As a Dietitian, my ears perk up when I hear people discussing nutrition. Sometimes I agree with the comments but most of the time I disagree and remain silent, unfortunately. Recently, I was asked to give a nutrition presentation at the Pennsylvania State University. For the presentation, I compiled my top 10 nutrition conversations I disagree with and offered a solution.
1. Heart healthy butter spreads are healthy for you.
I am not talking about margarine. I think we all know our once thought healthy margarine is and was full of hydrogenated oils (trans fat). I am specifically talking about the spreads labeled “heart healthy” and full of “omega fatty acids” or “made with olive oil”. The manufacturing companies are misleading us once again as most people think the word “omega” is synonymous with omega 3 fatty acids.
The truth is our heart healthy spreads are actually full of cheap omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (corn, safflower, soybean and cotton seed oils) which are directly related to inflammation in the body leading to heart disease.[i] Because there has been such a war against saturated fats and trans fats, manufactures are now using polyunsaturated fatty acids, specifically omega 6 fatty acids, because they are cheaper and considered healthier.[ii] However, not all polyunsaturated fats are created equal. In fact, it is the omega 3 fatty acids (flaxseed, fish oils, seaweed), which fight against heart disease and are healthier. [iii]
The next time you are buying a healthy butter spread made with flaxseed oil, canola or olive oil read the ingredient list. Usually the polyunsaturated oil base is a blend of oils full of soybean, corn or safflower oils with some flaxseed oil, olive, or canola oil. Canola oil and olive oils are omega 9 fatty acids and are neutral with heart disease.
For a great recipe to make a homemade butter (healthier) spread, click here.
2. Organic food has better nutrition.
Over 50 years of research studies indicate conventional food has just as much nutrition as organic foods. A research project in the UK systematically reviewed 162 articles containing 3558 comparisons of nutrient content of organic versus conventional crops published in peer-reviewed journals between the years 1958 and 2008. They did not find evidence of any differences in nutritional content of 15 different nutrients.[iv]
However, I do not want you to think I am unsupportive of organic farming. Personally, I try to buy my produce, when in season, from local farmers and do patron the farms who use little or no spray. My point is to encourage people to still eat fruit and vegetables- organic or not. I do not want people to feel they are being cheated of the nutritional benefits, if they eat non-organic foods.
Organic farming does help us move away from monoculture, which is better for the environment, and it does increase the biodiversity of farms. I choose small local farms for the following reasons: the produce is picked at prime freshness; small local farms most likely have multiple crops which may use less pesticides and herbicides; and local produce reduces food mileage which is better for the environment. As the summer approaches us, it is time to find your local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) to buy local fresh produce. Please visit www.localharvest.com for more information. My favorite local farm in NEPA is The Lands at Hillside Farms and Forks Farm.
3. I have to eat less than 1200 calories to lose weight.
I see this all the time in my clinical practice; people on an extremely restrictive diet to lose weight fast. Most people even ask me why they are not losing weight when they are eating only 900 calories a day. It is important to understand the following principles for weight lose:
First, we did not gain weight overnight, which means we will not lose it in a couple weeks or months. Creeping obesity is slow weight gain over time. People who want to lose weight need to lose weight slowly. Research indicates a 1% loss in body weight per week (1-2 lb/week) is a strategic and successful weight loss goal, which can be maintained.[v]
Secondly, we burn calories 3 ways: metabolism (living and breathing), thermal effect of food, and physical activity. Metabolism can range anywhere from 50-65% total calories expended in one day which is the largest component of energy expenditure. If we do not eat enough calories to maintain metabolism, metabolism will slow down and we will not burn as many calories in a day.
Thirdly, one pound equals 3500 calories. To lose one pound a week, a 500-calorie deficit is necessary. This can be a healthy combination of 250 calories expended in exercise and a 250 caloric decrease per day.[vi] A great example of a small change in caloric intake is 150 calories/day equals about 16 pounds per year. This is equivalent to one can of soda/day.
4. I have to drink 8 cups of water per day.
While 8 cups of water a day is a great goal for most healthy people, it is not exactly accurate. You may actually need more or less water depending on your physical activity and diet. Water consumption should be based on the amount of calories expended daily. For every calorie (kcal) burned, 1 ml water should be consumed.[vii] It is also important to consider the types of food you are eating daily. If you are eating a large amount of fruits and vegetables, you may need less water. Fruits and vegetables are higher in water while meat, fat, and dairy are lower in water.
(1 ml = .034 oz, 1800 ml = 60 oz, 2000 ml= 67 oz, 2200 ml = 74 oz)
5. A high protein intake builds muscle.
There is a large variety of media channels that advertise protein supplements build muscle mass. Body builders commonly take amino acid supplementation to stimulate muscle growth. The bottom line is strength training or weight-bearing exercise builds muscle, not supplements.[viii] Natural food sources such as lean meat, milk, eggs, and beans supply the body with enough protein and amino acids.
The current recommendation for protein intake for a healthy person is 0.8g/kg of body weight per day.[ix] It is recommended for an athlete to consume 1.2-1.7g/kg of body weight per day because they require more calories.[x]
6. Low carbohydrate intake helps with weight loss.
A low carbohydrate diet is the most widely followed diet in my private practice prior to nutritional counseling. Most people come to me with the impression carbohydrates contribute to weight gain. Calorically speaking, carbohydrates and proteins are equal with each containing 4 kcal/gram. Fats contain 9 kcal/gram while alcohol contains 7 kcal/gram.
Carbohydrates, fats and proteins are all needed for us to sustain a healthy lifestyle. Carbohydrates provide us with half of our daily energy in the form of glucose (our brains selective choice of food). When we eat carbohydrates our body breaks them down into glucose. If we do not eat adequate calories from carbohydrates, our body will use protein to from glucose in the body. It is important for us to eat adequate carbohydrates to spare our protein. Eating enough carbohydrates allows our protein (amino acids) to do their invaluable functions.
Reducing carbohydrates can be helpful, if you concentrate on sugars in soft drinks, candy and baked goods but it is counterproductive if you remove fruit, vegetables, whole grain and legumes. To learn how to plan a balanced meal for weight loss, please visit www.choosemyplate.gov.
7. To prevent or lower blood pressure do not use the saltshaker.
The average American consumes 1.5 teaspoons of salt (sodium) or MORE per day.[xi] Let me ask you a question- Do you believe you are using the saltshaker that often? There are various sources of our sodium intake, not just the saltshaker. Processed foods offer 75% of our intake of sodium; while cooking and seasoning foods offer 15% of our sodium intake; and only 10% of our sodium intake comes from naturally occurring sources in our food.[xii]
It is my opinion as a health care professional we should target the higher percentage, processed foods, to reduce sodium. Did you know a serving of Raisin Bran with milk, a cereal consider heart healthy, has twice as much sodium as typical serving of chips?
While working with my clients, I encourage them to salt their food to taste after cooking but cook with whole foods. If they insist on buying boxed foods with labels, I suggest the 10% rule. The rule is simple: look at the daily value percentages on the label and only buy foods that are LESS than 10% sodium. If they have a chronic disease (hypertension, heart disease or Diabetes), aim for less than 7%.
8. Sea salt is healthier for you.
Chemically speaking salt is salt. It is a compound made up of equal parts sodium and chloride (NaCl- approximately 50% each). It does not matter if the salt is mined from the ground or dehydrated from the sea; it still has the same chemical structure. Sea salt manufactures market the following statement on their label: ”contains only 50% sodium” which is true for all salt, given the chemical structure. Sea salt manufactures also market the addition of other healthful minerals but there is not enough present to make a nutritional impact on health. In fact, sea salt is coarser which might enable us to actually use more salt compared to traditional table salt.
9. Eating diet food will help you lose weight.
It is not about what you eat but how you eat. There are three macronutrients in food: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. If manufactures decrease one, they are increasing another. A great example is reduced fat peanut butter. The fat is substituted with extra sugar. When it comes to dieting, it is best to leave the word “diet” out. To set yourself up for success with weight loss I recommend the following: set small goals; eat with others; take time to mindfully eat; listen to your body; eat breakfast daily; think of food as nourishment; practice moderation through controlling portion sizes; positive self-talk; increasing physical activity daily; and allowing ALL foods in your meal plan.
10. In order to exercise, I need to join a gym.
Most people feel they need to join a gym to exercise. This is not true. To be physically active think of ways your can decrease your time being inactive. For example, instead of using a riding lawn mower, use a push mower or the snow blower compared to a shovel.
Another misconception with physical activity is it does not need to be completed in one session. The current recommendation is 2.5 hours a week of moderate-intensity activity. The best part about the current recommendations is exercise can be broken into ten-minute bouts of activity.[xiii]
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[i] Berry, E.M. “Are Diets High in Omega 6 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids Unhealthy?” European Heart Journal 3 (supp. D) (2001): D37-D41.
[ii] Kris-Etherton, P.M., et al. “Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in the Food Chain in the United States.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 71 (supp.) (2000): 179s-188s.
[iii] De Lorgeril, M., et al. “Dietary Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease: Focus on Omega 6/Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acid Balance.” World Review of Nutrition nd Dietetics 92 (2003): 57-73.
[iv] Dangour, A., Lock, K., Hayter, A., Aikenhead, A., Allen, E., & Uauy, R. (2010). Nutrition-related health effects of organic foods: a systematic review American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 92 (1), 203-210
[v] Position of the American Dietetic Association: Weight management, Journal of the American Dietetic Association 109 (2009):330-346.
[vi] Position of the American Dietetic Association: Weight management, Journal of the American Dietetic Association 109 (2009):330-346.
[vii] M.N. Sawka, S.N/ Cheuvront, and R. Carter III, Human water needs, Nutrition Reviews 63 (2005):S55-S62.
[viii] L.L. Andersoen and coauthors, The effect of resistance training combined with timed ingestion of protein on muscle fiber size and muscle strength, Metabolism: Clinical and Experimental 54 (2005):151-156.
[ix] Dietary Reference Intakes-The Essential Guide to Nutrient Requirements (Washing, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2006) p. 152
[x] S. M. Phillips, Dietary protein for athletes: From requirements to metabolic advantage, Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism 31 (2006): 647-654.
[xii] S. Havas, B.D. Dickinson, and M. Wilson, The urgent need to reduce sodium consumption, Journal of the American Medical Association 298 (2007): 1439-1441
[xiii] Centers for Disease control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone