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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Busting Popular Health Myths


If it seems like health information is constantly changing and contradicting itself, than you are not alone.  Lots of North Americans are confused about what do eat or not eat, how much to exercise, and whether to take supplements, if any.  For one, the information we have is always changing, but the following issues also make it very difficult to understand the facts:

1.  A lot of the research in the field of health and nutrition is poorly designed and/or simply by its nature very unreliable (i.e. getting people to self-report what they ate).
2. Researchers often draw faulty conclusions from their research.
3. The media sensationalizes research findings and/or the researchers' faulty conclusions, or misinterprets the findings themselves.

I am often frustrated and astonished by the completely inaccurate information reported by the media or even by supposed health 'experts' like Dr. Oz or Dr. Joey Shulman.

So I was absolutely thrilled that the Nutrition Action Health Letter for June 2014 devoted a whole article to debunking some of the top myths floating around these days.  Some of these also happen to be ones that really drive me nuts, so I thought I would share, so you can know what's what.

1. There is no link between gluten and weight-loss/gain.  Individuals with celiac often lose weight as one of their symptoms because they have difficulty absorbing nutrients while ingesting gluten.    Non-celiac gluten-sensitivity is not even a condition proven to exist, but even if it does it has not been associated with weight.  Some people do lose weight when they eliminate gluten from their diet, but this may simply be because they have cut out a lot of crap food they were eating previously.  Just keep in mind that there are a lot of gluten-free foods that are also total crap.  Refined grains and processed foods are crap, regardless of whether or not they contain gluten.

2. Meta-analyses are the best way to determine cause and effect.  A meta-analysis is when you use a study as a 'case' in your calculations.  In other words, instead of a person being counted as 1 case, the findings of an entire study is one case, so you are basically summarizing the findings of many similar studies statistically.  Unfortunately, just like any other research design, it is subject to flaws and biases, and can lead you to draw faulty conclusions.  An example of this is the recent meta-analysis that was sensationalized by the media, that concluded that saturated fat does not increase the risk of heart disease.  The Health Action Newsletter explains all the shortcomings of the analysis that led to this finding, but was not addressed in the published paper.

3. Protein in any form curbs appetite.  I really don't know why smoothies, etc. are so popular and are considered health/weight-loss food.  To me, they are something you eat if you NEED calories.  No matter what you are drinking, liquids are less satiating than solids (we have hard data on this!).  Eat an orange not orange juice.  Eat an apple, not apple juice.  So all these protein drinks touted as meal replacements are just BS...especially if you are trying to manage your weight.  Eat a hard boiled egg or two instead!  You'll also avoid all the added sugar and other crap.

4. Full-fat dairy is healthier than low/no-fat dairy products.  Oh, this one drives me nuts!  I honestly don't know who came up with this, but I have heard a lot of nutrition experts make this claim and say that low/no-fat dairy has more sugar.  Huh? Not true.  Also, high fat dairy consumption is linked with chronic illness.  The fat isn't good for you just because it is 'natural'.  That is stupid reasoning.  The fat on a steak naturally occurs too, but I doubt too many people would make a claim that for that reason one should eat it and not trim it off! Oh, and no evidence that high fat dairy can help with weight loss either.  Stick with getting your fat from nuts and seeds, olive oil, coconut products, fatty fish, etc. while minimizing the amount you get from dairy and meat.  Oh, and avoid trans fat altogether (i.e. avoid eat fried and processed foods!).