In the Wheat Belly world, I make it our business to debunk common dietary myths, advice repeated over and over again by dietitians, doctors, agencies such as the American Heart Association or the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and perpetuated as dietary truths, “truths” that would find willing support among the likes of Coca Cola, Nabisco, General Mills, and Kraft, commercial interests that have played a major role in crafting such messages.
Of course, the Wheat Belly message begins by debunking the “eat more healthy whole grains” myth—few can match the enormity of this health-crippling, weight-promoting fiction. But there are certainly others that, unless you are aware that they are fairy tales, can also muck up your health, weight, and life performance.
So let’s tackle some additional dietary myths that you should be aware of (if you aren’t already, if you have been following the Wheat Belly conversations):
- Saturated fat causes heart disease—and, in this line of reasoning, reducing saturated fat reduces risk for heart disease. The evidence for this argument was laughable to start with, studies that were so poorly constructed, often misinterpreted, even misrepresented, then bolstered by a handful of weak observational studies, that it is now clear that there never was any real evidence for either of these arguments. And who cares whether saturated fat raises cholesterol or not? Cholesterol does not cause heart disease but only serves as a crude, unreliable, and miserably outdated marker for the lipoprotein particles that really cause heart disease—so whether or not this outdated marker goes up or down is meaningless.
- Combine a low-glycemic index (GI) food with a high-glycemic index food for better blood sugars—Lump this advice with “smoke low-tar cigarettes for better lung health.” Low-GI foods should really be labeled “less high GI” foods, i.e., low-GI foods raise blood sugar to high levels, while high-GI foods raise blood sugar even higher. Combining the two will still generate high blood sugars, just not as high as high-GI foods alone. This is why we choose ZERO-GI foods or foods with no more than single-digit GI values such as nuts, not the “low” GI values of oatmeal or multi-grain bread that are still sky-high.
- The human brain requires carbohydrates to function and survive—You know all those people following low-carb or ketogenic diets who have died of brain damage? Oh, you don’t know any? That’s because there is no such thing. The human brain is perfectly capable of functioning without carbohydrates, resorting to ketones such as beta-hydroxybutyrate when glucose from carbohydrates or other sources become unavailable, triggering a normal physiological adaptation to survive during periods of either calorie deprivation or low carbohydrate intake (which should be most of the time).
- Move more, eat less-–There is a germ of truth to this in that people who convert from a sedentary to an active lifestyle will enjoy an early period of weight loss. Likewise, people who reduce calories will lose weight at in the first few weeks to months. Problem: For the majority of people, both effects are temporary. Weight loss with exercise will cease once the body accommodates to increased activity levels, and the initial weight loss from calorie restriction will reverse and the weight will be regained when metabolic rate diminishes.
- You need three square meals per day—Uh, what? Do you think that primitive humans, you know, the people whose physiological needs are programmed into your genetic code, ate three meals per day at, say, 7 am, 12 pm, and 6 pm? Or were they busy foraging for the roots and berries they could find, waiting for the spoils of the hunt, collecting fish or shellfish, or sharing the roasted flank of an animal the hunters killed? Three “square” meals per day is understood by no free-living population from which you have descended. Instead, we eat when we are hungry which is typically twice a day or one substantial meal and one smaller meal, not the three per day on an unphysiologic schedule.
- Everything in moderation—This knuckleheaded notion is largely due to the message propagated by organizations who stand to profit by promoting products that are inconsistent with human health and weight, encouraging the idea that, if you do something you really shouldn’t, such as consume candy or soft drinks (unimaginable in the Wheat Belly world in which desire for such things dissolves), you can compensate by exercising, say, 30 to 60 minutes longer. And if you don’t? Well, then, the weight you gain and the health problems you develop are your fault.
- Obtain all the nutrients you need from a balanced diet—Wow. How far wrong can conventional wisdom wander while pretending it has all the answers? You mean that you can obtain all the magnesium you require by eating healthy? Absolutely not, because drinking water is now filtered and modern mass-produced vegetables are lacking in magnesium. How about iodine? Well, yes, if you live along the ocean or consume seaweed and seafood regularly, which the majority of people do not. How about iron? If you consume grains, nearly all dietary iron is bound by grain phytates, making it unavailable for absorption and resulting in iron deficiency anemia, i.e., a “balanced diet” causes iron deficiency. The key: Modern life is substantially different from a time when that may have been true—but it is no longer. Neglect supplemental intake of nutrients not fully obtainable from diet and you will sacrifice many aspects of health.
- Skipping meals is dangerous—Well, there might be a bit of truth in this if you are in the process of growing, as with children. But, for those of us no longer growing, skipping meals can be a substantial health advantage that achieves effects such as reduction of insulin resistance and a start to unwinding the unhealthy changes in bowel flora that develop with the standard American diet.
- Diet plays no role in causing disease—Those of you who have had a ringside seat on the Wheat Belly experience already know how absurd this is. The opposite is true: nutrition is a huge, perhaps the number one, factor in causing disease. But the problem is that conventional notions of healthy eating are the opposite of what truly works to restore/maintain health. Doctor and dietitians should be experts in applying nutrition to health, experts in identifying diet-related health conditions such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, experts in reversing diet-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, and fatty liver, experts in identifying nutrient deficiencies—but they are not. But the fact remains: diet plays a huge role in causing and preventing/reversing disease. Because doctors and dietitians have failed to do their job, you must take the reins of diet and health.
- You need to get more fiber—This is indeed partially true: We all need more prebiotic fibers that nourish bowel flora; failing to do so means a future of health struggles such as constipation, metabolic distortions, insulin resistance, even conditions like diverticular disease and colon cancer. We also benefit from the fibers in vegetables, nuts, (non-grass) seeds, and fruit. The form of fiber that is not necessary is the form most widely advocated by health authorities: the bran and cellulose fiber of breakfast cereals and grains. As happens too often, industry co-opted the dietary message, twisting a dietary truth into one that serves their ends.
- The Mediterranean diet is the ideal diet—Or the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). There is NO evidence to support this claim. What is known about these diets is that the Mediterranean diet reduces heart disease risk compared to a standard American diet and a DASH diet reduces blood pressure a small quantity compared to a standard American diet. This cannot be construed to mean that they are therefore the ideal diet for humans. This would require a head-to-head prospective (not epidemiological) comparison of, say, Mediterranean vs. grain-free, limited-carb whole food diet. This has not yet been performed, but has been performed at the metabolic marker level showing, for instance, reversal of type 2 diabetes or weight loss with the latter approach. Yet these diets are held up as the ideal by the media and even many doctors.
You can appreciate that the last five decades have been a disaster of dietary misinformation and has contributed to the widespread epidemics of type 2 diabetes, overweight/obesity, autoimmune conditions, and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. But open your eyes to these disastrous pieces of dietary misinformation, recognize what is really true, and you are empowered to change the course of your health, weight, and life.