Top 10 Biggest Myths in ‘Alternative’ Nutrition
Even with evidence to support them, mainstream and alternative practitioners often disagree on best practices.
However, some people hold beliefs about nutrition that have no scientific support.
This article looks at some of the myths that people sometimes share in the field of alternative nutrition.
1. Sugar: Eight Times More Addictive Than Cocaine?
Sugar occurs naturally in many foods, especially fruits and vegetables. However, it's also a popular additive.
There's plenty of evidence that adding too much sugar to food is harmful. Scientists have linked it with obesity, insulin resistance, increases in belly fat and liver fat, and diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
However, avoiding added sugar can be difficult. One reason is that manufacturers add it to many premade foods, including savory sauces and fast foods.
In addition, some people experience cravings for foods that are high in sugar.
This has led some experts to believe that sugar and the foods that contain it have addictive properties.
There's evidence to support this in both animals and humans. Sugar can activate the same areas in the brain as recreational drugs, and it can cause similar behavioral symptoms.
Some go as far as to claim that sugar is 8 times more addictive than cocaine.
This claim stems from a study that found that rats preferred water sweetened with sugar or saccharin over intravenous cocaine.
It was a striking result but didn't prove that sugar has an eightfold addictive lure for humans, compared to cocaine.
Sugar can trigger health problems, and it may be addictive. However, it's unlikely to be more addictive than cocaine.
Sugar can be an unhealthy addition to food, and it may be addictive. However, it's unlikely to be 8 times as addictive as cocaine.
2. Calories Don't Matter at All
Some people think that calories are all that matter for weight loss.
Others say that you can lose weight no matter how many calories you eat, as long as you choose the right foods. They consider calories irrelevant.
The truth is somewhere in between.
Eating certain foods can help support weight loss, for example, by:
- boosting metabolism, which increases the number of calories you use
- reducing appetite, which decreases the number of calories you consume
Many people can lose weight without counting calories.
However, it's a fact that if you lose weight, more calories are leaving your body than entering it.
This doesn't mean that you need to count calories to lose weight.
Changing your diet so that weight loss happens on "autopilot" can be just as effective, if not better.
Some people believe that calories make no difference to weight loss or gain. Calorie counting isn't always necessary, but calories still count.
3. Cooking With Olive Oil is a Bad Idea
Extra virgin olive oil is one of the healthiest fats available.
However, many people believe it's unhealthy to use it for cooking.
Fats and antioxidants are sensitive to heat. When you apply heat, harmful compounds may form.
The polyunsaturated fat content of olive oil is only 10–11%. This is low, compared with most other plant oils.
Indeed, studies have shown that olive oil maintains some of its healthful properties, even at high heat.
Although there may be a loss of antioxidants, vitamin E, and flavor, olive oil retains most of its nutritional properties when heated.
Olive oil is a healthy choice of oil, whether raw or in cooking.
Olive oil can be a suitable choice for cooking. Studies show that it can withstand cooking temperatures, even for long periods of time.
4. Microwaves Damage Your Food and Emit Harmful Radiation
Heating food in a microwave oven is fast and highly convenient, but some people believe this comes at a cost.
They claim that microwaves produce harmful radiation and can damage the nutrients in food. However, there doesn't appear to be any published evidence to support this.
Microwave ovens use radiation, but their design prevents this from escaping.
In fact, research suggests that microwave cooking may be better for preserving nutrients than other cooking methods, such as boiling or frying.
There's no scientific evidence that microwave cooking is harmful.
No published studies show that microwave ovens are harmful. On the contrary, some research suggests they may help preserve nutrients that other cooking methods destroy.
5. Blood Cholesterol Doesn't Matter
Nutritionists often disagree on the effect of saturated fats and dietary cholesterol.
Mainstream organizations, such as the American Heart Association (AHA) recommend limiting the intake of saturated fats to 5–6% of calories, while the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a maximum of 10% for the general population.
Meanwhile, some evidence suggests that consuming foods that are high in cholesterol and saturated fats may not increase the risk of heart disease.
The Dietary Guidelines no longer contain advice on limiting cholesterol intake to 300 mg a day in 2015. However, they still recommend eating as little dietary cholesterol as possible while following a healthy diet.
However, some people have misunderstood this and believe that blood cholesterol levels are also unimportant.
Having high levels of cholesterol in your blood can increase your cardiovascular disease and other health conditions. You shouldn't disregard them.
Following a healthful lifestyle — including a diet that's rich in fresh fruits and vegetables and low in processed foods, fat, and sugar — can help you maintain suitable cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol and saturated fat in foods may be harmless, but cholesterol levels in the bloodstream can affect your heart disease risk.
6. Store-Bought Coffee Contains High Levels of Mycotoxins
Mycotoxins are toxins that come from molds.
They're present in many popular foods.
There's a myth that most coffee contains harmful levels of mycotoxins.
However, this is unlikely to be true. There are strict regulations controlling mycotoxin levels in foods. If a crop exceeds the safety limit, the producer must discard it.
Studies show that if you drink 4 cups of coffee a day, you would consume only 2% of the mycotoxin intake that's deemed safe. These levels are well within the safety margin.
There's no need to fear coffee due to mycotoxins.
Mycotoxins are everywhere, but the levels in coffee are well within safety limits.
7. Alkaline Foods Are Healthy, Acidic Foods Cause Disease
Some people follow an alkaline diet.
- Foods have either an acidic or an alkaline effect on the body.
- Acidic foods lower the pH value of the blood, making it more acidic.
- Cancer cells only grow in an acidic environment.
However, research doesn't support this view. The truth is, the body regulates the blood's pH value, regardless of diet. It only changes significantly if a person has severe poisoning or a health condition such as chronic kidney disease.
A person's blood is slightly alkaline by default, and cancer can also grow in an alkaline environment.
The alkaline diet may be healthy, but that's because it's based on healthy, whole foods. Whether these foods are "alkaline" or "acidic" is unlikely to have an effect.
Foods cannot change the pH value (acidity) of the blood in healthy people. There's no convincing evidence to support the alkaline diet.
8. Eating Dairy is Bad for Your Bones
Another myth states that dairy causes osteoporosis. This is an extension of the alkaline diet myth.
Supporters claim that dairy protein makes the blood acidic and the body takes calcium out of your bones to neutralize the acidity.
In reality, there are several properties in dairy foods that support bone health.
They're a good source of calcium and phosphorus, the main building blocks of bones. They also contain vitamin K-2, which may contribute to bone formation.
They're also a good source of protein, which is useful for bone health, according to research.
Studies indicate that dairy products can improve bone health in all age groups by increasing bone density and lowering the risk of fractures.
Many of these studies are controlled trials in humans.
While dairy isn't essential for bone health, it can be highly beneficial.
Some people claim that dairy products can harm bone health, but most studies show the opposite.
9. Carbs Are Inherently Harmful
Low-carb diets have numerous benefits.
Studies show they can help people lose weight and improve various health markers, especially for metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
If lowering carbs can help treat certain health problems, some people believe carbs must have caused the problem in the first place.
As a result, many low-carbers have come to demonize all high carb foods, including those that offer a range of benefits, such as potatoes, apples, and carrots.
It's true that refined carbs, including added sugars and refined grains, can contribute to weight gain and metabolic disease.
However, this is not true for whole carbohydrate sources.
When metabolic problems already exist — such as with obesity and type 2 diabetes — a low carb diet can help.
However, that doesn't mean that carbs caused these health problems.
Many people remain in excellent health while eating plenty of unprocessed high carbohydrate foods, such as whole grains.
A low carb diet is a healthy option for some people, but it's not necessary or suitable for everyone.
Low carb diets can help some people, but this doesn't mean that carbs are unhealthy, especially those that are whole and unprocessed.
10. Agave Nectar is a Healthy Sweetener
The health food market has expanded rapidly in recent years, but not all of its products are healthy.
One example is the sweetener agave nectar.
Added sugars can cause health problems, and one reason is their high fructose content.
The liver can only metabolize certain amounts of fructose. If there's too much fructose, the liver starts turning it into fat.
Agave nectar has a higher fructose content than both regular sugar and high fructose corn syrup.
This may make agave nectar one of the least healthy sweeteners on the market.
Agave nectar is high in fructose, which can be difficult for the liver to metabolize. It is better to avoid sweeteners and added sugar where possible.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.
By Betsy Mason
For decades, climate scientist David Keith of Harvard University has been trying to get people to take his research seriously. He's a pioneer in the field of geoengineering, which aims to combat climate change through a range of technological fixes. Over the years, ideas have included sprinkling iron in the ocean to stimulate plankton to suck up more carbon from the atmosphere or capturing carbon straight out of the air.
Solar geoengineering would involve injecting reflective aerosols from high-altitude planes into the layer of the upper atmosphere known as the stratosphere, which stretches between 10 to 50 kilometers (6 to 31 miles) above Earth's surface. The idea is that the aerosol particles would reflect a small amount of sunlight away from the planet, reducing the amount of heat trapped by greenhouse gases and mitigating some of the effects of climate change.
The planned Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment will send a balloon carrying scientific instruments in a gondola into the stratosphere. The instruments will release a small amount of material — likely ice or mineral dust — to form a kilometer-long plume of aerosol particles (left). Modified airboat propellers will allow the gondola to maneuver above the plume (middle) and lower instruments into the plume to take repeated measurements of how the particles spread through the stratosphere (right). ADAPTED FROM J.A. DYKEMA ET AL / PHILOSOPHICAL TRANSACTIONS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY A 2014
David Keith envisions using multiple approaches to combat climate change. The red line shows how the impacts of climate change would worsen with a business-as-usual scenario of unabated burning of fossil fuels and other greenhouse gas emissions. Aggressively cutting emissions bends that curve, and removing carbon from the atmosphere offers further cuts, but there are still consequences from the already high levels of carbon dioxide. In this scenario, solar geoengineering would lessen the impact from existing atmospheric carbon dioxide, effectively carving the top off the curve.<p>Some people think we should use it only as a get-out-of-jail card in an emergency. Some people think we should use it to quickly try to get back to a preindustrial climate. I'm arguing we use solar geoengineering to cut the top off the curve by gradually starting it and gradually ending it.</p><p><strong>Do you feel optimistic about the chances that solar geoengineering will happen and can make a difference in the climate crisis?</strong></p><p>I'm not all that optimistic right now because we seem to be so much further away from an international environment that's going to allow sensible policy. And that's not just in the US. It's a whole bunch of European countries with more populist regimes. It's Brazil. It's the more authoritarian India and China. It's a more nationalistic world, right? It's a little hard to see a global, coordinated effort in the near term. But I hope those things will change.</p>
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By Lisa Newcomb
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<div id="eaab1" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0f6dbe75ec7e7ed4656a767958238c89"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306313773511303169" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Amount of federal government subsidies given to the fossil fuel industry every year: $15 billion. The amount it sh… https://t.co/NRWQWRiw5f</div> — Bernie Sanders (@Bernie Sanders)<a href="https://twitter.com/SenSanders/statuses/1306313773511303169">1600284448.0</a></blockquote></div><p>Urbanic urged lawmakers to act to protect the planet.</p><p>"The voluntary initiatives and commitments by the industry have failed," she said in a statement. "Policymakers should look past the industry smokescreen and adopt proven, progressive legislation globally to create the systemic change that this crisis so urgently needs."</p>
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