6 big myths and misconceptions in healthy eating

healthy eating myths debunked

When it comes to healthy eating, there are many myths and misconceptions that just won’t die.  Some of them may be silly, while some others may be dangerous, because following them may lead to the results opposite to what you would expect (to the detriment of your health).

The funny thing is that most people who propagate them by trying to “educate” their friends have no idea why they need to follow these “guidelines” – they were just told to, at some point, by another friend, a popular magazine or even doctors, who got stuck in the last century and didn’t care to update their knowledge with the latest research.

Are any of these myths worth believing in?  See for yourself!

Myth # 1: Low-fat food

For many years, caught in the semantics and mislead by mass media (and even some very authoritative sources), people have been equating dietary fat (the fat you eat) to body fat (the fat you store).  The solution, in the age of prevailing heart disease and stroke and total cholesterol hysteria, seemed simple – remove fat from your food and you will be forever lean and healthy.

As it turns out – that’s not quite the case.  In fact, the effect is often the opposite – if you get overzealous, you risk developing quite a few health problems.

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Why deep-fried food is such a bad food (even in moderate amounts)

deep-fried food

There is really no shortage of bad food out there – probably around 80% of what you can buy at grocery stores or restaurants is harmful to you in some way.  Some items merely require caution – and very close attention to their source and quality.  Some others, however, fall into the “really bad foods” category – no matter where or how you get them.

One common type of such really bad food has more to do with the cooking method used, rather than the ingredients – because if you use this cooking method, you can easily destroy even the healthiest product and turn it into poison.

The cooking method we are talking about is deep-frying.  It is used extensively by restaurants and also, to a large extent – by home cooks, with a wide variety of home-use deep-fryers available on the market.

While the chefs (and sometimes even the scientists who are behind the modernist cuisine movement) have been focusing primarily on perfecting sensory characteristics of deep-fried food (such as French fries) – perfect crisp, creamy center, even color – the health impact of those deep-fried foods has not been in the center of attention much.  And when it has – the focus was on all the wrong things – and changes introduced as a result had the opposite effect.

For instance, until 1990s, fast food restaurants (think McDonald’s) used to deep-fry their French fries in beef tallow.  But as a result of fear-mongering around saturated fat and cholesterol it was replaced by a mixture of plant-based and chemically-extracted oils.

Since then, the matter has only gotten worse.  These days, with the variety of techniques and equipment, people can (and do) deep fry anything – which typically happens in the same plant oil medium.  Most ethnic cuisines (or at least what is represented as such in the Western world) have some staple deep-fried foods to brag about – Indian samosas, Spanish churros, Chinese spring rolls, Middle Eastern falafel, Japanese tempura or the all-American French fries and onion rings are just a few examples.  But there is really no limit to what else you can deep-fry – anything goes and the choices range from jelly beans, Mars bars and Oreos to silkworms and even such oddities as Coca Cola or ice cream.

It is understandable why deep-fried food is hard to resist – this cooking technique definitely creates something very appealing for the human palate.  Food that is crispy and crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside and infused with flavors originating from the Maillard reaction and caramelization of sugars awakens cravings that seem to be hardwired into our brains.

“Tasty”, however, doesn’t always mean “healthy”.  In fact, deep-fried foods are probably the pinnacle of “unhealthy”.  Deep-fried food is the worst foods to eat in a restaurant, period – and a lot of the reasons behind this statement might sound new to you, until you read them below.

What makes deep-fried food such a bad food?  There is no shortage of arguments – let’s look at a few.

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Saturated fat & unsaturated fat: what you didn’t know about bad fats and good fats

saturated fat and unsaturated fat examples

For many years, when people talked about healthy eating, any low-fat diet was a staple.  The USDA food pyramid and its equivalents produced by government authorities responsible for making sure we eat well have been vilifying fat for decades.  American Heart Association still recommends limiting foods containing saturated fat, such as butter or red meat – and to go for leanest cuts whenever you do eat red meat.  They still recommend “replacing foods that are high in saturated fat with healthier options can lower blood cholesterol levels and improve lipid profiles”.  In their own words:

“You should replace foods high in saturated fat with foods high in monounsaturated and/or polyunsaturated fat. This means eating foods made with liquid vegetable oil but not tropical oils”.

Canadian Heart and Stroke foundation recommends something along the same lines: they recommend mono- and poly-unsaturated fat over saturated fat (ironically, the “Healthy Recipes” project on their website is funded by by CanolaInfo.org – a website supported by Canada’s canola growers, crop input suppliers, exporters, processors and food manufacturers – does anyone see any conflict of interest?).

At the same time, these authorities have no problem recommending low-fat products, whole grains and loads of sweet fruits.

Food processing industry caught on pretty early with all this low-fat craze and flooded the market with a wide variety of food-like items that were branded as “heart-healthy”.  Ironically, this has not stopped the obesity epidemic – as we saw in a recent article, obesity rates in North America have quadrupled over the last 30 years – the same 30 years that the war on fat has been raging with full force.

The reason why this didn’t work is simple – dietary fat rarely makes you fat.  But a lot of other ingredients used in processed foods do — as the fat went out of food, in went the sugars, artificial flavors, and other fillers that add bulk and empty calories, but reduce food quality and nutritional value.

What’s more, fat (granted it is the right kind of fat — and no, it’s typically not the kind of fat that is being glorified by those same nutrition authorities) doesn’t make you sick either (as previously discussed, all these fears around cholesterol that lead to the creation of a multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry are generally unfunded).

So what do you need to know about fat?  What fats are good and what fats are bad?  Does the amount or type of fat you eat make any difference?  Which foods have the good fats to support your health?  Which foods should you absolutely avoid?

Keep reading to find out!

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How to get back in shape: the ultra-simple diet and exercise plan

how to get back in shape

“I have never exercised in my life – how do I start?” – this is the question a lot of people ask when what they see in the mirror becomes unflattering and they start wondering how to get back in shape.

We all know – life happens.  You grow older, get married, have kids, get a desk job, settle down, and get busier with life, but less physically active, nevertheless.  You quickly grab whatever food is convenient and quick as opposed to what is good.

Modern technology makes basic tasks that previously required active participation (like shopping for anything you can imagine) possible with a tap on the screen of your smart device.  Machines removed the need for physical labor.  Social media often serves as a substitute for outdoor activities where you might meet (and play with) real people face to face.  Figuring out how to get back in shape (and stay in shape) under these circumstances may be difficult.

Even if you were fit at some point as a teenager, the question of how to get back in shape becomes more and more relevant as you grow older.  Current statistics, highlighting sedentary lifestyles and less than stellar dietary habits, are not very reassuring – more than 80% of adults in the US do not meet physical activity guidelines.  More than one third of US kids – who often carry their habits into adulthood – are getting a significant proportion of daily nutrition from fast food.  In Canada only 17% of men and 14% of women engage in the recommended amount of physical activity and about 69% of Canadian adults are sedentary. Europe is not far behind – 6 in every 10 adults above 15 years of age rarely or never engage in any sport and more than 50% never engage in any physical activity, with the trend going down, not up. European Commission reports that 52% of European adults are overweight or obese – mostly as a result of the same bad dietary habits.

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Nutritional Ketosis, Part II – Ketogenic Diet in Weight Control and Sports

ketogenic diet - bacon-eggs-avocado

(Continued from Part I)

Ketogenic diet and weight loss

One of the primary benefits of ketogenic diet – and also the one that is easy to track – is improved body composition.  Once again, we are not interested in total “weight loss” per se – what we are interested in is reducing body fat, while maintaining lean muscle mass.  Both have profoundly positive effects on health, longevity and quality of life.

Why is ketogenic diet so effective for getting rid of body fat?  Why is it more effective than, say, “low-fat” or “low-calorie” diets, popularized and promoted in the last several decades and still prevailing in the minds of most dieters?

The dogmatic belief that “eating fat will make you fat” is very far from truth.  Not only restricting fat is not the preferred method of weight control (because fats maintain the integrity of your cells, serve as precursors to important hormones – including testosterone, which accelerated lean muscle synthesis and fat burn – and because restricting fats almost inevitably means increasing carbs if you don’t want to starve), but also – restricting fat does not prevent the dreaded cardiovascular disease (because quality fat rarely causes one to begin with) – quite the contrary.

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Nutritional Ketosis, Part I – the State of being a Superman

Bacon, eggs, fat

What is a ketogenic diet? 

If you regularly follow articles on health and nutrition, you have undoubtedly heard about ketosis.  In the last several years, the interest around ketogenic diets has been rising constantly, with more and more studies done and data available to critically assess their effectiveness.

When people hear the word “diet”, the first objective they associate it with is losing weight.  But ketogenic diets are more than just methods of weight-control.  They have profound therapeutic effects on certain medical conditions and, generally, represent an evolutionary advantage that has allowed our species to survive and thrive.

Unfortunately, with typical dietary choices of today – driven largely by clever marketing messages and hidden agendas of large food corporations trying to convince you that eating their stuff is the best thing you can do and you should really ignore any potential health implications – ketosis has become a forgotten skill.

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Calories and why counting them is not a good idea

counting calories

One of the most frequent questions I get is something along the lines of: “I am only eating 1000 calories per day, which is far less than my calculated number of calories to maintain weight, how come I’m not getting slimmer?!”

It appears that everyone has been conditioned to think in terms of calories all the time, when evaluating nutritional value of foods and effectiveness of exercise.  Food manufacturers are trying to convince us that a specific product is awesome simply because it has zero calories (diet Coke, anyone?) and equipment manufacturers incorporate all sorts of displays to show calories burned during exercise.  Calorie calculators are abundant on the net and apps, programs and even smart kitchen scales exist to let you easily determine – and maintain – your specific daily caloric intake.

Calories have long become a cornerstone of modern nutrition – the concept of a calorie is realtively easy to explain (and even easier to sell).  But it would probably surprise you to learn that this system is completely useless for all practical purposes – counting calories to maintain weight (or calories needed to lose weight) is too unpredictable, hard to adhere to and often detrimental.

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Dietary Cholesterol Redeemed

Dietary cholesterol is not bad for you!

Let’s establish something before we start our discussion – and bear with me for a moment even it violates everything that you’ve heard so far – dietary cholesterol (and cholesterol in general) is NOT bad for you.

Shocking, right?  Isn’t dietary cholesterol responsible for cardio-vascular problems?  Isn’t excess dietary cholesterol a major cause of death from heart attacks and strokes?  Aren’t we supposed to stay away from fat, read meat, avoid cholesterol in eggs and other  dangerous foods that make us obese and clog our arteries?

You would be surprised, but the answer to all of those is – NO.

For many decades, dietary cholesterol has been blamed for something it was not responsible for and this image is so deeply ingrained in most people’s brains that it is extremely hard to wipe out. But now even USDA and US Department of Health and Human Services may be ready to scrap the guidelines of avoiding high-cholesterol foods.

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Coconut Oil – key benefits (#3 will surprise you!)

Coconut Oil

Introduction – is coconut oil healthy?

A typical consumer of coconut oil uses it for frying or baking.  But on top of potentially being the best cooking oil (it does this specific job exceptionally well, as we will soon see) – it has a large number of other surprising applications.  Health benefits of coconut oil are so numerous that whole books have been dedicated to this Superfood!

Here are just a few common uses of coconut oil:

  • Adding texture and flavor to smoothies
  • Moisturizing skin, hair or lips
  • Applying topically to treat burns and cuts
  • Cooking
  • Using it as mild natural sunscreen
  • Fighting bacteria or fungi
  • Removing make-up
  • Using it as natural lubricant or massage oil
  • Treating flaky nail cuticles
  • Using it as an aftershave
  • Fighting acne
  • Relieving itching related to insect bites
  • Treating leather
  • Removing gum stuck to hair (apparently, it still happens to some people!)

This is not an exhaustive list by any means, and while some of those uses of coconut oil may not apply to you, let’s explore what makes it so outstanding.

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How to lose weight by avoiding these 6 common mistakes

You would think that with so many strategies on how to lose weight, a plethora of certified dietitians, new hot diets coming out every month, countless tips in popular magazines, proliferation of “healthier” food and the number of companies selling all sorts of green coffee extracts and Garcinia Cambodia pills – we should have less overweight people.  But, somehow, none of these seem to work.  Even when people make a genuine and honest attempt to educate themselves on how to lose weight and proper dietary habits and stick to a specific plan – the majority usually fails miserably.  The agony of a constant struggle with weight seems to be the quintessence of modern existence for men and women alike.

Losing weight is not all about willpower.  In a desperate attempt to lose weight and look better, a lot of people are able to implement and stick to some brutal restrictions when it comes to what, how much or when they eat.  Surely, you would think that all this effort MUST pay off in the end.

But more often than not – it doesn’t.  We are still facing a sad reality with growing armies of obese people flipping through fitness and lifestyle magazines (that feature bad role models in a semi-anorexic state) and, in their wishful thinking, grasping at every opportunity (of which there seems to be an abundance) to try to lose weight, still wondering why the heck nothing works.

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