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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Heart Health: Part III – regeneration, genetics and supplements

heart health

Wear and tear, cell regeneration and impact on heart health

Most people pretty much accept the inevitable decline in heart health as they age, believing that the heart (just as the rest of the body) wears out with time.  It is almost expected that your heart, as you get older, will start changing for the worse – the cardiac muscle is expected to thicken (and weaken at the same time), arteries – to stiffen and overall cell regeneration process – to slow down.  The implied lack of exercise at an older age makes these processes accelerate even further.

This grim picture, however, doesn’t have to be your reality.

It is true that myocardium cells may not possess the same remarkable regenerative capacity as liver cells, for instance (although they do, of course, regenerate following normal cell death), but as long as you can prevent current cells from dying too quickly – you can extend the lifespan of the whole heart.  The rules we discussed in relation to overall aging prevention apply equally when trying to prevent premature aging of the heart.

As with most organs, aging of the heart means the loss of ability of myocardium cells to divide and replicate (at least, at a rate that surpasses the rate of normal cell death).   And the factors that drive this are the same as what we have previously discussed – excessive free radical damage, inflammation and muscle atrophy.  If you prevent these generally (by making slight adjustments to your lifestyle and diet) – you will keep your heart young, strong and healthy.

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Heart health: Part II – Heart rate, variability and food

checking for heart rate

Resting heart rate – slower is better

As your heart gets more efficient and stronger – it can pump more blood with each stroke (and, potentially, require less energy to do that).  Eventually, what this leads to is slower resting heart rate.  Remember, the heart rate is a product of the demand for oxygenated blood and your heart’s ability to satisfy that demand.  As this ability improves, the heart doesn’t need to beat as fast.

This is precisely where the benefit of exercise comes in.  Exercise not only strengthens the heart itself and makes it more efficient in accessing oxygen in the blood (by growing more mitochondria) – but it also triggers the growth of new mitochondria (as well as improvement in oxidative capacity of existing mitochondria) at the periphery (i.e. – within the target tissue).  All of that means that tissues in need of oxygen could now use less of it to satisfy the same demand for energy – which means your heart doesn’t need to beat as fast.

What benefits does slower heart rate have?  There may be a couple:

  • Slower heart rate means a bigger “buffer” between current and maximum heart rate to keep up with more demanding situations when the heart needs to beat faster. Remember – the maximum rate is a finite number for everyone – your heart can’t just beat faster and faster in response to the demand – because the heart itself needs oxygen from blood to perform the work. Faster heart rate means higher energy demand for the heart muscle itself – and at some point, the ability to fuel this process by oxygen delivered by the blood will be limited by the supply of that freshly oxygenated blood and the speed at which it is utilized within the aerobic metabolism pathways.  No available energy at any given moment means no ability to contract.  So a slower heart rate potentially means more energy-efficient heart and a higher capacity to increase that rate to address spontaneous demands for blood delivery;
  • As we have already mentioned, muscle contraction requires energy – which comes from oxidation of fat, glucose or ketone bodies. Cellular energy metabolism – while being absolutely essential for life – also generates several chemical and electrical by-products that, in large amounts, can be harmful.  For instance – we have already discussed positive hydrogen ions (H+) generated by muscle contraction that raise the acidity of the cell.  Also, cellular metabolism generates reactive oxygen species that are known to inflict damage to cell’s DNA and cause various disorders.  It follows, then, that less energy required for resting heart rate means less of such by-products – which, by the way, may contribute to the wear and tear and, as a result – the longevity of the heart itself.  Perhaps it is no coincidence that animals with generally slower heart rates live longer?

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Is red meat bad? (Part II – IGF-1, risk of cancer and more)

Is meat bad for you

Let’s continue our discussion that we started in Part I and see if there really is any association between meat and cancer.

It’s different if you already have a pathology

It is often implied that high-protein diet causes damage to your kidneys by “overloading” them with nitrogen by-products of protein digestion (that they naturally metabolise and excrete) – but as a healthy individual, you will have difficulty overconsuming protein, since your body has natural regulatory mechanisms that drive the desire for protein-containing foods.  So you are unlikely to ever eat too much.

But is it correct to say that eating any amount will put a strain on your kidneys?  Should you specifically reduce protein consumption to avoid damaging them?

The answer is – very unlikely.  If you already have a kidney disease – increased protein consumption can definitely contribute to their pathology.  But if you are healthy – you probably don’t have anything to worry about (read this article by Chris Kesser).

Methionine

Meat contains a complex array of several amino acids.  One of these amino acids is methionine – and recent studies have suggested that it’s this specific amino acid that may be responsible for increased oxidative stress and the ultimate link between meat, IGF-1 (see below) and cancer.

If you recall our discussion on organ meats – you will remember that methionine is balanced by glycine – another amino acid contained in large amount in bone broth, gelatin and organ meats – which helps your body metabolize and neutralize potential harmful effects of methionine. What follows is that if you balance your intake of methionine with your intake of glycine (by consuming collagen/gelatin, organ meats, bone broth, etc.) – potential harmful effects of overconsuming muscle meat can be greatly reduced.

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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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Get better sooner: what to eat when you’re sick with cold or flu

man sick with cold or flu

Ah, that miserable feeling when you’re sick with cold or flu…  Sore throat, headache, muscle ache, fatigue, fever, cough, stuffy nose and perhaps nausea – and no desire to do anything other than lay in bed…

Not fun at all.

If you are lucky (and, generally, diligent in strengthening your immune system to prevent viruses and bacteria from taking you down) – you don’t get sick too often.  But whenever you do – it feels terrible.  A common question that is often asked is, then – what to eat when you’re sick.  Are there foods and supplements that help you get well quicker?  Today we will take a closer look at what you should eat, drink or take when you are sick with cold or flu – and why some conventional methods of overcoming the disease do not work that well.

But first – let’s get the basics right…

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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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Halloween candy and children: dispelling the myths

halloween

With Halloween just around the corner, kids of all ages are more than ready to trick or treat and bring home a large variety of colorful and sweet stuff – after all, candy has long been an integral part of Halloween.

And while a lot of adults may easily justify their children’s unlimited indulgence in what seems to be several month’s supply of colorful sugary treats (”oh, come on, let kids be kids!”) – you really should know better, because this practice is not as harmless as you  may think – and the way you handle this today may have a huge impact on their health and development in the future.

Halloween is surrounded by myths, superstitions and misconceptions.  But today we are not going to talk about the typical urban legends, like razor blades in candy, or Bloody Mary.  Today we will be talking about other myths – the myths around Halloween candy – which are probably no less scary, when you know and understand the details.

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Skinny Fat: When Losing Weight is Not Good

skinny fat parade

The very first time you hear “skinny fat” – it almost sounds like an oxymoron.  Except – it isn’t.  It actually describes a condition that is quite common, especially among young individuals.  Sure, there is a medical term for it that you might prefer – MONW (Metabolically Obese Normal Weight), but “skinny fat” is a term that, like a harsh wake-up call, shakes you out of the blissful ignorance and actually highlights everything that is wrong with this condition, instead of hiding behind scientifically sounding terms.

So what is “skinny fat”?  Simply put, it describes a body type that is slim and “low-weight”, but with high proportion of body fat to lean muscle tissue.  On the outside, the problem is not very visible (unless you know what to look for) – skinny fat people can fit into normal-size clothes, eat small portions of what they consider “healthy food” and display no obvious signs of obesity you would typically expect – such as large flabs of body fat, big baggy clothes and heavy mass – so everything seems just fine.

But, generally speaking, “obesity” is a condition where a person has accumulated so much body fat that it might have a negative effect on health – and for the skinny fat, given the relative proportion of such body fat to bone and muscle mass – the definition still holds true.   And even if super skinny people may look healthy, atrophied muscles and low-density bones – coupled with other negative metabolic effects of their chosen lifestyle – significantly elevate the risk of chronic diseases.

Are you skinny fat?  Do you know how to spot the signs?  Let’s see why this is so bad and how to fix this.

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Nutritional Ketosis, Part III – Health benefits: ketogenic diet, cancer and more

ketogenic salmon recipe

Let’s revisit health benefits of ketogenic diet.

In Part I and Part II you learned how effective ketogenic diet can be in shedding extra body fat and making you perform better – both mentally and physically.  You have also learned that although it does not make you hungry like some calorie-restricted diets do, strict ketosis is, nevertheless, difficult to maintain because it eliminates some of your most favorite foods and leaves a limited number of ingredients that you can safely consume without shutting down ketogenesis.

So why would you subject yourself to this seemingly restrictive practice if you do not need to lose weight?

The answer is – because ketosis has several profound therapeutic benefits.

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