As a nutritionist, one theme that comes out time and again when I consult with people is:
There’s so much conflicting information out there about what you should and shouldn’t eat that people don’t know what to do!
Plus many of the allegedly “healthy” dietary suggestions are not only NOT healthy, but they can actually do more harm than good.
Let’s take a look at what I call…
The 6 Biggest Diet Blunders
Here are the six biggest sources of dietary mis-information that have not only not made Americans any healthier, but they’ve added to our rates of chronic disease and our widening backsides.
Blunder #1: Eliminate all saturated fats to prevent heart disease
Most people don’t realize that your body must have saturated fats.
Saturated fats are needed by your body to protect your nerve cells, produce hormones, keep your cell membranes healthy, help your body assimilate the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and help your brain and nervous system with transmitting nerve impulses.
The truth is the average person needs about 30 percent of their daily calories to come from fats, and about one-third of those should be saturated fats.
Good sources of saturated fats include fats from animal sources (meat, butter, lard, suet, milk, eggs and cheese)–preferably organic, as well as avocados and coconut oil.
What you SHOULD avoid at all cost are trans-fats. They are the fats that will guarantee a trip to the cardiologist for you.
Blunder #2: Having a low-cholesterol diet always reduces blood cholesterol levels
Contrary to what most people think, only 25 percent or less of the cholesterol in your body is from your food–your liver (and many of your other cells) produce the vast majority of it.
And of the cholesterol that you do eat, your body only absorbs about half of it.
The true issue behind your cholesterol level lies in the health of your LIVER.
Your liver produces cholesterol as you need it and eliminates old, worn-out cholesterol from your body. So if your liver isn’t healthy and working like it should, that can cause elevated cholesterol levels.
Plus regular bowel movements are key too–because if you are frequently constipated, cholesterol that your liver may be trying to eliminate can instead get reabsorbed through the intestinal wall back into circulation.
The health of your arteries plays a role too. When you have inflammation in your blood vessels, it can trigger your liver to summon cholesterol to the inflamed areas as a healing ointment.
Chronic inflammation in your blood vessels is frequently caused by high glucose levels resulting from a large intake of refined carbs.
So if you’re really worried about cholesterol, avoid refined carbs, pamper your liver by drinking at least eight 8-oz. glasses of water a day and eat lots of fruits and vegetables to prevent constipation.
Blunder #3: Artificial sweeteners are good for losing weight
The artificial sweeteners used in sugar-free foods may have zero calories, but the problem is your body isn’t fooled.
When it gets a tease of a “sweet” taste, it expects calories to follow.
If calories don’t follow, that leads to distortions in your biochemistry that actually cause weight GAIN as well as increase your cravings for sweets and carbs.
Blunder #4: Whole grains are always good for you
Although they are more nutritious than highly refined grains (like white bread and pasta), whole grains are still starches which are converted to sugar upon digestion and can not only contribute to weight gain and insulin resistance, but also stir arterial inflammation.
Although an occasional serving of whole-grain pasta or soup with whole grain bread is fine, the best go-to choices for carbohydrates are vegetables and legumes.
Blunder #5: Fish is always a healthy choice
Although fish can be very healthful, it depends on what kind you’re choosing.
Farm-raised fish are given antibiotics to stave off diseases that result from extremely crowded conditions and they’re also treated with pesticides to combat sea lice.
Plus research has found that farmed fish has fewer usable Omega-3 essential fatty acids than wild-caught fish and a high concentration of Omega-6 EFAs. So it can contribute to an inflammation-causing imbalance of Omega-6: Omega-3 EFAs.
Also, farmed fish has also been found to have a 20 percent lower protein content than wild-caught fish.
Lastly, studies by the Environmental Working Group have found that cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) exist in farm-raised salmon at 16 times the rate of wild salmon.
If you want fish, be sure to buy only fresh wild-caught varieties.
Blunder #6: A low-salt diet always helps with high blood pressure
A high sodium diet can drive up blood pressure. However, this is not consistently true for everyone, and is more of an issue with individuals who are considered salt sensitive.
And just as much of a hypertension concern is too little potassium.
Sodium and potassium work together in the “sodium-potassium pump” which creates electrical charges in the cells that are the driving force behind your muscles, organs and bodily functions. These electrical charges also regulate calcium levels in your cells.
But when this “pump” is not working properly (due to too little potassium), that results in elevated calcium levels in your cells, which causes the smooth muscle cells in your arteries to contract and drives UP your blood pressure.
If you have blood pressure concerns, avoid processed foods (which are the leading cause of excess sodium in most people’s diets) but at the same time, get enough potassium.
Dietary sources of potassium include: Greens, spinach, winter squashes, cantaloupe, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, bananas, avocado, broccoli and carrots.
Real straightforward diet advice
Now that you know the six biggest diet blunders, here is some real, sensible diet advice.
Having a diet of real (not processed) foods is the single biggest bang for your buck when it comes to great health.
When your diet is comprised mainly of real foods, the trans-fats and sodium found in processed foods become a non-issue for you.
In addition, you’ll be getting good sources of antioxidants to help fight any existing health-destroying free radicals.
You’ll also get natural sources of crucial nutrients which can help fight and prevent disease and deficiencies, as well as strengthen your precious immune system!
The friendly flora in your gut helps your body digest starches and fibers and keeps your gut wall healthy–both of which are essential for proper nutrient absorption and feelings of satiety.
Plus they house about 70 percent of your immune system to boot!
Unfortunately, people who have had a typical diet high in refined carbs have nourished the harmful bacteria in their guts which can in turn overcome your beneficial bacteria and lead to harmful bacteria overgrowth (dysbiosis).
Other factors like medication use (especially antacids and antibiotics), stress and lack of sleep can also impact the health of your friendly flora.
In addition to eating real foods that feed your friendly inhabitants, one of the best ways to help restore and maintain a proper flora balance is with a high-quality probiotic supplement.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids have shown to be an important tool to help enhance your health in these ways:
- They’ve been medically proven to help lower blood pressure.
- They have anti-inflammatory properties, which may help counteract arterial and joint inflammation.
- They help prevent clots from forming by reducing the stickiness in your platelets and curbing the production of fibrinogens.
- Your brain’s neurons are extremely rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, especially Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Problem is, our food supply doesn’t contain a fraction of the Omega-3 EFAs that it used to (due to our heavy reliance on processed foods, vegetable oils and grain-fed animals)—so supplementation is wise for most people to ensure you’re getting enough of this vital nutrient.
Sherry Brescia, MSHN writes for Healthy Holistic Living where this article originally appeared. She holds a Master’s Degree in Holistic Nutrition, she is the author of two books (Great Taste No Pain and Great Taste No Gluten) and lectures at health conferences around the country regarding the effectiveness of the dietary science of food combining. She is also a former IBS sufferer who completely eliminated her condition through her diet. Her company Holistic Blends, Inc. (www.holisticblends.com) offers nutritional guidance and supplements to help people attain their health goals.