One of my biggest frustrations in life is about the stuff we’re told in the media about food. Actually scratch that, the stuff we’re told by pretty much everyone, doctors included, about food. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s doctor has thrown out the perfunctory “keep eating a low-fat diet” after a standard check-up. Or worse, “you really need to eat more whole grains”.
And we don’t even question it because it’s what EVERYONE says. These “facts”, based on shaky research, are even on the cover of countless magazines IN PRINT so they’ve gotta be right. Right? Ugh. Before we know it we believe it all, and we don’t even stop to question whether it even makes sense.
Here are some of the worst examples – but unfortunately there are a LOT more out there:
Myth 1: Saturated Fat is Bad For You
We’ve talked about this, so I won’t labor the point. But suffice it to say this is something that most people still believe, or did believe at one point in their lives. I know I used to be petrified of the stuff and would carefully avoid it at all costs before I realized that it is one of the most essential parts of our diet.
The idea that saturated fat raised the risk of heart disease was an unproven theory that somehow became conventional wisdom. This is a travesty that has caused countless people to needlessly cut out highly nutritious foods like meat, coconut oil, butter, etc, when in fact these foods help raise our HDL (“good” cholesterol) and actually reduce our risk of heart disease.
This post is an excellent illustration of how we’ve somehow come to believe that artificially manufactured fats are better for us than the pure unprocessed goodness that nature has given us: http://paleolates.com/2013/06/05/better-than-god/.
The Truth: Saturated fat from whole organic sources is healthy and should form a daily part of our diets.
Myth 2: Low-Fat Foods Are Good For You
How many people do you know who still buy low-fat milk or low-fat yogurt? Most of us, at least at one time or another, reached for the “skimmed” version of these foods, thinking we were being so much healthier. I actually struggle to find plain full-fat yogurt in stores these days.
And yet even a little bit of common sense would tell us that these foods didn’t come from nature in a “fat-free” form, so maybe nature had a point? How could something altered from its natural state through some bizarre processing be better for us than the original whole version? Also, when fat is removed from foods, they taste pretty horrible, so the way most manufacturers deal with this is to add things to compensate for the lack of flavor. This usually involves sweeteners or starchy fillers (often found in yogurt). So, not only is the healthy fat being removed, but it is being replaced with harmful substitutes that wreak havoc on our bodies.
And funnily enough, with the advent of the low-fat craze began the spike in obesity rates in western countries. Coincidence? I think not. Low-fat diets are naturally high-carbohydrate diets. They have to be, in order to make up for the missing (and satiating) calories from fat. If you really want to get fat quickly, eat a high-carb diet. It will also raise your “bad” cholesterol.
The Truth: Avoid low-fat foods like the plague. One of my favorite sayings is “Whenever you see the words ‘FAT-FREE’ or ‘LOW-FAT’, think of the words ‘CHEMICAL SHIT STORM'”. Enough said.
Myth 3: High Fat Foods Will Make You Fat
Last fat myth for the day I promise, but an important one. It seems almost obvious that eating fat would make you fat right? We see the lard on the bacon and envisage it being packed straight onto our thighs. Makes perfect sense!
Fat makes you fat in the same way eating green vegetables make you green. IT DOESN’T. Period.
If we’re eating the right kinds of fats (natural, organic, saturated, monounsaturated fats and small amount of Omega 3 and 6 fats) in conjunction with a real-food diet free from refined-carbohydrates, we will not get fat. In fact, our bodies will actually burn more fat as a result, so if we have fat to lose, this will be used as an energy source. I used to eat a very low fat diet, and when I drastically increased my fat intake I, not only had far higher energy levels, but I actually lost weight. Fat keeps you satiated way longer than carbohydrates so, on its own, it is very hard to overeat and you will automatically eat less of other foods because you will not have the crazy need to snack all the time.
The Truth: Fat doesn’t make you fat. Refined carbohydrates and sugars do. The end.
Myth 4: Eggs are unhealthy
This one just makes me laugh – mainly because it is so utterly absurd. People will stand up on television and, with a straight-face, advertise the “health” properties of some kind of frankenstein version of a fake margarine created from rancid ingredients in a factory, but then they’ll say eggs – a perfect, nutrient-dense, natural food – are unhealthy? And even worse, they’ll specifically vilify the yolks, which are hands-down the most nutritious part of the egg. How many people do you know who habitually discard the yolks in favor of a sad egg-white omelette, thinking it is healthier? Ugh.
Yes eggs contain cholesterol. And that is a GOOD thing. We need cholesterol. And besides, it has been proven over and over that the cholesterol in the diet does not increase the cholesterol in the blood. It can increase HDL levels (“good” cholesterol), but that is a very good thing.
The Truth: unless your allergic to them, eat lots of eggs. Especially the yolks. And if you have the choice of a bagel, granola or eggs for breakfast, for crying out loud, PICK THE EGGS!
Myth 5: We should all be including whole grains in our diets
Why? Because 10,000 years ago human beings realized that grains were a cheap source of calories, and so made them a staple part of the diet to save themselves the hassle of having to hunt and gather food every day. Convenience (as we should all know) often comes with a price. We may be able to feed billions of people with these low-nutrient, high-calorie foods, but that’s just it – they are low in nutrients and high in calories. The perfect recipe for disaster. We eat them, but don’t get enough nutrients, so we feel the need to eat more. Our blood sugar rises, insulin spikes and boom, before we know it, we’re fat. And that’s just the tip of the grain ice-berg. When it comes to wheat, the problems go much deeper, so not only is it a poor source of nutrients, but it actually hinders the absorption of other nutrients and damages our guts all at the same time. So, in the same way as eggs are pretty much a perfect food, grains are the antithesis of the perfect food. There are so many health conditions associated with eating grains that, no matter how cheap or convenient they may seem, it is not worth including them in the diet in my opinion.
The Truth: avoid grains and stick with real unprocessed foods like vegetables, tubers and fruits for your sources of carbohydrates.
Myth 6: Red meat is bad for you
Red meat is one of the foods most hugely vilified over the last couple of decades. News articles love to slam bold headlines all over the place claiming that red meat causes cancer/ will kill us/
is responsible for the holocaust, etc and a lot of us have been successfully brainwashed into giving it up in favor of meats like chicken or meat-substitutes, thinking that those are healthier. I gave up red meat for a period of about 10 years and greatly regret that decision. That is 10 years worth of incredibly nutritious food of which I was depriving my body. In addition to protein (something our bodies need to ingest every since we cannot make it ourselves) red meat is an incredibly nutrient-dense source of B vitamins (specifically Vit B12), Vit D, Iron and other minerals. It trumps white meat when it comes to nutritients.
I will go into more into the health benefits of eating meat in another post, but for now, suffice it to say that it is one of the most nutrient-dense foods we can eat, and I would advise everyone to include it regularly in their diets. Obviously choose organic grassfed options whenever possible. I would never advocate or support factory farmed meat.
Read more on the health-benefits of red-meat here.
The Truth: Red meat is one of the most nutritious foods we can eat. It is also better for you than chicken, and far superior, in every way, to any fake meat-substitutes out there.
Myth 7: We should eat many small meals throughout the day
For years I have heard this: “eat lots of small meals throughout the day to keep your metabolism up and your blood-sugar steady”. This is a myth is easily debunked here, but even common sense is enough to tell us that human beings were not sitting down to regular meals throughout the day tens of thousands of years ago. We are not designed to require a constant stream of food entering our digestive systems. In fact, back in hunter gatherer times we probably ate closer to one meal a day, with long fasting periods in between. It is not natural for our bodies to be in a constantly fed state. When we are in a fasted state our bodies undergo a process called autophagy, which in simple terms, is a cleaning process of waste products and damaged proteins in our cells. This is essential in order to keep the body free from these potentially damaging products.
If we eat enough protein and fat during our meals, the body can quite happily thrive on 2-3 meals per day. This does not work, however, if we are eating a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet. I used to be the embodiment of the small-meals-throughout-the-day way of eating. It was all low-fat “super healthy” stuff that I thought was good for me, but which left me un-satiated and starving every 2 hours. I was dependent on snacks to take me through the day and felt like I was ALWAYS hungry. I now eat 2 or 3 substantial meals per day and am never hungry in between. And I do CrossFit!
The Truth: Our bodies are designed to run for hours on our own stored energy. If we eat nutrient dense meals high in protein and fat, we can quite happily eat fewer meals and allow our digestive tracts to rest and “clean-up” our cells in between.
So, I have touched on just a few of the crazy myths out there that have affected our relationship with food over the last few decades. There are many more, but this post is already super long, so I will stop here.
Suffice it to say, it is worth taking everything we are told with a pinch of salt and doing our own research to ascertain its truth, or lack thereof. Sadly, so often, the myths we are told are brought about by big corporations/agriculture/drug-companies in order to profit themselves in one way or another, but without any grounding in the actual health implications for us, as consumers. It’s often tough to weed out the garbage, but my rule of thumb in general is to ask myself what human beings did before huge corporations controlled the majority of the food industry, and also to look at how healthy societies (free from modern diseases of civilization) ate. They have one thing in common – they all ate real, unprocessed foods, close to its natural state, and free from artificial additives.
As for myself: I eat a diet of pastured organic meat (including organ meats), fish, veggies, roots and tubers, fats (including animal fats), raw dairy, some fruit, spices and ‘traditional foods’ like bone broths, fermented foods and cod liver oil. I eat when I’m hungry and according to my energy output. I do not count calories. Ever. It’s easy, delicious, and I feel healthier, more full of energy and in better shape than I ever was in my 20’s. And that is enough for me to simultaneously debunk every single one of the myths above. Boom!