Common Food Myths
Today, with the ubiquity of the internet and increase in fads and ill-information, there are ridiculous myths concerning food and weight loss abound. Many of these myths have been carried on from decades centuries ago and even though they’re bogus, we believe them because the truth hasn’t been made substantially public. Did you know, for instance, that spinach is a terrible source of Iron? Popeye would have you believe it’s the secret to his strength but his entire cartoon is based on a fallacy. Year before, a scientist misplaced a decimal when writing a nutrition book. Instead of writing “0.04 grams” he wrong “0.4 grams” multiplying the iron content of spinach by 10! As you can see it’s easy to get roped into these myths, especially when they’ve been around since before or parents or grandparent’s times.
Myth: Artificial Sweeteners are Dangerous or Cause Cancer
This is one of the most widely distributed set of lies floating around on the internet. You see countless websites with headlines regarding “the truth” about artificial sweeteners. In the 70’s the FDA even considered banning the ever popular Saccharine because it was found to have caused cancer in rats. What many of these people probably didn’t tell you is that in every single test where rats were seen having adverse effects, the dosage they were given was nearly 1000 times larger than any reasonable does a human could consume (Aside from the fact that Rats’ physiology is completely different than humans and they react to chemicals differently as well!).
The latest of these fads is the anti-sucralose (Splenda®) campaign. They mention everywhere that Splenda was known to cause intestinal problems in rats. What they don’t tell you is that that they gave the rats the human equivalent of 42,000 packets of Sucralose a day for 2 weeks straight. That basically equates to this: if you ate over 40 thousand packets of Splenda every day for 2 weeks, you’d develop a bowel disease. That’s pretty good if you ask me. If you consumed 40 thousand packets of sugar in one day you would die, assuming you could actually complete the task in the first place.
Luckily the ridiculousness of some of these studies has made people question them; that’s what saved saccharine from being banned. Most artificial sweeteners that are popular today (Equal®, Splenda®, Saccharine & Sweet ‘n’ Low®) are just as safe or safer than regular table sugar. Even if the long term effects of these products were realistic, they would still be much less detrimental than the long term effects of heavy refined sugar intake.
Consuming too much sugar and fat causes a plethora of problems like hypoglycemia, obesity and diabetes. Replacing your sugar-filled snacks with sugar substitutes is infinitely healthier than eating sugary sweets so even if you don’t think they’re good for you; they’re better than what you’re probably eating right now.
Myth: Diet Sodas Help You Lose Weight
This myth is a little complicated because it’s completely true on paper: Diet sodas have no calories and so they shouldn’t contribute to weight gain. In practice, however, it’s not exactly the wonder-method it promises to be. The primary reason for drinking diet sodas is to reduce overall calories. Since diet sodas have little to no calories, they’re essentially free foods… calorie wise.
What diet sodas do have is copious amounts of sodium, colorings, preservatives and other chemicals. If these, the sodium is actually what we want to focus on. Sodium is necessary for your body to survive but you need only a certain amount of it every day. In America and many other countries the population is fed an extremely high sodium diet; sauces, fried foods, frozen foods and any type of preserved foods are filled to the brim with sodium.
Needless to say you don’t have to take much effort to get your sodium for the day. Diet sodas really throw a wrench into the gears by supplying you with excess water and sodium. To add insult to injury they have no calories so most people will tend to drink as much as twice the amount of diet sodas as they would regular sodas. Excess sodium causes your body to retain a lot of water. In essence, diet sodas will prevent you from gaining weight from the sugars in regular soda but they will also cause you to gain massive amounts of water weight and fuel your appetite by providing you with a taste stimulus but no calories. This causes you to eat more than you normally would if you were drinking regular soda or just plain water. Flavored water is a much better solution. It still may stimulate your appetite but it’s healthier overall.
Myth: Eating At Night Makes You Fat
This one doesn’t require a lot of explanation; it’s simply not true. There’s no hard evidence that eating before sleeping is much different than eating at other times as far as nutrient and fat absorption. It may be a gross thought but if you’d like to experiment, take note of your bowel movements on a day where you ate only during daylight hours and on a day when you specifically ate before sleeping. As long as your diet was relatively regular you won’t notice a difference; if there was a change in absorption, you would.
Myth: Carbs are the Enemy
This is the most annoying and personally the most infuriating myth out there. People all over the world were won over by fad diets like the Atkins diet because they really lost weight. They were thrilled until they developed a host of awful diseases and horrific symptoms like complete kidney failure. Eating nothing but protein is a completely bogus way to try and diet; protein is not the only nutrient your body needs to survive and eventually your lack of nutrients and build-up of protein byproducts will catch up to you.
What’s so ridiculous is that these diets exclaim that carbohydrates are terrible and bad for you. This could not possibly be any further from the truth, seriously! Your body naturally wants to use carbohydrates as its primary source of energy. Having to use protein as an energy source is a last-ditch effort for your body to stay alive and fat is generally reserved for emergencies when carbs are scarce. The problem is not with carbs in general, it’s with how many you consume, how you consume them and how they’re distributed throughout your body.
Carbohydrates can be found in everything from simple table sugar to grains, oats, rice and other fiber-filled plant material. Not all carbs are equal though! Carbohydrates found in nutrient and fiber-rich beans, for instance, are caught up in strings of fiber and inedible material. When you consume them they are slowly released to your body as it needs them and therefore most of them are used up completely and don’t turn into fat. Carbohydrates found in refined sugar, in contrast, are almost immediately completely absorbed into your body. Your body usually doesn’t need a large amount of sugar all at once so instead of being distributed evenly, the carbs are used up as much as they can be and then turned into fat where they can be stored and used for later.
As you can see, carbs are not the enemy but eating the wrong type of carbs and in not enough moderation will definitely attribute to increased amounts of fat and weight gain. Instead of going on some ridiculous, unsafe Atkins-style diet, just reduce the amount of poor-quality carbs you eat and replace them with high-quality carbs. Instead of cakes, ice-cream, candy, soda and white bread you should eat beans, brown rice, whole wheat bread, vegetables and healthy fruits.
Myth: Natural Flavor is better than Artificial
Cyanide, heroine and arsenic are all completely “natural.” They come from natural sources and do not have to be made in a lab. Does that mean you’re going to sprinkle cyanide flakes on your toast or drink heroine infused tea? Hopefully not! Whether or not a flavoring is natural or artificial is completely irrelevant. Food companies can put any FDA-approved food additive in their product and, as long as it didn’t have to be synthetically created, they can call it “natural.” Just because your juice or candy claims that it has something like “natural flavoring” and is strawberry flavored, doesn’t mean it ever came within 1000 miles of a single strawberry. If you’re truly concerned about whether or not your food contains complex chemicals you can’t pronounce in it, look for the phrase “fruit juice.” The higher the amount of real fruit juice it contains, the better. Otherwise it’s pointless to make a food purchase decision based on whether or not the flavoring is artificial or natural; the word natural is being used as a marketing scheme and is irrelevant to your health.