Part of the reason why people feel so confused when it comes to nutrition and what they should eat for optimal wellness is because there are SO many myths out there that just won’t die. Today I want to go through 5 of the top myths I hear in my practice and discuss WHY they must be busted!
Eating Too Much Protein Is Bad For Your Kidneys
This belief has been engrained in us for a long time – too much protein is bad for your kidneys. A high protein diet is only bad for your kidneys IF you already have kidney disease. When our body metabolizes protein there is more waste product that must be filtered through the kidneys (compared to fat and carbohydrate) and this is where the strain on our kidneys comes from. However, if your kidneys are functioning normally you do not need to worry!
This is an important myth to bust because higher protein diets can be very helpful for people looking to lose weight. The Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein for adults is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, which in my experience with clients is far too low. Protein has the highest thermic effect (meaning we actually BURN calories digesting it) and it has the highest satiety factor (meaning we feel fuller longer). So doesn’t it make sense that we should capitalize on this and increase our protein intake when trying to lose weight (1)?
Current evidence is now suggesting that a range of 1.2-1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day for adults is more of an ideal target in order to achieve optimal health. So unless you have kidney disease, forget about this myth and include a protein-rich food source with all of your meals and snacks to stay full, increase the thermic effect of your food and maintain your lean muscle mass while losing fat (2).
Eating Fat Will Make You Fat
This is a myth that has come into the media spotlight in the last year. We have been brainwashed into thinking that consuming fat in our foods will turn directly into fat on our bodies, however this is not the case at all (so please stop ordering your skim milk latte – see more about dairy fat here).
This war on dietary fat started in the 1960s when a University of Minnesota physiologist named Ancel Keys published an analysis “proving” the link between dietary fat consumption and heart disease. The unfortunate truth about this analysis (that we later learned) was that Keys had selected the data for his study that supported his hypothesis rather than including all the available data (this worked out to be data from 6 countries instead of the 22 countries available).
In terms of fat intake and health we just need to look at the type of fat we are consuming. It is agreed upon by everyone that trans fats are not good for us. Trans fats on the label appear as “partially hydrogenated oil” – and I bet you’ve seen this in your peanut butter (along with icing sugar and some other not-so-healthy ingredients). If you replace your traditional oil and sugar-added peanut butter for natural peanut butter (ingredients: peanuts) you can avoid this nasty trans fat.
Saturated fats like butter and coconut oil have also been demonized in the past, however these fats are perfectly fine and I recommend using coconut oil and butter or clarified butter for cooking regularly.
The healthiest fats are omega-3 fats, which are very anti-inflammatory in our body. Remember – inflammation is the building block of many chronic diseases so including foods that can decrease inflammation in the body is extremely helpful (read more about inflammation and food here). Some great sources of omega-3 fats are fatty fish like salmon, herring, mackerel and trout. Tip: make sure your salmon is wild caught Pacific salmon – these fish are fed their natural diet (including omega-3-rich algae) versus farmed Atlantic salmon, which are often fed fish pellets containing genetically modified corn and soy.
Long story short, fat IS healthy for us and without adequate amounts of dietary fat we would run into many health problems. Dietary fat plays many key roles in our body, including:
- Production of hormones including growth hormones and sex hormones
- Inflammation reduction
- Absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K)
I recommend including the right types of fat in every meal for optimal health and getting rid of any and all “fat-free” products in your home.
Exercise More And Eat Less To Lose Weight
Weight loss is 80% nutrition and only 20% exercise. I recommend that my clients exercise for all of the great benefits exercise has on the body but weight loss is not one of them. Believe it or not, for some of my clients I don’t recommend exercising at all (leisure walks and gentle stretching not included).
Exercise can be helpful for so many people, however if we lead an already stressful lifestyle, exercise can do more harm than good. When we exercise intensely it puts stress on the body. If we are already stressed and our cortisol (stress hormone) levels are high then exercise can just drive our cortisol production even higher!
A chronic low calorie diet also puts stress on the body. Remember, the number one priority our body has is to keep us alive. When we restrict calories far below what our body needs to function optimally, it causes a great deal of stress and this can also raise our cortisol levels leading to more fat storage as a protection mechanism.
So let’s put the two together: let’s eat LESS and exercise MORE to achieve our goal weight. This sounds like a huge cortisol bomb to me. Instead, eat MORE of the good stuff that your body needs to function optimally and make exercise FUN and only do it when you’re in a relaxed state (hint: you are not relaxed at 5 am after 6 hours of sleep – don’t worry – I’ve been there and done that so you don’t have to).
Animal Protein Is Unhealthy
The studies that we’ve heard outlined in popular news headlines are all epidemiological in nature (what the heck does that mean?). These epidemiological studies look at large numbers of people to determine whether or not there is any association between their diet and their risk of dying or developing a health condition after a certain number of years.
Epidemiological studies should only be used to form a hypothesis – they do NOT determine causation. If you were a participant in this study you would receive something that’s called a “food frequency questionnaire” every few months/years to fill out. Food frequency questionnaires look like this:
I don’t know about you, but I can hardly remember what I ate two days ago so I definitely couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve eaten something in the past 3-6 months or even worse, the last year! We are unable to perform a randomized controlled trial with a group of humans (half fed animal fats and half fed vegetable fats) in order to measure their health status long-term because this is extremely unethical. So at this time this is the best technique for determining whether or not a relationship exists between dietary patterns and various health conditions but it definitely does NOT determine causation.
What we have to remember is that the QUALITY of the animal fat matters and this adds another level of complexity to this nutrition myth. The saying “you are what you eat” really comes into play with the animals we eat. Animals are only as nutritious as the food they eat – meaning if the cows we eat are fed a feed of genetically modified corn it is not going to be nearly as nutritious as would be a cow fed its natural diet of grass. We will talk more about grass-fed versus grain-fed in a future post but for now just remember, grass-fed beef or pasture-raised animals are much healthier than conventionally farmed animals. Tip: If you are eating a good quality meat from a grass-fed cow, eating the fat is absolutely fine and healthy for us. If you’re eating a piece of meat from a grain-fed cow, I recommend trimming off some of the fat. Again, we will discuss why in a future post.
Eating Eggs Is Bad For Your Heart
It is true that eggs contain cholesterol, but the impact of the dietary cholesterol in eggs on our blood cholesterol is negligible and there is no legitimate link between dietary cholesterol and the incidence of heart disease.
The truth is, our liver makes 3-6 times more cholesterol than we can get from eating eggs.
Cholesterol has been demonized for so long and the reality of the situation is that we NEED cholesterol for optimal health.
Some of the major roles of cholesterol in the body include:
- Creation of hormones in the body
- Maintaining the integrity of the membranes of our cells
- Cholesterol is used to make bile, which allows us to properly digest fats
Worried about your blood cholesterol levels? Instead of worrying about eggs, take these steps to improve your blood work:
- Avoid trans fats and refined sugar
- Reduce body fat through a balanced, whole food diet
I hope our discussion today helps you bust some of these popular nutrition myths and you can make some changes in your diet today to start optimizing your health.
Yours in Health,