There’s a lot of hooey out there, I mean A LOT. With diet and exercise, there is always some new claim popping up almost on a daily basis. It’s so confusing. For myself, even with all of my studies and research I still hear conflicting “facts” that throw me off. Everything from the benefits of a high fat diet, to animal based protein being superior to plant based protein, to whole grains being bad for you, it’s hard to sift through the crap to get to the truth. So let’s address some of the biggest claims of today and see look at what’s real and what’s a waste of your time.
Let’s start off with the very popular current topic right now: fats. The consensus seems to be that fat is back. The low-fat diet craze has been over for a while and now eating higher fats each day and at each meal is great. Avocados, coconut oil, steak, whole milk, eggs with the yolk and even bacon are all good for you! Before you start cheering, let’s take a deeper look at this first. The idea behind this is that fats are slow digesting so you stay fuller longer making it helpful for fat loss and that fatty acids help regulate hormone health by supporting the thyroid function. Fat is one of 3 macronutrients (along with protein and carbohydrates) so you need to consume some each day in order to, you know live and stuff without keeling over. How much fat you need has been debated over for so long and it still is. The current flavour of the month advocates that a diet higher in fat and ultimately lower in carbs is ideal to lose bodyfat. These diet types tend to favour more animal based sources of fats and protein that are heavy on the saturated fat. The worst thing I heard that sent me into an uproar was in a podcast where a so-called health “expert” claimed that since breastmilk is high in saturated fat that humans are always meant to consume saturated fat in significant amounts each day. What a load of crap! The nutritional requirements of an infant who is growing at an exponential rate in a short time period is nothing like the nutritional needs of a grown-ass adult who is no longer in need of growing their organs or bones. When you hear garbage claims like that, disregard them immediately as comparing a baby with an adult is like comparing apples to a hybrid car. It’s crap, it’s useless and it has no business being compared.
The issue with fat is that it is the most calorie dense macronutrient with 9 calories per gram versus 4 calories per gram of protein or carbs, making it very easy to overdo it without even realizing. Saturated fat in a small amount (as in the amount in 1 TB of avocado or young coconut meat) each day is fine and healthy, but when you consider the amount in animal foods that many consume at each meal then it’s a problem. You put yourself at a higher risk for heart disease, alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes and cancer (click here for more info). Yikes! So let’s all ease off of the fat bandwagon for a bit and limit your intake to no more than 50g a day if that.
Next up is supplementation. This industry alone is massive where each year consumers spend billions of their hard-earned dollars on protein powders, vitamins, green “superfood” blends, fiber mixes, pre-workouts, muscle building supporters, protein foods like bars, cookies and pudding and all kinds of other stuff. It’s BIG business, but is it necessary? Truthfully, no it isn’t. For the average person who is not an athlete, but who does workout regularly you definitely do not need any supplement whatsoever unless you have a nutritional deficiency and have been advised by your doctor to supplement. When you do supplement keep in mind that most multivitamins are synthetic and are not fully absorbed by the body on top of the fact that the body can only absorb so much of each micronutrient and that any excess amount will be excreted. So, what you’re really paying for is expensive pee. Supplements are meant to supplement a diet that is already balanced, whole and providing you with the necessities, even protein powders aren’t needed. It tends to be the source of choice for post-workout nutrition for pretty much everyone, both competitive athlete and not, but it’s pricey, it tends to have added fillers and artificial sweeteners and unless it’s plant-based it’s once again devoid of fiber. Speaking of which, a client recently asked me whether or not she should take a very popular fiber supplement that you mix in water. A friend of hers had mentioned that it’s the best way to start each day and is necessary for digestive health and aids in weight loss. Not true. So long as your diet is full of veg and whole grains with some fruit, there is no need to waste your money on this. Most people who do supplement with this see an improvement with their digestion mostly just from drinking that water first thing in the morning and not from the fiber mix.
Then there are the fad diets that are centered around one ingredient only like the coconut oil diet, the sweet potato diet and the cabbage soup diet. These diets are always very short term, trust me, you get fed up with eating the same type of food each day. Case in point, during my contest prep I was having about 3 oz of sweet potato each day, sometimes baked, sometimes roasted, sometimes as fries and sometimes mixed with other ingredients to create baked goods like protein cookies, waffles or brownies. Although I mixed it up regularly and it was delicious at the time, now that I am in my off-season I can’t even glance at a sweet potato. When a diet advocates including a specific food into each day you ultimately end up restricting yourself from eating other foods instead and are taking in less variety and less nutrients. In my case, with the sweet potato I could have opted for oats which are high in magnesium, selenium and zinc, or millet which is a good source of tryptophan and B vitamins. On the other end of the spectrum are the diets that demonize one very specific thing that is apparently the root of all evil like fat in the 1990s, carbs in the early 2000s and more recently sugar. In reality, it’s not one thing only that’s contributing to the obesity pandemic, it’s everything. Even though most people know that fast food, prepacked snacks and restaurant meals in general are unhealthy and have no nutritional value, we still consume these things on a daily basis. We still consume the granola bars or cereal that are marketed as whole and natural or we use premade sauces and marinades when cooking at home or we make our own salad dressings but add oils or mayo for creaminess and some kind of sweetener to cut the tanginess. All of this stuff adds up and it accumulates in your body. All of these things both big and small contribute to the weight and health issues that we all deal with.
Of course things are shifting and diets are now marketed as “lifestyles”. One particularly popular one is all about eating the way our ancestors did by cutting out dairy and grain, ultimately going low carb, high fat and heavy on the animal based sources. There are several things that don’t really add up with this “lifestyle”. First off, our paleolethic ancestors didn’t eat as much meat and fish as initially believed, but they did eat some grain (click here to found out more). What’s more is that we are so far removed from that life altogether; we don’t spend our days hunting, foraging and gathering, instead we spend our days indoors, sitting under fluorescent lights in front of a computer screen and when we’re home it’s pretty much the same. So to claim that eating a diet similar to this when our lives and environment are so different makes no sense and is sending us down the wrong path.
With all of this mixed info and confusion it’s no wonder that diets are so short-lived. So instead of trying to figure out what’s real, let’s simplify this as much as possible. When it comes to diet just eat lots of veg, make this the bulk of your meals, seriously. It’s not as expensive as you may think when you opt for seasonal produce and frozen options whenever there’s a sale. Try to sneak in veg wherever you can like blending leafy greens into a shake or sautéing mushrooms and peppers into pasta sauce or adding grated zucchini to oatmeal muffin batter. The advice we always here is to fill up at least half of your plate with veggies and it is so true. Add to that by choosing a variety of veg at each meal and buying at least one new veg at the grocery each week instead of always going for the standard lettuce, kale and carrots. Another thing to keep in mind is that carbohydrates are not the devil and whole grains are good for the body, unless you have a digestive illness like Crohn’s or Celiac and your doctor has advised you to avoid these altogether. I love eating grains, the taste, the flavour and the texture are all wonderful and I include a whole grain at pretty much each meal each day. In terms of protein, well don’t fret so much because we actually don’t need as much as you might think. The protein requirement is about 5-10% of your total calories per day. For the average person consuming 2000 calories that would mean 25 to 50 grams, THAT’S IT. Most protein powders are 25g per scoop FYI. The only time you may want to consider going above the 10% mark is if you are an athlete or if you are trying to mass gain or build lots of muscle and even then extra protein alone will not do it. I strongly suggest (as I’m sure your healthcare provider does to) that you opt for plant based protein sources as much as possible as they contain no dietary cholesterol and are high in fiber. Think beyond tofu and chickpeas and try out seitan, pinto beans and all kinds of lentils. In terms of fat, well try to minimize added oils when cooking and choose raw nuts and seeds with the occasional nut butter to keep it interesting.
Nutrition is always on everyone’s mind and there’s always some gimmicky thing coming out each week that claims to be the answer that we’ve been looking for. But the answer that we’ve been looking for is to just keep it simple, stop over thinking it by trying to adhere to something written in a book or magazine. Look at your entire diet and at how much of it is coming from a prepacked source or restaurant and how much is being made by you. Always choose whole foods as close to their natural state as possible and eat lots of it. Fill your belly at each meal, get lots of volume in and nourish yourself with the good stuff. You know what’s right for you and for your health, so let’s stop resisting and just start eating real food instead.
The next time you find yourself confused, think about this quote:
“You should really cut back on the vegetables” – said NO ONE EVER
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