Top 7 Nutrition Myths: Number 1

Myth: Saturated Fat Causes Heart Disease

Myth 7: A Plant-Based Diet is Healthiest
Myth 6: Counting Calories
Myth 5: Government and Nutrition Organizations Provide Healthy Advice
Myth 4: Eating carbohydrates, especially complex carbs, is vital for health
Myth 3: Grains are Good for You
Myth 2: Exercise is Integral to Health
Myth 1: Saturated Fat Causes Heart Disease

Thus saith the Lord; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord. For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited.  -Jeremiah 17:5-6

Many years ago, before the invention of man-made products such as vegetable oil, margarine, soybean oil, Crisco (which was actually first intended to be used as wax for candles), people cooked with lard, tallow, and butter. Back in those days, heart disease was very rare. Paul Dudley White, a renowned early cardiologist who practiced at Harvard, had this to say when asked about restricting dietary fat and cholesterol: “See here, I began my practice as a cardiologist in 1921 and never saw a myocardial infarction [heart attack] patient until 1928. Back in the MI-free days before 1920, the fats were butter, whole milk, and lard, and I think we would all benefit from the kind of diet that we had when no one had ever heard of corn oil.”

Nowadays, we know that saturated fat clogs arteries. It’s so well known that sources of dietary advice can instruct us to lower our intake of saturated fat without citing any research that supports the idea. This has been common for many years. It must have been proven back then, because it’s common knowledge right now. However, if we go back far enough, we find little in the way of evidence and much in the way of assumptions.

The idea that saturated fat clogs arteries probably began with a study (read about it here) in which rabbits were fed a load of cholesterol and saturated fat, and then subsequently developed arterial plaques (they never suffered heart attacks, though). However, a rabbit’s digestive system is remarkably different than that of a human’s. That herbivorous rabbits might develop atherosclerosis on a diet that does not consist of carrots (or other foods suitable for bunny consumption) but rather of meat should not stand to convict saturated fat or cholesterol of anything in omnivorous humans. The idea that saturated fat clogs arteries has been, in a large part, based on a study that is not relevant to human physiology. Of course there are other studies too that look at the relationship between saturated fat and artery cloggage. In this article, Stephan Guyenet takes a look at many of these studies, many of which show no relationship, and all but one showed no clear association between saturated fat and blood cholesterol. Guyenet concludes: “Overall, the literature does not offer much support for the idea that long term saturated fat intake has a significant effect on the concentration of blood cholesterol in humans.”

Ancel Keys

This source, a government publication, thanks Ancel Keys’ Seven Countries Study and the Framingham Heart Study for establishing saturated fat and cholesterol as risk factors for heart disease. Let’s take a look at these studies.

The Seven Countries Study showed a correlation between the amount of fat that people ate in a country and the rates of heart disease. But data for 15 other countries were not included (not necessarily for cherry-picking reasons though), and when these data are included, the correlation between fat and heart disease disappears. A possible correlation between sugar consumption and heart disease seems to be ignored.

The Framingham Heart Study, which involves thousands of people from the town of Framingham, Massachusetts, is an ongoing cardiovascular study that started in 1948, and continues to this day. After 40 years, the director had this to say: “In Framingham, Mass., the more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the more calories one ate, the lower the person’s serum cholesterol. . . we found that the people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories, weighed the least and were the most physically active.”

The Lipid Hypothesis states that consuming saturated fat elevates blood cholesterol, and that elevated blood cholesterol causes heart disease. But half of all patients admitted into the hospital for a heart attack have normal or low cholesterol, according to cardiologist and nutritionist Stephen Sinatra. And a national study puts this number at 75%. Sinatra also states that half of all people with elevated cholesterol have clean arteries.

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence as well. Besides the people of Framingham, many tribal people, such as the Inuit and the Massai, experience little to no heart disease (or any other disease) on diets rich in saturated fat. This is also observed in France, where creams and cheeses and butter and eggs in the diet and a lack of heart disease contribute to what’s known as the French Paradox. And in America, the rising rates of heart disease in the 20th century correlated with a drastic reduction in the consumption of butter and animal fats.

A cheese market in France. Lots of cheese, lots of saturated fat.

There is much more evidence than can be put down here, and my resources page can direct you to an article (The Skinny on Fats) that goes over other HUGE studies that failed to show a link between saturated fat and heart disease. But I’ll leave you with this meta-analysis. It looked at the data from 21 studies, involving around 350,000 people in total, and found no link between saturated fat and heart disease.

Senator George McGovern

But if there is such little evidence backing the Lipid Hypothesis, why is so well planted in contemporary nutritional thought? Well, for many reasons. Special interests seems to be a big reason. When a government committee chaired by Senator George McGovern first put forth the national standard for a low-fat diet, it was met with great resistance. Much of the research for a diet low in saturated fat was supported by the vegetable oil industry, which had a lot to gain if Americans ditched the lard and used vegetable oil instead. With limited evidence, and the power of the government behind it, the Lipid Hypothesis became the standard.

So what does cause heart disease? New evidence in the field of nutrition and cardiology points to inflammation of the arteries as a significant cause of heart disease–not elevated cholesterol or intake of saturated fat. Dr. Dwight Lundell, a heart surgeon with 25 years of experience, explains here, that arterial inflammation, and with it heart disease and many other diseases, is caused by excessive consumption of refined vegetable oils and processed carbohydrates, something we Americans eat on a daily basis. Maybe its time we ditched the refined carbohydrates from unnatural foods like Cheerios and begin eating unrefined saturated fats from natural foods such as grass-fed beef.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Links to sources of pictures.
 Can of lard
 Bugs Bunny, by avni099
 Ancel Keys
 French cheese market
 Senator George McGovern
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Top 7 Nutrition Myths: Number 2

Myth 7: A Plant-Based Diet is Healthiest
Myth 6: Counting Calories
Myth 5: Government and Nutrition Organizations Provide Healthy Advice
Myth 4: Eating carbohydrates, especially complex carbs, is vital for health
Myth 3: Grains are Good for You
Myth 2: Exercise is Integral to Health
Myth 1: Saturated Fat Causes Heart Disease

Myth: Exercise is Integral to Health

In my university town, I see people running all the time. Despite this, many of these people are still overweight, and most of them get sick a few times a year and have a chronic sniffle. In Wheat Belly, author William Davis, MD, notes how skinny our grandparents and great-grandparents were in photos, including the women, despite the average housewife getting little to no exercise–certainly not running three times a week like some of my overweight friends.  Why is it that this housewife remained skinny and had a lower chance of being diagnosed with heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc?

When I lived in China for two months, I noticed that almost no one was overweight, and older people walked without canes or walkers, and always appeared in good health. The Chinese person did not appear to exercise any more than us, and most of them worked too much to be able to exercise. (While some of them did do Tai-Chi in the morning, the vast majority of them did not). They also had a large population of smokers, and their air was so polluted that when you blew your nose into a tissue, the snot came out black. No joke. The difference between them and us? Their food. It was delicious, wholesome, and nutritious. When they went shopping, they bought whole, unprocessed foods, and cooked it at home. When I ate at a food court in a mall, I could see a cook in the back chopping up fresh vegetables.

If you think about it, exercising does not literally give our bodies anything it does not already have. What our bodies do not already have, however, is good nutrition–unless we provide it. Our bodies can and do adapt to being sedentary, a helluva lot better than they can adapt to what we put into it. I have yet to hear how doing a push-up can prevent disease, but the physiological process by which a given nutrient, say, vitamin D, prevents a particular disease can be explained. Yes, numerous studies show a correlation between regular exercise and health, but people who exercise regularly also tend to watch what they eat as well.

So how was it that many housewives in the past could live long lives, stay skinny, and without all the exercise? Because their diet of natural foods (and when I say natural, I mean from nature: lard instead of vegetable oil, butter instead of margarine, pastured animals instead of animals from Confined Animal Feeding Operations) provided them with an extremely high amount of nutrients, MUCH higher than the average diet of today.

Now hold on there cowpoke! I think everyone should get outside and run through forests, jump over creeks, cartwheel in the backyard , enjoy the sun, swim in some water, bike around the neighborhood, and in general exercise their butts off. I write this post not to diminish the importance of exercise, but to elevate the importance of diet as the main factor behind why people gain weight and become sick. A natural diet, rich in nutrients (that the body can actually absorb) will do wonders for the health. When you ditch the stuff that comes in boxes and bags and bottles and cans, and eat wholesome food from the farm, you suddenly feel…better, alive, and you have so much energy you want to exercise. Exercising is the product of good health, not the other way around.

Top 7 Nutrition Myths: Number 3

Myth: Grains are Good for You

Myth 7: A Plant-Based Diet is Healthiest
Myth 6: Counting Calories
Myth 5: Government and Nutrition Organizations Provide Healthy Advice
Myth 4: Eating carbohydrates, especially complex carbs, is vital for health
Myth 3: Grains are Good for You
Myth 2: Exercise is Integral to Health
Myth 1: Saturated Fat Causes Heart Disease

Hear me out on this one. To save face up front, I’ll say that grains can be good for you. More on that in a second.


(In case you don’t know what grains are)

Grains have been exalted in the past few decades as the foundation for a healthy diet. However, grains today, and the way they’re prepared, pose many risks to health. I’ll go over those risks here.

Grains contain phytic acid, a substance that acts as a nutrient inhibitor. This chemical helps to preserve the seeds of the plant until they’re ready to grow. Over time, phytic acid (if not removed from the grain) causes serious mineral deficiencies, osteoporosis, tooth decay, growth problems, and more. Of course I have a well-sourced essay to back this up. Find it here.

‘Healthier’ whole grains contain even more phytic acid, which may be the reason they generally do not taste as good as their white counterparts. Perhaps our bodies are smarter than we think and our taste buds are trying to tell us that those whole grains, with their phytic acid, won’t be digested. In fact, one study that I can’t for the life of me find again, showed that our bodies absorb more nutrients from white bread than from whole wheat. The study found this by testing stool samples (yuck!).

Another problem with grains: they’re very rich in carbohydrates. Carbohydrates, especially those in grain products, spike blood sugar and get stored as fat by the hormone insulin. Farmers have known this since the dawn of farming, and have fed grains to their animals to fatten them up! It’s not hard to imagine that a diet rich in grains–the same food group used to fatten other mammals–may play a role in our obesity epidemic. Additionally, the problem of phytic acid is also well-known; feed manufacturers add phytase to animal feed to neutralize the phytic acid so as to prevent stunted growth in animals.

These problems may be hard to believe; after all, haven’t humans always eaten grains? Well, from the perspective of evolution, no. Humans, with their large brains and fantastic ability to run, are not adapted to eat grains, but to hunt. From a Christian perspective, there is a big difference between the grains of today and the grains of our ancestors, and this is where we run into another problem with grains.

Cross-breeding and genetic engineering of modern times has altered grains, and grains today are very different than grains in ancient times. Also, in ancient times, grains were prepared differently and different grains were combined to increase the nutrient content, decrease the phytic acid content, and lowered the glycemic load on blood sugar. The Wellness Mama has a wonderful article on this.

Hold on though! To conclude, I am not saying that we shouldn’t eat grains, and I realize that saying grains are bad for you is like saying George Washington wasn’t American. Humans can eat grains and grains can be good for you, but they should come from a source and be processed in a way that yields a high-quality product. Anyone who has been to France knows that there is a huge difference between the bread there and the pre-packaged, pre-sliced “bread” here. If you want more info, there is a book entitled Wheat Belly, written by a doctor, which shows how modern wheat has greatly contributed to the diseases of our country. And if you’re wondering what might be a healthy option when it comes to wheat products, look in your local farmers market. If you’re a baker, get your wheat organic; sprout it and/or ferment it first, then make a nice loaf of sourdough bread. And then share some with me!

Please share your thoughts below!

Top 7 Nutrition Myths: Number 4

Myth: Eating carbohydrates, especially complex carbs, is vital for health

Myth 7: A Plant-Based Diet is Healthiest
Myth 6: Counting Calories
Myth 5: Government and Nutrition Organizations Provide Healthy Advice
Myth 4: Eating carbohydrates, especially complex carbs, is vital for health
Myth 3: Grains are Good for You
Myth 2: Exercise is Integral to Health
Myth 1: Saturated Fat Causes Heart Disease

Carbohydrates are not essential nutrients for humans. An essential nutrient is one the body requires for normal, healthy functioning, but cannot synthesize itself (the body can synthesize every carbohydrate it needs). This is to say that humans can live healthy, normal lives without ever touching a carbohydrate.

This however should not be construed to say that carbohydrates should not or cannot be eaten. But while they can be a healthy part of a diet, carbs (especially the processed kind) are the primary cause for weight gain in the modern world (and they also have been linked to inflammation of the arteries, a precursor of heart disease). When carbs enter the body, they elevate the blood sugar. To lower the blood sugar, your body secrets insulin, causing the sugar to be removed from the blood and stored as fat. Processed carbs tend to spike blood sugar more, causing an exaggerated insulin response, and thus more fat storage. Complex carbs are in some cases no better–with many reports showing that a slice of whole wheat bread spikes blood sugar faster than a tablespoon of table sugar! There are many reasons why processed-complex carbs would be high on the GI (glycemic index, or how quickly a food breaks down into sugar), and this article by the Wellness Mama discusses some of them.

So how do carbohydrates cause excess weight gain? Let’s compare nature with modern life. In nature, carbohydrates for humans come typically in two forms: vegetables and fruits. Compared to a can of soda, or a bowl of Cheerios, carbohydrates in nature are extremely small in quantity, even more so when you consider that the presence of fruits and veggies themselves in nature is low and limited by season. Today, we go to the store and buy all the carbs we want, whenever we want. Carbohydrates from nature, i.e., unprocessed carbs, are also lower on the GI, and typically come attached with all sorts of neat vitamins and minerals.

Now, if we ate food that came directly from nature (a farm, perhaps), obesity would not likely be a major problem, and here’s the reason: foods at the store typically have an exaggerated amount of sugar in them (think sodas, cookies, factory-made bread; almost anything that comes packaged has some form of added sugar). Our diet today consists of many foods that have sugar levels MUCH higher than anything to be found in nature. And, if you read that article by the Wellness Mama, you’ll know that our foods today also have higher GI’s than in the past due to the way they are grown or processed, and this is especially the case with grain-based foods such as bread or pasta. The book Wheat Belly goes very far into this topic.

What does all of this mean? We are consuming sugar in extremely high amounts, amounts our bodies are not designed to handle. Let’s compare a cup of tomatoes to a cup of Cheerios. According to my quick search on Google, a cup of tomatoes has anywhere between 5-10g of carbs, and lies at 38 on the GI. In contrast, a cup of Cheerios has 22g of carbs (highly processed carbs at that), and lies at 74 on the GI. This is typical of processed foods. Pasta, while having a GI lower than Cheerios, has a lot more carbs to begin with–on average 40g per cup. Watermelon, though very sweet and with a higher GI than pasta, has but a small amount carbs in total, meaning the effect on blood sugar will not be that great.

When carbs enter the body, they are quickly broken down into sugar (except for fiber). This sugar then gets used to restore reserves in the muscles and the liver. When these reserves are full (which happens very quickly), the rest is converted to fat by insulin and stored. Some people, however, are insulin resistant (and some moreso than others), causing them to store more fat and burn less of it for energy. This phenomenon explains some people are always skinny, and why some people struggle with weight.

So, when the average American diet is based off of processed, high-carbohydrate, high-glycemic foods, it’s no wonder that the average American is also overweight. Our great-grand parents ate more meat (which is very low in carbs), and ate only fruits and vegetables that were in season, and prepared grains in such a way as to render them much lower on the GI. And the amount of people that were overweight in their day was remarkably low.

Please leave your thoughts below!

Top 7 Nutrition Myths: Number 5

Myth: Government and Nutrition Organizations Provide Healthy Advice

Myth 7: A Plant-Based Diet is Healthiest
Myth 6: Counting Calories
Myth 5: Government and Nutrition Organizations Provide Healthy Advice
Myth 4: Eating carbohydrates, especially complex carbs, is vital for health
Myth 3: Grains are Good for You
Myth 2: Exercise is Integral to Health
Myth 1: Saturated Fat Causes Heart Disease

This post is unfortunately a bit critical in nature, so please bear with it!

Before Monsanto could release its highly-controversial artificial bovine growth hormone, rBST, to the market, the FDA required that Monsanto run studies on it to evaluate its safety. The person at Monsanto responsible for putting together these studies was one Margaret Miller. Directly after submitting these reports, Miller left Monsanto and was hired by the FDA, where she eventually became chief of the division that would later approve the drug. Source. This source reports on other, worse conflicts of interest involving the FDA as well.

This is a quite common practice and it has given rise to the term “revolving door” to describe the circle of employment of people between government and corporations. This page shows a partial list of government officials who also work for Monsanto. Other companies stand as an example too.

Here’s something else that’s interesting: the USDA states one of its goals as “expanding markets for agricultural products“; the agency is also responsible for recommending Americans what to eat via the Food Pyramid (now MyPlate). This is in and of itself a conflict of interest, especially considering that it would make more sense for an agency under the US Department of Health to make these sorts of recommendations. What’s more, there are ties between big business and the USDA as well, which gives big business at least some leeway in expanding markets for agricultural products and then telling Americans to eat those (their) products. Diane Sanfilippo states wisely, “if you look at the LARGEST section of the Pyramid, which now that they’ve turned the slices sideways is a bit tougher to discern, it’s asking us to get the most servings per day of a food group that’s not only largely subsidized in this country, but one that requires THE MOST PROCESSING TO MAKE IT EDIBLE.” Read the rest of her article here.

There is a website devoted to this topic, smartly titled Healthy Eating Politics. One of the more interesting sections of the site details where organizations, like the American Heart Association, receive their funding.

Despite all this, I firmly believe our government and these organizations are filled with people with good hearts. It appears, though, that a few corrupt individuals control the majority of the power. And sadly, one of the most powerful good guys, Ron Paul, has retired from office, and gave one last, eye-opening and powerful speech.

“If authoritarianism leads to poverty and war and less freedom for all individuals and is controlled by rich special interests, the people should be begging for liberty.”

People have been following the (confusing) advice of the government and health organizations for years, and the state of public health is atrocious. Who can you trust? I will answer that in a later post. Just remember that nutritional “authorities” do not necessarily have our best interests at heart.

Top 7 Nutrition Myths: Number 6

Myth: Counting Calories

Myth 7: A Plant-Based Diet is Healthiest
Myth 6: Counting Calories
Myth 5: Government and Nutrition Organizations Provide Healthy Advice
Myth 4: Eating carbohydrates, especially complex carbs, is vital for health
Myth 3: Grains are Good for You
Myth 2: Exercise is Integral to Health
Myth 1: Saturated Fat Causes Heart Disease

Have you ever wondered why people generally have a set weight? I know some people who are significantly overweight, and they’ve been that size for as long as I’ve known them. Do people magically balance out their calories when they reach a certain weight? My overweight friends don’t get bigger and bigger, and my skinny friends don’t become skin and bones. And why can naturally skinny people eat five desserts and never gain a single pound?

While the calorie in/calorie out model of weight loss/gain is technically true, it’s MUCH more complicated. Let’s start with two scientific studies. Ready? Take two groups of people, and put them on a diet. Feed them both the same amount of calories (1570 and 1560 a day). What happens? Well, the first group lost weight, obsessed constantly over food, and began to starve. The second group did not lose weight and thrived, and their calories were not even restricted! Read here. The difference is the quality of the calories; one group did not receive adequate amounts of nutrients, one did. But what about weight loss? Why do some people seem to struggle to lose weight when they reduce their caloric intake? I’ll use an analogy.

If your electric bill goes way up, do you dip into your savings account, or do you turn up the thermostat, open windows, use fans, take shorter showers, turn off the lights, etc? The first thing your body does when faced with a calorie shortage is reduce the amount of calories it uses (or raise the amount if there’s a surplus).  Have you ever felt groggy, cranky, or tired on a low-calorie diet? That’s your body reducing the amount of calories it uses.

The difference here is what your body decides to do with the calories. To radically simplify, carbs generally get stored as fat. In a low-calorie diet based on carbs, it’s very typical that your body simply lowers the amount of calories it burns, and continues storing carbs as fat. The result for many people is that they end up cranky, hungry, and still fat. The book Why We Get Fat, and What to do About It by Gary Taubes covers all this fabulously.

And if you’re still skeptical, the consumption of calories in the US has been declining for decades–as the rates of obesity have been increasing. Read about it here.

If you’re into a bit of science, read this lovely post by the guy over at gnolls.

Please share your thoughts below!