This week, columnist Nonie De Long looks at the top five food myths, which includes thoughts on just how important breakfast is
Last week we started learning about some of the slick food myths the food industry and regulatory bodies, including the dietetic profession, has perpetuated. We looked at five of the 10 top food myths and today we’ll cover the top five. The question that spearheaded this list came from Maya and today we’ll get to her query about whether breakfast is as essential as we’ve been told or whether fasting might be better. If you missed last week’s list, it covers:
10) oats: what you need to know about this ‘supposed’ superfood
9) vegetables: why some people get sick from them
8) the reason natural sugars actually aren’t better
7) complex carbs: the link to many health issues including ASD and mental health
6) the lie that eating eggs causes high cholesterol
If you missed it, you can read that article here. And if you want to subscribe to get articles like this sent to your inbox monthly, you can go here. You can also subscribe to BradfordToday where my articles are printed every Sunday. Without further ado, let’s get down to the top 5!
The top five food myths
5) Eat six small meals a day
This food myth is largely responsible for the modern epidemic of obesity and type II diabetes. Never before have civilizations been so obese and chronically sick as we in the west are now. Not only is eating every three hours bad for our metabolism and waist lines, but it’s also more likely to push us toward unhealthy convenience foods because who on earth has the time to prepare six natural meals a day?
It’s an ingenious food industry plot to sell more products, bolstered by dieticians and doctors who didn’t know better. More and more people are demonstrating the benefit of fasting for long periods between meals to increase metabolic flexibility, burn fat, and reduce blood sugar. More and more it’s recognized that eating less, not more is the answer to obesity and diabetes. You would think that would be common sense, but we all know how common that is.
Among the experts recommending fasting is Dr. Jason Fung – the leading expert on type II diabetes at present. Listen to him explain why six small meals could be making you fatter.
4) Breakfast is the most important meal of the day
Oh if I had a dollar for every time someone asks me this! In reality, it’s a slick marketing slogan made popular by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and James Caleb Jackson in an effort to promote their breakfast cereal. Prior to that people were split on eating breakfast and there’s data to support that in the 17th century it was frowned on. Just to give you an idea of how profitable this has been for the company, Kellogg made $1.4 billion U.S. dollars in profit in 2019 off it’s cereals and convenience foods. This advice is, and always was clearly a conflict of interest.
The idea seems to be that we need to fuel up for the day ahead. What most people don’t realize is that if you have any fat on your body you already have fuel to burn, no need to add more! And adding more when we don’t need it causes our bodies to be unable to burn the fat we do have. And this, in a nutshell, is the reason we are suffering from type II diabetes at the rates that we are.
Slim people and children who don’t have body fat and are active may find that they need breakfast, but most people do not and actually feel sluggish after eating it. I recommend clients try to skip breakfast if they are able and have body fat to lose and do not have an eating disorder. This helps their bodies to remain able to burn fat for energy – which makes them more metabolically flexible. That means they can shift between burning carbs and burning fat for fuel, as needed. That’s what we should all strive for. This ensures we don’t develop type II diabetes and don’t get into a situation where we can’t burn our body fat when needed.
The takeaway? Skip breakfast for a couple weeks and instead eat a really healthy lunch. See how you feel.
3) Protein isn’t that important
After over a decade studying nutrition I’ve come to believe protein is the most important nutritional component of the human body. When it’s absent in the diet I see pathology of appetite and satiety (often leading to overeating and obesity) and frequently pathology on a mental-emotional level.
Dietary proteins are broken down into amino acids, which are the building blocks for tissue including muscles, tendons, ligaments, and tissue muscle like those found in the heart and intestines, as well as all enzymatic reactions and antibodies in the body. Amino acids are also responsible for transporting and storing nutrients and signals. They can even be used to make energy if we are starving, allowing the body to essentially eat its own muscle tissue to survive! So proteins are very important nutrients.
There are 20 amino acids, nine of which are considered essential – meaning we must get them from the food we eat because we can’t make them internally. Essential amino acids are in the proteins we eat. When we say something is a complete protein, we mean it contains all the essential amino acids. If it’s incomplete, it lacks some. You can learn more about amino acids here.
In my clinical experience it’s difficult to get enough of these essential amino acids for optimal health from vegetarian sources. We can get enough to survive, but inflammatory and blood sugar conditions will often be present because most vegetarian proteins do not supply optimal amounts of the essential amino acids. This is worse if dairy and eggs aren’t in the diet, as in a vegan diet. In these cases, getting ample protein can be very challenging. This gets complicated because, over time with repetition of the limited vegetarian protein sources the vegetarian proteins can become increasingly difficult to digest and food intolerances can develop. This is why I don’t recommend vegetarian diets for optimal health, unless one has ample access to organic, natural milk products and organic, free range eggs and is open to seafood or cricket flour to balance out the amino acids and provide enough zinc. Anything less often creates deficiencies and imbalances, leading to disease states.
This is an unpopular opinion today when animals are being blamed for climate change, but myself and many others in the health industry see it to be true. As such, I teach that protein should be the centre of every meal, with emphasis on foods that contain complete protein. This does more to correct mood and inflammatory conditions than any other therapy I’ve seen.
The portion of protein can be the size of the palm. More is okay but not necessary unless there has been a workout, in which case the body may need more to repair tissue damage and supply for all the body’s other needs. In my opinion, one meal per day should contain protein from fish or meat. And red meat should be eaten at least 2 times a week for its unique nutritional value.
2) Low fat is healthy
I remember walking through a mall (remember when people did that?) and overhearing a woman reading the wrapper of a chocolate bar to her friend. She said, “zero grams of fat. This has zero fat. I’m dieting. I should eat one of these for lunch every day!
Now, whether she was serious or just joking around, this captures a sentiment in our culture because of slick food industry efforts to increase sales of carbohydrate foods and reduce those of foods that naturally contain fats. The problem here is twofold.
First, foods that don’t contain natural fats are unpalatable unless you add other fats – historically trans fats. But we got wise to the health risks of that so the fat has been changed now to vegetable fats – which are unhealthy in their own way. More on that another week.
But low fat also means food manufacturers must add more sugar and salt to make low fat foods palatable. So if it says low fat on the label, it’s actually much more likely to be high sugar or high glycemic. Both of these are detrimental to health.
Take for example mayonnaise. Natural mayonnaise is high in fat because it’s made in part from egg yolks. But it’s low in carbohydrates and sugar (usually zero). Low fat mayonnaise is higher in carbs. Salad dressing type mayonnaise is even higher because sugar is added to make up for the flavour deficit of fat. This is a perfect example. The higher fat is better, but in this scenario it’s best to go for healthy mayonnaise that’s made from avocado oil. But be sure to read the label. Many grocery store brands that say avocado oil mayo are actually 90% canola or soy oil with only a little avocado oil added in to make their claim. If you can afford it, choose a health food store brand and read the label, not just the claims on the front!
The second problem with low fat foods is that they demonize fats and especially the naturally shelf stable saturated fats that actually cause satiety. If our diets are too low in healthy fats (including saturated fats) we are more likely to feel unsatisfied and feel hungry all the time. This causes overeating. The food industry knows this. Replacing saturated fats with sugars causes us to consume ever more of their products. It’s a dirty little secret they don’t want us to know about!
Think about it: how long do you feel satisfied after eating bacon and eggs for breakfast? How long do you feel satisfied after eating cereal or fruit? You’re much better off to ensure you consume some healthy fat with your meals. And if you think it’s fat that makes you fat, think again. But that’s a big myth for another day.
1) Carbohydrates are necessary for health
The thousands of people using a ketogenic or low carbohydrate diet to reduce/ reverse disease and obesity clearly demonstrate this as a myth. I’ve gone into this at length before, but I’ll go over the main points here.
Fats are important for good health. They are necessary for healthy membranes around every cell in our body. They help create the lubrication for tissues in the body and help us store and use fat soluble vitamins. They are also necessary for all hormones and for lining the nerves and the brain. Our ovaries and sperm depend on them. Some of these are essential, meaning we must get them from our diets. These include the Omega fatty acids, of which Omega 3 is the most important with our modern diets. These primarily come from fatty fish and hemp and chia seeds.
Proteins are equally important. See above to better understand why.
Carbs are used for one thing and one thing only in the body: energy. And once we have fat stored on our bodies, we have all the energy we need already. Why do we need to add more? If we add more in the way of fat or protein and it’s not needed, it can be used for other purposes. But excess carbs just get stored as more body fat
Yes, they’re yummy! Yes, they’re everywhere because they are cheap! Yes, they have some fibre sometimes, but this can be gotten from veggies or a supplement. The bottom line is that excessive carbohydrates (over what is found in a healthy serving of veggies and fruit) should be considered a treat, not an essential food group.
The takeaway here is that not all the health information we get is accurate. It’s really important to know the source of your health information and to double check the facts. Or to hire a professional if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Thank you, Maya for writing in with that excellent question! As always, if readers have their own questions they can reach me by email and they can find me online.