I don’t think anyone ever sets out to create a nutrition myth.
I have too much faith in the good nature of my fellow humans to think that anyone would intentionally try and mislead someone else when it comes to their health. But I do know that the world of nutrition is, at times, confusing as hell.
And with so many mixed messages, it’s hardly surprising that one or two false suggestions can quickly scale into full blown nutrition myths. Before we know it, these myths are being pedalled out by personal trainers, poorly advised nutritionists and sometimes, even doctors.
As their client, you buy into them. Why wouldn’t you?
They’re a professional, after all. It’s not their fault. I’m not blaming anyone. In an age of information overload, this is just how things happen. Which is why I’m making it my job to dispel some of the biggest nutrition myths floating around right now.
Note: You could probably go to a nutritionist today and get this very same advice. I’m not claiming I know something that they don’t. But I’m lucky enough to have access to a large audience that read my work and can therefore help many more people in much less time.
Let’s kick this one off with a question I was asked last week, the same question that motivated me to write this article in the first place.
Will fruit make me fat?
Fruit has been a part of the human diet for as long as we’ve been, well, human. It’s packed full of beneficial antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that play a key role in our health and wellbeing.
For thousands of years, fruit has been key to our survival and ultimately, our evolution. Not only did it provide a delicious and fast acting source of energy, the natural sweetness it contained was a sure fire sign that it was safe to eat.
Yet somehow, in the last few years, more and more people are being advised to stay away from fruit in order to lose weight.
Newsflash: this is bad advice.
I do (sort of) get where it comes from, though. In recent years, sugar has been portrayed as the root of all dietary evil. And, because fruit contains naturally occurring sugars, it has been swept up and thrown on the same anti-sugar bandwagon as marshmallows, pop tarts and ice cream.
This is based on the principle that all sugars are created equal – which as we know already, they're not. What’s more, fruit isn’t just sugar in the same way that a marshmallow is. Fruit has a high content of fibre and water, which slows the release of these sugars into the bloodstream.
The total sugar content is also a big factor, too. Whilst a handful of blueberries will net you approximately 4 grams of sugar, the same size handful of marshmallows will see you taking in around 22 grams of the sweet stuff.
It’s also a lot easier to eat three or four handfuls of marshmallows than it is to eat three or four handfuls of berries. Trust me – I’ve tried both. Want more scientific proof that fruit won’t make you fat? Let me point you in the direction of the Kuna tribe from Panama, who obtain over 60% of their total daily calories from fruit, and still remain lean and in excellent health.
Or, you can look at a controlled study conducted by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which showed that restricting fruit consumption had no impact on subjects’ blood sugar, weight, or waist circumference.
Apples, bananas, cherries, strawberries, peaches, plums, pears, mangoes, pineapples, oranges, lemons, guava, watermelon, kiwi fruit – these are some of the healthiest (and tastiest) foods on the planet. Don’t let anyone try to tell you otherwise. If you get fat from eating an apple, I think you have more problems than I can help you with. But I can assure you that’s not going to happen.
Will dairy give me strong bones?
The shambles that we call the dairy industry is hanging on for dear life right now.
More and more people are opening their eyes to the catastrophe that is modern day milk production; with cows packed like sardines into unsanitary and inhumane warehouses, pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, before being sapped of their milk that was never designed for human consumption in the first place.
Yet, the one ‘saving grace’ for dairy is the calcium content, and the theory that we need milk to get calcium in order to build and maintain strong bones. If you’ve seen the adverts for a well-known brand of yoghurt, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
The truth of the matter is that A) calcium alone won’t make for stronger bones and B) you don’t have to drink milk to get this calcium anyway!
Proper calcium absorption requires the presence of nutrients vitamin D3 and vitamin K24. These vitamins can be found in dairy, but modern day pasteurisation and skimming methods significantly reduce the levels of these nutrients in the milk.
That’s a lot of calcium going into the blood with very little vitamin D and K2 to help absorb it. Too much calcium in the blood has been strongly linked with health risks such as heart disease, stroke, and kidney stones.
What’s more, studies have shown no increases in bone integrity when calcium intake is above 600mg per day – a level which is easily achieved without the need for dairy products or calcium supplementation.
As a mineral found naturally in our soil, calcium can be found in a wide range of plant foods. Some of the best sources include sesame, almonds, kale, blackstrap molasses, and many leafy green vegetables. In fact, most leafy greens contain more calcium by weight than a glass of milk!
In a study conducted by Harvard University which followed over 72,000 women for 18 years, there was no correlation shown between milk consumption and fracture rise8. In separate studies, milk consumption also had no effect on the bone density of children9 or young adults10, either.
So can we finally put this one to bed, please? Yes, dairy is high in calcium – but your bones will be just as healthy without it. The rest of your body will probably thank you, too.
Is agave nectar a healthy sweetener?
No, it isn’t.
As more and more people have made the move away from table sugar, agave nectar has been the subject of a very intelligent marketing campaign.
Agave is the sap taken from a relative to the cactus plant. There’s no denying that it’s a ‘natural’ sweetener, which is where the hype started. But metabolically speaking, it’s not doing your body any good. This is because agave is exceptionally high in fructose, containing up to a teeth shattering 92% fructose content!11
This makes it even higher in fructose than High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) which is seen as one of the biggest nutrition disasters of the 21st century.
Fructose is metabolised very differently to other sugars in the liver, and has been strongly linked to obesity, diabeties, insulin resistance and fatty liver disease12. Note that all of these studies were conducted using isolated fructose, which is very different to the naturally occurring fructose found in whole fruits.
A huge hit of isolated fructose from agave = a hell of a lot of pressure on the liver! Trust me when I say that this is the last thing your body needs.
What’s more, other natural sweeteners such as maple syrup, honey and molasses all contain significant levels of antioxidants that help mitigate the high sugar levels. Agave, along with refined sugar and corn syrup, contains virtually none13. The final nail in the coffin of agave? It actually tastes pretty crap too.
Should I avoid carbs after 6pm?
The final myth I want to put to rest once and for all is the theory that you need to avoid carbs at night in order to lose weight.
In fact, in this last section I will actively encourage you to chow down on carbs in the evening. Yes, I’m serious. This is not a drill.
Eating carbs at night won’t make you put on weight. Eating anything at night won’t make you put on weight. Eating too much throughout the course of a 24 hour period will make you put on weight.
Let’s assume you need 2400 calories per day to maintain weight, and 800 of those come from carbs. It really doesn’t make any difference whether you eat those morning, noon or night. If you eat 3200 calories for a week, 1200 of those coming from carbs, you will gain weight regardless whether you eat them at breakfast or dinner. It’s total calorie and carb intake that will cause weight gain, not when said calories and carbs are eaten.
But eating your carbs at night will actually come with quite a few benefits.
The first is purely from a lifestyle point of view. Do you really want to be starving on lettuce leaves in the evening whilst everyone around you is tucking into a delicious, satisfying meal?
I’ll bet that after a hard day’s work and training, you’re probably going to want to come home to some serious feel good food. There are some problems that only carbs can understand.
From my own point of view, I like to eat relatively light during the day – especially when I’m busy and have lots to do. Then, at night, I get to relax and chow down on my biggest and most satisfying meal.
This is how humans evolved. We’d spend the day hunting, foraging and grazing, before coming home to feast around the campfire at night. It’s in our nature. These carbs have an added benefit of increasing the production of melatonin, also known as the ‘sleep hormone.’ It’s another reason I recommend carbs at night, as they help to promote a great night’s sleep.
On the flipside, too may carbs in the day can leave you feeling lethargic and lacking the energy to work and train hard.
So, saving up your rice, potatoes or sweet potatoes until dinner means you get to go to bed sleepy, satisfied and high on carbs. Who doesn’t want that? Don’t fear carbs after 6pm baby. Or any other time for that matter.
And…. That’s me done for today, folks! Hopefully in this article I’ve been able to bust a few of the biggest nutrition myths around right now. Although I feel there are still a hell of a lot more to go.
If you enjoyed this article, please share it with a friend!