The conflicting advice on diet within the healthcare community leads to a confusing picture. Much is often based on false and outdated ideas…
Often wonder why you struggle to lose those extra pounds? More often than not it’s because you’ve got the wrong information. Here we reveal five of the biggest diet myths that have been fooling us for years:
A calorie equals a calorie
It has become increasingly clear over time that the notion ‘all calories are equal’ is in fact a lie. If only it was so simple! Food contains much more than just calories; it contains chemicals which trigger biological reactions. Food is metabolised differently depending on its composition, and due to differences in hormonal state. In short, insulin drives weight gain. Diets high in protein and fats have far less of an insulin response, independent of calories. Protein and fats are also good at switching off the hunger hormone ‘Ghrelin’ and activating the ‘I’m full signal’ Leptin, in turn leading to less calorie consumption. Your body also requires much more energy to metabolise protein than fat and carbs. Put simply, high protein diets have a ‘metabolic advantage’ over typical calorie-restricted low-fat diets.
Sugar makes us fat, not fats
There is absolutely no nutritional requirement for us to consume refined sugar. It causes havoc with the chemicals in your brain; in the short term your Ghrelin remains raised, and insulin blocks Leptin, meaning you become Leptin resistant, so you don’t stop eating. Furthermore, sugar consumption induces significant spikes in insulin, leading to abdominal fat storage. Sugar also causes overstimulation of the reward centres in the brain causing a massive release of a chemical called dopamine. Over time, the dopamine receptors will down-regulate, meaning next time the effects are blunted so you need a larger ‘hit’ to get the same level of reward, leading to further over-consumption. These powerful effects create a sugar ‘addiction’, no different to cocaine or any other drug of abuse.
Weight is determined by calories in and out
This would be the intuitive approach; however, weight is primarily determined by your hormones. In simple terms, the body has evolved to prevent you from starving, by reducing your basal metabolic rate – the calories you burn at rest – and by increasing hunger during periods of calorie restriction. Therefore, in the short-term calorie restriction may work. However, study after study has demonstrated that these effects are short-lived, and people often end up heavier than when they started.
Low fat is good for you
Almost everyone will tell you that high cholesterol and fat in the diet causes heart disease, advice which is still perpetuated prominently by healthcare professionals. When we stopped eating fats in the 1980s we had to replace it with something, and that something was refined carbohydrates and sugar. As a result, we got fatter and sicker. In fact, dietary saturated fat and cholesterol (ie. eggs, diary and meat) pose no risk to our health, and any concern is completely without foundation. If you’re worrying about cholesterol levels in the blood, then you would be surprised to hear that the main drivers behind deranged fat levels are actually excessive carbohydrate consumption.
100 per cent natural juice is healthy
Logic would suggest that because something is 100 per cent natural with ‘no additives’ then it must be healthy. There is nothing natural about squeezing the juice of five oranges in to one glass – would you honestly eat five organges in one sitting? The sugar content and calorie load of many popular juice and smoothie brands exceeds that of a can of Coca-Cola. Fruit is healthy when consumed in whole form, with the added fibre to slow the absorption of sugar; the way we evolved to eat it.
Words: Dr Nas Al-Jafari