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Nutrition facts and nutrition myths: evidence based

The following article explains how nutrition myths are created and what are the currently proven nutrition facts. You will find here a summary of the most common myths and nutrition-related data supported by good scientific evidence.

As a nutritionist and researcher for the last 10 years, I have been extensively investigating the scientific evidence of what makes us overweight and unhealthy.

During my research and practice, I have discovered an interesting pattern related to how we obtain our knowledge related to nutrition and how this knowledge changes.

Nutrition facts and media

The media often reports misinterpreted scientific findings that have been blown out of proportion, only to grab the attention of the public.

After all, news is mainly about inflating ratings. That is why what you hear or read, is often sensationalized and sounds like the discovery of the century.

The fact is that most journalists reporting the news have little or no knowledge of science or nutrition, and so they don’t ask the right questions and don’t have the capacity to investigate the subject in depth.

Many of the “latest discoveries” also are actually not that new. They are often just a repeat of old findings or of studies supporting old findings.

What is most concerning is that the majority of the information coming from media sources related to nutrition is incorrect.

Nutrition facts from online sources

Most people accessing nutrition and health information,  now use commercial sites and blogs.

This is a concern,  since most sites contain distorted nutrition information and advice that is either biased or inconsistent with the latest scientific evidence or official food and nutrition guidelines (which even worse, are not always correct).

In Canada, for example, 45% of the online information contradicts the Canadian Guidelines for Healthy Eating and 80% of those who search for nutritional and health information use unofficial, commercial sites which simply cannot be trusted (1).

Many websites, including professional looking health authority sites and blogs, represent personal opinions or experience of health professionals or laymen, rather than evidence-based information.

In most cases, the health claims have no valuable references to scientific sources to back them up.

If the references exist, they often point to other non-science-based websites or have incorrect information from official sources (see below). Just try to follow some of those links!

Nutrition facts published by government and health organization sources

Nutrition information available online or in the media is often based on the generally accepted mainstream “nutrition facts” taken from governmental sources or from major health organizations, such as the American Heart Foundation.

However, some of these so called “nutrition facts” conflict with the latest scientific evidence.

You wouldn’t expect incorrect information from official sources, right? Therefore, why is this a common occurrence?

Decisions made by governments related to dietary guidelines or health directions taken by health organizations, are not necessarily science-based.

Politics, power control and endorsements from industries are major influencing factors on what is being published.

Here is an example:

Coconut oil is not produced on a large-scale basis in the U.S.U.S. Government health sources and major health organizations target this product as unhealthy, while promoting “healthy” substitutes, such as canola or soy oil.

Canola and soy are major crops in the U.S. The producers of these crops are big contributors to organizations, such as the American Heart Organization, which gives a big heart healthy tick to these products. This makes us wonder how official recommendations and guidelines are being decided.

Nutrition science is a grey area, nothing is black or white

Nutrition information is often presented as black or while, while the reality is that it is a very grey area.

Even with the most “obvious” answers, there is still some evidence supporting the opposite findings.

The question is: what is supported by stronger evidence? Is the evidence strong enough to consider is it as a nutrition fact? Are the results supported by good quality studies? Are the findings recent?

A nutrition fact, when established, is only valid today. Future findings may contradict it, as hashappened many times in the past.

The purpose of this website is to clarify the misconceptions that are currently spreading on the Internet, in the media and sometimes propagated by government and major health organizations.

It aims to separate evidence-based data from nutrition myths or at least show which side the evidence supports more.

On this website, I thoroughly investigate the most popular nutrition myths and mainstream “nutrition facts”.

My research is based on the latest available scientific evidence, which is referenced in each article.

These links can be followed by those who want to investigate the topics in more depth.

List of nutrition facts – findings with good evidence

Establishing nutrition facts is a grey area.

Even if the effects of a food item or nutrient on health is well-established and backed by solid evidence, there is a good chance that you will find one or more studies that either contradict or do not support these findings.

As a general rule, older studies are usually less reliable, due to a less sophisticated methodology and less data available at the time.

Some so called “nutrition facts” turn out to be merely “nutrition myths” that are either not based by any studies or misinterpret available studies.

Another crucial thing about science-based nutrition facts, is that they apply to the general population. Each one of us is different. We have different body compositions, different medical conditions and different genes. Therefore, even a so-called nutrition fact may not be true for certain individuals.

 The following is a list of facts related to nutrition and health that are backed by strong evidence and currently most scientists agree on. Consider your own circumstances when you read them. Some might not apply to you.

Nutrition facts related to carbohydrates

  • Processed sugar

    Processed sugar is harmful to our health and responsible for the most deadly and debilitating diseases.

    White, brown and raw sugar, honey, corn syrup, or other fructose-based syrups or sweeteners are all the same.

    Pure carbohydrates have no nutritional value and are something we can all live without!

    High sugar consumption leads to type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and is the main cause of the obesity epidemic.

  • Fructose as an extract

    The fructose component of sugar is the biggest offender and does the most damage in the body.

    Fructose, in this context, relates to extracts, such as fructose-based syrups, and components of sugar rather than fructose as a part of a whole fruit.

    The metabolism of fructose creates toxic substances in the liver,  with similar effects as alcohol.

    A diet high in fructose leads to many serious conditions, such as metabolic syndrome and obesity.

  • Refined carbohydrates (grains)

    Refined carbohydrates also include grains stripped of any valuable nutrients, with only empty calories in the form of starch. White rice and white flour products are two examples of refined carbohydrates.

    Refined grains have similar effects as sugar on blood glucose levels and insulin.

    Just like simple sugars, they are linked to chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and obesity.

  • Fruit juices

    Fruit juices are almost as unhealthy as sodas, due to their high fructose levels and residual amounts of fiber.

    They are high in calories and glycemic index and may contribute to obesity.

  • Dried fruit

    Although high in vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, dried fruit are high in fructose.

    They have a high glycemic index and glycemic load which may be detrimental for diabetics. They also contain sulfites that may cause allergic reactions in some people.

  • Cooked potatoes

    Cooked potatoes raise blood glucose levels more than sugar, when comparing standard servings.

  • There is no ­gluten in oats!
  • Fiber contributes, on average, only about half of calories of digestible carbohydrates.

Nutrition facts related to cocoa and chocolate

  • Cocoa components in dark chocolate possess protective properties for your heart.

Nutrition facts related to coffee and caffeine

  • You cannot get addicted to caffeine, but rather a physical dependency.
  • Coffee and tea don’t act as a diuretic
  • If you don’t have any issues drinking coffee or milk, combining them won’t affect you.
  • Whether caffeine is good or bad for you, depends on your level of caffeine sensitivity, which is determined by your genes. Therefore, while drinking four cups of coffee per day coffee can be highly beneficial for some people, drinking two cups or less may be harmful for others.

Nutrition facts related to diet and medical conditions

  • The best natural remedy for chronic idiopathic constipation is fiber.
  • Avoidance restrictive eating disorder is a recently discovered eating disorder that may explain why some people are extremely picky with their food.
  • Heart disease and stroke are the two biggest killers in developed countries, amounting to over 30% of all the disease caused deaths. These diseases are, in most cases, preventable by proper diet.
  • A diet rich in vegetables provides a wide range of undisputed health benefits.
  • Osteoporosis is not caused by drinking milk or eating dairy products.
  • Vitamin D is quite unique, since most of our requirements don’t come from the diet but is produced by the skin, upon exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun.

    Deficiency of vitamin D leads to many serious medical conditions, such as osteoporosis, rickets, cancer and other chronic diseases.

    In such cases, vitamin D supplementation may be necessary.

Nutrition facts related to weight loss and various diets

  • There is no “one diet that fits all people”

    Some people benefit from a ketogenic diet, others from vegetarian diet.

    There are too many variables (genetics, sensitivity level to carbohydrates, level of physical activity…) to design one diet for everyone.

  • The best diet is the one that you can naturally adopt as a part of your lifestyle, uses a wide variety of whole foods and doesn’t contain added sugars and artificial additives.
  • Weight loss FAD diets merely generate profits for those who designed them.

    Their effectiveness is sensationalized and marketed to those who desperately want to lose weight or achieve better health.

    They are based on a drastically reduced calorie intake that starves the body of nutrients, resulting in a temporary fat and muscle protein loss.

    Once the diet regime has ended, the eating and lifestyle habits go back to normal and so does the fatty tissue.

    No FAD diet has ever been proven to work in a long term!

  • One of the latest FAD diets is the chia seeds weight loss diet. This diet will not make you slimmer, unless you make a lifestyle change.

Nutrition facts related to milk and dairy

  • If you are lactose intolerant, you may still be able to enjoy dairy products. You just need to determine what your limit is.
  • Drinking milk or eating dairy products does not cause osteoporosis.
  • Just because other adult animals don’t drink milk, is not an argument for adult humans not to drink it. Are we seriously basing our diet, on what other adult animals eat or drink? Generally, unless you are allergic to protein, or highly lactose intolerant, there is no reason why you should avoid milk products.

Nutrition facts related to food safety and toxicity

Nutrition facts related to fat and cholesterol

Nutrition facts related to fiber

  • Fiber consumption reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases
  • Soluble fiber reduces total and LDL cholesterol
  • Fiber is the best natural remedy for constipation
  • Chia seeds and flaxseeds have the highest fiber content

List of common nutrition myths

This section lists the most common nutrition myths.

There are many sources of nutrition myths, but the majority are started by laymen, with little or no knowledge of science, misinterpreting scientific studies and being based on blown out of proportion media coverage.

Myth 1: Saturated fat is bad for your health

This myth is still the basis of dietary guidelines in many countries.

It started about four decades ago, as a result of political intervention and ignorance of scientific findings. It turned into the biggest experiment in nutrition history lasting to this day, that resulted in the obesity epidemic.

There is no scientific evidence supporting this claim.

Myth 2: Cholesterol is harmful and causes atherosclerosis

Cholesterol is highly misunderstood. Cholesterol is a harmless substance.

Atherosclerosis is caused by other factors, such as inflammation and high levels of lipoproteins, the vehicles that carry cholesterol.

Only one specific size of lipoproteins is a risk factor in causing atherosclerosis.

Tests showing high LDL-cholesterol levels may be inconclusive. Unfortunately, most of the tests for atherosclerosis risk still use not fully conclusive measurement methods.

More relevant (although much more expensive) tests should be used to more precisely determine the risks.

Myth 3: A high carbohydrate diet is the healthiest diet

This myth is related to the hypothesis that “saturated fat is bad”.

Since the consumption of fat, especially saturated fat, was declared unhealthy, another nutrient had to compensate the energy balance.

Conveniently for the U.S. grain industry, it is officially recommended that most of the calories should come from carbohydrates, such as grains.

There were no scientific studies to support this claim. It is known, however, that the obesity epidemic started at that time.  

Myth 4: Alkaline diet myth

The fundamental claims of the diet were built on pseudo-science. There are no studies proving the claims on which the diet is based on.

The founder has been in the prison for his false claims, yet the diet has still many followers.

This diet promotes eating whole foods and vegetables, which is healthy for their properties. However, it is not because of the claims made by supporters of the alkaline diet.

Myth 5: Himalayan salt and sea salt myth

A misleading marketing campaign from various salt manufacturers has blown out of proportion the importance of mineral contents of various salts.

The superiority of these gourmet salts has been promoted by layman nutritionists and people with vested interests, such as health food stores.

The health effects from any salt come from sodium and chloride. Yes, Himalayan salts do have some extra minerals.  However, to actually benefit from them, you would have to consume toxic amounts of it. In short, these trace elements add no nutritional value in the overall diet.

Myth 6: Fructose is healthier than glucose

This myth started a few decades ago and was endorsed by high fructose syrup producers.

As we now know, fructose in the form of an extract (but not as a part of a whole food such as fruit) is the most damaging carbohydrate, causing serious chronic and most deadly diseases.

Myth 7: Fruit juices healthy

A well-known nutrition fact is that fruit are rich in nutrients and the consumption of fruit is associated with better health and the prevention of chronic diseases.

However, claims that fruit juices have the same or even more potent health properties are myths.

Most of the nutrients and fiber contents of fruit are lost during the process of juicing. Therefore, the biggest effects of fruit juice on the body are related to a high concentration of sugar, particularly fructose, dwarfing the effects of the beneficial nutrients.

Fruit juice is, in fact, almost as bad as sugar-rich sodas (soft drinks).

Myth 8: There is gluten in oats

A common misconception is that oats contain gluten. The only way that oats can have gluten, is through contamination from other products during production.

In fact, oats contain another protein called avenin.  This may be a problem for some people. However, if you are gluten intolerant, it doesn’t mean that you can’t eat oats.

Myth 9: Coffee or tea is diuretic

This myth was based on the assumption that caffeine has dehydrating effects. Therefore, anything that contains caffeine has the same effect.

Both coffee and tea contain caffeine/teine compounds. While these substances on their own have dehydrating effects, by drinking coffee or tea, you actually contribute to your liquid intake enough to counteract the effects of caffeine.

Myth 10: I am addicted to caffeine

There is no such thing as caffeine addiction. You can develop a physical dependence on caffeine, which is different from addiction. While addiction is considered as a chronic, deteriorating brain disease, physical dependency is only one of the criteria in addiction.

Myth 11: Omega 3 fatty acids have great health benefits

This is a generalization that leads to some misinterpretations.

There are various types of Omega 3s. Alpha linolenic acid (ALA) found in plants doesn’t have the same health promoting effects, as Omega 3s found in small fatty fish, such as Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA also doesn’t convert well in the body, compared to the more beneficial fatty acids.

Many health benefits of flaxseeds and chia seeds are attributed to Omega 3s’ properties, which is incorrect.

Myth 12: Mixing coffee with milk is bad for you

If you react to milk (e.g. lactose intolerance, or casein allergy) or are sensitive to caffeine or other components of coffee, mixing them will affect you.

If that is not your case, then there is no evidence of negative effects of mixing these two drinks. Except for a small reduction to chlorogenic acid (CGA) absorption, the properties of this mixture are not different from those of milk and coffee separately.  

Myth 13: A perfect weight loss diet that works for everyone

Promoters of weight loss diets, often claim that their diet works for everyone.

We all have a different genetic makeup. Some of us are more physically active than others. We work and live in different environments, climates, are from different cultures and have different food preferences.

Studies show that there is no diet that is suitable for all people.

Whatever diet you chose, there are some principles that will make the diet work for you:

  • It should not be temporary, but part of your lifestyle
  • It should be appealing to you, so that it can be easily followed
  • It should not contain sugar additives
  • It should contain whole foods, rather than processed foods
  • It should include vegetables

Myth 14: Green coffee bean extract helps in weight loss

There is insufficient evidence that green coffee bean extract helps you in weight loss. There are studies that show some weak evidence but these were mostly sponsored by companies producing this supplement and, therefore, are biased. With a lack of good evidence, and questionable studies, any weight loss claims of green coffee bean extract can be considered as false advertising.

Myth 15: Guinness beer is a good source of iron

Guinness beer contains insignificant amounts of iron. 

NUTRITION FACTS VS NUTRITION MYTHS

You will find a summary of the most common nutrition myths and evidence-based nutrition facts here.

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