It has been absolutely forever since I’ve written a nutrition myths post! I know how much you all love when I bust nutrition myths, so I’ve thrown together some of the most common ones I’ve seen recently, and debunked them just for you. Here are the top five nutrition myths to stop believing this year!
We Should All Switch to Plant-Based Milks to Save our Health.
Once a diet staple, dairy is now one of the most controversial nutrition topics. To be honest, I truly believe that we can have a healthy diet without milk products. That being said, unless you have ethical concerns about dairy or a true allergy/intolerance, there’s no reason to give it up.
There is no research that proves that dairy is unhealthy for people who can tolerate it (about 40% of us can). Over the past 8000 years, many of our ancestors developed the ability to digest milk. For those of us, dairy is not inflammatory, it doesn’t cause mucus (a myth) or leaky gut. And the argument that milk has pus in it? Untrue. Milk contains white blood cells, also called somatic cells, but those aren’t pus. Every batch is screened for these and is tossed if levels are too high. Milk with low somatic cell count is incentivized and high counts are penalized, so dairy farmers are very careful and motivated to keep SCC as low as possible, far below the US government’s top allowance of 750,000.
Remember that a lot of anti-dairy rhetoric comes from activist groups that inflate facts and use hyperbolic, inflammatory statements, so be careful about where you get your information.
As far as hormones in dairy, most US and all Canadian milk have no added hormones. As far as bovine hormones, all milk has those, but any negative effect of cow hormones on people hasn’t been conclusively shown. And cancer? The most recent study showed correlation, not causation (read more about it here).
some plant-based milks are a good choice if you’re avoiding dairy, but only soy milk is close to cow’s milk in terms of protein. Other milks, like oat, almond, hemp, and rice, are low in protein (although oat has more protein – 4 grams per cup – than the other three) and are mostly water. One thing oat milk has that all the others (including cow’s milk) don’t, is fiber: 2 grams per cup.
Whether you want to eat dairy or not, don’t make that decision out of fear. If you enjoy dairy, continue to eat it. If you don’t, skip it.
We Should Follow Celebrities Diets.
I’m not sure when celebrities became our role models for health, but here we are.
I shouldn’t have to say this, but we aren’t celebrities, and we don’t have the same means and lifestyles that they do. Their livelihood depends on how they look, which is unfortunate, but it means that they often try a lot of dangerous, crazy stuff to keep their weight low. Things like eating baby food, drinking slimming tea, taking hundreds of dollars worth of supplements, or cutting out every carb possible aren’t good for anyone.
Celebrities look good, but sometimes that’s in spite of their diet, not because of it. Jennifer Aniston might be following a very restrictive, unhealthy plan (I’m using her just for example), but her regimen probably also includes trainers, chefs, expensive creams and treatments, and who knows what else.
The same goes for non-celebrities. Just because something worked for your friend, doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you, too. We all have different genetics, lifestyles, metabolisms, and even gut bacteria.
In short, look to which nutrition plan works for you, not for somebody else.
Soy Gives You Cancer or Man-Boobs.
I could, and probably should, write an entire post on soy. I know many of you have asked me to do it, and I promise that I will! Soy is one of the biggest, oldest nutrition myths out there.
Let me tell you this:
- Soy foods do not cause cancer.
- Soy foods do not cause man-boobs or low testosterone…unless you eat a shit-ton of soy supplements.
Soy contains phytoestrogens called isoflavones, which are different from endogenous estrogen, otherwise known as estradiol. Isoflavones are very weak compounds that can mimic estradiol’s effects.
You’ll find all sorts of evil anecdotes about soy on the internet, but soy’s bad reputation is actually pretty far off the mark.
First of all, North Americans generally consume far less soy than people in Asian countries. In Japan and China, average consumption is 25-50mg a day, while in North America, it’s around 1mg/day. Soy is one of the oldest cultivated crops in the world, and in countries where consumption is a lot higher than ours, cancer rates are lower. Those facts are not consistent with all of the negative press that soy gets.
In terms of testosterone, research shows that soy intake does not have an effect on testosterone or fertility. There is one documented instance where a man got gynecomastia (otherwise known as man-boobs) from soy intake, but in that case, his intake was huge – around 360mg/day for 6-12 months. He was consuming 3 quarts of soy milk a day, which I’m fairly sure is not normal. His boobs returned to normal once he quit.
Soy is an inexpensive source of protein and fiber, and I always encourage people to include it in their diets.
If you’re concerned about GMOs (and you shouldn’t be, but that’s another post altogether), choose organic soy.
Vegetables Today Have Far Fewer Vitamins Than They Used To.
I hear this a lot from charlatans selling their own branded supplements to ‘make up for’ what we’re supposedly not getting anymore from our vegetables.
This myth is sort of a mixed bag: yes, the nutrients in vegetables now are a fraction lower (some more than others) than in the vegetables generations ago. This is because with industrialization, the world has lost a lot of farmland and gained a lot of people. This means we’ve needed to increase yields in smaller spaces.
The overarching point is that we don’t eat enough vegetables to being with, so instead of complaining that they aren’t nutritious (wrong) and buying sham supplements and powders to make up for it (I’m looking at you, Juice Plus), we simply need to eat more plants.
A few other ways to get more nutrients out of your fruits and vegetables are to buy local, since vitamins oxidize out of produce after picking. Anything that sits in a truck for four days while it gets to your store is going to have a fewer vitamins than something fresh-picked, but sometimes, eating local isn’t an option (as I sit here in Toronto in March). Frozen vegetables are also a fabulous option, because they’re picked at the peak of ripeness and flash-frozen to lock all of the nutrients in.
I also recommend buying your vegetables whole. Pre-cut veggies like baby carrots, for example, expose more of their flesh to the air and light, which both increase vitamin oxidation rate. Cut your food yourself. And, don’t overcook. Heat is also responsible for vitamin oxidation.
See my post on soil depletion for more info.
Intermittent Fasting is the Best Way to Lose Weight.
Intermittent fasting is officially the most popular diet right now, for a few reasons. First of all, it’s highly publicized. Everyone knows someone who has done it, and it’s all over the media. Sadly, if you see something often enough, you’re probably going to buy into it, too. It’s the human condition.
The other reason why IF is popular is because some people are losing weight on it. It also gives people who hate breakfast, a legit reason to keep skipping that meal!
Intermittent fasting doesn’t have any long-term human studies behind it, but the short-term ones support it as a method for weight loss for some people (not everybody) over continuous calorie restriction. So what’s the issue?
Intermittent fasting isn’t special, and it’s not the best for everyone. It works because it cuts calories. Weight loss happens when you eat fewer calories than you burn, and for some people, IF is the tool that works to make that happen. There’s no magic.
Just like there’s nothing special about the ketones in the keto diet or on any other diet out there. It’s all about eating less. And contrary to what the media is always trying to tell us, there is no ‘best diet’ that works for everyone.
The best eating pattern is the one that works for you and that you can sustain for the long-term while still enjoying your life. If that means keto, fine. If it means eating intuitively, that’s great.
The Take Away?
The most important thing? Keeping yourself healthy, physically and emotionally. And don’t fall for these nutrition myths.
Want to learn more about nutrition? Check out this post on if diet soda is unhealthy.