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The top 10 biggest myths about "alternative" nutrition

Die Top 10 der größten Mythen der “alternativen” Ernährung

There are many different "belief systems" in the field of nutrition. Each of these has its own set of myths and misinterpretations. Here are the 10 biggest myths of "alternative" diets.

1. sugar is eight times more addictive than cocaine

Added sugar is a disaster when consumed in excess. There is no doubt about it, as the evidence for its harmful effects is overwhelming. Excess sugar can promote obesity, cause insulin resistance, promote the build-up of belly fat, exacerbate fatty liver and promote the development of serious diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).

However, even if you are aware of these risks, it can be extremely difficult to avoid sugar. This is not only because sugar is almost everywhere, but also because people develop overwhelming cravings for foods that are high in sugar.

This has led many experts to believe that sugar (and the junk food that contains it) is downright addictive for many people. In fact, there is a lot of evidence to support this - both in animals and in humans. Sugar can stimulate the same areas of the brain as drug abuse and could also cause the same behavioral symptoms (7, 8).

Unfortunately, some people always have to take things to the extreme and claim that sugar is eight times more addictive than cocaine. This myth is indeed widespread in certain health circles. It is based on a study conducted with rats, which showed that these animals preferred water laced with sugar or saccharin (a very intense calorie-free sweetener) to intravenous cocaine (8).

This was a remarkable result, but it proves virtually nothing in relation to humans. Sugar is very unhealthy and potentially highly addictive. However, to say that it is more addictive than cocaine - one of the most addictive narcotics of all - is simply ridiculous.

As someone who has been addicted to both drugs and food, I can tell you that these two substances are in no way comparable.

To summarize: sugar can be addictive for many people. However, to say that it can be eight times more addictive than cocaine is completely false and is not supported by any scientific evidence.

2 Calories don't matter at all

Some people think that calories are all that matter when it comes to weight loss. Others think that calories are completely irrelevant. These people say that you can lose weight regardless of how many calories you eat, as long as you choose the right foods.

As with so many things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Eating certain foods can aid weight loss by stimulating metabolism (increased calorie consumption) and reducing appetite (reduced calorie intake).

In many cases, people can lose a lot of weight without ever having counted a single calorie. However, when these people lose weight, it means that more calories are leaving their body than calories are entering it. This is an indisputable scientific fact.

Even if some foods are more conducive to weight loss than others, calories are still extremely important for weight loss and weight gain. Of course, this doesn't mean you have to count calories to lose weight. Changing your diet so that a reduced calorie intake happens automatically and on "autopilot" can work just as well, if not better.

Summary: Some people believe that calories are completely irrelevant to weight loss or weight gain. However, even though calorie counting is not always necessary, calories still count.

3. cooking with olive oil is a bad idea

Extra virgin olive oil is the healthiest fat on the planet. It's loaded with heart-healthy monounsaturated fat and powerful antioxidants (10, 11).

However, many people believe that olive oil should not be used for cooking. It is claimed that the fats and antioxidants are sensitive to heat and could even turn into harmful substances under the influence of heat.

It is indeed true that oils can be sensitive to heat, but this applies primarily to oils rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, which is the case for oils such as soybean oil and corn oil (12). However, the polyunsaturated fatty acid content of olive oil is only 10 to 11%, which is very low compared to most other vegetable oils (13).

There are many studies on olive oil and cooking that show that this oil retains its health-promoting properties even when exposed to high heat. Even when heated for 1.5 to 36 hours, there is only a small reduction in antioxidant and vitamin E content, but the majority of nutrients remain intact (14, 15, 16). The only bad thing that can happen is that the taste changes slightly.

Summary: It is a myth that olive oil is damaged when it is heated. Numerous studies show that the fats and antioxidants in olive oil can withstand cooking temperatures - even over a long period of time.

4. microwave ovens damage your food and release harmful radiation

Heating food in the microwave is quick and very convenient. However, some people believe that this convenience comes at a price. They claim that microwaves produce harmful radiation and damage healthy nutrients in food and that there are studies showing that microwaved food is very harmful.

However, if you go through the scientific literature and look for these studies, you can't find them anywhere. Microwave ovens are designed in such a way that they cannot release radiation. Studies also show that they are even better than other methods of preparation such as boiling or frying when it comes to protecting nutrients (17, 18, 19).

Some people don't want to use microwaves and that's perfectly fine. However, there is no evidence that these devices can cause harm and there are no scientifically valid arguments for avoiding them.

Summary: There are no published studies that show that microwave ovens can be harmful. Many studies show that they are more effective than boiling or frying when it comes to protecting nutrients.

5 Blood cholesterol levels don't matter

The old myths about saturated fat and dietary cholesterol have been debunked. Both have little effect on blood cholesterol levels in most people. If anything, they increase levels of the "good" HDL cholesterol and change the harmful LDL particles from small to large, with the larger particles being harmless (20, 21).

Studies also show that people who consume most of these nutrients do not have an increased risk of heart disease (22, 23, 24, 25). However, some people misunderstand this and think that blood cholesterol levels - the stuff your doctor measures - are also irrelevant.

It's true that the conventional numbers - total and LDL cholesterol - don't always give an accurate picture of the true risk for heart disease. But the LDL lipoproteins - the carriers that transport cholesterol in the bloodstream - are very important (26).

With few exceptions, high LDL cholesterol levels are a bad thing because it usually means you have a large amount of LDL particles (LDL-p) in your blood, which is closely linked to heart disease and death (26). Even though LDL cholesterol is not the enemy, the cholesterol-transporting LDL lipoproteins are important.

Summary: Dietary cholesterol and saturated fats are harmless. However, the lipoproteins that transport cholesterol in the bloodstream are very important for the risk of heart disease.

6. coffee bought in the supermarket contains large amounts of mycotoxins

Mycotoxins are toxins produced by mold (27). They are found in all kinds of food we eat. There is a persistent myth that coffee is generally contaminated with harmful levels of mycotoxins.

However, it is highly unlikely that this is actually the case as mycotoxins in food are strictly regulated. Harvests that exceed the safe limit are destroyed (28).

Molds are everywhere in our environment and mycotoxins are everywhere. Nearly everyone has measurable levels of mycotoxins in their blood (29). Studies have shown that consuming 4 cups of coffee a day would only give you 2% of the amount of mycotoxins that is considered safe, meaning there is still a massive safety margin (30).

So there really is no need to fear coffee because of mycotoxins.

Summary: It is completely false that ordinary coffee contains high levels of mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are everywhere, but the levels found in coffee are far below the safety limit.

7 Alkaline foods are healthy, acidic foods cause disease

The alkaline diet is very popular. Advocates of this diet claim that foods in our bodies are either acidic or alkaline. They say that alkaline foods lower the pH of the blood (making it more acidic) and that cancer cells can only grow in an acidic environment.

"Acidic" foods include meat, dairy and grain products, while "alkaline" foods are mainly plant-based foods such as vegetables and fruit. However, this is not supported by scientific research or even basic biochemistry (31, 32).

The truth is that blood pH is tightly regulated in the body. It simply does not change in the absence of serious toxicity or disease. Furthermore, cancer is very capable of growing in an alkaline environment and our blood is by definition slightly alkaline (33).

An alkaline diet can indeed be healthy, but this is more because it is based on healthy, whole foods. This has nothing to do with foods being acidic or alkaline.

Summary: It is not true that food can change the pH of the blood and the alkaline diet is not supported by any scientific basis.

8. eating dairy products is bad for your bones

The myth that dairy products can cause osteoporosis is an extension of the alkaline diet myth. It is claimed that dairy proteins make the blood more acidic, so the body has to use calcium from the bones to neutralize the acidity.

However, dairy products have several properties that make them - quite literally - the perfect food for bones. They are rich in calcium and phosphorus, the main building blocks of bones. They also contain vitamin K, a nutrient that is crucial for bone formation (34, 35, 36).

Last but not least, they are rich in high-quality animal protein, which has been shown in numerous studies to be beneficial for bone health (37, 38).

Studies show that the consumption of dairy products leads to improved bone health, higher bone density and a reduced risk of fractures in all age groups (39, 40, 41, 42). Many of these studies are controlled human studies - the gold standard of science.

Although dairy products are not essential for bone health, the evidence shows that they can be very beneficial.

Summary: Although some people claim the opposite, most studies show that dairy products are very beneficial for bone health.

9. carbohydrates are inherently harmful

Diets high in carbohydrates have many benefits. Studies show that they can cause rapid weight loss and improve important health markers (43, 44, 45). The effects on metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes are particularly notable (46, 47).

Many people believe that the fact that lowering carbohydrate intake can help treat these problems means that it must be the carbohydrates that caused these problems in the first place. This has led many supporters of low-carb diets to demonize all high-carb foods, which includes "real" foods such as potatoes, apples and even carrots.

It is true that refined carbohydrates, including added sugars and refined grains, can contribute to weight gain and the development of metabolic syndrome (48, 49, 50). However, this is not true for whole carbohydrate sources. There have been numerous populations around the world that have enjoyed excellent health despite following a high-carbohydrate diet based on real foods.

If metabolic problems such as obesity and type 2 diabetes have already set in, then low carbohydrate diets can help - there is no doubt about that. But this does not mean that carbohydrates themselves have caused these health problems.

Even though these foods are out of reach on a very low-carb diet, many people can remain completely healthy by eating plenty of unprocessed carbohydrate-rich foods. As with most things in nutrition, this depends heavily on the individual. A low carbohydrate diet works very well for some people, but high carbohydrate diets work just as well for others.

Summary: Low carbohydrate diets are effective. However, this does not mean that carbohydrates in the form of whole foods are inherently fattening or harmful.

10. agave nectar is a healthy sweetener

Unhealthy foods are the number one reason the world is sicker and fatter than ever before. Surprisingly, many of these foods are considered healthy and even categorized as "health foods". A good example of this is the sweetener agave nectar.

As we now know, one of the primary reasons for the harmful effects of added sugar is its high fructose content. Fructose can only be processed by the liver in certain quantities. When the liver becomes overloaded with fructose, it begins to convert fructose into fat (51, 52). This can lead to a variety of metabolic problems and is believed to be one of the leading contributing factors to many common diseases (53).

And this is where things start to get interesting. Agave nectar contains a higher percentage of fructose than regular sugar. While household sugar is about 50% fructose, agave nectar is 85% fructose (54). It is therefore probably no exaggeration to say that agave nectar is probably the unhealthiest sweetener of all. Agave nectar makes sugar look healthy by comparison - and that's saying a lot.

References:

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