There are a ton of rumors circulating about food and nutrition lately. It’s no wonder that all of these mixed messages – from reliable and unreliable sources – can cause confusion. I wanted to sort out a few food issues that I keep encountering over and over. After reading this, you will be able to sort fact from fiction and learn the truth about hot topics in food and nutrition.
All oatmeal is not created equally. Many instant varieties contain a ton of ingredients that many of us can’t even pronounce. My rule of thumb is no one should need to be able to understand biochemistry in order to understand the ingredients listed on their food’s nutrition label (and if you do happen to have a degree in biochemistry, you would probably agree that many of those ingredients should not be consumed). Your best bet is to buy rolled oats that list only rolled oats as the sole ingredient. Craving more of an instant fix from a packet? I like Trader Joe’s Oats and Flax oatmeal, which has just four ingredients (rolled oats, sugar, flaxseeds and sea salt). Also, beware of flavored varieties, which tend to contain a ton of excess sugar and additives. Stick with a plain oatmeal and add your own toppings, such as fruit, nuts, cinnamon, or even cocoa powder.
Myth #2: Egg yolks are bad for you
I cringe when I hear this myth. In fact, egg yolks are the source of nutrients within eggs. While egg whites are a good option for those looking to decrease their calorie content, the whites offer little in the way of nutrition – just a small amount of protein and only about 20 calories per egg white, which is not very satiating. The egg yolk contains the lipids, vitamins and minerals that cause eggs to boast such great nutrition, and one large egg contains less than 80 calories. Also, egg yolks contain a substantial amount of choline, which is a nutrient that has been linked to enhancing memory. Start your day sharp and eat eggs (the entire egg!) and feel fuller, longer. Another great option? Combine one whole egg with two egg whites to shave off calories and fat while maintaining some of the nutrition of the whole egg. Also, that rumor about eggs being bad for cholesterol? False! Unless you already have high cholesterol, the cholesterol in eggs does not appear to raise one’s cholesterol. Now, no excuses!
Myth #3: Skipping breakfast is a good way to lose weight
Skipping breakfast is one of my biggest pet peeves. This myth is totally false. Want to hear a fact? Breakfast is actually the most important meal of the day. Overnight, we deplete our glycogen stores (our body’s storage form of glucose) and this stimulates a series of hormonal responses. Additionally, many individuals wake up with low blood glucose because of the lack of glycogen and exogenous fuel first thing in the morning. Eating breakfast (with some carbohydrates) helps to keep your hormones in check and replenishes your body with the fuel it needs to take on the day. Just like you would never drive a car without gasoline, you should never walk out your door in the morning without fueling up (properly). That being said, I even suggest that individuals eat a little bit of something (anything) rather than skip breakfast. People are often appalled by this, but I truly believe it is better to eat a half a bagel (or something else “shamed” by most) than skip breakfast entirely. Not hungry? That’s okay. Work your way to eating breakfast by beginning with something small (a few strawberries or a banana) and ultimately add in extras (add a piece of toast with peanut butter, or a small bowl of oatmeal). No time? I can solve that, too. Below are a few quick breakfast options. Again, no excuses!
- Make some hard boiled eggs at the beginning of the week and store in a bowl in your refrigerator. Grab and go!
- Make a breakfast smoothie the night before and store in your refrigerator, covered, until the next morning.
- Make a piece of toast and spread with a nut butter of choice. Add fruit (on the side or on top) to round out the meal.
- Bring an apple (or another fruit, like a banana) and some peanut butter with you out the door.
Myth #4: You will undo your workout if you eat afterwards
After a workout, your body needs fuel. You just took your energy from earlier in the day (and from some body reserves) to produce work and now, your body needs fuel to recover. That being said, you don’t need to go overboard. Post-workout, your body needs protein and carbohydrates. Specifically, you should aim to consume about 25 grams of protein within the first 30-60 minutes post-workout. Great options include:
- Chocolate milk (the chocolate adds extra carbohydrates, which your body needs to recover following a workout)
- Greek yogurt with fruit (add your own fresh fruit to plain – you will avoid excess sugar and reap nutritious benefits from the whole fruit)
- Fruit and nut butter
- Healthy trail mix (I like to make my own with small handfuls of unsalted or reduced sodium nuts and seeds, such as pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews and peanuts, dried fruit, such as dried blueberries, and a small amount of dark chocolate pieces, such as semisweet chocolate morsels.)
Myth #5: You need to take protein supplements if you are active
It’s true that active individuals may require more protein than non-active individuals. However, most Americans already consume more protein than needed from diet alone. It is recommended that adults consume 0.8 g/kg body weight protein per day. For a 70 kg male (154 pounds), this equates to 56 grams of protein daily. That is not that much and can certainly be attained (and often is exceeded) by an adequate diet. While active individuals may require more protein, many guidelines recommend 1.0-1.7 g/kg body weight, depending on the activity (and the duration and frequency of the activity). So, at 1.5 g/kg body weight (which would be toward the upper range of protein recommendations), a 70 kg male would require 105 grams of protein per day. That post-workout protein shake? It’s probably just going to add excess calories and should only be consumed every once in awhile, if there aren’t other food options to provide the carbs and protein you need to refuel after a workout. Also, it should be noted that protein does not get stored like carbs and fat do within the body. So, what happens to protein that’s consumed beyond your body’s energy needs? It will either get excreted or stored as fat.
Myth #6: Carbs are the devil
I like carbohydrates. Repeat: I like carbohydrates. Carbs are your body’s main source of fuel – and they are everywhere (which is not a coincidence). It’s true that refined carbs are not ideal, as they offer little in the way of nutrients and are often enriched with vitamins and minerals that are taken out in processing, along with chemicals. However, eating whole grains, such as quinoa, whole wheat bread and pasta products and farro is recommended. Additionally, foods such as fruits (and many vegetables) offer carbohydrates – and there is no reason to run from them. Many of these foods also contain fiber, which many Americans lack in their diet. Also, your brain runs on glucose – about 50 grams of it per day. Without consuming glucose, your body converts fat to ketones, which your brain can use as a secondary fuel source – as a last resort. Relying on ketones regularly puts your body in an unhealthy state and prevents your brain from obtaining the fuel it needs and creating an optimal environment within your body for necessary enzymatic reactions. Many individuals require between 250-300 grams of carbohydrates per day, with active individuals often requiring even more than that. Put this into perspective next time you see that a snack contains 30 grams of carbs – it is probably okay to consume.
The take-home message
I hope you enjoyed this post and learned that, while there are a ton of nutrition rumors out there, it is important to learn the facts and fuel your body right. Also, many fads do not hold up to the science and it is important to learn the science (or speak with someone who does understand and keep up with the science, such as a registered dietitian) to separate fact from fiction.
*oats picture courtesy of: http://www.babybulletblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/oats.jpg
**apple and peanut butter picture courtesy of: http://images.meredith.com/fitness/images/2008/12/ss_101159512.jpg