Hot Topics: Nutrition Fads and Facts

There's a LOT of information floating around on the internet, in magazines, on the's not only overwhelming at times, it can also be really annoying. One minute coconut oil is good for us, the next it's bad-- horrible-- and killing us. One minute eggs are good, then it's just the egg whites because the yolks contain cholesterol, and years later we discover cholesterol from food actually doesn't increase the amount of cholesterol in our blood. Next it's bread...die carbs!

And on and on...

There's a hilarious "Funny or Die" video that perfectly illustrates what I'm talking about:

This is Why Eating Healthy is Hard

From calorie counting, to grains to gluten to ketogenic...dispelling myth from truth can be really difficult when everyone has some "scientific proof" to support their theory. 

The only science we can truly trust, though, is that which has undergone rigorous testing using Scientific Method, after much research, and is accepted by the scientific community (the process usually takes time, as new theories/ideas are often built on/extensions of pre-existing). There are many methods that work for some people and not others, which is why we must be careful to not adopt ideas into our belief system simply because they've worked for someone else. 

In Science, we have to be able to apply a theory to a statistically significant test group that meet certain criteria (depending on the type of study being conducted) to determine it's validity. 

I've vetted many reliable resources to dispel a few myths below, as well as provide some solutions/answers to many of the current questions popping up around the social/inter webs. 

1). Calories in vs Calories Out (this is one of the more popular, long-standing topics)

The major problem with calorie counting is not that energy balance isn't a key component of weight management/balance. In fact, the principles of energy balance DO work. It's just that counting calories is fundamentally flawed, for a number of reasons.

For one thing, the kCals listed on a food label is not exact-- it's an average. The same size apple can contain anywhere from 80 to 120 calories. a 6 oz. filet mignon can contain 320-500 calories, and a slice of sourdough bread can contain between 130-180 calories.  Manufacturers use one of five methods to estimate the calories in a food, and the FDA allows up a 20% inaccuracy rate. So something labeled "150 calories per serving" could actually be 130-180 calories (like sourdough bread).

Another consideration, is that we don't absorb all of the calories we consume. We only absorb about 68% of the calories from almonds, for example. Which brings me to the topic of fiber-- we actually absorb more calories from fiber-rich foods because fiber slows the process of digestion, making more of the nutrients from these foods available to be used by body (bioavailability). 

Food preparation is another factor that changes it's calorie load. Cooking food increases the calories available, which food labels don't always reflect. A raw egg has about 47 calories while a cooked egg has about 74. A raw potato has about 100 calories, while a baked potato has roughing 190. 

Chopping and blending food increases calories absorbed as well. 

Additional factors-- individuals absorb calories uniquely and variably (genes, epigenetics, body composition, sleep, hormones), and people aren't usually good at accurately eyeballing portion sizes (if you think we underestimate our portion sizes, you would be correct).

My solution to calorie counting is not only simple, it works. 

Hands are portable, so I teach clients how to use their hands to determine their portion sizes. this eliminates stress, confusion and math, and allows them to rely on visual cues to guide their choices. In time, the process becomes second nature.

2). To Grain or Not to Grain

Celiac disease has been on the rise over the last 60 years, which has given birth to a gluten-fearing sub-culture in our society (and manufacturers are paying attention $$$). Books like "Wheat Belly" have only added to the number of grain-free living Americans (now well into the millions), but is all the hoopla about grains correct? Should we really be eliminating them completely from our diets?

Let's look at the nutritional profile of whole grains-- they contain a wide-array of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and they're a great source of fiber.

One of the reasons the grain debate became muddled so quickly is that people conflate “grains” with “carbs.” Carbohydrates are sugar-based molecules found in a range of foods, including, vegetables, fruits, bread, pasta, potatoes, beans, desserts, soft drinks, and-- yes-- whole grains.

Refined grains have had their bran and germ (nutritional part of the plant) stripped away through milling. They contain carbohydrates and calories but hardly any of the nutrients found in whole grains. These processed grains are often really tasty, making them easy to consume, but are way less satiating-- a deadly combo that leads many people to overeat, setting them on a path toward weight gain and chronic disease.

A lot of "studies" have come out saying that grains cause inflammation, but this simply isn't true. Food sensitivities and allergies to food are what cause inflammation.

To be safe (since gluten sensitivity now exists in 10-20% of the US population), I generally recommend gluten-free whole grains. Such as quinoa, amaranth, teff, buckwheat, millet, brown rice, barley, maize, and oats. 

Eating these whole grains can help you maintain a healthy GI tract, balance your blood sugar, meet vitamin and mineral nutrient needs, and keep you satiated. When consumed in variety and as part of a well-balanced, whole food diet, who grains can help decrease the risk of certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. They also improve insulin sensitivity.

The consensus, then, is that the type of grains you eat matters, not whether or not you eat them. My suggestion is to ditch refined grains (eat sparingly) and invite a variety whole grains into your diet. 

3). The Ketogenic Diet

If you've been on social media at all in the last 12 months, you've probably noticed the rising trend of fat-infused coffee as a breakfast meal replacement, as well as the use of other high-fat buzz-words and holistic applications (coconut oil in your hair? as a lube?...I mean...)

The Ketogenic diet has been used in medicine for decades (though discovered centuries ago) as a treatment for epilepsy. We know that there is a link between diet and certain brain disorders, like epilepsy, and that fasting has been proven effective in treating such conditions. 

The reason ketosis can work in place of a true fasting diet, is that the body mimics a fasting state when in ketosis. In order to achieve true ketosis, one must consume a diet that's about 10-20% protein, 5% carbohydrate (which eliminates many vegetables, like carrots, too), and 75% fat. When blood glucose reaches severely low levels (glucose is the body's preferred nutrient-source for energy), our body will make ketone bodies through a process called ketogenesis, and use them for energy. After about 72 hours of fasting (as little as 36 hrs for physically active people) our body goes into ketosis. By cutting off our carbohydrate supply, but still taking in nutrients and energy in the form of fat, we get the same effects as starvation. 

I've employed a Ketogenic diet for short term resets and find it to be pretty effective-- SHORT TERM. But as a long term diet option, it can be pretty dangerous, as it is highly restrictive. Plus, consuming 75% of your food in the form of fat is NOT a balanced way to eat or live at all. I should note that my approach is really more of a low-carb reset than full-blown Ketogenic, which is really hard to achieve. After a long weekend or a few days of indulgence, I like to eat low-carb, high fat and protein, which usually gets me back on track much quicker than other diet methods (because I don't diet!)

Many people who attempt low-carb diets, such as Ketogenic, see quick and sizable weight loss. This isn't because low-carb is more effective. It's because glycogen stores in our body are relatively heavy. Water tags along with glycogen in a 3 parts h2o to 1 part glycogen ratio, so that quick weight loss from Ketogenic/low-carb is water weight, not fat pounds.

Quick weight gain once carbs are consumed again is the result of water, not the carbs. So if you weigh yourself the morning after eating a pizza-- don't fret over the alarming weight gain. It's temporary. Unless you're eating high carb meals like this frequently.

This is why I promote more fiber-rich carbohydrate sources-- fiber is a carbohydrate our body can't digest, and carries water with it through our GI tract, so it's a great way to keep water balance in check, with all the other amazing health benefits fiber provides.

Hopefully you found this post helpful in understanding a bit more about a few nutrition fads, and how to incorporate a more balanced approach into your life.

I'll go into greater detail on this topic in an e-book, to provide more of the science and easy ways to apply it-- TBD!

August is going to be a busy month of business/professional development and writing, so stay tuned!