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Sunday
Oct252009

Just Tell Me What to Eat

Written by Tom Nikkola - Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

Take a walk through the diet book section at any bookstore and prepare to be amazed. There are countless books on what is considered the optimal diet for health and weight loss. It is no wonder we are confused on what to eat. Many books have an "acceptable" food list along with rigid rules to follow in order to get the results promised. Depending on the plan, the food lists vary on what is considered healthy. To make things even more confusing, we are now seeing healthy recommendations in the grocery store as well. As a side-note, the FDA has helped put a halt on the promotion of the most current labeling program, called Smart Choices, which was a food industry-driven labeling plan.

Today, I want to just quickly touch on some common "healthy eating" misconceptions. To keep the article reasonable in length, I've added a comment or two to explain why these "nutrition recommendations" may not be that nutritious after all. However, I encourage you to explore these misconceptions further. The comments section at the end of the article would be a great place to discuss each one of these further.

The following are common nutrition myths, NOT our recommendations. 

Eat egg whites, but not the yolk

With eggs being a nutrition staple since almost the beginning of time, it's odd that in the past 20-40 years, we suddenly need to stop eating the yolk. Egg yolks, especially from pastured chickens, are loaded with nutrients. Eggs are considered by many nutritious experts as nature's perfect food. They are also one of the best sources of protein available. Egg yolks are one of the best sources of choline. Choline is essential for brain function.

Drink and eat non-fat dairy

Milk straight from the cow has fat. In order to "de-fat" milk it has to be processed in a way that damages the health giving compounds found in milk. The best choice is non-pasteurized, non-homogenized full fat milk. If you are concerned about the calories drink a half-cup instead of a full cup. You will be more satisfied as the milk has healthy fats like CLA that keep you satiated. If you're not ready for full-fat, try the 2%.

If you can't get your fruit in, drink juice or eat dried fruit

Whole fruit is far more filling and less calorie-dense than fruit juices or dried fruit. Fruit juice is loaded with sugar, even if it's unsweetened. People have a tendency to drink more of it compared to whole fruit as well. Because the water is gone from dried fruit, people can easily eat far more dried fruit for a snack than they can whole fruit.

Salmon is a great source of healthy fats

Wild Alaskan salmon is certainly filled with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. However, farm-raised salmon, which is usually fed grain (can you believe that) does not have the same fatty acids because they are not fed their natural diet. Eat salmon often; just make sure it is Wild Alaskan.

Foods that say they are high in omega-3s are healthier

It's true; most people need more omega-3 fatty acids in their diet. However, foods with "added omega-3s" do not contain enough to enhance your health. Food manufacturers are adding omega-3's in the form of plants. Plant-based omega-3, such as flax, does not provide the same benefits as omega-3 fish oil which is very high in the omega-3s DHA and EPA. Plant-based omega-3 is high in ALA, which must be converted by our bodies into DHA and EPA. We are not very good at converting it, so you're much better off getting the majority of your omega-3s through fish oil.

Avoid saturated fat

Saturated fat helps increase HDL (good) cholesterol and when it increases LDL cholesterol, it's thought to increase large-particle LDL. Large-particle LDL cholesterol is not thought to affect heart disease risk. Foods that contain saturated fat, such as eggs, coconut oil, and animal proteins raised on their natural diet can be part of a healthy nutrition program.

Nuts are a great source of protein

Nuts can certainly be part of a healthy diet. It's better to view them as a source of healthy fat as opposed to a protein source. They have about 8 grams of protein and 16 grams of fat in a serving. To get enough protein from nuts for a meal or snack requires a lot of total calories. Get your protein from other sources, and use nuts to increase your intake of healthy fats.

Soy protein is a perfect health food

With soy's low-fat and no-cholesterol content, it's easy to understand how soy is promoted as a health food. While soy has been eaten in Asian cultures for hundreds of years, it has been eaten in a different form than is usually sold in stores today. Edamame, tempeh and miso can be included as part of a healthy diet, but other forms of soy, like soy milk, contain anti-nutrients and phytoestrogens that have the potential to lead to health issues.

The book The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, written by Dr. Johnny Bowden, contains the Top 10 Health Foods of 15 different nutrition experts, including the author himself. Interestingly, none of the experts picked soy in their Top 10 list.

Summary

These are just a few of the many misconceptions common in the diet industry. Each time a new concept for healthy eating comes out, a new niche of products is found. The idea of low-fat led to hundreds of low-fat foods, many of which were not natural foods. The popularity of omega-3 fatty acids is seen in many foods now with "added omega-3s." If we strive to eat real food that has been raised or grown the way nature intended, they possess the healthy nutrients our bodies need to live a long and healthy life. As always, there is only so much that can be discussed in a single article. If articles like this lead you to additional questions, feel free to use the comments section below to continue the discussion.

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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Reader Comments (3)

Interesting that we're being told here that avoiding the egg yolks is a myth, yet there are ads for Egg Beaters right on the wall of my LTF.

October 25, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjmy9595

What is wrong with phytoestrogens? I have found the wild yam to be a life saver.

December 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRunner

To Runner:
This really is a "depends" answer. When we consider how we are exposed to estrogens (we make them in our body, we often take them through oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy) and we are exposed significantly to them in the environment - conventional meats/dairy, cleaning supplies, cosmetics, toiletries, water, etc. We can safely assume the majority of Americans are estrogen toxic with the external sources (medications and environment) being the most toxic to our body's natural hormone balance. Adding more in through the diet can disrupt this sensitive balance as well as our thyroid function as phyto & xeno estrogens will bind to our estrogen and thyroid receptors, blocking their normal function. Also, the majority of our phytoestrogens today are coming from GMO crops, which are processed and can disrupt our DNA. So, as Tom mentioned above in this article higher quality non-GMO (organic) fermented options are fine in moderation. What works best is to test your personal sex hormones to see what is actually going on in your system to know the best course of action.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCindi Lockhart, RD

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