Global Resilience Solutions > 2015 > October

Top 5 Myths of Healthy Eating

You may have seen this item in the news recently- the World Health Organisation has fingered processed meat and red meat as contributing causes of cancer. News websites and magazines are frequently inundated with information about this food that’s killing you and that food that’ll magically help you burn fat, and it becomes nearly impossible for the reader to figure out which end is up.

The truth is, a lot of what you read about nutrition, even from ostensibly reputable sources, can be misleading at best. Numerous dietary myths have come down to us from decades past that are hard to overcome, and many more pop up every year.

So, what do you absolutely need to know about nutrition to cut through the fog and chart a clear path?

One Size Does Not Fit All

There are those in the nutrition business who will tell you to eat lots and lots of raw vegetables and whole grains. As Chinese medicine has always recognised, there are many people who can’t digest all that bulk biomass without experiencing gas, bloating and general misery. Chinese medicine often recommends cooked vegetables for this reason. As for whole grains, you may remember our post on that topic, but we’ll circle back to it below.

As for the fad diet of the hour, the truth is that everyone’s digestive system is built a bit differently. You can’t just take a diet off the shelf and expect it to be your own permanent solution. That’s why traditional medical systems such as Ayurveda, Tibetan and Traditional Chinese Medicine evaluate each person individually before making dietary recommendations. In traditional Indian cooking, for example, there is a system for helping those with different dietary needs in the same household by providing spices, chutneys and other additives that will help them to digest foods that are not what their particular digestive system would prefer.

Low Fat Diets Aren’t

The myth of the healthy low-fat diet hangs around like the stench of skunk spray, decade after decade, despite having been long since disproven. You can’t look up a recipe online without running into someone peddling a low-fat version.

The truth is, your body desperately needs healthy saturated fats for some of the main building-blocks of cells and neurotransmitters, for the dissolved micronutrients they carry, and above all for the health of your brain. This doesn’t mean, of course, that all fats are created equal. Transfats, a leading cancer-causing substance created by prolonged heating or chemical alteration of fats, have thankfully been acknowledged as the danger they are. But the truth is that the Omega 6 fats in most vegetable oils aren’t very good for you either. The body requires a certain ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fat, and most fats in processed foods are the latter.

The fact is, we don’t get fat from fat, generally speaking. We get fat because we eat too many carbohydrates, which our bodies can’t immediately burn. When that happens, insulin is released is vast quantities to get the excess sugar out of our bloodstreams, which is then converted to fat. That’s why you crash after a sugar high. If you want to avoid this vicious cycle, you actually have to get to the point of teaching your body to burn fat, a process which includes lower carb intake, intermittent fasting and exercise.

When you’re looking for healthy fats to incorporate into your diet, think olive oil, raw nuts and seeds, coconuts and coconut oil, avocadoes and restrained amounts of free-range meat and dairy.

 

Some ‘Health Foods’ Can Kill

While benign natural alternatives to sugar do exist, artificial sweeteners are among the most pernicious examples of government pandering to industry by allowing substances conclusively linked to major diseases to be placed on the market under a smokescreen of denial.

Among the worst is Aspartame, currently marketed as Splenda. Aspartame was originally developed in a search for an ulcer drug, and was only later marketed as a food additive. The FDA has known since 1974 that the substance caused brain tumours in rats, and that many of the studies paid for by the manufacturers were flawed. Independent studies have linked it to cancer, brain damage and other serious chronic conditions. Under industry pressure, both the FDA and the US attorney hired to investigate aspartame swept the issue under the carpet. Among other effects, aspartame exposed to heat in the body breaks down into methyl alcohol, a poison.

Sucralose, a sugar derivative which the body cannot metabolise, has been linked to massive damage to gut flora, without which our digestive tract cannot function, as well as other illnesses. As with aspartame, the scientific basis for approving this product was deeply flawed, and yet the emergence of a wide variety of health complaints linked to sucralose is continually dismissed.

Another example of an unhealthy health-food is soy. Because it contains estrogen-mimicking chemicals, it can throw off our hormonal balance, a process that is strongly linked to cancer. A little bit of soy was alright in the Asian diet, but now, as a cash crop used in many processed foods and to feed factory-farmed animals, it pervades our diet to a ridiculous degree.

 

The Problem With Industrial Agriculture

The soy problem is just one slice of what’s dangerous about the way our food is created. Corn, as animal feed and as the pernicious additive High-Fructose Corn Syrup which pervades processed food and helps to addict us to sugar, fulfills a similar role.

These crops are used to feed animals raised in filthy, overcrowded spaces. These animals will never see the sunlight or eat a piece of grass. Naturally, they are horrendously unhealthy and need to be pumped full of antibiotics to live long enough to get to your table.

Many of the grains, fruits and vegetables available today are genetically modified, grown intensively in micronutrient-depleted soils through the use of chemical fertiliser, reducing their nutritional value, and saturated with pernicious pesticides. The result is that many of the healthy foods you think you’re eating are nutritionally dead and loaded with chemicals that will assault your health.

Then there’s the processed food industry, implicated by the WHO report. Humans have always processed food to some degree in order to survive- drying, jerkying, smoking, preserves, pickling and other fermentation methods and so on. The problem with many modern approaches is the range of chemical additives they involve and the nutrients they kill.

If you want healthy food, then organic, free-range, hormone and antibiotic-free, unpasteurised products are your friends. The thing about the processed meats the WHO was talking about is that they are fundamentally different from the processed meats of previous generations, from the health and nutrition of the animal to the methods of preservation to the sheer amount being eaten.

Consider replacing some of these new processed foods with old ones. Naturally fermented yogurts, picked vegetables and so on are good sources of the bacteria your digestive tract needs in order to function.

 

Unhealthy Grains

Bulk grains are a recent addition to the human diet in biological terms, and while eating them has helped to sustain our societies, we are now faced with the triple problems of overabundance, overuse and harmful processing.

Overabundance of grains has meant that we are generally eating far too many of them. Grains are basically empty carbohydrates, little more than a sugar hit as far as your metabolism is concerned.

Overuse of grains by the food industry has seen grains pop up in new foods, including meat and most processed foods. We are encouraged to eat grains four meals a day, from our breakfast cereals to our lunchtime sandwiches to our chips to rolls and pasta at dinner. This is far more raw starch than we could ever use.

Processing of grains is another big problem. Processed grains have been robbed of their nutrients, and unhealthy chemicals are left in their place. No amount of “enrichment” can make it healthy again.

Gluten: The rise of gluten allergy is linked to the overabundance of processed grains in our diet, and even low-level gluten allergy can adversely affect your health in numerous ways. Gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley among other grains, interferes with your body’s ability to absorb nutrients and promotes constipation. Undigested gluten causes your immune system to attack your intestines. Over time, gluten causes a number of nutrient deficiencies, unpleasant physical symptoms and degenerative effects.

Research has shown that gluten-intolerance is on the rise relative to past generations, partly because we have created varieties of grain with much higher gluten content, and partly because of the use of high-gluten white flour and the decline of whole-grain and mixed-grain flours.

 

Getting on Track

If you want to optimise the way you fuel your body, try to think in terms of the diet that was natural to human beings before industrial intervention in the food chain. We’re not necessarily talking about a Paleo diet, what the cave men allegedly ate. We are talking about a mix of naturally-grown foods that is right for your nutritional type. If you can make that adjustment, you can learn to steer away from the many threats to your nutrition and health which lurk in the modern grocery store.


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