• Debunked Nutrition Fads

    I recently read a blog discussing nutrition fads that have cropped up recently. While some of it was valid, I am passing on information that I believe is more sound advice. Every person is unique, each with a different metabolism and health challenge. One size never fits all. Often our health problems persist because we are willing to change one thing, but not many things. Rather than adjusting the elements of our lifestyle that require change and thereby bringing everything back into balance, we want to focus on only one, often irrelevant area in hopes that everything else will magically change. However, the body works in concert. In order to be in balance, we need to seek balanced lifestyle and nutrition habits and not rely on trends and fads. As Americans, we tend to seek quick fixes. In so doing, we listen and follow anything said in the media, on blogs, by friends, or through other healthcare workers.Among some of the misguided health advices are statements such as, “This one food is bad for you.” “Try this diet pill; it worked for me.” “If you make this one simple change, all of your health problems will go away.”

    Claims about nutrition are constantly changing, evidenced by the passing fads we’ve all seen come and go over the years. For instance, there was the Adkins diet, which fizzled out after time. We’ve heard, “Eggs are bad for you,” then, “Eggs are good for you.” Then there was, “Margarine is healthy for you,” replaced by, “Now butter is better.” A few other fads are below that I would like to clear up for the record.

    1. Protein Shakes are the way to lose weight. First of all, there are a vast number of reasons for why people gain weight. Overeating is only one. Drinking one to two shakes a day and a sensible dinner is cutting down one’s caloric intake, but this can be accomplished using food without any shakes. Second, to say that consuming protein shakes one will lose weight is deceiving and touts a “one size fits all” mentality. Other reasons why protein shakes, in general, are not the answer to weight loss are the following:


      • Protein shakes usually come from processed sources of protein unless it is a living source protein.The high heat processing can destroy the macro peptides necessary for function in the body. Some of these functions are neurotransmitters and hormones. We need these hormones to keep our weight stable.
      • Isolates, common in many whey protein powders, can contain pesticides, GMO, or hormones. These isolates come from many sources, so purity and integrity is negligible. Pesticides and GMO can contribute to weight gain due to the inflammation associated with consumption of these compounds.
      • Most of the powder on the market is packed with artificial sweeteners and fillers. These can bein the form of cornsyrup, enriched flour, artificial sweeteners, artificial flavors, hydrogenated oils, preservatives (sodium benzoate, BHA), artificial colors and flavors. Many of the containers themselves are not BPA free. Artificial ingredients contribute to inflammation and weight gain.
      • They can spike blood sugar. Whey protein can raise blood sugar and insulin levels, especially if there is no fiber included. Other sugars to look for are, sucralose, splenda, dextrin, maltodextrin, and corn syrup.
      • Many lack nutrients. Being fit and healthy isn’t just about the macronutrients (protein, fat, carbs), it’s about the micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, etc.) too. Even these can be artificial.
      • They can be an unnecessary expense. Many bodybuilders of old never used protein powders because it wasn’t even available. They were still able to build great physiques. Steak and eggs, and meat and potatoes were staples in their diets. Those meals provided them with protein, healthy fats, low-glycemic carbs, and nutrients needed to build the muscle they wanted and yet they maintained their weight. 10


      The above being said, according to Byron Richards, a quality protein source can help a person build muscle, improve fitness, boost immunity, and enhance insulin and leptin function. Richards continues, “While these properties don’t directly affect weight loss, they all contribute to proper weight management.” 11 And, while protein doesn’t directly trigger weight loss, along with healthy fats and fiber, it provides several properties that make weight loss easier and healthier. 12The take home point here is to know your source of protein powder.

    2. “Soy is a healthy protein.” Soy has beentouted as healthy because studies done in Asia showed that women had low rates of breast cancer due to the phytoestrogen compounds, so now marketers are putting soy in everything. Soy, however, is actually not as healthy as marketers claim it to be. First, Asians have not been using soy for thousands of years. Only since 200 B.C. have they been using the fermented soy in their diet.1 Second, the soy industry has “Americanized” soy by processing and inserting it in everything from protein shakes, bars, cereals, sausage, processed meats, burgers, and numerous other foods, leaving Americans with over consumption of soy. The consequence is estrogen dominance. Worse, it now has become the number one Genetically Modified food in America. Even organic soy is not without warning. Soy, as well as many other healthy foods, contains what are called, “anti-nutrients.” These compounds are there naturally for a purpose and that is to block seeds from sprouting prematurely and to harm predators from eating too much of the product. Some of these anti-nutrients are as follows:


      • Lectins- are in beans and wheat as well and cause red blood cells to clump together and may induce immune system reactions.
      • Oligosaccharides – are sugars that may cause bloating and gas
      • Oxalates- are found in many foods including kale and spinach that prevent proper absorption of minerals such as calcium and have been linked to kidney stones.7
      • Phytates- impair absorption of minerals such as zinc, iron, and calcium.
      • Saponins- have some health benefits, including cardiovascular and gastrointestinal. They may lower cholesterol by binding with bile, but also may damage the intestinal lining by producing increased permeability. Those found in soy, do not seem to exert the same harmful effects. 13


      So, what is healthy about soy? Edamame, tofu, and other fermented soy products such as Miso and Natto are healthy options. These have higher ascorbic acid and beta-carotene content and lower antinutrient contents. Proper preparation of any bean product also lessons the anti-nutrient content as well.

    3. “Everyone should go gluten-free.” Everyone is trying to go “gluten-free” these days or are touting to go “Paleo.” Almost everywhere you read people are advocating avoid all wheat products, regardless of whether you are wheat sensitive/intolerant or not. It’s true that wheat produced today is not the same wheat that our ancestors ate, as I describe in my book, Food Isn’t What It Used to Be.5 It’s also true that a significant and growing percentage of the population are intolerant or sensitive to wheat gluten. However, one disconcerting aspect of ‘prescribing’ a gluten free, grain-free diet for folks who do not need it for health reasons is that these people do not take the diet seriously! Thinking that it doesn’t matter to their health, these people choose to “cheat.” Although, I don’t recommend it. Those with Celiac disease or gluten intolerance cannot ever cheat. They cannot have just a little, or take an enzyme to counteract the inflammation that follows exposure to gluten.


      The other disconcerting matter regarding gluten-free diet is that people tend to substitute wheat with corn and other non-gluten grains and highly processed flours. A recent study discovered two new corn gluten proteins that led to an immune reaction. Quinoa may not be an acceptable alternative either. Quinoa has been found to have “gluten like” storage proteins that can mimic the proteins similar to that in wheat, barley, and rye.

      In addition, to be truly gluten free, processed dairy would also have to be eliminated. This means eliminating one’s favorites of cheese, yogurt, milk, butter, sour cream, etc. Recent science has confirmed that gluten-based grains fed to cows pass through their milk, though this does not apply to grass-fed cows.Thus, even though milk is technically gluten free, we have to look at what the cows were fed to be certain it is safe for Celiacs or those with gluten intolerances.

      Being in favor of “going gluten-free,” to those who need to, gluten is pro-inflammatory to the body and high in lectins. Grains contain a number of lectin compounds that can interfere with the ability to digest foods in general. Therefore, anyone with digestive problems would do well avoiding gluten. Also, grains in general, breakdown into sugar quickly and can promote weight gain and inflammation.9There are many benefits to eating less wheat and replacing much of the bread and pasta you eat with healthier carbs, like root vegetables, squash, brown rice, and beans. Your waistline, perhaps, and your immune system may be happier. Be wise as to why you are “going gluten free” and what you are eating in place of gluten.

      On the other hand, the Paleo Diet has some issues. Paleo, by design, means without wheat or dairy, and in light of recent studies, those with Celiac would be wise to eliminate both from the diet unless the dairy came from grass-fed cows. “Low-grain or no-grain diets, may be fine also for immuno-compromised adults (or children) who have eaten a Standard American diet in their early lives, or been prescribed toxic meds, or been exposed to excessive pollution, but it is not a remedy that should be applied to someone who is not sick, has generally cooked and eaten foods made of high quality ingredients, and whose system is not wrecked with prior abuses from these types of diets,” remarks SushamaGokhole of Larkspur. What I have seen currently, is a plethora of glorified gluten-free, highly refined carbohydrate, low-fat, or lack of healthy fat, sugar substitute foods, satisfying sugar and carbohydrate addictions. Think about it. In spite of one’s belief in the Paleolithic cavemen living million years ago, Paleolithic people were not making cookies, cakes, pies, and brownies with processed coconut flour and sugar obtained from their local grocery store! They hunted and gathered and ate what was grown on the land or in the wild. Even the cakes of ancient times were very dense and hard; not light and fluffy such as being made now in many “Paleo” recipes.5

      In addition, going Gluten-free means some vital nutrients can be lost and will have to be supplemented.

    4. Kale and spinach are so healthy they should be consumed daily. This is again one of those, well yes and no. Greens are highly nutritious as they balance the pH of the body and contain phytonutrients and carotenoids. Marketers know this and now we see kale chips, kale and spinach juice and smoothie recipes flooding the supermarkets. However, kale and spinach are in the classification of oxalates along with wheat, beans and legumes. Oxalic acid and its salts occur as end products of metabolism in a number of plants. When these plants are eaten they may have an adverse effect because oxalates bind calcium and other minerals.


      The other problem with kale is that it belongs in the classification of thiocyanates. When consumed in large amounts these are potent inhibitors of iodide transport found in cruciferous vegetables. If a person has low thyroid function, consuming large amounts of kale and other raw cruciferous vegetables will continue to inhibit their already low thyroid function. Cooking these vegetables nullifies the inhibition.

      While kale and spinach are healthy, they can be quiteunhealthy consumed daily in large amounts and can lead to disease process. High consumption of oxalic acid may cause stone formation in the urinary tract, as well as lead to mineral deficiencies. This may increase ones risk factor for osteoporosis for women, who require greater amounts of calcium in the diet. 7, 8 Soaking and cooking of foods high in oxalates will reduce the oxalate content from leaching.

      Thinking you are getting healthy by drinking kale and spinach smoothies, juices, and kale chips every day is not so healthy after all.

      Moderation, balance, and variety are the keys. Eat real food; food uncontaminated by hormones, antibiotics and destructive processing.Stay the course with sound nutrition and avoid the fads and trends that come and go with the seasons of life.

    5. “Always eat sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes.” It is true, white potatoes are high glycemic, which means they can raise blood sugar quickly after ingestion. If a person is diabetic, this is more problematic. However, adding butter to the potato will slow the insulin down and lower the glycemic load. One medium potato contains almost 5 grams of fiber, loads of potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, and even some protein. White potatoes are also much richer in potassium, magnesium and vitamin C. Sweet potatoes contain slightly more calories than white potatoes per 100 grams. They also contain more fiber and vitamin A. Adding butter to either of these ensures insulin stability. In addition, sweet potatoes or yams can be juiced or blended in smoothies to get maximum nutrient benefits and it tastes delicious this way. Since these are root vegetables, I recommend purchasing organic.


    6. “Calories eaten late at night will make you fat.” Here, the emphasis is on calories. True, it’s not a good idea to eat a heavy meal past 7:30PM because it will interfere with digestion. It’s not that eating late that will make one fat, it’s what the person is eating and why. However, a small healthy snack of protein such as nuts or yogurt may even help stabilize blood sugar or help a person sleep better. Most people who are “late-night bingers” are making poor dietary choices. They tend to under-eat during the day and then catch up in the evening when they’re too hungry to choose healthy foods. The bingers end up choosing chips, ice cream, and treats which are quick and easy, yet fat producing.


    7. You must eat every 3 hours to keep up your metabolism. Well, yes and no.In many cultures the concept of “snacking” every 2-3 hours does not exist. Throughout human history, we got by perfectly well on 2-3 meals a daywithout experiencing blood sugar woes that were supposedly going to happen if we ever missed a meal or failed to eat every 2-3 hours. I don’t advocate eating every 2 hours, yet some people may need a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack. Remember, your body gets used to a routine. This became established when you were an infant feeding on your mother or being bottled fed. Feed a body every 2-3 hours, and it will EXPECT food every 2-3 hours. Most moms are familiar with that. Like Pavlov’s dogs, we start salivating when our snack time is approaching, because our body is used to it. I advocate most people would be better off eating three square meals a day, front-loading at breakfast, and foregoing morning snacks. Learn to eat a little more nutrient dense, fiber and healthy fat rich meals so you can last until the next meal, rather than relying on snacks to make it through the day. Many people’s definition of a healthy snack can be open to interpretation as well. A protein bar with an apple may sound like a healthy snack, but the bar itself may be loaded with chocolate and refined sugar, and low fiber. Or some are loaded with the wrong kind of fiber and then we end up with a different battle. A better snack would be celery sticks (quality carb) and hummus (quality protein). As for the metabolism increase with this regular snacking; it’s simply a myth. Your body composition and size will affect your metabolism, not necessarily how often you eat.


    8. Greek Yogurt is best. Again, it depends on the source.What originally began from a family tradition has now spread rampant in the yogurt aisles of countless grocery stores. Varieties of yogurt have increased over the years, but the Greek yogurt choice has dramatically increased recently. Similar to the soy market with soy in every conceivable food stuff, “Greek” yogurt has grabbed on to the idea and now we see just about every commercial brand of yogurt offering “Greek” as a choice.

      Traditional Greek Yogurt has been around for 5,000 years in the Mediterranean regions. It is typically made with whole milk cow’s milk or goat’s milk and usually contains between 9%-10% milk fat as well as containing 5 live and active cultures (including Probiotics), rbst/rbgh (hormone and antibiotic) free milk, Kosher-Dairy, whereas typical whole milk varieties of yogurt found in your local grocer generally don’t exceed 3.5% milk fat and contain less probiotics, added hormones, and higher sugar content. The higher milk fat and straining process in Greek yogurt makes for a much smoother and creamier texture appeal that isn’t found in traditional yogurts.

      Greek Gods All Natural Greek yogurt is one of the original Greek yogurts.This brand contains whole milk and no added sugar. Plain, whole milk, is what I recommend. Adding fruit to the yogurt yields less sugar than the processed ones with fruit.

      Again, moderation, balance, and variety are the keys. Eat real food; food uncontaminated by hormones, antibiotics and destructive processing.Stay the course with sound nutrition and avoid the fads and trends that come and go with the seasons of life.


    1. Daniel, Kaayla PhD, CCN. The Whole Soy Story. New Trends Publishing, Inc. 2005
    2. Patenaude, Frederic. The Death of the Raw Food Diet.Tuesday Oct 15, 2013
    3. Hara, Takako. Hunger and Eating. www.csun.edu/~vcpsy00h/students/hunger.htm 1997
    4. Byrne, Jane.Full fat milk could be linked to low BMI.2009
    5. Andrew, Christine. Food Isn’t What It Used to Be. Westbow Press. 2013
    6. Billings, Tom. Troubleshooting: Avoiding and Overcoming Problems in Raw and Living-Foods Diets. Beyond Vegetarianism. 1997
    7. Sc Noonan, Bsc, MSc. Oxalate content of foods and its affect on humans. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1999, 8(1): 64-74
    8. WeaverCM, Martin BR, Ebner JS, Krueger CA. Oxalic acid decreases calcium absorption in rats. Journal of Nutrition 1987, 117(11):1903-1906
    9. Osbourne, Peter. The Gluten Free Lie. Gluten Free Society, June 2013
    10. Schober, Tony. Six Reasons You Should Stop Using Protein Powder, 2013
    11. Richards, Byron J. 18 April 2013. “How Protein Helps Weight Loss” Accessed 10 July 2013.
    12. Layman, Donald K. 2004. Protein Quantity and Quality and Levels above the RDA Improves Adult Weight Loss. The Journal of American College Nutrition, Vol. 23, Supplement 6
    13. Curcio, Peter, RD. Dissecting Anti-Nutrients: A Closer Look at Saponins. www.breakmuscle.com
    14. Erdogan M. Thiocyanate overload and thyroid disease. Biofactors. 2003;19(3-4):107-11.


    Christine Andrew, CNC, FMP is a certified nutrition consultant and a functional medicine practitioner. She operates a natural healthcare practice, Center for Holistic Health and Nutrition,at 348 Cernon St. Ste A in Vacaville. She can be reached at www.individualizedwellness.net or www.christineandrew-cnc.com.