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Archive for the ‘myths’ Category
Yesterday marked the release of US World & News Report’s annual “best diets for healthy eating” rankings.
I am not a fan of diet rankings (our nutritional landscape’s Achilles heel is the obsession with dieting, as opposed to learning and developing healthful habits), but this list particularly disappointed and frustrated me.
Below, the five main problems I spotted.
Pick up any fitness magazine and you will see the virtues of chocolate milk extolled away, often times classified as the best thing you can drink after a workout. Over the past few years, chocolate milk has even been touted as a heart-healthy beverage (alas, a careful reading of the studies proves otherwise).
For some odd reason, a May 2010 article titled “The Chocolate Milk Diet” penned by Men’s Health editor-in-chief David Zinczenko was shared by a handful of people on my Facebook feed today. I should note that despite having no background or credentials in nutrition science or health, Yahoo! Health identifies Mr. Zinczenko as a “health expert”.
If you are a new Small Bites reader, you should know that I have my share of — pardon the pun — beef with Men’s Health (for their ridiculous attacks on soy, their mixed messages, their condoning of ice cream, soda, and beer following a workout, and for the horrible underlying message behind their popular “Eat This, Not That” book series).
This particular article gushes endlessly about the many virtues of chocolate milk, mainly weight loss and muscle-building. Although I shared the article on Twitter earlier today (prefacing the link with “Today’s daily dose of nonsense, courtesy of Men’s Health“), I felt the need to explain, in detail, my frustrations with it.
These sorts of articles irritate me to the extent they do because not only are they are read by millions, but they are presented as legitimate, objective, trust-worthy nutritional science, when that is not always the case.
Now, let’s tackle this piece — bit by bit.
Is it true that if you’ve had too much to drink, it’s a good idea to eat something rich in [carbohydrates] before going to bed so the alcohol can be soaked up and you feel better the next morning?
— David (Last name withheld)
San Diego, CA
Nope. By that point, it’s too late.
The key is to have food in your stomach before you begin to drink. This ensures that alcohol will take more time to enter the bloodstream.
For optimal results, eat foods high in protein, fiber, and fat prior to a night out, as these take longer to digest.
An almond butter sandwich or a black bean and brown rice burrito would do the trick.
Keep in mind, though, that this is only effective for slowing down the rate of absorption of alcohol. Every gram of alcohol you consume will ultimately be absorbed.
I have come across a lot of articles and books which state that a pound of muscle burns 50 calories per day just to support itself.
That seems extremely high to me.
— Luis (Last name withheld)
I, too, often see that figure repeated ad-nauseum — and can’t help but shake my head.
It is true that the more muscle mass we have, the more calories our bodies intrinsically burn (AKA, the more effective and faster our metabolism).
However, the “50 burned calories per pound of muscle” figure is grossly inaccurate.
A multitude of studies over the past decade — all in respectable metabolism and exercise physiology journals — have clearly demonstrated that one pound of lean muscle burns anywhere from five to eight calories per day for self-sustaining purposes.
Mind you, this is certainly better than fat tissue, which burns a mere two calories per day.
Weight-bearing exercises are still extremely important, though (they are beneficial in slowing down osteoporosis, strengthening the heart, and even improving the immune system).
Keep in mind that between the ages of 50 and 80, humans can lose up to 40 percent of their muscle mass. That significant loss carries significant metabolic — and health — repercussions!
“Spinach is full of pleasant surprises [and a top-ten “power food”]. It’s a natural source of iron… and a rich non-dairy source of calcium.“
Those sentences appear in The Sonoma Diet, penned by Registered Dietitian Connie Guttersen.
I find it incomprehensible that a Registered Dietitian can make such an elementary mistake.
Although spinach offers plenty of vitamins, antioxidants, and phytonutrients, it is not a rich source of iron or calcium.
Unlike other leafy greens (i.e.: bok choy, broccoli, mustard greens, and kale) which are very good sources of both those minerals, spinach is loaded with compouds known as oxalates.
Oxalates bind to iron and calcium, significantly decreasing absorption of those minerals in our digestive systems.
Consider the following:
- A half cup of cooked Chinese cabbage delivers as much calcium as a cup of milk
- One and a quarter cups of cooked bok choy deliver as much calcium as a cup of milk
- Eight cups of cooked spinach deliver as much calcium as a cup of milk
What makes this tricky is that the figures presented for spinach in terms of iron and calcium content do not take into account decreased absorption. Therefore, you will see that a half cup of cooked spinach “provides” 115 milligrams of calcium (11% of the Daily Value). Sadly, we only absorb 10 to 15% of that amount.
Please share this tidbit with as many people as you can. I am continually amazed by the amount of health professionals (dietitians, doctors, and educators) who keep this myth alive.
“Vegetables and fruit should not be consumed together, nor milk and meat.”
That statement can be found on page 76 of the The Fat Flush Plan by Dr. Ann Louise Gittleman (which, red flag alert, promises to “melt fat… in two weeks”).
The “reasoning” behind that piece of advice is that the combination of fruits and vegetables (or milk and meat) in the same meal slow down, or inhibit, the “fat flushing” process.
This is a perfect example of inaccurate and impractical advice.
The notion that adding tomatoes (a fruit), avocado (a fruit), sliced pear, or Granny Smith apple slices to a salad is detrimental to health is absolutely preposterous.
If anything, adding a fruit rich in vitamin C to a salad is a wonderful way to increase iron absorption form dark leafy greens like kale and chard.
I don’t understand why some nutrition and weight-loss authors (mostly those with very little knowledge of how the human body works) think our digestive systems are unequipped to digest different foods at once.
These rules simply promote neurotic fanaticism at mealtime, and make mountains out of caves (forget molehills!).
As a bariatric patient, we’re not supposed to drink anything while eating or for a while after.
It has to do with the “pouch” our surgeries create that help us feel full on small amounts of food, and the drinking flushes the food through meaning we get hungry faster, eat more, etc.
Anyways… someone said something on a site I’m on about how nobody should be drinking while eating, since even a normal stomach would have a similar reaction.
Is there any merit to that?
— Rob (last name withheld)
None whatsoever. This is why armchair nutritionists on online message boards should rarely be trusted.
What you are referring to, Rob, is a condition known as dumping syndrome.
It’s quite common following bariatric surgery, and occurs when food travels from the stomach to the small intestine much more quickly than it should.
A small number of exceptions aside, individuals who have not had bariatric surgery do not need to worry about this.
As I always say, our bodies are very, very smart machines.
A regular stomach not only acts as a large reservoir of now-liquified broken down food (it can hold roughly 1.5 to 2 quarts!), but also transports that into the small intestine in a controlled fashion thanks to a powerful, ring-shaped muscle known as the pyloric sphincter.
Bariatric surgery results in the pyloric sphincter being bypassed during digestion, hence the possible complications.
What would the start of a new year be without celebrity weight-loss tips?
This time around, it’s Beth Ostrosky (AKA Howard Stern’s wife), who tells OK! magazine that the key is to exercise more and completely give up sweets.
Ms. Ostrosky tells OK! that “literally from [the moment I gave up sweets], my body has completely changed. I dropped six pounds in the first week.”
Considering her previous dietary habits, it’s no surprise she has lost weight.
Not only were Swedish Fish, Starburst and Hot Tamales dietary staples — she would also admittedly pop 15 Toostie Rolls as a pre-running snack!
Newsflash: that’s a total of 750 calories. Since sugar does absolutely nothing to help satiate us, you are looking at 750 calories that don’t make you feel full!
Despite Ms. Ostrosky’s claims that she can now eat unlimited quantities of foods (she claims to eat a bagel for breakfast, “a lot of bread” with lunch, and “a big pasta dinner” regularly) because she no longer includes sugar in her diet, we are looking at the tried- and-true, yet always effective, “eat less, move more” strategy.
Also, someone may want to inform Ms. Ostrosky that Starbucks uses vanilla soymilk (which contains a tablespoon of added sugar per cup) in its soy lattes. Those are not sugar-free beverages!
Thanks to Jessica Rothschild for forwarding me the OK! article.
The View is no stranger to”did they really just say that?” moments (remember Sherri Shepherd’s claim that not only she did not know whether the Earth was round or flat but had no time to find out because she was too busy raising her children?).
This past Friday, what could have been your typical weight-loss-in-the-coming-year segment made my jaw hit the floor and my eyebrows catapult to the ceiling.
Rather than bring on an expert (imagine that — someone who knows what they’re talking about!) to discuss three or four often-overlooked healthy changes that could make a real difference in people’s lives, producers thought it would be better to instead expose millions of viewers to five gimmicky diet plans that only further confuse the public.
Oh-so-coincidentally, View co-host Whoopi Goldberg is on one of them right now.
The first recommended diet? None other than Dr. Segal’s Cookie Diet, which consists of “eating low-calorie cookies and one healthy meal a day.”
Really, producers of The View? That is what you consider groundbreaking and news worthy? A diet plan that first made the rounds approximately five years ago?
Despite the frothy advertising, there is no secret here. This nonsense is nothing else than extreme caloric restriction that fools people into thinking they are being indulgent because they get to munch on a a few cookies a day.
I’m surprised no one has come up with the “Ben & Jerry’s Diet” yet. You know — eat nothing but a tablespoon of Ben & Jerry’s every three hours and a sensible dinner, and you’ll be at your goal weight in no time!
Up next — Melissa Bowman Li’s Physio Cleanse, which Whoopi Goldberg is currently on and raving about.
I was very surprised to learn Ms. Bowman Li is a Registered Dietitian, because the program relies on distracting gimmicks.
For example — you start off with a 28 day “cleanse”, in which alcohol, caffeine, sugar, gluten, and dairy are off-limits.
News flash: it is completely possible to avoid that entire list and still overeat, just like it is possible to eat all those items and lose weight.
Even more annoyingly, Bowman Li claims this particular diet helps the body “eliminate toxins through the lungs, skin, kidneys, and bowels.”
Perhaps Ms. Bowman Li has forgotten basic human physiology — the human body does that on its own. A cup of coffee and a bowl of Greek yogurt are not toxin-releasing roadblocks.
Once again, the real “secret” here is a meal plan high in whole foods and fiber and low in processed foods. The removal of caffeine and dairy is irrelevant.
The Perfect 10 Diet and the 7-Day Energy Surge were also featured, but are so vague and general in their descriptions that they aren’t even worth discussing. Both employ your usual terminology of “key hormones”, “feel at your peak” and promises of “jumpstarting weight-loss” and “reducing stress” “in minutes.”
By the way, why do so many diet books contain numbers in their titles? Is it solely to make you feel like a complete loser if it takes you nine days to get that “energy surge” (oh, how awful!)?
The absolute worst of this lot, however, is Jorge Cruise’s Belly Fat Diet, which is nothing more than Atkins revisited (again!).
According to Cruise, his plan allows you to “lose troublesome belly fat without counting calories or going to the gym.” A couch potato’s dream — and such a hokey late-night infomercial pitch!
Like Atkins, Gary Taubes, and countless others, Cruise claims “belly fat” is all about “keeping insulin low by limiting carbohydrates and sugar.”
This, says Cruise, is much more effective than simply eating less and exercising more. In fact, Cruise considers calories absolutely irrelevant.
Despite claims that you will not eat less on this plan, this “groundbreaking” diet is also about limiting your calories.
For example, one popular tactic provided by Cruise is to ditch the hamburger bun and wrap your burger in a lettuce leaf.
Yes, certainly a lower-carb option, but also one that decreases calorie content by anywhere from 200 to 300 calories!
Oh, but, no, Cruise says “carbohydrate [content is] the only number you need to know”.
Of course, there are plenty of head-scratching tips. While Cruise shuns dairy products and whole fruits because of their naturally-occurring sugars, he finds it perfectly okay for people on his plan to eat French fries and dip them in ketchup. Huh?
There’s also a pulled-out-of-who-knows-where concept of “carb servings”. According to Cruise, a “carb serving” consists of anywhere from 5 to 20 grams of carbohydrates. THAT is how you determine whether a meal is “belly good” or “belly bad” — by the number of “carb servings”.
As a result of all this carbphobia, Cruise would much rather you drink a Diet Snapple (artificially-colored water spiked with artificial sweeteners) than an iced low-fat latte.
It is a true shame that The View decided to devote camera time to these baseless diets that rely on gimmicks and hype, rather than factual information that can actually — gasp — help people lead healthier lives!
Many thanks to New York City Registered Dietitian Elisa Zied for making me aware of this TV segment via Twitter.
Back in August, Time magazine ran a bunch of ridiculous nonsense cover story which made the laughingly feeble case that exercise was not at all helpful for weight loss.
In what seemed to be an essay right out of a middle schooler’s notebook, the author attempted to convince us of this theory by stating that on days when he exercises, he ends up eating more (and, apparently, he decided his personal anecdote somehow applies to the rest of the world).
In any case, the folks at Time continue their bastardization of nutrition and health issues with their latest article (thankfully, not a cover one) titled “The Thoughest Diet”.
In it, author Joel Stein talks to popular chefs who have managed to slim down despite working in kitchens — and being surrounded by decadent food — all day.
The article quickly goes South, though, when it turns into nothing more than misguided and inaccurate weight-loss tips from men who clearly have very little knowledge of nutrition.
As can be expected when dealing with celebrity chefs, there is plenty of egotism, too. In the second paragraph of the article, Food Network star Alton Brown credits himself and other television chefs for being “partly responsible for the fattening of America.”
You want to talk about factors behind rising obesity rates? Think crop subsidies, expanding portion sizes, food lobbyists, and issues with the National School Lunch Program. Mario Battali’s alfredo sauce doesn’t even make the Top 100.
Brown then goes on to make the following statement:
“The old wisdom of everything in moderation was pretty much hogwash.”
This from the man who has chosen to “boycott French fries” and “now snacks incessantly on avocados, sardines, and almonds.”
First of all, it is still very possible to gain weight while “snacking incessantly”. Although avocados, sardines, and almonds are very healthy foods, they are by no means calorie-free.
In fact, I recently spoke to somebody who didn’t understand why she wasn’t losing weight even though she stopped eating junk food. A look at her dietary habits demonstrated that while she was eating healthier foods, she was getting just as many calories from those foods as she was in the days when potato chips, Skittles, and sugary cereals were staples of her diet.
Furthermore, Brown’s example that moderation is ‘hogwash’ is based on the fact that he used to eat massive quantities of French fries, which sounds like anything but moderation to me.
Then there’s chef Alex Stratta, who “decided to get off sugar, fatty meats, and carbs after his suit wouldn’t fit for an awards reception”.
Sigh. When I hear people say they “got off carbs”, I always have to count to ten and take deep breaths.
Carbohydrates are not just in donuts, cookies, cakes, and 600-calorie muffins. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and healthy whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and barley are also “carbs”.
Therefore, when people proudly beam that they “no longer eat carbs” , my response is often: “Wow, you stopped eating fruits, vegetables, and beans?”
As for sugar — it is absolutely a source of empty calories, and undoubtedly overconsumed in the United States.
However, what is with this notion of “swearing it off”? Why not just set a goal of eating significantly less? Besides, most people who I speak with who claim to be “off sugar” only mean white sugar, since they still consume honey, agave nectar, and maple syrup as if it somehow were calorie-free or chock-full of nutrients.
Stratta’s “tips” get worse:
“His new rules include starting the morning with a protein shake, having only three meals a day and never eating after 6 p.m.”
It is “thanks” to ridiculous articles like these that I come across so many confused individuals at workshops and classes that I teach.
In essence, what Stratta is doing is — are you ready for it? — eating fewer calories than he used to! Wow, imagine that.
It would be much more helpful if he simply credited that for his weight loss, because it is very possible to do the three things he does and still not lose a pound.
Depending on what goes into it, a protein shake can have anywhere from 200 to 800 calories. As for “three meals a day”, there are plenty of people who only eat three meals a day and gain weight because their total caloric intake for the day surpasses what they need!
Rules like “never eating after 6 p.m.” are not only unnecessary, but also overly rigid. Munching on a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts at 8 p.m. is not going to make the magical weight-loss fairies disappear into thin air.
Another example of misguided advice? The article states that renowned chocolatier Jacques Torres (who intelligently lost a total of 32 pounds by joining Weight Watchers) “stocks up on 70% cocoa chocolate bars, with the goal of always having a low-sugar options on hand.”
Let me be perfectly clear — chocolates with a high cocoa content are great.
The intense flavor often helps one satisfy cravings with small amounts, and they offer some added health benefits as a result of having more cocoa than milk chocolates. Low sugar values, however, are irrelevant.
The reason why high-cocoa chocolates are a better snack than those with lower figures? They are higher in fat, which means they take a longer time to digest, therefore allowing you to feel full with a lower amount of calories.
And then the magazine industry wonders why it’s going down the drain…
A friend of mine says the best way to lose weight is with a dissociated diet.
She showed me her menu. One day she can eat all the fruit she wants, and nothing else.
The next day is a meat day, then a vegetable day, etc.
She says that this makes the body work more and burn more calories since you are tricking it.
Why is that?
— Therese (last name withheld)
Human beings are funny creatures. You have to admit, we can give ourselves too much credit at times — especially when it comes to believing we can trick human physiology with fad diets.
Can you lose weight with a dissociated diet? Yes.
Is a dissociated diet the best way to lose weight? Absolutely not.
Remember, losing weight is not difficult.
The challenging parts are:
- losing weight in a way that is healthy and keeps nutrition at the forefront
- losing weight and maintaining that weight loss over a long period of time
Dissociated dieting does not meet either of those two requirements.
Bottom line — there is absolutely no basis for dissociated dieting. Limiting yourself to one food group every 24 hours does not speed up metabolism, “trick the body”, or perform any other magic.
This kind of eating pattern “works” (for a short amount of time) because it turns eating into a dull and boring “task”. How much enjoyment can you get from eating nothing but meat or fruit for an entire day?
Additionally, by limiting you to one food group each day, it automatically restricts your caloric intake.
On a “meat” day, for example, you can’t have that food as part of a sandwich, a wrap, a sushi roll, or even a salad. Nor can you have that food with a side of, well, anything.
By the fourth day on this kind of diet, you lose a pound or two… and your sanity.
One of my friends said that at a wellness workshop she recently attended, a dietitian said that pasteurized milk is not nutritious because the pasteurization process renders calcium unabsorbable to humans.
Apparently, the best way to get calcium is from unpasteurized milk and cheese.
Is that true?
— Deborah Wolper
(City withheld), IL
Wow. I have heard my share of heinous nutrtional inaccuracies, but I think this one might take the cake.
First off, I sincerely hope this completely erroneous “fact” did not come out of the mouth of a Registered Dietitian. If so, I want to apologize on his or her behalf.
Pasteurization has absolutely no effect on calcium levels on dairy, and much less on its bioavailability.
Even if that were true, it would still be inaccurate to then coin pasteurized milk as “not nutritious.” Calcium aside, dairy is a very good source of protein, B vitamins, magnesium, and phosphorus.
I have a dental practice, and one of my patients is a competitive bodybuilder.
The other day he and I were talking about weight loss and he told me to buy L-Carnitine. He said that if I took some an hour before working out, I would lose more fat more quickly.
Have you heard this before?
— Laura (last name withheld)
I have heard indeed heard this myth before. More times than I’d like to admit, to be frank.
L-Carnitine is an amino acid involved in fat metabolism (meaning it helps break down fats so they can later be used for energy by the body).
It is not essential (we do not need to get it from food) since we make carnitine from other amino acids in our diets that are essential.
Manufacturers of ergogenic aids are quick to point out that L-carnitine helps speed up fat loss while providing more energy and helping increase lean muscle mass. In other words, it’s yet another “miracle pill.”
Alas, studies relating to sports nutrition have found no benefit from L-carnitine supplementation.
What many people forget is that they already consume a fair share of this amino acid from food if they eat meat and dairy products.
Remember, since carnitine is not essential, you do not need to get it from the diet. A diet that does not include meat and dairy does not make one “carnitine deficient.”
As with many other supplements, I say: keep your money safe in your wallet.
How much truth is there to the belief that small sips of ginger ale can help combat nausea?
— Hillary Trome
(City withheld), OK
While there has been a fair amount of scientific literature showing that a teaspoon of ground ginger is a pretty powerful dose against nausea, the same can not be said for ginger ale.
Most commercial varieties of the beverage do not contain any real ginger. They instead use ginger flavoring.
You are much better off dissolving a teaspoon of ground ginger into a cup of a hot tea than sipping on Canada Dry (which is what most people reach for to combat nausea). Even ginger ales made with real ginger don’t usually deliver enough of it to have any effect.