Hardly a day goes by without some new claim made about nutrition, much of which is nonsense. David Stache debunks some of the worst offenders…
Nutrition Is One area of health and fitness that holds many myths, often created by people with vested interests, be it the magazine [never Alphafit – Ed] or celebrity trying sell the next big diet, the supplement company pushing their new range, your mate down the gym, some mysterious person on the internet or even our very own government constantly changing their public health messages.
Here we will debunk some of the more common nutritional myths out there using some logic and a little bit of science to back up what we say. Hopefully you’ll sleep easier at night knowing how many eggs you can eat a day without your heart stopping or what time your ‘carb cut off’ point should be….
Eating too many eggs will give you high cholesterol levels
No other food has a reputation as bad as eggs, possibly because the yolk of an egg contains more cholesterol per 100g than any other food. But the most recent research shows that it’s not the amount of cholesterol in our food that affects the cholesterol levels in our bodies but it’s that old devil, the amount of saturated fats in our diet. So does this mean you can eat as many eggs as you want? In short yes and no! By all means scramble, poach or boil your eggs and eat as many as you like, but if you start frying them or adding in foods high in saturated fats (such as dairy products), you will find your cholesterol levels increasing because of an all round poor diet. Just don’t blame the eggs.
Drinking raw eggs might have worked for Rocky, but cooking them increases the absorption of the egg whites and eliminates even the slightest risk of salmonella.
Along with other high fibre foods such as broccoli, lettuce and spinach, celery is often quoted as being a “negative calorie” food – something which will allegedly create a calorie deficit if you eat it because the amount of energy required to chew and digest the food is higher than the its own calorific value. Although there has been many a good argument put forward for negative calories, in the real world the theory just doesn’t work. Nobody could sustain a diet of only negative calorie foods for prolonged periods of time. In any case the digestive system is way more complex than that: it will take some of the fibre from such foods and break it down in to products which can be absorbed and used as energy. In theory this topic may be long debated, but in practice it is not a method to be relied upon for dieting.
Celery contains 3-n-butylphthalide which helps the muscle surrounding the blood vessels to relax, thus helping to decrease blood pressure.
Have no carbs after 6pm if you want to lose weight
UNFORTUNATELY THIS MYTH won’t go away. Long term sustainable dieting does not programme your body to have macronutrient cut-off points. There is no scientific research that suggests eating carbohydrates after 6pm will stop you losing weight. The rate of digestion is the same whether it’s first thing in the morning or after 6pm, so carbohydrate timings make little difference. Generally this myth arises from a misunderstanding about blood sugar levels and the effect of insulin, which is best thought of as a storage hormone secreted by the pancreas. As eating carbohydrates has the primary effect of increasing insulin you start to see where this myth may have come from. Add to this the fact that insulin also drastically lowers lipolysis (fat mobilisation) and again we can see why there may be some logic. But that doesn’t really explain how there can be a cut-off time. We all go to bed at different times anyway, and insulin is affected by exercise and other factors.
For most people in the western world, the evening meal is the most dense in calories. So replacing starchy carbohydrates with fibrous vegetables when dieting is a good way of lowering the calories of the meal – and your daily intake.
Protein absorption is limited to 30g in one go
By simply applying a little logic we can easily debunk this myth. Protein requirements are highly variable between individuals. No doubt Phil Heath (the current Mr Olympia) will have different protein needs compared to the 10-stone newbie on his first day at the gym. The body reacts according to these needs.
It’s hard to pinpoint where this myth originated or even why it did. There’s very little scientific research on regular gym users and protein digestion. There is a mass of research on protein requirements but it doesn’t say much about digestion, so we’re left scratching our heads as to why this fantasy persists. It’s often claimed that supplement companies promoted the idea – coincidentally most protein servings seem to be around the 30g mark.
Protein digestion will increase as your muscles grow and weight increases and needs become greater. The harder you work out the more protein the body will use for repair. By creating a need for more protein your body will be able digest, absorb and assimilate more. Stick to this thought process, increase your overall protein as your training becomes more rigorous.
You still shouldn’t aim for a free-for-all on protein. If you eat way more protein than your body needs, the protein gets converted into body fat.
When you stop training the muscle will turn into fat
Here finally is one myth that is not strictly a nutritional one, but does allow me to use one of my favourite analogies relating to food and nutrition. Most people will have heard this idea from somewhere. Yet when we consider how this would work scientifically, it just doesn’t stack up. Muscle cannot turn into fat: it is impossible. To counter this myth, I always ask: “Can you turn steak in to butter?” Obviously the answer is no.
So where does this myth come from? Well, bodybuilders who eat a lot may stop training and still be used to eating such high calorie dense foods. Without the training stimulus, the thinking goes, their calorific needs will be much lower, so over-eating will result in the body storing the excess calories as fat instead of using them for repair and growth. Thus the general public, women in offices and mums all over the country assume that the muscle (steak) has indeed turned into fat.
There will always be myths surrounding nutrition and training but the best way to look at these is with a small amount of logic. When that doesn’t prevail ask yourself – who benefits from this statement? If it is glaringly obvious that someone will be gaining financially from it, then, again, question it.
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