There are lots of controversial beliefs regarding nutrition being thrown around the gym these days. And it’s easy to believe them. Especially when the person saying them looks healthy and is in good shape.
However, it’s important to realise that many of these statements are being taken out of context and misunderstood which is giving us a false perception of health and how to live life in a healthy way. It’s making us afraid to eat certain things, in certain portion sizes at certain times of day. Very often, the important thing is CONTEXT – there are no “bad foods” per se, just bad diets.
For optimal health, rather than focus our energies on demonising foods and certain popular protocols, we should look at what we eat on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis and ask ourselves ‘has that worked for me?’, ‘has eating that way made me feel better?’, ‘have my health markers improved as a result of eating that way?’. This way we can make better decisions and eat foods in a way that is right for us.
Eating carbohydrates in the evening increases fat deposition.
Ever heard the line, ‘you can’t eat carbs after 6pm’? Well, guess what? You can! For good health and productivity, you should eat to your energy requirements and that means enough carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are stored in the muscle as glycogen and used for quick energy as and when it is needed. It’s used for everything from your bodily processes (breathing, digestion etc.) to physical bodily movement. Exercise and other intensive activity will feel more productive with a good fuel source. It’s likely you’ll perform better and as long as you are hitting your calories needs, won’t have a negative effect on body composition.
Eating little and often speeds up your metabolism.
This statement is a tricky one. If you are looking to trim and tone, it’s often thought that you must eat little portions, frequently throughout the day. This is a popular way of eating and in truth, one that I personally enjoy, but this doesn’t mean that if you have 3 larger meals a day, that you will gain weight. Again, it’s pulling it back into context. If you’re meeting your energy criteria in terms of calories then both ways will have the same effect. It’s simply that many people really enjoy eating food (and too right!) so eating smaller portions but getting to eat more regularly throughout the day is an appealing nutrition strategy and one that is less likely to see them overeat. On another positive note, it allows the feeling of being ‘topped up’ on nutrients and gives you more opportunity to enjoy the foods you like most.
Eating too much fruit makes you gain weight.
Well, I’m never quite sure what the current attitude towards fruit is! Sometimes we love it, sometimes we hate it, sometimes we love to hate it! But girls, did you ever hear about anyone that gained weight from eating too much fruit? No, me neither. I can confirm that fructose (fruit sugars) are NOT the cause of weight gain. Certain parts of the fitness industry has come to demonise sugar and where an excessive intake of refined sugar has been linked to diseases such as diabetes, fruit sugars should not be put in the same category. For good health, we need to consume a certain amount of calories so please, if you do like fruit, then choose to have some portions throughout the day. Whole fruits offer an energy boost, a good dose of fibre and a whole load of other nutrients to support a healthy, busy lifestyle!
Eating more than 7 eggs a week is bad for your cholesterol.
From sugar to fat, this is another myth that circulates but more commonly outside of the fitness industry and among the general population. Having said that, this is something that has been reviewed in recent years, resulting in GPs and other health professionals to retract their former, inaccurate statements. The effect of egg consumption on blood cholesterol is incredibly small – it’s the overconsumption of processed trans fats (also known as hydrogenated fats) that we should be worried about when it comes to health. Not only does the body have a regulating system to keep our health markers in check and produces less as a result of an increased intake, egg consumption also contributes to a rise in HDLs or “good” cholesterol. So, whilst we were once told to limit egg yolk consumption to no more than 7 a week because of an increase in the likelihood of heart disease, there are no scientific studies which support this. The time has come to stop fearing eggs!
High salt intake gives you high blood pressure.
This is another fear for many people and in my opinion, should be one that’s viewed in the context of what you eat. Firstly, it’s important to note that this assumption is based on table salt which is a heavily processed, industrial product (not good!). However, if you eat a healthy diet of mostly whole, unprocessed foods which contains little salt or natural sodium then adding some salt (unprocessed rock salt is best as it is natural and higher in minerals) is not harmful nor the cause of high blood pressure. On top of that, if you are an active person that frequently loses fluid through sweat, then there will be a greater need to balance your sodium and other electrolytes and replace the minerals lost. Quite often, your body will tell you that you are eating too little salt through frequent bouts of painful muscle cramps and spasms. The best advice I could give is eat natural and add a little salt to taste and in accordance with preferences. Most importantly, replace your table salt with rock salt and if you are a sweater, then don’t leave it out completely, ingesting some could be beneficial!
High insulin levels prevent you from losing weight.
This is another incredibly controversial myth, known as the insulin hypothesis. Insulin is released to re-balance blood sugar levels when they increase (most strongly associated with the ingestion of carbohydrates). The role of insulin is to, in simple terms, allow the cells of the body to use glucose as energy. It’s often believed that this spike in insulin levels results in an increase in fat deposition. However, clinical trials have shown that there is no advantage to a low carbohydrate diet in terms of weight loss. When consuming the same number of calories, a high-carb group and low-carb group both lost the same amount of weight over a set period. So, when you goal is health-orientated and you lead an active lifestyle, there is no need to demonise carbohydrates or feel guilty when you consume them. Think more about the energy balance and work out the healthiest nutrition plan for you by your own body type, genetics, preferences, lifestyle and of course, key health markers but don’t make the classic assumption that eating carbohydrates will make you fat.
Hopefully, a basic review of these myths have encouraged you to re-think some of your decisions based around nutrition. There are plenty others in circulation too, when in reality, there is no scientific evidence to back them up. These include artificial sweeteners causing weight gain (I would always recommend natural sweeteners anyway), breakfast being the most important meal of the day (context!) and the consumption of red meat being strongly and directly linked to cardiovascular disease. If geeking out is your thing, I would encourage you to do your research before you believe the things you hear.
We cannot deny that nutrition is an incredibly broad and confusing topic and with improved technology and increased study, there is constantly new research available, which enables us to achieve a healthy lifestyle. I will say however, staying fit and healthy should not be the challenging and overly-complicated task it has become. My advice is to eat natural, unprocessed and balanced in accordance to your health and fitness goals. Simples.