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Unfair Targets

TargetNutrition is an evolving science.  Although the basic tenants are unlikely to change (i.e.: fruits and vegetables undoubtedly contain healthful components, omega-3 is a fatty acid we must get from food, etc.), new research helps shed light on previously misunderstood concepts.

Unfortunately, much of the mainstream media (as well as a good number of nutrition professionals in the public eye!) continues to regurgitate outdated information that is inaccurate and does the general public no favors.

Here is a list of often-repeated nutrition advice that is better suited to a time capsule.

  1. “[Name of food] is not healthy since it is high in cholesterol.” I am perplexed by the amount of nutrition professionals (and organizations like the Center for Science in the Public Interest) that continue to cling to the notion that the presence of cholesterol in a food turns it into a nutritional monster.  Research over the last decade has clearly shown that cholesterol in food does not impact blood cholesterol like we previously thought.  Additionally, this narrow thinking unfairly demonizes foods that offer many health benefits.  Shellfish, for example, are high in cholesterol, but certainly a much better animal protein than lower-cholesterol options (ie: chicken, pork, ground beef, etc.)  thanks to the presence of omega-3 fats.  True, cholesterol is not an essential nutrient (you can have a perfectly healthy diet without ever consuming a single milligram).  However, casting foods as “bad” solely based on the presence of cholesterol is reductionist.  A whole picture approach is much more useful (full-fat ice cream contains less cholesterol than shrimp, but that does not make it a heart-healthier option).
  2. “Coconut oil is a bad fat because it is high in saturated fat”. This, too, is often repeated ad nauseum by many dietitians and nutrition organizations.  This particularly upsets me because it does not demonstrate a clear understanding of fats.  There are different types of saturated fats.  The main saturated fats in coconuts and cocoa, for example, are very different from the ones in red meat or full-fat dairy in that they offer much more in the way of cardiac health.  A high percentage of the saturated fat in cocoa, for example, is converted into a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat by the human body.  PS: another reason not to fear coconut oil?  Not only is it a healthy saturated fat, it is also very low in omega-6 fatty acids (an essential at we are getting way too much of).
  3. “Vegetarian and vegan diets should be planned carefully to ensure that they provide enough protein.” Most people don’t realize that they would have to make a very concerted effort to eat a low-protein diet (ask anyone with kidney failure who has to go on a low-protein diet how incredibly difficult that task is!) .  Protein isn’t only found in high-protein vegetarian foods (ie: beans, nuts, seeds, soy, etc.), it is also present in grains and vegetables.  A cup of cooked oatmeal offers 6 grams, while a cup of broccoli offers 5 grams.  Protein concerns around vegetarian and veganism are yet another of the “let’s just say it because it’s been said for decades” statements that has very little basis in reality.

If you ever hear any of these old-school facts being thrown around, please help the messengers understand why these particular viewpoints are better off in the history books.

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3 Comments

  1. Daniel said on October 17th, 2010

    I agree with 1 and 3, especially 3, as it’s really annoying to hear it repeated over and over and over. I’m still a bit sketchy on coconut oil. Would you happen to have any studies or scientific evidence of the body converting it to heart-healthy fatty acids or the positive / negative effects it has on the body? I’d really appreciate it and it would help out a lot for my nutrient metabolism course. Thanks again!

  2. Marianne said on October 18th, 2010

    The cholesterol thing drives me insane too. But it’s so hard to change people’s minds, especially if their favourite celeb is spouting said “information”.

  3. Andy Bellatti said on October 20th, 2010

    Hi Daniel,

    I will e-mail you some studies. One note of clarification, though: it is most of the saturated fats in cocoa (not coconut) that our bodies convert into monounsaturated fats.

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