you have an interest in the diet, then you can find a wide range of resources in the ‘low carb’ section of this website.
This means that they have the highest vitamin and mineral content and give your body more of the essential nutrients it needs.
These vegetables tend to be extremely high in iron, magnesium, and potassium; three of the most important minerals for health.
However, it’s important to remember that you should ideally eat vegetables with a source of fat.
Because veggies contain fat-soluble vitamins.
In other words, many of the nutrients found in vegetables need fat for optimal absorption.
The tradition of putting a bit of butter on vegetables isn’t only for taste, but for better nutrition too!
Media Reporting on Studies
We should be careful not to believe everything we read in the media.
One reason for this is their focus on creating sensationalist headlines to draw people in.
Unfortunately, when it comes to nutrition, this usually means taking a minor detail from a study and emphasizing it as the main headline.
Especially relevant was a study earlier this year. This particular study (conducted by food questionnaires) found an association between processed meat and mortality.
This isn’t really surprising – I think we all know that eating spam, hots dogs, and other fast food is less than optimal.
However, the problem comes when a newspaper takes the study and write: “Red meat causes early death” on their front page.
Is there a difference between McDonald’s hamburgers with fries, and a family dinner of steak and vegetables?
Of course, but the media don’t care much for the little details.
The main point here is not to blindly believe media headlines; they are often exaggerated to sell papers.
Some people believe that animal foods are dangerous and that we shouldn’t eat anything other than plants.
On the other hand, others believe that plants are non-essential and we only need to eat animal foods.
The real truth about nutrition is this: there is no perfect diet that’s right for everybody.
Despite what you may read, it’s possible for humans to live healthy lives on a number of different diets.
The key is to ensure you’re getting the key nutrients you need for good health.
Organic, Gluten-Free and Paleo-Approved
These food labels are great in principle.
First, ‘organic’ means there are no harmful pesticides or chemicals in the food.
Secondly, ‘gluten-free’ signifies the food contains no gluten; a wheat protein that can cause digestive problems for many people.
Lastly, ‘paleo-approved’ is a sort of confusing label, but it generally means that the food is free of most grains, some sugars, and vegetable oils.
However, don’t fall into the trap of believing these labels automatically make the particular food healthy.
Organic blueberries? Great.
An organic chocolate cake full of flour, sugar and veg oil? Maybe not.
A gluten-free stew made from real, whole foods? Perfect.
Gluten-free cookies full of sugar? They are cookies.
“Paleo-approved” pie made with meat and veg? Not too bad!
Paleo-approved cake full of “ancient paleo grains” and coconut sugar? It’s just a cake.
On the whole, these labels can be helpful and you can sometimes use them to choose healthier versions of food.
That said, they often seem to be marketing tools and it’s worth being aware that the label doesn’t automatically mean the food is healthy.
Quick Weight Loss Diets
Is it possible?
Perhaps, but it’s doubtful. And this kind of starvation diet almost never works in the long run.
Let’s look at the steps most people take with diets:
1) They eat their normal diet… and gain weight.
2) To lose weight, they start a restrictive hunger-inducing low-calorie diet.
3) After losing fat and reaching their target weight, they “finish” their diet.
4) Finally, they start their normal diet again.
5) Since their diet is still the same as it was before, they gain weight on it again.
Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense does it?
No, the best way to lose weight and keep the weight off is to include a healthy eating regime as part of your lifestyle.
One that you enjoy, and one that you can stick to.
It shouldn’t be a time-limited diet.
‘Real food’ is an expression some people use to refer to either whole food or minimally
While this expression can seem confusing (cheeseburgers aren’t “real”?) it is better to think of it as a reference to healthy food.
And whatever you think of the name, eating whole foods is something that most people need to do a whole lot more.
It is also much better to get the nutrients we need from food rather than supplements.
Based on the lipid hypothesis (the belief that fats were key to the development of heart disease), fat has been demonized for decades.
In particular, public health has warned us to stay away from saturated fat.
The problem with this is that the majority of studies have failed to find a concrete link between saturated fat and heart disease.
In fact, many studies show that saturated fat doesn’t appear to affect cardiovascular risk.
Personally, I don’t think saturated fats occurring in whole foods are anything to worry about.
However, this doesn’t mean we should purposefully attempt to consume huge amounts of it.
There’s nothing wrong with naturally occurring saturated fat in meat, fish, olives, and dairy, but I doubt the trend of consuming hundreds of calories per day in drinks is a good idea.
To put it differently; go easy on the Bulletproof coffee – it’s another thing where moderation might be a good idea.
Sugar: Hiding in Our Food
Do you quickly scan for the name ‘sugar’ on nutrition labels when you buy something? If so, you’re probably doing it wrong.
Sugar has so many different names and many companies add four or five different types of sugar to the same product.
Since this makes none of the sugars the predominant ingredient, this makes it look like the sugar content is lower.
Here is a list of names for sugar that you might find on the back of a nutrition label:
2. Buttered Syrup
3. Cane Sugar
4. Carob Syrup
5. Confectioner’s Sugar
6. Corn Syrup Solids
7. Date Sugar
10. Golden Syrup
11. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
14. Maple Syrup
16. Refiner’s Syrup
17. Sorghum Syrup
19. Beet Sugar
20. Brown Sugar
21. Cane Juice
22. Grape Sugar
27. Malt Syrup
28. Demerara Sugar
30. Evaporated Cane Juice
31. Fruit Juice Concentrate
Basically, if you are buying food contained in a packet with a list of ingredients, it’s likely that sugar is one of them.
If you don’t mind that, that’s OK – but be aware of what you’re eating.
Trans Fat: Hiding in Our Food
It’s a cheap, shelf-stable fat that gives food a good consistency. However, the problem is that there’s a wealth of evidence showing it probably helps cause heart disease.
Something even worse is that trans-fats are hiding in many commercial food products that are declared “free of trans fats.”
The truth is, food manufacturers don’t need to list trans fat on the ingredients panel if the amount per serving is under 0.5g.
For example, if a 200g bag of potato chips has 5g of trans fats but ‘one serving’ is classed as 20g (0.5g of trans fat), then the product can say it is free of trans fat.
This is despite some people probably eating the whole pack and consuming several grams of trans fat.
Despite public health organizations calling polyunsaturated vegetable oils the healthy choice, how many people believe cooking with vegetable oil is healthy?
In recent years, the number is certainly falling.
The vast majority of commercial vegetable oil is created in a factory through an extraction process using solvents such as hexane.
Most industrial vegetable oils also provide a substantial amount of omega-6 fatty acids.
For good health, our intake of omega-3 and 6 should be relatively balanced, and consuming vegetable oil each day makes this almost impossible.
A much better choice for cooking purposes would be animal fats or fruit oils.
Animal fats such as butter, lard, and tallow are all relatively heat-stable and add flavor to food.
Fruit-based plant oils such as avocado oil, coconut oil, and extra-virgin olive oil are also great.
These oils tend to be naturally cold-pressed and are a lot healthier than omega-6 vegetable oils.
A basic definition of the Western diet would be a way of eating that is high in processed food, and particularly sugar, refined carbs, and fat.
Most people are getting carbohydrate from ultra-processed powders (flour and sugar), white bread and pasta rather than whole-foods.
And the majority of fat comes from soybean oil and other highly processed vegetable oils.
Basically, most food is a packaged product containing dozens of ingredients.
All in all, the Western diet is linked to a wide range of nutrient deficiencies and disease risks. When cultures who eat their traditional diets switch to a western style diet, big changes to their health status occur quickly.
Most of all, these changes usually include the rapid rise of obesity, diabetes, and then lifestyle diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.
If you currently follow this kind of diet, try to focus on changing your dietary habits, cut out the processed food, and introduce nutrient-dense whole-food ingredients.