11 Universal Truths in Nutrition
Well, since I did my last blog on the 11 biggest lies of Mainstream nutrition it makes sense to do my next blog on quite the opposite. The 11 most universal truths of nutrition. The 11 most universal truths of nutrition was originally posted from Authority Nutrition, look for my brief comments on each one in italics, followed by a conclusion and some general comments at the end.
1. Artificial Trans Fats Are Extremely Unhealthy
There is ongoing debate about fats in the diet, but most people agree that trans fats are harmful. Put simply, trans-fats are polyunsaturated fats that have been chemically altered to resemble saturated fats. This is done by exposing polyunsaturated fats to high heat, high pressure and hydrogen gas, in the presence of a metal catalyst. This “hydrogenates” the fats, making them resemble saturated fats in consistency, which dramatically improves shelf life. These fats can raise small, dense LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower HDL (the good) cholesterol, cause insulin resistance and belly fat accumulation, while driving inflammation. There are now studies showing that trans-fat consumption is strongly linked to many serious diseases, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. These fats are found mostly in highly processed foods. The best way to avoid them is to read labels and avoid anything that has the word “hydrogenated” on the ingredients list. A little known fact is that refined vegetable oils like soybean and canola oils also contain significant amounts of trans fats, from 0.56-4.2%, although it’s usually not listed on the label. It’s best to avoid these too.
Trans Fats are found primarily in processed foods since they are man-made. If you stay away from processed foods, you will avoid the majority of trans fats. When using oil for cooking or baking it is best to use extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil and always look for organic when you can. Avoid the use of vegetable oils like soybean and canola as they also may contain trans fats.
2. Whole Foods Are Better Than Processed Foods
There is growing consensus that processed foods are harmful. Humans evolved eating unprocessed “real” foods… which retain all the nutrients and fiber found in foods in their natural state. Most highly processed foods don’t really resemble real food at all… they consist of refined ingredients and artificial chemicals, assembled in a package that looks and tastes like food.
Processed foods are harmful for various reasons… they tend to be high in harmful ingredients like sugar, refined carbs and processed oils. At the same time, they are very low in micronutrients, fiber and antioxidants. But what many people don’t realize is that the food industry puts a LOT of science and effort into making processed foods as “rewarding” (and addictive) as possible.
The way foods are “engineered” effectively short circuits the brain mechanisms that are supposed to regulate our appetite. This is why people tend to eat much more than their bodies need if they base their diet around processed foods, which leads to obesity and metabolic disease.
There are also studies showing that we only burn half as many calories digesting processed compared to whole foods, so people who eat mostly processed foods will burn fewer calories throughout the day.
I think it is very sad to think that there still needs to be a growing consensus that processed foods are bad for us. There is a lot of money put into them so I don’t imagine they will be going away anytime soon however processed foods are incredibly unhealthy and should be avoided like the plague. Processed foods are almost always robbed of everything healthy and crammed full of stuff that is engineered with little interest in giving us what we need to be healthy!
3. Getting Enough Omega-3 Fatty Acids is Important.
Humans cannot produce polyunsaturated Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. However, they are needed for optimal function of the body and are therefore termed the “essential” fatty acids. There is actually quite a bit of controversy regarding polyunsaturated fats… but most of it revolves around Omega-6 fats. The other kind, Omega-3, is actually not controversial at all. Pretty much everyone agrees that it is needed and that most people aren’t getting enough. Omega-3 fatty acids are required for various purposes. They are structural molecules in cell membranes, especially in the brain. Omega-3 consumption is linked to improved neurological health… including improved intelligence, reduced depression and a lower risk of dementia. But they also play critical roles in other cellular processes, such as inflammation, immunity and blood clotting. The modern diet is low in Omega-3, but extremely high in Omega-6. This is a terrible combination… because eating a lot of Omega-6 actually increases the need for Omega-3. The best way to get enough Omega-3s is to eat fatty fish and grass-fed/pastured animal foods. If that is not an option, taking an Omega-3 supplement like fish oil is important. Omega-3s are also found in some plant foods, including flax seeds and chia seeds. However, the Omega-3s in plants are not nearly as potent as the Omega-3s in animal foods.
One of the few supplements that we recommend in our office to every patient is fish oil or Omega-3 fatty acids. Due to the popularity of Omega-3 supplements, you can now find them almost everywhere. Please be cautious when purchasing your fish oil supplement as you may not always be getting what you think you are getting. At our office we are proud to carry Pharmaceutical grade supplements that follow specific guidelines making the products very trustworthy.
It is always best to get these important nutrients by eating as much good quality whole foods as possible. Some good whole food sources of Omega 3 fatty acids are healthy fish (especially salmon), flax seeds, walnuts, and brussel sprouts. However, even people with the healthiest diet high in omega 3 rich foods could still benefit from taking a good quality fish oil supplement.
4. Added Sugar is Unhealthy
Added sugars, like sucrose and high fructose corn syrup, are harmful. People mainly disagree on how harmful and why they cause harm. Some think they are chronic metabolic toxins while others think they’re merely a source of empty calories. But pretty much everyone agrees that, at the very least, most people are eating too much sugar and would be better off eating healthier foods instead. Right now, Americans are eating about 70 pounds (32 kg) of sugar per year, and within those averages many people are eating 100 pounds or more. There is mounting evidence that sugar may be partly responsible for the worldwide pandemics of chronic, Western diseases. However, keep in mind that most people aren’t deliberately eating this much sugar. They’re getting a lot of it from conventional foods that have sugar added to them. The best way to avoid added sugar is to read labels and familiarize yourself with the many names they use (such as corn syrup, evaporated cane juice and more) for sugar.
Food companies have worked very hard to make reading labels difficult. They like to trick you into thinking you are getting something healthy by saying things like there is “no added sugar” or “All Natural ingredients”. Avoid foods that contain the obviously unhealthy ingredients like high fructose corn syrup and any processed foods. I suggest buying and eating mainly whole foods. If possible, try to use organic or fresh from a local farm, as this is your best bet to eat as healthy as possible.
5. Green Tea is a Healthy Beverage
Although coffee is controversial, most people agree that green tea is healthy.
It is very rich in powerful antioxidants, including a bioactive compound called EGCG.
Many studies show that the people who drink the most green tea have a lower risk of serious diseases like heart disease and cancer. There is also evidence that the bioactive compounds in green tea can boost metabolism and increase fat burning. Green tea also contains certain amino acids that may help improve concentration and brain function. Overall, green tea is a super healthy beverage that has been intensively studied, with almost every single study on it showing impressive health benefits.
Green Tea and Coffee can both be extremely healthy beverages. There is good information above regarding green tea and although there may be some critics against coffee, there have been many studies proving its health benefits. Coffee has been shown to dramatically decrease mortality and it is one of the highest sources of antioxidants in the typical western diet. When I say “coffee”, I am referring to plain black coffee; no sugar, no creamer, etcetera. Please don’t read this and think I am recommending for you to drink your Starbucks Latte every day!
6. Refined Carbohydrates Should be Minimized
Carbs are controversial. Some think the majority of our calories should come from carbs, others that they are completely unnecessary and may even cause harm. But even the most extreme low-carbers agree that unprocessed carb sources are, at the very least, less bad than their refined counterparts. Refined grains, for example, have had the bran and germ removed from the seed. These parts contain the most nutrients, but they also have fiber that mitigates the blood sugar raising effect of the carbs. When you remove the fiber, the carbs spike blood sugar and insulin rapidly. This leads to a subsequent drop in blood sugar, making people crave another high carb snack. This is one of the ways that refined carbs stimulate overeating. There are numerous studies showing that consumption of refined carbohydrates is linked to obesity and many Western diseases. If you’re going to eat carbs, stick to unprocessed sources that include fiber.
Carbohydrates are probably some of the most controversial and often debated macronutrients. Regardless of how people feel about carbohydrates I would stick mostly with what has been stated before, pick carbohydrates in the form of whole foods (no processed carbs) and ideally ones that are organic. If you just can’t give up your grains including bread at the very least pick 100% whole wheat or whole grain and look for lots of fiber.
I recommend to patients of mine that are looking for nutritional advice on eating healthy to try a Gluten-free diet. Some may think that becoming Gluten-free is just another fad, but gluten is the most common allergen in the American diet. Although even I struggle to fully implement a Gluten-free diet, any time that you can eliminate gluten from your diet your health will thank you immensely.
7. Vegetables Are Healthy Foods
Vegetables are healthy… pretty much everyone agrees on that. They are the default “health foods.” Vegetables are among the most nutritious foods in existence, calorie for calorie. They are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and thousands of trace nutrients that science is just beginning to uncover. Numerous studies show that eating plenty of vegetables is linked to a reduced risk of almost every chronic disease. Vegetables are also among the most weight loss friendly foods. They have a low energy density, lots of fiber and make people feel full with a low amount of calories.
This should be a no brainer. Vegetables are incredibly healthy and the more you can eat in your diet every day the better. Look for organic whenever possible and try to eat as many colors and variations as possible. The more you eat the better!
8. Supplements Can Not Compensate For an Unhealthy Diet
The composition of whole foods is incredibly complex. They contain way more than just the standard vitamins and minerals that we’re all familiar with. Whole foods contain hundreds, if not thousands, of various trace nutrients… many of which have powerful health benefits. Science has yet to uncover many of these nutrients and modern nutritional supplements are far from being able to replicate all the nutrients found in foods. Although many nutritional supplements can have impressive benefits, most experts agree that they are not able to compensate for an unhealthy diet. For optimal nutrition, the foods you choose to eat are by far the most important. So… take care of your diet first, and then add supplements to optimize (if applicable).
I agree that the best way of getting vitamins and nutrients is from the whole foods that we eat. However studies have shown that even the healthiest eaters with a “perfect” diet can benefit from supplementation. I think that a good quality multi-vitamin, fish oil and vitamin D supplement can benefit everyone.
9. Olive Oil is Super Healthy
Olive oil is the default healthy fat. It is part of the Mediterranean diet and has been a dietary staple for some of the world’s healthiest populations. However, getting the right kind of olive oil can be tricky these days. It is critical to choose extra virgin olive oil from a reputable seller, because many of the lower quality versions have been refined and diluted with cheaper oils. Quality extra virgin olive oil is very high in healthy monounsaturated fatty acids and loaded with powerful antioxidants. Many studies have shown that it has various benefits for metabolic health. It also contains anti-inflammatory compounds and the antioxidants in it have been shown to help fight various steps in the heart disease process. All things considered, quality extra virgin olive oil may just be the healthiest fat on the planet.
Olive oil is great! I would encourage everyone to use it as their main type of oil or fat. It can be used to make some very yummy and healthy salad dressings or marinades as well as in the place of other oils in recipes. Another oil that has many health benefits and has become more popular is Coconut oil. Remember to always look for organic when possible and be cautious when purchasing less expensive oils to make sure that they are not refined or mixed with cheaper oils to try and cut corners and costs.
10. Optimal Health Goes Beyond Just Nutrition
Nutrition is important… but it’s still just one part of a bigger picture. There are other aspects of life that can be just as important when it comes to feeling good, living long and avoiding disease. Exercise is a big one. Although it seems to be mostly ineffective for losing weight, it has incredible benefits for mental wellbeing and metabolic health. Other lifestyle factors, that unfortunately are often ignored, are sleep and stress levels. If you don’t exercise, are overstressed and chronically under rested, then you won’t be even close to optimally healthy… no matter how good your diet is.
Nutrition is very important when trying to lose weight. There are even some who might argue that it may be the cure-all for any and every disease. I agree with the article in that there are many aspects to being as healthy as you possibly can be. For instance, exercising regularly and visiting your Chiropractor regularly for an adjustment along with some quick advice on health/nutrition if needed. It is important to find a good balance for your own life and what you feel comfortable with and what makes you happy. That might mean you don’t have the perfect diet but as long as you do your best to avoid the unhealthy foods and eat as many varieties of healthy foods when you can, you will do just fine. Nobody is perfect.
11. The Best Diet (or “Way of Eating”) For YOU is The One You Can Stick to
There is a lot of debate about the different diets. There are the paleo folks, the low-carbers, the vegans, the balanced diet folks and everything in between. But the truth is… all of these approaches can work. The problem is not which diet (or way of eating) is “best,” the key is finding something that is sustainable for each individual. Losing weight and improving health is a marathon, not a race. What matters in the long run is finding something that is healthy, that you like and can live with for the rest of your life.
There are so many different kinds of diets out there and many of them are very intense and hard to follow. Diets like this rarely are helpful because people quickly gain the weight they lost when they were on the diet and then get depressed about it and have a difficult time trying to change their diet again. I think the best thing you can do is become educated on what is healthy and what is not; then, at your own pace and discretion start to change your diet as you choose. You are far more likely to be happy with this kind of change and also far more likely to stick with it. In the long run this will mean that you are truly obtaining your goals of being healthier and losing weight.
Nutrition can be a very hard thing to keep up with and follow all the healthy and unhealthy guidelines. We offer nutrition counseling in our office and are always happy to offer some insight and direction if you have questions. In the meantime I would like to leave you with some general reminders and possibly some simple guidelines to keep in mind that I have heard through many nutrition classes and seminars that I hope will be helpful. First, the most basic and in my opinion best description of what and how to eat healthy is this: If God made it it’s probably okay to eat, if man made it, it’s probably best to avoid; Eat as many colors and variations as possible and buy organic whenever you can. Secondly, Do what is right for you. You don’t have to eat the perfect diet to be healthy. Do the best you can and don’t feel guilty or down on yourself if you have a “cheat” meal, or eat something unhealthy, enjoy it and then move on and continue to do your best with eating healthy as much as you can. Again nutrition is not the only factor to remaining as healthy as you can be, reducing stress, getting the right amount of sleep, and exercising is all very important. So let nutrition be one of the many things you do to help keep you at your very best!