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We hear so much conflicting information about nutrition that just working out a decent diet can seem like trying to pick the world’s top 10 best athletes – for every choice someone gives, other people will shoot it down. Rather than give his point or counterpoint, Kris Gunnars from Authority Nutrition has looked for the universal nutrition truths that people actually agree on – no arguments. Here’s what he came up with.
Trans fats are polyunsaturated fats that have been chemically altered. It’s this alteration that’s the issue, not so much the source fats. The process exposes polyunsaturated fats to high heat, high pressure and hydrogen gas in the presence of a metal catalyst. This ‘hydrogenates’ the fats so they resemble saturated fats in consistency, which dramatically improves the shelf life in highly processed foods.
These fats can:
Avoid trans fats by scanning ingredient lists for anything that has the word “hydrogenated” in it. Refined vegetable oils such as soybean and canola oils also contain significant amounts of trans fats (0.56-4.2%), although it’s usually not listed on the label.
The refined ingredients in processed foods are usually very low in micronutrients, fibre and antioxidants compared to whole foods. Worse than this, the food industry puts a lot of science and effort into making processed foods as ‘rewarding’ (and addictive) as possible via chemicals and food ‘engineering’ which short circuits the brain mechanisms that are supposed to regulate our appetite. That is, they are designed to drive overconsumption. Even worse, studies show that we only burn half as many calories digesting processed foods compared to whole foods.
There is controversy around polyunsaturated fats, but most of it revolves around Omega-6 fats – Omega-3 fats are not controversial at all. The modern diet is low in Omega-3, but extremely high in Omega-6. This is a terrible combination, because eating a lot of Omega-6 actually increases the need for Omega-3.
Omega-3 consumption is linked to improved neurological health and they also play critical roles in other cellular processes, such as inflammation, immunity and blood clotting. Good sources of Omega-3s are fatty fish and grass-fed/pastured animal foods – otherwise it’s important to take an Omega-3 supplement such as fish oil. Some plant foods such as flax and chia seeds contain Omega-3s in good numbers, but those from plant sources are not as well utilised in humans as those in animal foods.
People mainly disagree on how harmful added sugars are, as well as why they cause harm. Some think that such sugars are chronic metabolic toxins while others think they’re merely a source of empty calories. All agree that most people eat too much sugar and would be better off eating healthier foods instead, since mounting evidence suggests that sugar may be partly responsible for many chronic Western diseases. Most people are getting a lot of their sugar from conventional foods that have sugar added to them. So the best way to avoid this is to read labels and learn the many aliases they use for sugar, such as corn syrup and evaporated cane juice.
Green tea has been the subject of hundreds of studies, with almost every single one showing impressive health benefits. A lot of this is due to its rich and powerful mix of antioxidants, including a bioactive compound called EGCG, which can boost metabolism and increase fat burning. There are also certain amino acids that may help improve concentration and brain function, plus many studies show that the people who drink the most green tea have a lower risk of serious diseases like heart disease and cancer.
Even the most extreme low-carbers agree that unprocessed carb sources are, at the very least, less bad than their refined counterparts. At the same time, carb defenders usually concede that refined carbs are not worth standing up for. For example, take away the bran and germ from grain seeds and you remove the part that contains the most nutrients as well as the fibre that mitigates the blood sugar-raising effect of the carbs. This is one way that refined carbs stimulate overeating – many studies link refined carbohydrates to obesity and many Western diseases.
Vegetables are among the most nutritious foods in existence, calorie for calorie. They’re high in fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and thousands of trace nutrients that science is just beginning to uncover, plus eating plenty of vegetables is linked to a reduced risk of almost every chronic disease. Eat as wide a variety as possible.
Whole foods contain hundreds, if not thousands, of various trace nutrients, many of which have powerful health benefits, plus many that science has yet to uncover. Modern nutritional supplements are far from being able to replicate all the nutrients found in foods.
Although many nutritional supplements can have impressive benefits, most experts agree that they are not able to compensate for an unhealthy diet. For optimal nutrition, the foods you choose to eat are by far the most important of diet, and supplements can be added to optimise it (if applicable).
Quality extra virgin olive oil is very high in healthy monounsaturated fatty acids and loaded with powerful antioxidants. Many studies have shown that it has various benefits for metabolic health. It also contains anti-inflammatory compounds and the antioxidants in it have been shown to help fight various steps in the heart disease process.
Be wary of lower quality versions that may have been refined and diluted with cheaper oils.
There is no One True Way. Paleo and low-carb fanatics, the vegans, the balanced diet folk – they and many other diet advocates all have many valid points and all their approaches can work, but the key is to find a healthy eating strategy that you can live with for many years to come. Consistency beats radicalism.
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