11 Universal Truths in Nutrition That Are Actually Agreed On
By Kris Gunnars
There is a lot of controversy in nutrition.
Sometimes it seems like people can't agree on anything at all. But there are a few exceptions to this: some nutrition facts that aren't controversial. Here are 11 universal truths in nutrition that people actually agree on.
1. Artificial Trans Fats Are Extremely Unhealthy
There is ongoing debate about fats in the diet, but most people agree that trans fats are harmful.
Put simply, trans fats are polyunsaturated fats that have been chemically altered to resemble saturated fats. This is done by exposing polyunsaturated fats to high heat, high pressure and hydrogen gas, in the presence of a metal catalyst. This “hydrogenates" the fats, making them resemble saturated fats in consistency, which dramatically improves shelf life.
These fats can raise small, dense LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower HDL (the good) cholesterol, cause insulin resistance and belly fat accumulation, while driving inflammation. There are now studies showing that trans fat consumption is strongly linked to many serious diseases, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
These fats are found mostly in highly processed foods. The best way to avoid them is to read labels and avoid anything that has the word “hydrogenated" on the ingredients list.
A little known fact is that refined vegetable oils like soybean and canola oils also contain significant amounts of trans fats, from 0.56-4.2 percent, although it's usually not listed on the label. It's best to avoid these too.
Bottom Line: Trans fats are man-made fats, made by “hydrogenating" polyunsaturated vegetable oils. These fats can cause severe harmful effects on metabolism and contribute to many diseases.
2. Whole Foods Are Better Than Processed Foods
There is growing consensus that processed foods are harmful.
Humans evolved eating unprocessed “real" foods, which retain all the nutrients and fiber found in foods in their natural state. Most highly processed foods don't really resemble real food at all. They consist of refined ingredients and artificial chemicals, assembled in a package that looks and tastes like food.
Processed foods are harmful for various reasons. They tend to be high in harmful ingredients like sugar, refined carbs and processed oils. At the same time, they are very low in micronutrients, fiber and antioxidants.
But what many people don't realize is that the food industry puts a LOT of science and effort into making processed foods as “rewarding" (and addictive) as possible. The way foods are “engineered" effectively short circuits the brain mechanisms that are supposed to regulate our appetite. This is why people tend to eat much more than their bodies need if they base their diet around processed foods, which leads to obesity and metabolic disease.
There are also studies showing that we only burn half as many calories digesting processed compared to whole foods, so people who eat mostly processed foods will burn fewer calories throughout the day.
Bottom Line: Whole foods are much healthier than processed foods, which tend to be low in nutrients, high in harmful ingredients and designed to drive over consumption.
3. Getting Enough Omega-3 Fatty Acids Is Important
There is actually quite a bit of controversy regarding polyunsaturated fats, but most of it revolves around Omega-6 fats. The other kind, Omega-3, is actually not controversial at all. Pretty much everyone agrees that it is needed and that most people aren't getting enough.
Omega-3 fatty acids are required for various purposes. They are structural molecules in cell membranes, especially in the brain. Omega-3 consumption is linked to improved neurological health, including improved intelligence, reduced depression and a lower risk of dementia. But they also play critical roles in other cellular processes, such as inflammation, immunity and blood clotting.
The best way to get enough Omega-3s is to eat fatty fish and grass-fed/pastured animal foods. If that is not an option, taking an Omega-3 supplement like fish oil is important. Omega-3s are also found in some plant foods, including flax seeds and chia seeds. However, the Omega-3s in plants are not nearly as potent as the Omega-3s in animal foods.
Bottom Line: Omega-3 fatty acids are very important. They function as structural molecules in the brain and play key roles in important cellular processes.
4. Added Sugar Is Unhealthy
Added sugars, like sucrose and high fructose corn syrup, are harmful. People mainly disagree on how harmful and why they cause harm.
Some think they are chronic metabolic toxins while others think they're merely a source of empty calories. But pretty much everyone agrees that, at the very least, most people are eating too much sugar and would be better off eating healthier foods instead. Right now, Americans are eating about 70 pounds (32 kg) of sugar per year, and within those averages many people are eating a 100 pounds or more.
There is mounting evidence that sugar may be partly responsible for the worldwide pandemics of chronic, Western diseases. However, keep in mind that most people aren't deliberately eating this much sugar. They're getting a lot of it from conventional foods that have sugar added to them.
The best way to avoid added sugar is to read labels and familiarize yourself with the many names they use (such as corn syrup, evaporated cane juice and more) for sugar.
Bottom Line: Most experts agree that sugar is harmful and that people are eating too much of it. There is mounting evidence that sugar may be partly responsible for many chronic, Western diseases.
5. Green Tea Is a Healthy Beverage
Although coffee is controversial, most people agree that green tea is healthy. It is very rich in powerful antioxidants, including a bioactive compound called EGCG.
Many studies show that the people who drink the most green tea have a lower risk of serious diseases like heart disease and cancer. There is also evidence that the bioactive compounds in green tea can boost metabolism and increase fat burning. Green tea also contains certain amino acids that may help improve concentration and brain function.
Overall, green tea is a super healthy beverage that has been intensively studied, with almost every single study on it showing impressive health benefits.
Bottom Line: Although coffee and caffeine in general are controversial, most people agree that green tea is healthy. It is loaded with antioxidants and has led to major health benefits in many studies.
6. Refined Carbohydrates Should Be Minimized
Carbs are controversial.
Some think the majority of our calories should come from carbs, others that they are completely unnecessary and may even cause harm. But even the most extreme low-carbers agree that unprocessed carb sources are, at the very least, less bad than their refined counterparts.
Refined grains, for example, have had the bran and germ removed from the seed. These parts contain the most nutrients, but they also have fiber that mitigates the blood sugar raising effect of the carbs. When you remove the fiber, the carbs spike blood sugar and insulin rapidly. This leads to a subsequent drop in blood sugar, making people crave another high carb snack. This is one of the ways that refined carbs stimulate overeating.
If you're going to eat carbs, stick to unprocessed sources that include fiber.
Bottom Line: Although carbs are controversial, almost everyone agrees that whole, unrefined sources are much healthier than their refined counterparts.
7. Vegetables Are Healthy Foods
Vegetables are healthy. Pretty much everyone agrees on that. They are the default “health foods."
Vegetables are among the most nutritious foods in existence, calorie for calorie. They are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and thousands of trace nutrients that science is just beginning to uncover.
Vegetables are also among the most weight loss friendly foods. They have a low energy density, lots of fiber and make people feel full with a low amount of calories.
Bottom Line: Vegetables are low in calories, but very high in micronutrients, antioxidants and fiber. Many studies show that vegetable consumption is associated with good health.
8. Supplements Cannot Compensate for an Unhealthy Diet
The composition of whole foods is incredibly complex. They contain way more than just the standard vitamins and minerals that we're all familiar with.
Whole foods contain hundreds, if not thousands, of various trace nutrients, many of which have powerful health benefits. Science has yet to uncover many of these nutrients and 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.
So, take care of your diet first, then add supplements to optimize (if applicable).
Bottom Line: Whole foods are incredibly complex and contain thousands of trace nutrients, many of which science has yet to uncover. No amount of supplements can replace all the nutrients found in whole foods.
9. Olive Oil Is Super Healthy
Olive oil is the default healthy fat. It is part of the Mediterranean diet and has been a dietary staple for some of the world's healthiest populations. However, getting the right kind of olive oil can be tricky these days.
It is critical to choose extra virgin olive oil from a reputable seller, because many of the lower quality versions have been refined and diluted with cheaper oils.
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.
All things considered, quality extra virgin olive oil may just be the healthiest fat on the planet.
Bottom Line: Extra virgin olive oil is high in healthy monounsaturated fats and loaded with powerful bioactive antioxidants, many of which have anti-inflammatory effects and protect against heart disease.
10. Optimal Health Goes Beyond Just Nutrition
Nutrition is important, but it's still just one part of a bigger picture.
There are other aspects of life that can be just as important when it comes to feeling good, living long and avoiding disease. Exercise is a big one. Although it seems to be mostly ineffective for losing weight, it has incredible benefits for mental wellbeing and metabolic health.
Other lifestyle factors, that unfortunately are often ignored, are sleep and stress levels.
If you don't exercise, are overstressed and chronically under rested, then you won't be even close to optimally healthy, no matter how good your diet is.
Bottom Line: There are many aspects besides nutrition that are just as important for overall health. This includes exercise, managing stress levels and getting adequate sleep.
11. The Best Diet (or “Way of Eating") for You Is the One You Can Stick To
There is a lot of debate about the different diets.
There are the paleo folks, the low-carbers, the vegans, the balanced diet folks and everything in between. But the truth is: all of these approaches can work.
The problem is not which diet (or way of eating) is “best," the key is finding something that is sustainable for each individual. Losing weight and improving health is a marathon, not a race. What matters in the long run is finding something that is healthy, that you like and can live with for the rest of your life.
This article was reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition.
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By Tara Lohan
Our plastic pollution problem has reached new heights and new depths.
Scientists have found bits of plastic on the seafloor, thousands of feet below the ocean's surface. Plastic debris has also washed ashore on remote islands; traveled to the top of pristine mountains; and been found inside the bodies of whales, turtles, seabirds and people, too.
1. There’s a lot of it.<p>In a September study published in <em>Science </em>about the growth of plastic waste, an international team of researchers estimated that 19 to 23 million metric tons — or 11% of plastic waste generated — ended up in aquatic ecosystems in 2016. And even with countries pledging to help cut waste or better manage it, the amount of plastic pollution is <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/369/6510/1515" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">likely to double</a> in the next 10 years.</p><p>A <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/369/6510/1455" target="_blank">study</a> about solutions to plastic waste, published in the same issue, attributed the plastic pollution epidemic to a rise in single-use plastic and "an expanding 'throw-away' culture." The researchers also found that waste-management systems simply can't deal with the onslaught of plastic, which is why so much of it ends up in the environment. We now know that only <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.org/article/whopping-91-percent-plastic-isnt-recycled/" target="_blank">9% of the plastic products</a> we use actually get recycled.</p>
2. The United States is a big culprit.<p>Plastic pollution is a global problem, but the United States plays an outsized role. In 2016 the United States was responsible for more plastic waste than any other country, a <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/44/eabd0288" target="_blank">new study</a> in <em>Science Advances</em> found. Some of that waste was dumped illegally within the country and some was shipped to other countries that lacked the necessary infrastructure to handle it.</p><p>"The amount of plastic waste generated in the United States estimated to enter the coastal environment in 2016 was up to five times larger than that estimated for 2010, rendering the United States' contribution among the highest in the world," the researchers concluded. Part of that is because the United States ranks second in exporting plastic scrap.</p>
3. It threatens wildlife and ecosystems.<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg3MTUwMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzE1MzM2MH0.YL5C-5GF2mq9OZBLSkcAnreq2Mai20DweKSNqeUSWM4/img.jpg?width=980" id="20233" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3db4a05d5d417d925a770cf309db1db1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A giant otter plays with a plastic bottle. Paul Williams / CC BY-NC 2.0<p>Out of sight (for Americans) is <em>not </em>out of mind — and definitely not out of our waterways. An estimated 700 marine species and 50 freshwater species have either ingested plastic or been entangled in it.</p><p>"If we don't get the plastic pollution problem in the ocean under control, we threaten contaminating the entire marine food web, from phytoplankton to whales," George Leonard, the Ocean Conservancy's chief scientist and coauthor of the September <em>Science </em>study about plastic waste's increase, <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/10/plastic-pollution-huge-problem-not-too-late-to-fix-it/" target="_blank">told <em>National Geographic</em></a>. "And by the time the science catches up to this, perhaps definitively concluding that this is problematic, it will be too late. We will not be able to go back. That massive amount of plastic will be embedded in the ocean's wildlife essentially forever."</p><p>Microplastics have also been found in terrestrial animals, soil, drinking water and, not surprisingly, <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/victoriaforster/2020/08/18/microplastics-found-in-human-organs-for-the-first-time/?sh=42994a4e16f2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in our own bodies</a>, although it's not clear yet just how dangerous that is for people.</p>
4. The fracking boom is producing a plastic boom.<p>Despite the known risks of plastic pollution and concern over its mounting presence in the environment, plastic production — driven by fossil fuels like fracked gas and its component chemicals — is on pace to increase by 40% in the next 10 years.</p><p>The American Chemistry Council <a href="https://www.americanchemistry.com/Shale-Infographic/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">boasted that shale gas drilling is driving a surge</a> in plastic production, including the investment of more than $200 billion to fund new and expanded operations at 343 production plants in the United States.</p><p>On the ground this means more harmful pollution along the Gulf Coast's "Cancer Alley," where petrochemicals have been manufactured for decades in low-wealth communities of color. And it means the build-out of new facilities in Rust Belt states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.</p><p>Fracking also causes harmful greenhouse gas emissions, like methane, to be released into the atmosphere — amplifying the climate crisis. The refining process and the incineration of plastic waste also further drives greenhouse emissions and hazardous pollution.</p>
A petrochemical plant in Houston's ship channel. Louis Vest / CC BY-NC 2.0
5. Solutions are multifaceted.<p><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/plastic-pollution-do-beach-cleanups-really-make-a-difference/a-46196975" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Beach cleanups</a> tend to make headlines, but it's a losing battle as long as petrochemical companies keep producing so much plastic and we keep using plastic for products we're meant to toss after a single use.</p><p>The September study in <em><a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/369/6510/1455" target="_blank">Science</a></em> on plastic solutions found that it's possible to cut plastic pollution — perhaps as much as 80% by 2040 — but it will take systemic change both in reducing the amount of plastic produced and in better managing the waste stream.</p><p>Regulatory efforts can help this process, including by regulating plastic as a pollution source under the Clean Water Act.</p><p>Efforts to ban single-use plastics, as the European Union aims to do by 2021, are another positive step. So too are "<a href="https://therevelator.org/california-plastic-legislation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">circular economy laws</a>," which have been <a href="https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/5845?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22H.R.5%22%5D%7D&s=1&r=5" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">introduced, but not yet passed</a>, in the United States.</p><p>These laws would halt the production of new petrochemical facilities and encourage businesses to take responsibility for the full lifecycle of the products they produce by requiring them to be reused, adequately recycled or composted.</p><p>Getting circular economy laws enacted, though, will mean enough public and political will to counter the petrochemical, fossil fuel and plastic industries.</p><p>At <em>The Revelator</em>, we'll keep covering the push for solutions to the plastic problem and new science to better understand the threats. And if you want to know more about how wildlife has already been affected, what laws could help, whether industry will be held accountable and more, check out these stories from our archives:</p><p><strong>Laws and Regulations</strong></p><p><strong></strong><a href="https://therevelator.org/plastic-pollution-warnings/" target="_blank">Plastic Pollution: Could We Have Solved the Problem Nearly 50 Years Ago?</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/clean-water-plastic/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">How an Old Law Is Helping Fight New Plastic Problems</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/california-plastic-legislation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New California Bill Could Revolutionize How the U.S. Tackles Plastic Pollution</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/plastic-pollution-laws/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">What Laws Work Best to Cut Plastic Pollution?</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/plastic-illegal/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Can Plastic Ever Be Made Illegal?</a></p><p><strong>Impacts</strong></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/toxic-plastic-pollution-food-chain/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Something Fishy: Toxic Plastic Pollution Is Traveling Up the Food Chain</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/plastic-pollution-ship-shore/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Plastic Pollution: From Ship to Shore</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/plastics-fracking-climate/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Plans to Turn America's Rust Belt Into a New Plastics Belt Are Bad News for the Climate</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/trash-galapagos-ecotourism/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Trash in the Galápagos Reveals the Dark Side of Ecotourism</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/elephant-seals-diving-garbage/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Elephant Seals: Diving Through Garbage</a></p><p><strong>Taking Action</strong></p><p><em><a href="https://therevelator.org/story-plastic-review/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Story of Plastic: </a></em><a href="https://therevelator.org/story-plastic-review/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New Film Exposes the Source of Our Plastic Crisis</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/plastic-movie-stuff/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">How to Win the Fight Against Plastic</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/cities-zero-waste/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Can Cities Go Zero-waste? One Japanese Town Tried</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/secret-value-trash/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Secret Value of Trash</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/junk-raft-polluted-ocean/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Junk Raft: A Journey Through a Polluted Ocean</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/bioplastics-environment/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Are Bioplastics a Better Environmental Choice?</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/plastic-straws-problem-solution/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Plastic Pollution Is a Problem — These Kids Are Working for a Solution</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/thai-activists-fight-trash-taboo/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Thai Activists Fight Trash Taboo</a></p><p><em><a href="https://therevelator.org/author/taralohan/" target="_blank">Tara Lohan</a> is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://therevelator.org/plastic-pollution-archives/" target="_blank">The Revelator</a>. </em></p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Hundreds of endangered sea turtles were stranded on beaches after suffering "cold stunning" in the waters off Cape Cod, Mass. Local rescuers and wildlife rehabilitators stabilized the turtles at the New England Aquarium (NEAQ) and National Marine Life Center and began treatment. Many of the sea turtles were transported by land or air to partner facilities around the Eastern Seaboard for longer-term care to make room for more incoming, cold-stunned animals.
Rehabilitators at The Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys assess critically endangered, cold-stunned Kemp's ridley sea turtles flown in after rescue in New England. The Turtle Hospital<p>NEAQ and local rescuers begin seeing turtles every fall when water temperatures drop to that 50 degrees F threshold, and typically expect to find them into early January. After that, <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/sea-turtle-cape-cod-weather-2621527394.html" target="_self">temperatures are so cold that any animals found are usually no longer alive</a>.</p><p>Merigo estimated that this year's cold season "looks very busy" and noted that local rescue efforts had already surpassed 400 turtles.</p><p>"It is a lot of animals. They're still coming in," she told EcoWatch as she surveyed 39 rescued turtles that day and 20 the day prior. "So far, this is a huge year."</p><p>At NEAQ, the turtles are gradually warmed up about five to 10 degrees F a day. More aggressive warming can cause serious damage and the turtle might not survive, Merigo said. Emergency treatments also include providing replacement fluids, balancing electrolytes and addressing pneumonia. Assessments take place for other serious problems too, such as shell or limb fractures, frostbite, emaciation and eye damage.<span></span></p><p>As local aquariums don't have the capacity to care for all the injured turtles, a group of private pilots called <a href="https://www.turtlesflytoo.org/" target="_blank">"Turtles Fly Too"</a> donated planes, fuel and time to transport some to various partner facilities around the country. Other turtles were driven to closer care facilities.</p><p>"We have a huge network of really great partners working with us, so if we can spread out the care, we can give better care to all the animals," Merigo said.</p><p>The 40 Kemp's ridley sea turtles recovering in The Turtle Hospital will continue to be treated and rehabilitated anywhere from 30 days to a year, depending on the severity of injuries, Zirkelbach said.</p><p>The turtle expert noted that while she's treated cold-stunned turtles from the north before, the newest arrivals were the most cold-stunned Kemp's ridleys ever received at one time.</p>
After rescue, cold-stunned sea turtles received immediate emergency care and assessments at the New England Aquarium. Caitlin Cunningham / New England Aquarium<p>In the past decade, the Gulf of Maine, which spans from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia, has warmed 99 percent faster than the rest of the ocean, Zirkelbach said. The warm water encourages turtles that migrate north along the Gulf Stream in warmer months to stay in the bay longer.</p><p>"Turtles that fail to migrate south get stuck in the unique horseshoe-shaped topography of the Cape Cod peninsula, and when temperatures drop, the bay becomes a death trap," she added.</p><p>Before ocean temperatures warmed, the waters of Maine were too cold for many of these sea turtles, Merigo echoed. Now, with warming sea surface temperatures, Maine can reach the high 70s to low 80s, which is "perfect turtle temperature," she said. The potential for more turtles getting trapped in the bay and then cold-stunned is nerve-racking for Merigo.</p><p>In addition to shifting habitats as waters warm, warming global temperatures also disrupt natural gender balance in sea turtles, Merigo warned. Gender is determined by the temperature of eggs in nests, and as the planet warms, it will result in all females at some point, she said.</p><p>"The turtles we work with are all endangered and threatened," Merigo said. "For sea turtles in general, the future is a little grim. Climate change is real; it does impact them."</p>
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