Science is frequently making new discoveries. What we found out is that a lot of the long-held beliefs surrounding food and nutrition will not advance your health goals. These myths, like modern-day granny’s tales, may contain a modicum of truth, but they will not serve your greater purpose: To build muscle, to trim your gut and to protect your heart. Time to upgrade your knowledge….
“Fat makes me fat”
It is the good fats like Omega-3 that you should be topping up on, mainly from oily fish, raw nuts, seeds and some fruits. These actually help burn fats stored in our body, act as natural anti-inflammatory agents and boost brainpower and the nervous system.
The bad fats, of which you want as little as possible in your diet, are mainly the saturated fats found in animal products like dairy and meats. Go easy on these as they can clog your arteries in the long run. The ugly fats, which you need to avoid completely, are nasty enough to raise LDL (bad cholesterol) levels and decrease HDL (good cholesterol) levels. They generally have effects opposite to those caused by good fats. Uglies include the damaged fats found in all fried foods – and trans fats, which typically result from processes used to extend the shelf life of products like baked goods and margarine.
“I’m fit. I can eat anything i want.”
There’s a story behind this one, and perhaps a lesson to be learnt: Jim Fixx was a famous American marathon runner in the 60s and 70s, and also the author of The Complete Book of Running. Nathan Pritkin, a leading nutritionist at that time, predicted that many runners on the typical American diet would drop dead during or after long distance events. Jim Fixx ate a typical American diet and criticised Nathan for scaring athletes. Jim was found dead on the road at the age of 43. He had died from a massive heart attack while running. Now, we hear of more and more young and fit athletes just collapsing and dying during or after an event. Watch what you eat.
“Too much sugar will make me diabetic."
Having a sweet tooth can’t quite make you a diabetic, though it can make you fat! Diabetes is a lifestyle-related disease with a strong genetic component. If you don’t exercise, are highly stressed and don’t watch what you eat, take heed if you start to feel tired and begin craving sweets. These could be the first signs of insulin resistance or “pre-diabetes”. When your body’s cells stop responding to insulin, which helps regulate the absorption of sugars from the blood, your body produces more insulin in response. You could end up developing full-blown diabetes if you don’t make changes to your lifestyle. Normally, no medicines are yet required at this stage: Things can be kept in check through a good nutrition plan and fitness regime.
“Cut down carbs to lose weight.”
There is a risk to slavishly following this kind of weight-loss advice. If you do not satisfy your appetite, you might be left perpetually hungry, tired and irritable. You do burn a little fat, but also muscle mass. Then, after a while, your body goes into “savings” mode and actually starts storing fat. When this mode is reached, you plateau and your inches refuse to budge, despite all the exercise. What you should ideally be doing is avoiding refined carbs like white flour, sugar and refined products, and eating hearty, wholesome grains, cereals and vegetables. These are all complex carbs. Simple carbs like fruits make great snacks too.
“Scarf on protein to build muscle.”
Difficulty in building muscle mass is rarely due to lack of protein, and more often a result of not taking in enough of the muscle building vitamins and minerals, such as zinc and vitamin B6, that help digest and use dietary protein. In any case, the premier source of fuel for performance is carbohydrates, not protein or fat. That’s why endurance athletes stock up on carbohydrates like rice just (or perhaps a week) before an event, a practice known as “carbo loading”. However, while fat may not be the best fuel for the body, essential fats from nuts, seeds and their oils have many important benefits and are an important part of a high-performance athlete’s diet. Also, don’t forget to drink water: Your sense of thirst is inhibited during athletic performance.
“You don’t need vitamins if you’re eating a balanced diet.”
Thanks to modern food-processing techniques, we’re no longer able to get as much of the nutrients we need from our food as before. Most farming methods leave the soil depleted of nutrients, which means that even less end up in crops. Long-term storage and transportation reduces the antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables. Many prescription and over-the-counter medicines (like statins, diuretics and acid blockers) deplete nutrients in your body. Even stimulants like coffee and tea bind minerals together and prevent absorption. Higher amounts of environmental pollution increase oxidants in our body, so we do need a higher intake of antioxidants. Vegetarians, especially, may have insufficient levels of B12 and vitamin D. Start by taking a multi-vitamin daily. Research shows that even taking RDA (bare-minimum) levels of vitamins can help boost your memory, concentration and IQ.
“Oily fish is good for you.”
Everyone knows that mackerel, salmon, and tuna are good for the brain and heart, so we’re asked to eat more. However, toxins accumulate in fish – and, the bigger the fish, the higher the levels of toxins that are stored up. Larger fish tend to carry high amounts of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), dioxins (an industrial pollutant) and mercury (a poison). Also, are you – as is likely – eating farmed salmon? Farmed fish have been found to have consistently higher levels of these toxins than wild fish, as they live in dirtier water and the feed is usually contaminated. So what are your choices? You can take a good fish oil supplement or stick to eating wild salmon and organic tuna. Sardines are an excellent choice as they are small and less likely to have accumulated toxins than other, larger fish.
“Avoid egg yolk and seafood to lower cholesterol.”
A study by the American College of Nutrition may have found no connection between heart disease and consuming more than one egg a day. But this doesn’t mean that you can start binging. All it means is that eating eggs every day is not as harmful as some people believe. What you can do is to incorporate a lot of fibre from whole grains and fruits, along with the so-called sinful seafood you’re having, since fibre binds cholesterol from the food and helps in excretion. So, now, you needn’t feel guilty about eating those prawns: Just eat wisely and in moderation!
“No sugar no problem. Use an artificial sweetener.”
According to the National Cancer Institute, there’s no scientific evidence that these sweeteners can cause cancer in humans. But cancer may not be your only concern. Some people develop stomachaches and diarrhoea after consuming artificial sweeteners. While artificial sweeteners may help diabetics and people who are obese, it may be wiser to just consume less of the sweet stuff, or switch to natural sweeteners like xylitol, molasses, maple syrup or brown rice syrup.
“Coffee or tea boosts energy.”
After that sacred first cup of coffee, coffee drinkers don’t feel any better than people who passed on the java, reveals a Bristol University study. The bottom line: Coffee is addictive and drinkers are just relieving their withdrawal symptoms. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry showed that coffee (and other caffeinated drinks like tea) can actually worsen mental performance. Moderate- to high-level coffee drinkers (quaffing one to five cups a day) displayed higher levels of anxiety and depression than abstainers. High-level drinkers also displayed the greatest incidence of stress-related medical problems.