Nutrition is full of all kinds of nonsense.
The worst examples are listed here, but unfortunately this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Here are the top 13 nutrition lies that have made the world both sick and fat.
Eggs are so incredibly nutritious that they're often called "nature's multivitamin." The nutrients in them are enough to turn a single cell into an entire baby chicken.
However, eggs have been demonized in the past because they contain a large amount of cholesterol, which was believed to increase the risk of heart disease.
But the truth is that despite being high in cholesterol, eggs don't really raise the bad cholesterol in the blood. In fact, eggs primarily raise the "good" cholesterol (, 2, , ).
They are also an excellent source of Choline, a nutrient that is very important for the health of the brain and about 90% of people aren't getting enough of (, 11).
Despite being a "high fat" food, eating eggs for breakfast is proven to cause significant weight loss compared to a breakfast of bagels (, ).
Bottom Line: Eggs are among the most nutritious foods on the planet and do not raise your risk of heart disease. Eggs for breakfast can help you lose weight.
It is often said that the only thing that matters for weight loss is "calories in, calories out." The truth is that calories matter... but the types of foods we eat are just as important.
That is because different foods go through different metabolic pathways in the body (14).
Additionally, the foods we eat can directly impact the hormones that regulate when and how much we eat, as well as the amount of calories we burn.
Here are two examples of why a calorie is NOT a calorie:
- Protein: Eating protein can boost the metabolic rate and reduce appetite compared to the same amount of calories from fat and carbs. It can also increase your muscle mass, which burns calories around the clock (, ).
- Fructose vs glucose: Fructose can stimulate the appetite compared to the same number of calories from glucose (, 18).
Even though calories are important, saying that they are all that matters when it comes to weight (or health for that matter) is completely wrong.
Bottom Line: All calories are not created equal. Different foods go through different metabolic pathways and have varying effects on hunger, hormones and health.
For many decades, people have believed that eating saturated fat can increase the risk of heart disease.
In fact, this idea has been the cornerstone of mainstream nutrition recommendations.
However, studies published in the past few decades prove that saturated fat is completely harmless.
A massive study published in 2010 looked at data from a total of 21 studies that included 347,747 individuals. They found absolutely no association between saturated fat consumption and the risk of heart disease ().
Multiple other studies confirm these findings... saturated fat really has nothing to do with heart disease. The "war" on fat was based on an unproven theory that somehow became common knowledge (, ).
The truth is that saturated fat raises HDL (the "good") cholesterol. It also changes the LDL cholesterol from small, dense LDL (very, very bad) to Large LDL, which is benign (, , , , ).
Bottom Line: New studies show that saturated fat does not increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. It raises the good cholesterol and changes the "bad" cholesterol to a benign subtype.
Many people believe that eating a lot of protein can damage your bones.
While it is true that increased protein can increase calcium excretion from the bones in the short term, the long term studies show the exact opposite effect.
In fact, eating more protein is consistently associated with improved bone density and a lower risk of fracture in old age (27, , ).
This is one example of where blindly following conventional nutrition advice will lead to the exact opposite result.
Another myth is that protein increases strain on the kidneys and contributes to kidney failure.
The reality is a bit more complicated than that. Although it is true that people with established kidney disease should reduce protein intake, studies in healthy individuals show that protein is perfectly safe (30, 31).
In healthy individuals, protein actually reduces two of the main risk factors for kidney disease... which are diabetes and high blood pressure (32, , ).
Eating a high protein diet has many other benefits, including increased muscle mass, reduced body fat and a lower risk of diseases like cardiovascular disease (, 36, ).
Bottom Line: Studies show that protein has positive effects on bone health in the long run and does not raise the risk of kidney disease in healthy individuals. Eating a high protein diet has many important health benefits.
Commonly mistaken as a health food, evidence is mounting that wheat can contribute to various health problems.
Yes... this includes "heart-healthy" whole wheat.
Wheat is the biggest source of gluten in the diet. New studies are showing that a significant percentage of the population may be sensitive to it (, , ).
In sensitive individuals, gluten can contribute to various symptoms like digestive issues, pain, bloating, stool inconsistency, fatigue and may damage the lining of the intestine (, , , 44).
Not only that... but a controlled trial in humans showed that whole wheat increased various risk factors for cardiovascular disease in as little as 12 weeks ().
Even though whole wheat is "less unhealthy" than refined wheat, the best choice would be to skip the wheat altogether.
Bottom Line: Wheat is the biggest source of gluten in the diet. Many studies are showing that wheat, including whole wheat, can contribute to various health problems.
Coffee has gotten a bad reputation in the past.
It is true that coffee can mildly elevate blood pressure in the short term ().
However, long term studies show that coffee may actually reduce your risk of some serious diseases.
- Have up to a 67% lower risk of Type II diabetes (50, 51)
- Are at a much lower risk of getting Alzheimer's and Parkinson's (52, 53)
- Have up to an 80% lower risk of liver diseases like cirrhosis (54, 55)
Many studies have examined the effects of caffeine on the brain, showing that it can improve mood, memory, reaction time, vigilance and overall brain function (59).
You may be surprised to hear that coffee is also loaded with antioxidants. In fact, it is the biggest source of antioxidants in the modern diet, outranking both fruits and vegetables, combined (60, 61).
If you're sensitive to caffeine or it tends to disrupt your sleep, then green tea has many of the same health benefits but a smaller amount of caffeine.
Bottom Line: Coffee contains very large amounts of antioxidants. Studies show that coffee drinkers are at a much lower risk of developing many serious diseases.
Blaming new health problems on old foods has never made sense to me.
One example of that is meat... which humans have been eating throughout evolution, for millions of years.
For some very strange reason, many people are now blaming meat for diseases like heart disease and type II diabetes, which are relatively new.
This doesn't make much sense at all and the studies don't support it.
While it is true that processed meat is associated with all sorts of diseases, the same is not true for unprocessed red meat.
A massive review from 2010 that looked at data from 20 studies with a total of 1,218,380 individuals revealed that unprocessed red meat had no significant association with either cardiovascular disease or type II diabetes ().
Other studies that included hundreds of thousands of people agree with this... processed meat is bad, but unprocessed red meat is harmless ().
Even though some observational studies have found a link between meat consumption and cancer, review studies that look at the data as a whole show that the effect is weak and inconsistent (, ).
If there really is an association between red meat and cancer (which has NOT been proven) then it is most likely caused by excessive cooking, not the meat itself. For this reason, it may be important to avoid burning your meat ().
Also, let's not forget that meat is incredibly nutritious. It is loaded with vitamins, minerals, quality proteins, healthy fats and various lesser known nutrients that are important for the body and brain (67).
Bottom Line: Studies show that unprocessed red meat does not raise your risk of cardiovascular disease or diabetes. There is a very weak association with cancer, but most likely caused by excessive cooking and not the meat itself.
Since the year 1977, the health authorities have told everyone to eat a low-fat, high-carb diet.
This was originally based on political decisions and low quality studies that have since been thoroughly debunked.
Interestingly, the obesity epidemic started at almost the exact same time the low-fat guidelines first came out.
Since then, several massive studies have examined the health effects of the low-fat diet.
In the Women's Health Initiative, the biggest study on diet ever conducted, 48,835 women were randomized to either a low-fat diet or continued to eat the standard western diet.
After a study period of 7.5 years, the low-fat group weighed only 0.4 kg (1 lb) less and there was no decrease in cardiovascular disease or cancer (, 69, ).
Even though it may work for healthy and active individuals... for people with obesity, metabolic syndrome or diabetes, the low-fat diet can be downright harmful.
Bottom Line: The low-fat, high-carb diet recommended by the mainstream nutrition organizations is a miserable failure and has been repeatedly proven to be ineffective.
Some studies show that polyunsaturated fats lower your risk of heart disease.
For this reason, many have recommended that we increase our consumption of vegetable oils like soybean oil, sunflower oil and corn oil.
However, it is important to realize that there are different types of polyunsaturated fats, mainly Omega-3s and Omega-6s.
While we get Omega-3s from fish and grass-fed animals, the main sources of Omega-6 fatty acids are processed seed- and vegetable oils.
Studies show that excess Omega-6 fatty acids can increase inflammation in the body, which is known to play a causal role in many serious diseases (, ).
If you want to lower your risk of disease, eat your Omega-3s but avoid the refined seed- and vegetable oils.
It's important to keep in mind that this does NOT apply to other plant oils like coconut oil and olive oil, which are low in Omega-6 and extremely healthy.
Bottom Line: Excess consumption of refined seed- and vegetable oils can increase inflammation in the body and dramatically raise your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Low-carb diets have been popular for several decades.
Because they are high in fat, they have been demonized by nutritionists and the media.
They repeatedly claim that such diets are "unproven" or downright dangerous.
However, since the year 2002, over 20 randomized controlled trials have examined the effects of low-carb diets on various aspects of health.
Almost every one of those studies agrees that:
- Low-carb diets lead to significant decreases in blood pressure (82, ).
- Low-carb diets where people are allowed to eat as much as they want cause more weight loss than low-fat diets that are calorie restricted (84, ).
- Low-carb diets increase HDL (the good) cholesterol and decrease triglycerides much more than low-fat diets (86, , ).
- Low-carb diets change the pattern of LDL (the "bad") cholesterol from small, dense LDL (very bad) to Large LDL - which is benign (, ).
- Low-carb diets have powerful positive effects on type II diabetes, significantly lowering blood sugar and reducing the need for medication (, 92, 93).
- If anything, low-carb diets appear to be easier to stick to than low-fat diets, probably because people don't have to restrict calories and be hungry all the time ().
Even though low-carb diets are unnecessary for people who are healthy and active, studies show that they are extremely useful against obesity, metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes... which are some of the biggest health problems in the world.
Despite these powerful results, many of the "experts" that are supposed to have our best interests in mind have the audacity to call low-carb diets dangerous and continue to peddle the failed low-fat diet that is hurting more people than it helps.
Bottom Line: Low-carb diets are the easiest, healthiest and most effective way to lose weight and reverse metabolic disease. It is pretty much a scientific fact at this point.
The health authorities constantly tell us to reduce sodium in the diet in order to reduce blood pressure.
Whereas most people are eating about 3400 mg of sodium per day, we are usually advised to cut back to 1500-2300 mg per day (about 3/4 to 1 teaspoon of salt).
It is true that reducing sodium can cause mild reductions in blood pressure, especially in individuals who have elevated blood pressure to begin with ().
But it's important to keep in mind that elevated blood pressure itself doesn't kill anyone directly. It is a risk factor, not necessarily a cause of disease.
Interestingly, many studies have examined whether sodium restriction has any effect on cardiovascular disease or the risk of death. These studies consistently found no effect... even in individuals with high blood pressure (, 97, ).
Other studies show that too little sodium can also be harmful, leading to adverse effects such as insulin resistance, elevated LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as an increased risk of death in type II diabetics (99, , 101).
Overall, there is no evidence that healthy people need to cut back on sodium.
Bottom Line: Despite sodium restriction being able to mildly reduce blood pressure, this does not lead to improved health outcomes.
Many think that sugar is unhealthy just because it contains "empty" calories.
This is true... sugar contains a lot of calories, with no essential nutrients.
But this is really just the tip of the iceberg.
Sugar, mainly due to its high content of fructose, can have severe adverse effects on metabolism and set us up for rapid weight gain and metabolic disease ().
When we eat large amounts of fructose, it gets turned into fat in the liver and is either shipped out as VLDL particles, or lodges in the liver to cause non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (103, ).
Studies in humans show that excess fructose can lead to insulin resistance, elevated blood sugars, elevated triglycerides, increased small, dense LDL and increased abdominal obesity in as little as 10 weeks ().
Fructose also doesn't lower the hunger hormone ghrelin and doesn't affect satiety in the brain in the same way as glucose. This way, sugar causes a biochemical drive in the brain to eat more and get fat (, , ).
This applies to fructose from added sugars, NOT the natural sugars found in fruits.
Sugar is probably the single worst ingredient in the modern diet.
Bottom Line: The harmful effects of excess sugar go way beyond empty calories. Sugar can have severe adverse effects on metabolism, leading to weight gain and many serious diseases.
It seems to make sense that eating fat would make you fat.
After all, the stuff that is making people soft and puffy is fat.
For this reason, eating more fat should give us more of it.
However, it turns out that it isn't that simple. Despite fat having more calories per gram than protein or carbohydrates, diets that are high in fat do not make people fat.
This depends completely on the context. A diet that is high in carbs AND fat will make you fat, but it's NOT because of the fat.