When I say favorite food myths, I don’t mean that I believe in them. I mean that when I hear them, they are so completely asinine that I can’t wait for you to stop talking about it so I can tell you the truth. Most of the “facts” I hear about nutrition come from people who skim the headlines of Yahoo health articles without actually reading the information (bad enough these articles are incorrect at best), or have never actually participated in weightlifting. Yet, they are experts in subjects pertaining to sports nutrition.
I have compiled a short list of food myths that I hear the most, which hopefully will be the final nail in the coffin for these myths.
1. Calories in, calories out (or, “all calories are created equal”)
This myth seems to be the most pervasive of all. I will hear things like “if you cut out just 60 calories in a day, you will lose 10 pound a year!” or ” I got to eat an entire bowl of noodles, and it only contained 150 calories!”
(Can you tell that these sound like the came from Cosmopolitan magazine?)
In scientific terms, a calorie (kilocalorie or kcal), is the amount of energy required to raise 1 gram of water 1 degree celsius. According to that definition (bio-chemically speaking), calories from fat, protein or carbohydrates might all be considered equal, but when the physiological and psychological effect of calories from different foods are taken into consideration, the answer changes.
Protein, carbs, and fats each have primary and secondary purposes within the body that are nutrient specific. A growing body of research shows that the different macronutrients each have a different effect on the metabolism, via numerous pathways. Differences such as their effects on hormones (e.g., insulin, leptin, glucagon, etc), hunger, appetite and heat production. This myth also ignores the studies that show data that indicates diets with identical caloric intakes, but different macro-nutrient ratios have different effects on body composition, physical performance, cholesterol levels, and multiple other physiological factors.
2. Organic plants are more healthy for you
I will be honest, I definitely believed this one in the past. However, when you realize you are only reading material about why organic plants are superior when the material is written by those in the organic business, the “facts” can get iffy.
Even with all the claims that the chemicals on veggies are killing us, life expectancy has gone up by almost ten years since 1950. This is mainly due to the fact that people are getting more fruits and veggies in their diet. Thinking back to a “simpler” time when all farmers lived off their own crops is a fantasy. In reality, many American farmers ate a diet that consisted of pork and corn, causing a nice little disease called pellagra. It also puts a huge strain on the planet, considering that your organic vegetables are driven up from places like South America in diesel chugging trucks. To pretty much sum it up, organic plants aren’t significantly healthier for you. Most American believe that organic food is better for you by a 2-1 margin, despite the lack of any evidence supporting this.
3. Salt increases blood pressure
This is a myth that originated in the 1940s when a professor used salt-reduction to treat people with high blood pressure. Science has since found out that there is no reason for a person with normal blood pressure to restrict their salt intake. However, if you already have high blood pressure, you may become salt-sensitive in which case you should reduce salt or increase your potassium intake as it is the balance of the two that really matters. Furthermore, people who suffer from hypertension should be careful with salt as it can have an impact there. Ultimately, eating more potassium is probably more important than reducing salt. Potassium rich foods are spinach, broccoli, bananas, white potatoes and most types of beans (listverse.com).
4. Craving is your body telling you it needs something
When we get a craving for certain foods – such as fruit juice, we often think it is because of a lack in our body of a certain nutrient. Interestingly, scientists who put this to the test found out that it wasn’t true at all. In the study, a person who craved chocolate, was given a cocktail of chemicals that contained all of the essential components (minus taste) of chocolate, and another cocktail containing chocolate flavor, but no components of chocolate. The craving was satisfied when they took the chocolate flavored cocktail, but not the essentially flavorless chocolate. This strongly suggests that cravings are simply emotional. We crave certain foods because of the memories and emotions relating to that food in our lives (listverse.com).
5. Carrots are good for your eyes
This myth goes back to World War II when Great Britain was developing interception radar for their military. Not wanting Nazi Germany to know about how their technological advancements were helping them shoot down so many Nazi aircraft, they attributed the success to eating carrots. News stories began appearing in the British press about amazing personnel manning the defense, including John Cunningham, a flight lieutenant. He was dubbed “cat eyes” due to his amazing marksmanship. He chalked up this ability to eating a great deal of carrots. Thus a myth was born, that is still pervasive. While Vitamin A can help cure those with night blindness, it will not increase visual capacity beyond the normal amount, and megadosing on Vitamin A can be toxic, although it rarely kills.
6. Fat makes you fat
Do I even need to get into this one? I feel like I beat this dead horse everyday. Let me just get to the basics, fat does NOT make you fat. Without fat, you will die. This is why they are called “essential” fatty acids”. Since your body does not make them on it’s own, you must ingest them. Fat is an extremely valuable macronutrient (you have essential fats and essential amino acids, but no essential carbs–something to think about) that is used to transport fat soluble vitamins, provide a high level of satiety, to regulate heartbeat, make hormone, memory function, etc. Don’t think that eating something low-fat is good for you either. On the contrary, it is a terrible idea. I will bet you that if you take regular ice cream that has 5 or 6 ingredients in it and you take all of the fat out, you will end up with 30-40 ingredients. Just stick with the full fat products. It will fill you up quicker, rather than pumping you full of fake sweeteners that leave you hungrier than before.
This is just a short list of all my favorite myths. I would love to rant more, but I have 2 pounds of chicken beckoning to me in the fridge. Duty calls. I must answer.