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5 Health Myths and Their Close Examination – Part 1

September 20, 2012 0 Comments

scientist-microscope2The amazing thing about science is that we are always learning.  Like a reset button for our way of thinking, ideas or theories that were once accepted as true are amended or sometimes even completely thrown out as our knowledge gets better.  With exercise and nutrition, that phenomenon occurs all the time which is one of the reasons why I love to read and study about it as much as I do. In this post, I want to examine 5 of the common myths regarding nutrition and in a future post I will discuss some of the myths regarding exercise.

The Problem With Myths

Ever since the dawn of man, myths have proliferated every walk of life to the point where most don’t even know what the truth is anymore. Myths are generally never founded on pure factual data.  They are an interpretation or skewed vision of the reader seeing what they want to see from the data.  For example, the old axiom, “Is the glass half full or half empty?”, could go either way depending on who’s drawing the conclusion. Problem is myths tend to persevere because they become the popular thought, not one based on published or anecdotal research.  Case in point, here are 5 nutritional myths that have spawned not only our way of thinking, but created niche markets in both food advertising and pharmacology.

1. A diet high in saturated fat causes cardiovascular disease.

A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition combined the results of 21 previous studies and found that a diet higher in saturated fat was not linked to a higher risk of heart disease or stroke. That’s not to say saturated fat can’t be dangerous, but it also goes to show that the overall sentiment of the last 30 years to limit red meat and dairy was both overblown and inaccurate. Studies aren’t everything. And one study in isolation isn’t necessarily reliable. But 21 studies is a pretty good analysis to assess the impact. And when you consider the numerous benefits of other research on people who follow high protein/fat diets, it becomes easier to rest assured that fat (and saturated fat, specifically) is not the enemy.

2. Eating late at night makes you more likely to store fat.

When you find a study that shows that late night eating—in a calorie controlled environment—makes you fat, please let me know. Here’s what you really need to know about your body: It does not work on a 24-hour cycle. If you eat 2,000 calories in the morning and eat the same 2,000 calories at night, your body will process it the same way. In fact, when Israeli researchers compared people who at their biggest meal at breakfast to those who at their biggest meal after 8 pm, they discovered that the late-night eaters lost more weight and more body fat. What’s more, a study conducted by the USDA found similar findings: That people who ate most of their calories after 7 pm had more muscle and less fat. That’s not to say that you have to eat late at night. It just proves that the timing of your meals isn’t as important as you might have thought.

3. Eating multiple meals (4-6) speeds your metabolism more than eating fewer meals (2-3).

The myth about multiple meals started in the early 90s.  That’s when everyone began to move away from three square meals a day, and begin grazing on smaller snacks and meals. In theory, the concept was great, except for the part where an entire nation has become fatter over the last 20 years. When you eat, your body burns calories. This is known as the thermic effect of food (TEF). Every type of food (protein, carbs, fats) has a different TEF, with protein being the most “metabolic” food you can eat. However, the frequency of meals does NOT influence your metabolism, as shown in a study done at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Again, the point is NOT to say that eating 5 or 6 meals a day is bad. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with it. The best diet is the one that fits into your schedule and helps you stay consistent, whether it’s 3 meals, 6 meals, or grazing spread throughout the day. And the only “flaw” with the grazing method is that the size of our snacks has increased more than 200 calories during the last 30 years. So if that’s your preference, just make sure to watch your serving size.

4. Egg yolks are bad for your cholesterol.

This is one of my favorites but rest assured, eggs are not bad for you, and the yolk will not skyrocket your cholesterol. There’s so much research that disproves the theory that I could fill this entire article with links. In fact, not only has research shown no link between egg yolks causing cholesterol or heart problems, but researchers in Thailand found that eggs actually improve your HDL (the good cholesterol).  When it comes to eggs, the only thing you really need to keep an eye on is the fat content and how it fits into your daily goals. And yes, fat is fine. But too much of any nutrient is not good for you

5. A high-sodium diet is one of the biggest problems causing high blood pressure.

First thing to understand is that sodium is an electrolyte, an important mineral that aside being one of the primary charges of all muscle contractions, helps you hydrate when you’re sick or exhausted. We need salt in our diet to help maintain our natural blood pressure levels from dropping to low. Which is just another way of saying the war against salt has been overblown—and that’s probably an understatement. There’s a lot of salt in most people’s diets, but it’s not causing as much damage as you might believe. The people who are most at risk are those with very high blood pressure, and even then, you can still improve your health without a sodium adjustment. (eating more potassium can help counter the effect).  That’s not to say a very high sodium diet can’t have other health drawbacks, but the typical criticisms aren’t necessarily accurate. In people with healthy blood pressure—even those who eat much more salt than recommended—there’s not a need to make a dramatic change. In fact, some research even indicates that cutting out all sodium can lead you susceptible to other health problems.

As I stated previously that is the beauty of science – the landscape is ever-changing, and we’re always discovering new foods to eat, better ways to exercise, and more effective techniques to take care of our bodies. It’s why I’m committed to share the tips you need to live the life you want. Your health is what you make it. No amount of research could ever dictate all of the personal choices you make. And sometimes, research is just that: Information that occurs in a vacuum to help us question certain truths. But making informed decisions, and knowing why you take certain actions, is the foundation of any successful plan. You don’t have to be an expert to live a better life. You just need to give your body the time and information it deserves.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

My 2012 Fitness Challenge personal update – 26,300 push ups done as of publishing time



About the Author:

Jeff Harrison is a fitness coach based in Pottstown, PA. He received a BS in Exercise and Sport Science from Penn State University and is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), NSCA Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT) and ACE Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist (ACE-AHFS). Jeff's articles have been published in peer-reviewed journals as well as consumer oriented websites and magazines.

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