Read the Nutrition Headlines:
"You need to take a calcium supplement or you may break a hip someday."
"If you're using artificial sweeteners you could have a stroke."
"Eating butter, steak, and cheese could lead to a heart attack."
"You should take a multi-vitamin every day to make sure you are getting the nutrients you need."
Nutrition Facts And Fables
We're so easily fooled. Post something slick and official looking and we swallow it hook, line and sinker. Add a legit looking URL and the post could be accepted as gospel. That’s how fake news captured the world's attention. The topics of nutrition, health, and weight loss are ripe with fables that, quickly, morph into full blown facts.
But, it's no wonder we're obsessed with topics that concern food - it's, both, necessary for life and a rich part of our culture. For these and other reasons, food plays an important role in our life. We use food to entertain, control body weight and manage disease. It's a source of pleasure and a strong part of our cultural, holiday and family rituals. It bookmarks our daily routines, nourishing both body and soul.
Unfortunately, there are too many myths and misinformation surrounding nutrition. It's difficult for anyone to sort through them all. Bad information can come from poorly structured studies, biased reporting or unsubstantiated research that flies in the face of science. This means you could be following nutrition rules that have no basis in fact or are long outdated.
It must be true. It was on the internet. Right?
This is what happens - Some new tidbit sounds reasonable. Next, it's getting passed along by well-meaning gurus and influencers until it appears to becomes a rule. Today, with a simple click you can find reams of information. Some of it “fake news”, some of it is evidence-based research, and some of its just, plain, fluff.
Even the most outlandish data can be made to look scientific. Before you believe any new idea, make sure you take a hard look at the Google top hits - check the source to ensure its solid data. I admit I’ve been guilty of believing unproven information. It sounded SO right. It made sense. Right? At the end of the post you'll find helpful, free graphics, to assist you.
So, let's shine the light of science on accepted dietary laws. Let's see what withers and what can stand up to the scrutiny. We can handle the truth, Col. Jessup.
The question is... Is it a nutrition myth, a nutrition fact or do we really know?
"Through love all that is bitter will be sweet,"
Nutrition Rule #1: Fact, Fable or Still Unclear?
Are Artificial Sweeteners Are Bad For Your Health?
A vast number of people in this world add artificial sweeteners to drinks or eat low calorie foods whose sweet taste comes from artificial sweeteners. Their main goal is to decrease the number of calories we take in - to help with losing or controlling body weight.
A lot of us just say "give me the fake stuff" or "I'll take a "yellow packet". But, actually, "nonnutritive sweeteners" (NNS) is the official term used by the major health organizations for these artificial sweeteners. As it stands, the numbers of "yellow, pink, green and blue packets" used, in the U.S., is high. One census found that 138 million people in the U.S. used sugar substitutes in 2017.
The 5 NNS That Are GRAS (Warning! Acronym Overload Alert!)
- Aspartame (NutraSweet)
- Acesulfame-K (Sweet One).
- Saccharine (Sweet N' Low),
- Sucralose (Splenda)
Stevia (Truvia, PureVia) doesn't have a GRAS designation because it hasn't been studied enough to join the list. It will join the ranks soon.
Do Artificial Sweeteners Cause Weight Gain?
Fact? No, this one's a fable. There's no hard evidence that artificial sweeteners cause people to gain weight.
We do know this much to be true: It's been well studied that keeping body weight under control helps to avoid heart disease, type 2 diabetes, joint problems, stroke and more. And that's a biggie!
Both, the American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association are concerned with helping people with excess body weight. The stance taken by these two organizations is that by replacing a high sugar intake with a low-calorie intake people can lose weight. Plain and simple. Both groups have sanctioned artificial sweeteners for this use, You can read what the AHA has to say about the use of artificial sweeteners HERE.
But, do NNSs lead to greater cravings for sweets causing people to put on weight.
This is unclear. Indirectly, for some people, eating low or no calorie items is an excuse to cheat. Drinking a zero calorie soda and eating a whole pizza does equal fewer calories as opposed to drinking a sugared beverage and eating a whole pizza - but it, rather, defeats the purpose of decreasing calories to lose weight. But this isn't, directly, related to the artificial sweetener. It's due to poor diet choices.
Still Unclear: Whether artificial sweeteners are a healthy way to lose weight is still in debate.
Do Artificial Sweeteners Cause Health Problems?
Fact? No, this one's a fable, more studies are needed. Not enough, solid studies haven't shown this to be the case or indicated any direct, detrimental health effects of artificial sweeteners. There is no direct link between the use of artificial sweeteners and the risk for stroke, dementia, diabetes mellitus, or metabolic syndrome.
The internet is rife with interviews and shaky studies saying that artificial sweeteners are toxic. People have described numerous symptoms such as mental fogginess, joint aches, headaches and anxiety that they relate to use of artificial sweeteners. They say the symptoms disappeared as soon as they stopped their NNS intake. There will always be people who are overly-sensitive to any given substance. And, over-use of any substance can lead to problems.
There are many good studies underway. In fact, you can search and find dueling studies - one that says NNSs cause harm and one that says that there is no link. Some of the recent studies scream bias and others are inconclusive. With 138 million people, just counting the U.S., using sugar substitutes, any health issues directly related to "the fake stuff" should be easily studied as time goes on.
Because of this tremendous use more and better research is crucial. In an excellent review of all of the data in the May 2017 edition of Stroke, Dr. Hannah Gardener, Dr. Ralph Sacco and Heike Wersching, state the bottom line is .... drum roll please..... Inconclusive.
There are a number of studies showing a possible "association" not "cause" in the use of artificially sweetened beverages (ASB) and vascular disease. The study concerns individuals who had a stroke and had a high ASB intake.
Did the beverages cause the stroke directly or was there something else in the the stroke victim's health history or lifestyle and drinking these beverages was coincidental? Was something else the direct cause of their stroke? Further studies are in progress. For now, there's no direct evidence that artificial sweeteners cause strokes. Still everyone should know the warning signs and what to do.
LIVING BETTER NOTE: Don't overdue it. Supplement your Diet Coke intake with water or unsweetened drinks.
Let's hear from you. Weigh (appropriate word play) in on the use of artificial sweeteners in the Comment Section below.
Nutrition Idea #2: Fact, Fable or Still Unclear?
Does skipping breakfast lead to weight gain and health problems
Fact? A big fable. This research has been examined more closely. It appears the studies done were flawed. Besides flawed, they were biased - sponsored by the breakfast food companies.
There were a couple of solid sounding studies, reported in good journals like Circulation and The American Journal of Nutrition, in 2012 and 2013. In each of these cases, the data was misinterpreted. The reporters used “causal” language inferring that skipping breakfast “caused” obesity and coronary artery disease.
The truth was skipping breakfast was “associated” with obesity or heart disease meaning people who were obese tended to skip breakfast. This could meant they slept late, over ate later, had bad dietary habits in general, or were depressed and didn’t eat until noon. But it didn't show a correlation between skipping breakfast and adding pounds or developing a bad heart. The shoddy information then got passed around and around and became accepted as truth.
There's still no large sample, randomized trials showing eating breakfast to be a factor in optimum health or weight. Maybe it's true, or, maybe it’s not. But until there're some hard, unbiased studies we won’t know for sure.
What about the studies on children and breakfast and childhood obesity, school behavior, and performance?
Fact? Once again, a fable. This sounds so right. Unfortunately, the same flaws in the adult research exist here as well. Cause vs. association. Do the children having breakfast do better because of a morning meal? Or, do the other children live in the one of the one in seven households in the U.S. that do not have enough to eat? These children have other issues of poverty or neglect that may have an impact on health and school performance... in addition to missing breakfast. Most human beings function better if they get enough to eat. But is it the breakfast or the opportunities that create better weight and conduct?
BETTER LIVING NOTE: Do what is best for you. Don’t eat breakfast if you aren't hungry. Do eat at regular intervals so you don’t get ravenous and overeat. If you skip meals, make sure you're getting adequate nutrition throughout the day. For, both, adults and children, eating breakfast isn’t the secret ingredient that helps you lose weight, there’s more involved than that.
Nutrition Idea #3: Fact, Fable or Still Unclear?
Are calcium and vitamin D supplements needed for bone health and prevent fractures?
Fact? This has now been shown to be a fable. A recent, large study found that there was no significant association of calcium, vitamin D or calcium combined with vitamin D and the incidence of hip fractures, non-vertebral fractures, fractures of the vertebrae or total fractures.
The U.S. has the highest intake of calcium with vitamin D and also one of the highest rates of osteoporosis. We worry about osteoporosis with good reason because it increases the risk for bone fractures.
In particular, women are encouraged to take supplements to ensure a high calcium intake. That is, unless you eat enough dairy products or high calcium foods like kale and broccoli. Women with smaller skeletal frames are at risk for osteoporosis. We picture brittle bones, dowager’s hump, and broken hips.
Nutrition Idea #4: Fact, Fable or Still Unclear?
Does a High Fat Diet Leads to Health Problems?
Does a High Fat Diet Lead to Obesity?
Fact? Fable, once again.
Fat has the highest calories per gram. The concern is that eating fat equals eating more calories and gaining more weight. So, is a low-fat diet the solution? Reducing fat would reduce calories. Right? Wrong. There are benefits to eating certain good-for-you high-fat foods.
Fatty foods bring a feeling of fullness with smaller amounts. Studies have shown that adding some high-calorie foods with fat can lower overall calorie intake. Fats can cut your appetite. You won't get hungry again for longer periods of time. Because you feel fuller longer you are, more likely, to wait longer to eat again. So...less raiding the pantry.
Does a High Fat Diet Lead to Heart Disease?
Fact? This one is a bit unclear. We've known that saturated fat increases total blood cholesterol and LDL, the bad cholesterol. And, that unsaturated fats lower both. Now, new studies are showing that saturated fats are not the bad guy. LDL cholesterol and its friends may not be the cause of heart attacks. Problems have been found with past research.
Closer scrutiny didn't show that heart attacks were reduced when saturated fats were reduced. Its uncertain if its all saturated fats or particular subsets could be a problem.
BETTER LIVING Note: For now, it appears we can eat saturated fats. But, for now, stick to a variety until further research is done. Whole food saturated fats, like dairy products, seem to be safe. But ultra-processed saturated meat, like cured meats, are not ruled out from involvement in heart disease.
Nutrition Idea #5: Fact, Fable or Still Unclear?
Are Whole foods Healthier for you than Processed Foods?
Fable? Still Unclear. Whole foods are a healthy way to eat. Unfortunately, there are no specific, solid studies comparing whole foods to processed foods.
However, there is strong research showing diets such as low-carbohydrate, low-fat, low-glycemic and the Mediterranean diet reduce weight and chronic disease.
The best diets share one thing - limited processed foods and high amounts of nature-based whole foods. This shows, somewhat indirectly, that whole foods are the way to go.
LIVING BETTER Note: There's no reason not to go forward on this one, with or without direct studies. Eat a diet of mostly whole foods from nature and avoid processed foods. This also follows what Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommendations.
Nutrition Idea #7 Fact, Fable or Still Unclear?
Is Coconut Oil the New Superfood for Good Health?
Fable? Yep, a fable. There's no solid research showing significant health benefits of coconut oil. There have been a few small studies on the effects of coconut oil on cholesterol. Studies are needed to show any relationship between coconut oil and heart disease, diabetes and overall health.
Coconut oil is 90% saturated fat. If that doesn't sound high, compare it to butter at 64%. It’s twice as high as meat at 40% and lard which is also 40%. I'd have bet lard was 100%. But lower, who knew? So, is coconut oil as fatty as slathering sausage with butter fried in grease? As discussed above, we aren't sure that saturated fat equals heart disease.
There's an interesting note about coconut oil. It increases the good HDL, a lot.
Plant-based fats - such as coconut, olive and soybean, as opposed to meat-based fats, include antioxidants and other nutrients. However, vegetable oils like olive oil and soybean oil have been closely scrutinized. Their benefits are superior to coconut oil. These other oils have more unsaturated fats, are able to raise the good, HDL, and lower bad, LDL, cholesterol. But since the role of cholesterol has been upended recently, further studies are needed.
Until coconut oil can be linked to improvements in heart disease or other problems there are no greater benefits to be derived from coconut oil compared to these other oils. If you enjoy coconut oil, great! It has a wonderful taste, for cooking. But for now, because of the high saturated fat, it’s best to use it in small doses.
LIVING BETTER Note: Don’t jump on this train just because the news sounds appealing. If you are drowning yourself in coconut oil to benefit your health, you may need to wait for stronger evidence. Olive oil, omega-3 fish oils, flaxseed, nuts and soybean oil are proven super foods. For now, use the types of unsaturated fats we're more sure helps heart disease.
If you would like more information on eating healthy you should read this post on toxic mercury in fish and which fish are the safest to eat HERE.
Final Thoughts on Living Better by Eating Healthy
Don't use guesswork when it comes to your diet and health! Get the most recent facts backed by the best research available... at the time. Who knows when those "facts" will be revamped, again!?
What are your thoughts about nutrition myths and facts? What's the most outlandish fable you've read about? Put your thoughts in the Comment Section below.
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