When I was growing up, just a kid, I remember being sort of indoctrinated into our diet culture. As kids, we're more or less unaware of what dieting is until somebody or something shoves it in our face. Up until that point, we eat just about anything without thinking "will this make me fat?" Watching TV commercials in the 80s about weight loss aids and listening to my mom tell me how much weight she lost through Weight Watchers shaped how I viewed not just what was important about nutrition, but also how valuable a "skinny" body is (...hate that word). Now that I'm in my 40s with a solid career in nutrition coaching, it's fascinating to sit back and look at how many nutrition myths there are - and how willingly people believe them.
Nobody really knows when or how a single nutrition myth comes to be, but when one sinks its teeth it, it's really hard to unclench its grip.
A quick side note about weight loss aid commercials that I watched; in the early 80s, there was a weight loss aid called AYDS. Do any of you remember watching these commercials all those years ago? They were super popular right around the time the AIDS epidemic began and my 7 (or so) year-old-mind somehow melded the two together, putting them into the "this is bad" category. In a nutshell, today I'm so glad AYDS is off the market, and I'm so thankful we have strong treatments for AIDS that help people live longer, meaningful lives.
Another quick side note about AYDS. And I guess this could fall under the "nutrition myth" category, too, but the active ingredient in AYDS was Benzocaine. If you or your baby has ever had a toothache, you might also know it as Orajel. Ewwwww! It basically dulled your sense of taste, making you not want to eat so much. This product later added phenylpropanolamine - an amphetamine. Have fun with that!
3 Nutrition Myths You Need to Know
1 - Calcium Supplements Help Build Strong Bones
There is certainly no arguing that the mineral calcium is what helps make bones strong and increase their density, but getting calcium into the bones isn't as simple as taking a calcium supplement.
Calcium, on its own, is preferential to soft tissue. People who take calcium supplements are at an increased risk of developing a hardening of the arteries - atherosclerosis. In fact, the body of research around calcium supplementation and its relationship to serious health conditions continues to grow.
After calcium enters the body, it needs two really important fat soluble vitamins to shuttle this mineral out of the blood and into our bones. They are: Vitamin D and Vitamin K2. We can get vitamin D from the sun and through a number of foods, but K2 (not to be confused with blood-clotting K1), also available in foods, isn't as readily available in our diet.
A few food sources that contain vitamin K2 include:
- Natto (fermented soybeans)
- Beef Liver
- Goose Liver
- Some Hard Grass-fed Cheeses**
Another very simple way to get K2 is through supplementation. I don't consume dairy, and strong bones are important to me (and my family). These are the supplements I take. Number 3 is the D3/K2 supplement I take everyday.
*Chicken thighs are higher in K2 because they've been fed a synthetic form of K2 in their feed. A little gross.
**Hard cheeses contain a small amount of K2 as well, but mostly from grass-fed cheeses, which are harder and harder to find.
If you have questions about calcium supplementation as it affects your heart health, talk to your doctor. I can't stress how important it is to get K2 in your diet.
If you're dealing with bone density issues, perhaps you're not getting enough K2. If your calcium levels are low, consuming a food-based source is always a safer bet than a supplement.
2 - Eating Breakfast Before Working Out is a Must
No. No way. Not in a million years. Definitely not as it applies to early morning workouts. This is absolutely my favorite nutrition myth to talk to people about.
The only time people should eat before a workout is if they have a metabolic concern, like diabetes, or if they're taking a prescription medication that requires them to have food in their gut before they take it. Of course, some people get light headed if they don't eat - in which case, of course, they should eat.
But most people should have plenty of gas left in the tank - literally - to get them through a solid workout. Think if your liver as your gas tank. The fuel is food. Anything you eat - protein, carbohydrates or fat, healthy or unhealthy, has to pass through your liver in the form of fuel to give your body they energy it needs.
Most people have enough energy left in their liver to get them through a 90-minute workout.
People who commit to intermittent fasting live this way (and then some) with great benefits.
If you workout later in the day, such as early afternoon or after work, then giving your body a break from food for 3 to 4 hours before you exercise will give your body enough energy to get through your workout without slowing you down.
Just to reiterate, if you need to eat before you workout, then eat! Exercise is always good no matter what.
But in any circumstance, there is no need to eat a smorgasbord of food wishfully thinking it will give you more energy for an early morning workout.
3 - More Protein = More Muscle
In terms of nutrition myths, this is one worth reading.
Our bodies can really only absorb a given amount of protein in an hour - usually about 10 grams. Of course, protein consumed in liquid or solid form will continue to be absorbed over the next couple hours, so if you had a chicken breast (about 30 grams) or the equivalent in protein smoothie, your body will benefit from that protein.
If you think more protein in one sitting means more muscle...well not so fast. There is no need to eat two chicken breasts (about 60 grams) for the sake of building muscle. Twice the protein doesn't mean twice the muscle. It turns out our body can really only benefit from 30 grams of protein intake at a time. Anything more is likely going down the toilet.
Protein is more than just a macronutrient we've come to know and love. All forms of protein are the byproduct of their constituent amino acids. So whether you're eating a chicken breast or a plant-based protein shake, your body will break it down into very important amino acids that do much, much more than just build muscle. Amino acids help to synthesize hormones and neurotransmitter.
Whether you are a meat eater, vegetarian or vegan - and you're eating a healthy diet (no processed garbage) - it's highly likely you're getting all the amino acids you need to build plenty of muscle and maintain energy.
Of course, size matters. If you're someone who is 5'4" with a slight build and average muscle mass, you'll need less protein (and food in general) than someone who is 6'2" with a larger build and more muscle mass.
The best thing you can do with protein, especially if you're consuming it to boost muscle (and hopefully get rid of some unhealthy body fat) is to spread it out over the course of a day so your body can absorb it more.
Remember, nearly every food you eat has some protein in it. You don't need to rely on animal-based foods to get the benefits of protein. And you certainly don't need to order a 60 gram protein smoothie after your next workout!