I studied at Deakin University in the early 1980’s to become a dietitian. After completing my BSc majoring in Nutrition to be able to do a diploma in Dietetics, I decided not to proceed as I didn’t agree with what I was taught. Nearly four decades later and many of those principles I didn’t agree with are still being taught at the universities and to the public.
Science can be confusing at times, as proof of any opposing hypothesis can also be found in the literature. However, if we take a common sense and historical approach we might be able to decipher what’s best for our own health.
Here are 22 myths about nutrition that can be dispelled with common sense and historical perspective.
1. Salt Causes Hypertension
This myth has been around for some time. The science shows a bell shape correlation to hypertension – not enough or too much is an issue, but just the right amount is perfect. A good way to consider salt intake is as follows: A food that needs salt tastes bland when not salted, and a food that has been over salted is hard to consume. There is also genetic variance that needs to be considered and tolerance of salt is a factor.
Very rarely is quality of salt tested. The history of salt in human civilisation dates back hundreds of years. ‘Salary’ comes from the word salt, as many people were paid in salt because it was an important condiment for health. Historic salt roads (the passage of salt to places where salt was needed) are found throughout Asia and Europe. So, my take on this is to have some, not too much and make sure the quality is impeccable. I use Changing Habits Seaweed Salt in my cooking and on my food. It is a mix of Himalayan salt and seaweed (dulse). This ensures iodine, increased iron and DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid), as well as over 70 minerals naturally found in salt.
2. Saturated Fat Causes Heart Disease
As a baby we drink milk from our mothers, which is high in saturated fat. Saturated fat has been part of the human diet for thousands of generations. The Hindu have eaten ghee (50% saturated fat) for thousands of years. Herding societies like the Himba, Maasai and Kyrgyz live on a diet of dairy which includes saturated fat. These civilsations do not have heart disease. Saturated fat is an old fat and heart disease is a relatively new disease. Heart disease was first sighted in the early part of last century, building in numbers after the second world war to become one of the biggest killers in the western world. The question is how does an old food cause a modern disease?
3. Sugar Is the Cause of All Modern Disease
First it was salt, then fat and now sugar is the culprit. But sugar can come in many forms: corn based, wheat based, sugar alcohols, genetically modified sugar beet, genetically modified 2.0 stevia, white sugar, maltose, dextrose…in fact, at last count, there were around 80 different words for sugar/sweetener and that doesn’t include the artificial variety. Sugar has been used for eons to sweeten teas, make bread, cakes, wines and so on.
I’ve heard health professionals say that all sugar is bad including honey, fruit, root vegetables like potatoes, real maple syrup, rapadura sugar, molasses, natural stevia leaf as well as coconut sugar and nectar. These sugars have been consumed for many years without diabetes and obesity. Natural sweeteners have other components including micro nutrients. I remember the 60’s and 70’s where fat and sugar were the norm in desserts, muffins, pancakes, cakes, cookies and biscuits, but the diabetes rate was not like it is today. So it’s more than sugar causing the increase in diabetes.
Don’t get me wrong, sugar should not be a major part of the diet, but using the best quality sugar on occasion can be a wonderful addition to the diet.
4. Meat Causes Bowel Cancer and Climate Change
Meat has played an important part in the survival of humans. In extreme climates where only animals can find food (tundra), humans needed to kill the animals, or use the animals for their produce. To preserve meat, it was either dried or salted (cold cuts). If animals were not available then humans would have perished. So here we are again looking at an old food causing a modern disease.
Is it the meat that causes the bowel cancer or what we’ve done to the meat? In factory farming today, cattle are fed grains instead of grasses, poultry are fed GM corn and grain and farmed fish are fed an extruded fish meal. Add to that worming tablets, antibiotics, hormones and other dubious animal husbandry practices and we have the answer as to why meat may be causing bowel cancer.
Cold cuts have also been linked to bowl cancer in the news but when all we had was the sun and salt, meat was preserved with these two wonderful factors alone. Now I look on the ingredient list of a cold cut and see 15 ingredients including nitrates, colours, flavours, yeast extracts and more.
So don’t blame the meat, blame what’s been done to it and find cleaner sources for all.
5. Margarine Is Healthier Than Butter
I cannot believe I’m still seeing this. Margarine has a checkered history beginning as an hydrogenated (hardened) vegetable oil for candles and soap. Procter and Gamble has the patent on this technology. Once candles were no longer needed, this hardened vegetable oil was converted to a food (Crisco). Then it was dyed yellow, partially hydrogenated and marketed as the cheap version of butter. When saturated fat got a bad name, margarine was marketed as the healthy version of butter. In 2009, mainstream media caught up and people slowly began to understand that the partial hydrogenation of oil caused trans fats (bad for the heart and cells). So, the technology behind margarine changed and so did the name. Vegetable oils were instead interesterified to become hard and the name changed to vegetable spread, with brand names like Proactiv, Meadowlea, Olivio, Nuttelex. There is no mention of margarine because it’s made with a different patented technology.
So there you have the history; now let’s look at common sense. Surely a food – butter – that has been part of the diet for thousands of years could not cause a modern disease. The exciting thing is that butter contains omega 3 fatty acids as well as the gut healing fat, butyrate, and much more. See my book Changing Habits Changing Lives for more information on butter and its wonderful properties.
6. Low Fat Is Best
Well that really worked for the population at large (pun intended). Low fat has its place, but not when the food has been manipulated to be low fat. In the history of mankind there have been times when fat was abundant (summer) and times when it was not (winter). It’s okay to eat low fat for some time during the year – this is when the body will use stored fat to survive. But manipulated foods that are low fat, like cream, milk, cheese and butter for example, have had sugar and thickeners added. The ingredient list on a low-fat product often rivals the extras on a luxury car.
Since the guidelines in the early 1980’s, which promoted the low-fat mantra, as a population we have fattened considerably – 25% of children and two-thirds of the adult population are overweight and/or obese. We have become fat with manipulated low-fat products and it’s time to go back to eating real food in its real form.
7. Dairy Is a Good Source of Calcium
Yes dairy is a good source of calcium, but it’s not the only place you will find it. This wonderful mineral is abundant and most fruits and vegetables as well as sardines, nuts, seeds, leafy greens, legumes and grains contain calcium.
There are people who have existed on the earth for generations (think the Australian Aboriginal people) who were never herders and never drank any form of milk other than the breast milk from a human mother. So to believe that you MUST have dairy in order to get your calcium is a fallacy.
8. Breakfast Cereals are Healthy and a Good Start to Your Day
The history of breakfast cereals began with Dr Kellogg, a vegetarian and Seventh-day Adventist. He believed that meat was sinful and that it encouraged masturbation and he marketed his corn flakes as the anti-masturbating breakfast cereal. Fast forward almost a century and the morning ritual of the breakfast cereal is rife. But just read the ingredients: they take a grain, extrude it, leave it depleted of nutrients, colour and flavour, and then add it all back in by fortifying it with synthetic vitamins and mined minerals and artificial and/or ‘natural’ flavours, and then add a preservative. Ninety-eight percent of pantries include a breakfast cereal – make your pantry one that doesn’t.
9. Canola Oil, Cotton Seed Oil, Rice Bran Oil, Safflower Oil, Soy Oil and Grape Seed Oil Are Good for the Heart
These are all industrial oils. Some are genetically modified, while others require solvents to extract the oil from the seed or legume. Cotton seed oil is widely used and is filled with contaminants including glyphosate and other chemicals sprayed on the cotton fields. Canola, if it’s not GM, will be desiccated with glyphosate, and if it is GM, it will be sprayed at least twice with the weed killer.
These oils are high in omega 6’s – not that that is a bad thing, but an over-abundance of omega 6’s without omega 3 fatty acids has proven to be a problem. When you consider the natural way of eating there is always a balance of all the fats. By eating natural fats, those not manipulated by chemistry or chemicals, then balance will ensue.
10. Eggs Are Bad, Because They Are High In Cholesterol
When cholesterol became the dirty word due to its link to heart disease, any food that had cholesterol in it was not recommended by the heart foundation. The egg yolk fell out of favour and white egg omelettes became all the rage.
I want you to consider exactly what an egg creates. It’s a chicken and it’s the yolk that makes the chicken. Therefore, in order to make a chicken, there must be some spectacular ingredients within the egg yolk other than cholesterol. Every time I eat one of the eggs from my chickens at the farm, I am in awe of the nutrition it delivers. Historically we’ve been robbing nests for generations, worldwide. The Australian Aboriginal prized the emu egg, for example.
Make sure your eggs are ethically harvested from chickens that run free and are not fed any GM grains laced with glyphosate or other agricultural chemicals.
11. Wheat is Healthy and the Staff of Life
Once upon a time wheat was wonderful, but it’s changed. I remember my Mum made everything from scratch: bread, muffins, pancakes, cookies, cakes and much more. She made everything with wheat. I don’t remember in the 60’s and 70’s anyone having an issue with wheat. Fast forward to modern day and the gluten-free market is worth billions. It’s not wheat that is the problem as it has been in our diet for 10,000 plus years. It’s what we’ve done to wheat that is the real issue. Watch my documentary What’s With Wheat? for the real story on the gluten sensitivity epidemic.
12. A Calorie is a Calorie
Calorie counting was never a historical pursuit. It started only recently and saw calorie-counting books become a household item. Calories are archaic and I talk about them in length in my book Changing Habits Changing Lives. Let’s take two diets at 1500 calories a day. The first diet is filled with lollies, candy, ice cream – any type of food you want. The second diet contains meat, fish, chicken, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. Say these diets are adhered to for a year by the participants. Common sense will tell you that the people doing the first diet will be fat, sick and nearly dead, whereas the second group eating exactly the same amount of energy (calories) will be brimming with energy and feeling fantastic. A calorie is not a calorie.
13. People With Coeliac Disease Are the Only Ones That Should Be Gluten Free
Coeliac disease is but one issue caused by wheat and gluten. We now know that there is also NCGS – non coeliac gluten sensitivity. The only way to diagnose this is to abstain from wheat and see how you feel. Then there is also gluten ataxia, gluten migraines, many autoimmune diseases, as well as fructose malabsorption related to wheat fructans, and also problems with the lectin in wheat called wheat germ agglutinin. Going wheat and gluten free for a period of time will tell you whether you should not eat gluten and wheat. I am not a coeliac but when I eat wheat I have aching joints, dry skin, dry hair and weight gain. I’d rather not have those so I choose not to eat wheat or gluten.
14. The Food Pyramid is Based on Science
There is no science behind the food pyramid. The first one was founded in the USA in the 1970’s, then in the 80’s it was introduced in Australia. These were all based on the needs of the food industry. (Was it the meat packers or the grain growers that needed more people consuming their products? If you look at the original pyramid, you will see that the grain growers won out.)
15. To Choose a Healthy Food, Read the Nutritional Panel
Nutritional data panels can be manipulated to make a food seem perfect. If you are on the high-protein diet and you see a food with 50g of protein per 100g serving, you may be swayed into buying the food. If you have decided to give up sugar and there is no sugar in the product when you look at the nutritional panel, then you may think you are on a winner. Or if you are on the low-fat diet and you find a low-fat product according the nutritional panel, then you may choose that food based on that value.
But it’s really the ingredients that tell the story, not the nutritional panel. The ingredients tell you why the food is high in protein, low in sugar or low or high in fat. When you see protein powders, artificial sweeteners or thickeners and stabilisers, then you know the food is filled with additives and is not real food.
To find out whether a food is healthy or not, read the ingredients and make sure they can all be found in your pantry: no acidity regulators, flavours, colours, fortifications, fillers, binders, starches, gums or numbers should be part of the ingredient list, or consumed by you.
16. It’s Important to Eat Grains, Legumes and Dairy
The dietary guidelines insist that grains, legumes and dairy must be part of the diet. But there are cultures around the world that do not have these in their diet and have survived for generations. The Hadza of Tanzania, for example, eat meat, tuberous vegetables and honey, with not a legume, grain or dairy in sight. In Papua New Guinea, Kitava’s indigenous people eat fish, coconut, yams and tropical fruits, but no grain, dairy or legumes. They have been studied for around 100 years and they have no nutrient deficiencies and no modern lifestyle diseases.
The common sense is as follows: If these foods make you feel amazing then there is nothing wrong with them in the diet as long as they are prepared properly. But if you can’t handle these foods, then you will be able to find your nutrition in other food groups.
17. There is Nothing You Can Do About Your Genes
Genetics was the mantra for many years, but once human gene sequencing was completed, it was found that we had only a few more genes than an earthworm. This means that there is something other than genes dictating our health.
The microbiome then became the hot topic when it came to a healthy lifestyle. New sciences emerged which encompassed epigenetics (above the gene) – these included your thoughts, sun and many lifestyle factors. Nutrigenomics showed that the food we eat will either turn our genes on or off. The science of metabolomics showed that the metabolites of the microbiome also affect gene control. There is also the exposome (all we are exposed to in our environment) that changes the outcome for health and disease.
So all of a sudden, we are no longer dictated by genes. We now have control of our lifestyle, eating habits and thoughts, which in turn can affect gene expression. In other words, we are not the product of our genes and victim to our genes, but rather responsible for the expression of our genes through the choices we make.
18. Your Disease Has Nothing To Do With What You Eat
This has been a common belief that I’ve heard from people since I started practicing as a nutritionist and it usually comes from their doctor or specialist. They may have an autoimmune disease or cancer and their doctor will tell them that diet has nothing to do with the disease and the processes of the disease. Common sense should prevail here. Put good ingredients into the body and you will manufacture amazing products; put bad ingredients into the body and the body will make less than satisfactory products. The products that I’m thinking of not only include the things that run your biochemistry, but also the physical parts of the body including all your organs and systems, as well as your outside appearance – skin, hair and eyes. So to say that diet has nothing to do with your disease has no grounding in common sense whatsoever.
Historically we have never eaten the chemicals (food additives) in our food, nor the chemicals used to grow our foods. These, we know, play havoc with our system. Glyphosate has been linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the pesticide chlorpyrifos has been linked to poor brain development, the insecticide DDT is a hormone disruptor…and the list is endless. Stop eating packaged foods and eat only foods from your farmers market, then see what happens to your health and energy.
Happily, I believe that less and less of our doctors are making this statement as the interest in food heightens and there is more awareness about good food. In the past doctors were not taught nutrition, only diagnosis and treatment with medications, surgery or radiation. That this is changing is a good sign.
19. All Sugar is Equal
Sugar (cane sugar) when juiced contains a multitude of nutrients. Honey straight from the hive has medicinal properties. Coconut nectar also has nutritional and medicinal characteristics. Maple water that is converted to maple syrup has vitamins, trace elements and polyphenols.
White sugar is 99.4% sucrose and .6% ash and there is not one nutrient left in it. Wheat and corn-based sugars are manipulated to make pure glucose or pure fructose. Artificial sweeteners (like Eversweet (fake stevia)) can be made using a genetically modified micro-organism. Monk fruit and thaumatin are made from patented processes with dubious ways of extraction and drying and then excipients added either during or after processing.
No, not all sugar is equal. Choose an unrefined natural sugar – forget the one-calorie, synthetic sweeteners as they are void of any nutrition. This is a huge topic as there are so many names for sugar and so many ways they are manufactured. Buyer beware: choose your sugar carefully and make sure it is the least refined, like honey, rapadura sugar, coconut nectar or maple syrup (real, not fake).
20. All Fats Are Equal
Interesterified fat, hydrogenated fat, partially hydrogenated fat, vegetable fats, vegetable oils, refined oils, margarine and vegetable spreads are no match for beautiful cold-pressed oils including macadamia, avocado, walnut, inca inchi and olive. These are wonderful plant-based oils filled with vitamins E and A, monounsaturated fats, omega 3’s and 6’s, as well as essential fatty acids. Other wonderful health-producing fats are the old-fashioned ones including butter, ghee, lard and tallow, but make sure that they are organic and properly sourced from ethically-raised animals.
21. All Proteins Are Equal
I was a vegetarian for 16 years from age 13 to 29. In hindsight, they were probably not my better health days. When I began eating meat again my health changed. To say that all proteins are equal should be qualified.
Protein powders can either come from plant or animal sources. Isolates, concentrates and hydrolysates are all refined proteins and I’ve written a whole article on them. It explains what each of these terms are and how these powders are produced. The article also talks about the additives in the protein powders.
Complete proteins are usually found in animal products like meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy from animals. A complete protein is where all the essential amino acids are present. An essential amino acid is one that you must eat because your body doesn’t make it. Incomplete proteins are found in nuts, seeds, grains and legumes. Mixing these plant-based products, like walnuts with rice or rice with legumes, creates complete proteins. Hindus have done this for thousands of years without protein deficiencies, but they also use ghee and fermented milks in their diet.
Animal husbandry and plant agriculture methods will also make a difference to the final protein. Proteins and amino acids are never isolated in food; they always come with a mix of other macro nutrients such as fats and carbohydrates and a mix of micronutrients. These all help with the utilisation of proteins.
22. Supplementation and Fortification Are Important Because Today’s Food Cannot Meet All Our Dietary Needs
Supplements can be mined (minerals), made synthetically with the help of GM micro-organisms, or produced in a chemical laboratory. They are isolated and have no macro nutrient content. Fortified foods are fortified with much the same – there’s nothing natural about fortification.
If you are eating the SAD (Standard Australian Diet/Standard American Diet) diet, then these supplements may fill the nutritional void but they also may not be the healthiest option.
If you are eating a diet where the food you select is from your local area produced by farmers who use regenerative and organic farming practices, however, then you will be able to meet your nutritional needs. This takes effort when it comes to not only where you source your foods, but also with getting back into the kitchen to feed and nourish your family. Yet, common sense will tell you that this will work because historically this is how it has always been done.
Sometimes looking back into history to see what has worked and using a little common sense may just be what you need when it comes to your health and that of your family. These are the exact principles we work on at The Nutrition Academy to educate professionals and lay people to become critical thinkers and not be swayed by marketing tactics by food companies, and science that may not be accurately performed.