I posted my blog a few weeks ago on why protein is not a miracle macronutrient. For SO long I had believed eating all the protein! was they key to weight loss, that those calories were somehow better, or the calories didn’t count because they would lead to gaining only muscle.
When I started to dig deeper into the topic of nutrition, I realized that my beliefs on protein (and many other beliefs I had around food) weren’t completely accurate. I came to realize there are so many of these “alternative facts” in the health and nutrition world. But I was hardly the one to blame for not knowing the real facts – it was the information I was being constantly fed (no pun intended) by the mainstream media, so of course I thought those things were true.
So for more than a year now, I’ve been reading books, listening to podcasts, researching articles, and have made my own conclusions when it comes to nutrition. I’ve learned to do my research before believing trends. I now know that most of what I see advertised and sponsored is meant to grab your attention and sell products, not educated you or make you healthier. It’s biased, over-simplified, or just plain wrong.
Now I often get asked questions by friends and family why I eat the way I do, like why I won’t eat things they consider to be healthy, why I eat foods that are considered by most people to be bad for you, and other questions regarding my nutrition. I wanted to address a few common beliefs people have about nutrition and share what I have come to learn about them to help debunk some of the “alternative facts” I used to believe. I also want to encourage doing your own research and self-experimentation with food and see how eating certain foods works for you.
Below are probably the four most common alternative facts I’ve come across. Disclaimer: I have zero certifications in nutrition and no formal education on the topic. However, I have heard from many highly respected and accredited health professionals sharing their studies, anecdotal evidence, and beliefs, and have come to these conclusions from my own interpretations.
Alternative Fact #1: Carbs Are Bad & They Make You Fat!
Have you ever realized that vegetables, arguably the healthiest “food group” are almost PURE sources of carbohydrate? There is very little protein and fat content in most vegetables. Fruits are nearly pure carbohydrates, too. But you probably don’t think about cutting those out when you’re trying to lose weight or be healthy. I think that is one major point to make when interpreting the myth that carbohydrates are “bad for you” or that they inherently make you fat.
But what about the traditional carbs? Obviously fruits and vegetables are “health foods” so that argument might be a little over-simplified. So what about rice, grains, breads, pastas, and other starchy carbs? Here’s the truth on carbs and why people think they “make you fat” and if you cut them out, you’ll lose weight.
First of all, carbohydrates hold on to water very easily, so when you eat them, you may be more bloated and hold more “water weight” than you would be if you went low-carb for a while. However, this is not a good long-term solution for most people. Your body needs carbs (especially if you’re a female, sorry ladies!) to function properly.
Why though? Carbohydrates are your body’s favorite form of energy. They are easily converted into energy, especially when the glycemic index of the food or meal is high. So, if you’re an active individual, your body wants and needs carbohydrates to function properly and perform at its best. If you don’t get enough energy through the foods you eat or the energy stores within your body, you can put stress on your body’s endocrine system (which affects all other systems at the end of the day).
If you’re not very active and/or you are over-consuming calories, carbohydrates can more easily lead to fat storage on your body, especially from poor carbohydrate sources (like processed foods). Why? Your body is wired to store energy. So if you’re not matching your carbohydrate intake to your activity level, your body will store that energy in the form of fat more easily.
Also, in general, carbohydrate sources will spike your blood sugar level more than fat or protein. When your blood sugar spikes, your energy spikes. And when that comes down, your body is wired to want that energy back quickly. Simply put: more sugar equals sugar cravings. So if you’re managing your blood sugar levels correctly, you probably won’t be over-consuming calories. Which means you won’t “get fat” by eating carbohydrates.
Then the question is: how do I eat carbohydrates to manage my weight? Simply, match carb intake to your activity level. If you’re not very active, you don’t need many carbs (and that number is different for everyone!) If you are active, you do NOT need to load up on carbohydrates…pretty much ever. But before and after workouts is a great time to eat the right amount of carbohydrates for you to fuel and recover. You just find what works for you in regards to the right amount for your level of activity. It’s a process – but it will lead to optimal health.
Alternative Fact #2: Fat Makes you Fat
Eat your butter, egg yolks, and red meat, people!
It’s true: fat does have more calories per gram than any other macronutrient. This is why it was demonized decades ago – if you cut out fat, you’ll cut out more calories per gram of food. That should equal weight loss, right? Well, with all the low-fat items on the shelves and diabetes and obesity increasing across America, is the low-fat fad really working? (Hint, the answer is no!)
Another reason this myth is everywhere is the fact that ‘bad’ fats can lead to poor health, which can in turn lead to gaining weight. Industrial seed oils are everywhere, and the over-consumption of them is damaging to your gut. Also, animal fats from poorly sourced meat are a bad source of fats, too – it’s where all the toxins are stored. So yes, poorly sourced and processed fats are not healthful foods.
However, the truth is that healthy sources of fat (minimally processed, from vegetable, seed, or animal sources) are full of nutrients and beneficial health properties!
Your body needs fat to function properly. Vitamins are fat-soluble, meaning that if you eat nutrient-rich foods (like fruits and vegetables), you need to eat fat with them to absorb those nutrients. If your body is not absorbing the nutrients it needs, you will be hungry, fatigued, anxious, have a lowered immune system, sleep less, and a myriad of other symptoms that are indicators of poor health.
Fat also satiates you. As mentioned in the previous “alternative fact” carbohydrates spike blood sugar. If you add fat to a meal, that slows down the overall glycemic index of your meal and will keep you fuller for longer. And if you’re not hungry all the time, your weight will manage itself!
Fat in your diet also helps promote fat adaptation. This means when you’re not eating and your body is metabolizing, it’s not searching for only carbs as an energy source. Your body is going to utilize your existing body fat for energy instead (everyone has thousands of calories of fat stores on their body, regardless of how lean they are!) So you can go longer without eating, you won’t have as many blood sugar swings and hunger signals, and your body fat level will become normalized.
Simply put: when carbohydrates are your main source of metabolic fuel, that’s when sugar and carb cravings hit. So the more fat you have in your diet, the more your body can use fat for fuel, the less hunger signals you’re getting, and the easier it becomes to live and eat healthfully.
Alternative Fact #3: Sugar-Free / Low-Fat / “Diet” Products are Healthier
No. Just no! They’re probably worse than the high calorie items on the shelves! Look at the ingredient list on those products. Half of those items are chemicals or artificial sweeteners — things to make the chemicals taste good and that “food” last forever and ingredients to stimulate more cravings so you buy more of that product.
When you eat artificial sweeteners, your body literally doesn’t know what to do with them. It’s getting the sweetness of sugar, but it’s not getting the energy. Your hormones are sending the wrong signals based on this. It’s disrupting your gut and immune system. It’s leading to a lot of internal issues that will catch up to you.
The food industry wants one thing: your money. And how do they get that? By engineering foods to be overly palatable so that you crave and buy more of them. They don’t care if you’re well-nourished or healthy. They want you to finish the bag of chips you bought as quickly as possible so that they can sell you another bag.
Then what should you eat to be healthy? Real food. Foods that don’t have ad campaigns, mascots, or commercials.
You’re a human. For thousands upon thousands of years, your ancestors ate foods that came from nature. And our digestive systems evolved based on that fact. Natural foods are balanced – they have a natural amount and source of micronutrients and macronutrients that are meant to be digested and consumed. They are natural sources of vitamins and minerals, protein, and the supplements on the shelves that probably you don’t need. Real foods are what humans were meant to eat to live healthfully.
Nothing packaged is better than well-sourced fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, meats, grains, and dairy. If your goal is to ADD to your health and wellness, just eat real foods!
Alternative Fact #4: It Has To Be “All Or Nothing”
Another big myth or belief that many of us have when it comes to being healthy, is that we have to be “on the wagon” or “off the wagon”, right?!
This does not have to be the case, though. Just because I’ve laid out some ways to eat well does not mean this is how I eat all of the time. I’m not on any “wagons” nor am I ever off them. I believe that if you consistently eat well, your body will reward you in ways beyond your expectations.
But if you have the mentality: “I already ate *insert bad food here* so I might as well keep going” then you’ve got to shift your mind set if your aim is to be healthy. Because health starts with your mind, which means a life free of guilt and full of self-love. The more you do for yourself because you love yourself, the more options you choose to lead you in the direction towards living a healthy and balanced life. This means nourishing your body with what it needs, when it needs it.
This also means you’re allowed to choose the less healthy options whenever you please. If you want cake, eat some cake! If you want to order fries instead of a salad, that’s your choice. Always. But just learn and be conscious of what foods will lead you towards the goals you may have, and what goes against them. And be mindful of that choice. Do not blame that decision on excuses like: “but it was ther,e” “I was sad,” “it was free,” or any other rationalization you may have made up in your head. Choose those foods because you want to enjoy them, experience them, savor them. Accept that choice. And move on.
This is hard because everyone has emotional connections to food. You have to heal that relationship with food to master this one, and that is an ongoing, tough process for most people. I know it is for me! But you don’t have to cut off that connection entirely. It’s okay to have those connections to food — just be mindful of them. If you’re eating your Grandmom’s cookies because they remind you of when you were a kid, enjoy them. If you grabbed an ice cream cone because it reminds you of a summer vacation, go ahead and taste the nostalgia. If you’re craving peanut butter, grab a spoon. You don’t have to shame yourself for it. You don’t have to go off the rails and eat all the things in sight afterwards. Enjoy it and move on.
There are so many gimmicks and headlines that will make you feel like there’s a magic bullet to nutrition and weight loss. There’s a new article or advertisement every day that makes you feel like what you did yesterday was wrong. Tune out the paid media and trust your body when it comes to your wellness.
If you want to be healthful, effortlessly achieve a healthy body weight for you, sleep well, exercise with great performance, have less anxiety and depression, and more, a healthful “real foods” diet will support you on that journey. If you’re not ready to cut out foods that aren’t as healthful – don’t! Just eat your roasted veggies first, or throw grass-fed meatballs on a big bowl of pasta. Again, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing when it comes to health…but the more the merrier 🙂
However, the more you do eat nourishing foods that are right for you, you’ll begin to crave those feelings and the positive side effects more and more. Eating well will become an easy choice, part of your lifestyle, and not a chore.
You’ll find your own truths and be confident in knowing what’s right for you. You’ll begin to realize what “alternative facts” about nutrition and health you used to believe, and appreciate of how far you’ve come.