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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Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.
How to Rock Your Walk<p>Walking isn't just fun and healthy. It's accessible.</p><p>"Walking is cheap," says Dr. John Paul H. Rue, a sports medicine doctor at <a href="https://mdmercy.com/" target="_blank">Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore</a>. "You can do it anywhere at any time; [it] requires little to no special equipment and has many of the same cardio benefits as running or other more intense workouts."</p><p>Want to up your walking game? Try the tips below.</p>
Use Hand Weights<p>Cardio and strength training can go hand-in-hand when you add weights to your walk.</p><p>A <a href="https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2019/03000/Associations_of_Resistance_Exercise_with.14.aspx" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that weight training is good for your heart, and <a href="https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(17)30167-2/abstract" target="_blank">research</a> shows it reduces the risk of developing a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/nutrition-metabolism-disorders" target="_blank">metabolic disorder</a> by 17 percent. People with metabolic disorders have a higher chance of being diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.</p><p>Rue suggests not carrying weights for your entire walk.</p><p>"Hand weights can give you an added level of energy burning, but you have to be careful with these because carrying [them] over a long period of time or while walking could actually lead to some overuse injuries," he says.</p>
Make It a Circuit<p>As another option, consider doing a circuit. First, put a pair of dumbbells on your lawn or somewhere in your home. Walk around the block once, then stop and do some bicep curls and tricep lifts before walking around the block again.</p><p>Rue recommends <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/running-with-weights" target="_blank">avoiding ankle weights</a> during cardio workouts, as they force you to use your quadriceps rather than hamstrings. They can also cause muscle imbalance, according to the <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/wearable-weights-how-they-can-help-or-hurt" target="_blank">Harvard Health Letter</a>.</p>
Find a Fitness Trail<p>Strength training isn't limited to weights. You can get stronger by <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/bodyweight-workout" target="_blank">simply using your body</a>.</p><p>Often found at parks, fitness trails are obstacle courses with equipment for pullups, pushups, rowing, and stretches to build upper and lower body strength.</p><p>Try searching "fitness trails near me" online, checking out your local parks and recreation website, or calling the municipal office to <a href="https://calisthenics-parks.com/" target="_blank">find one</a>.</p>
Recruit a Friend<p>People who workout together stay healthy together.</p><p><a href="https://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12877-017-0584-3" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that older adults who exercised with a group improved or maintained their functional health and enjoyed their lives more.</p><p>Enlist the help of a walking buddy with a regimen you aspire to have. If you don't know anyone in your area, apps like <a href="https://www.strava.com/" target="_blank">Strava</a> have social networking features so you can get support from fellow exercisers.</p>
Try Meditation<p>According to the <a href="https://www.nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/nhis/2017" target="_blank">2017 National Health Interview Survey</a>, published by the National Institutes of Health, meditation is on the rise, and for good reason.</p><p>Researchers <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29616846/" target="_blank">found</a> that mind-body relaxation practices can regulate inflammation, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/biological-rhythms" target="_blank">circadian rhythms</a>, and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/glucose" target="_blank">glucose</a> metabolism, as well as lower <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/high-blood-pressure-hypertension" target="_blank">blood pressure</a>.</p><p>"Any form of exercise can be turned into a meditation of some type, either by the surroundings you are walking in, like a park or trail, or by blocking out the outside world with music on your headphones," Rue says.</p><p>You can also play a podcast or download an app like <a href="https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app" target="_blank">Headspace</a> that has a library of guided meditations to practice while you walk.</p>
Do Fartlek Walks<p>Typically used in running, fartlek intervals alternate periods of increased and decreased speed. These are <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-hiit" target="_blank">high-intensity interval training (HIIT)</a> workouts, which allow exercisers to accomplish more in less time.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0154075" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that 10-minute interval training improved <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/metabolic-syndrome" target="_blank">cardiometabolic</a> health, or lowered the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, just as well as working out at a continuous pace for 50 minutes.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111489" target="_blank">Research</a> also shows that HIIT workouts increase muscle <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fast-twitch-muscles" target="_blank">oxidative</a> capacity, or the ability to use oxygen. To do a fartlek walk, try walking at an increased pace for 3 minutes, slow down for 2 minutes, and repeat.</p>
Gradually Increase Pace<p>A faster walking pace is associated with a lower risk of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/copd" target="_blank">chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)</a> and respiratory diseases, according to a <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30303933/" target="_blank">2019 study</a>.</p><p>Still, it's best not to go from a stroll to an Olympic-worthy power walk in a day. Instead, increase your pace gradually to prevent injury.</p><p>"Start by walking at a brisk pace for about 10 minutes per day, 3 to 5 days per week," Rue says. "Once you've done this for a few weeks, increase your time by 5 to 10 minutes per day until you get to 30 minutes."</p>
Add Stairs<p>You've likely heard that taking the stairs instead of an elevator is a way to add more movement into your daily routine. It's also a way to step up your walking. Stair climbing has been shown to <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335519301123?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">decrease the risk of mortality</a> and can easily add a bit more challenge to your walk.</p><p>If you don't have stairs in your home, you can often find them outside a local municipal building, train station, or at a high school stadium.</p>
Is Your Walk a True Cardio Workout?<p>Not all walks are equal. A walk that's too leisurely may not provide enough burn to qualify as cardio. To see if you're getting a good workout, try to <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-check-heart-rate" target="_blank">measure your heart rate</a> using a monitor.</p><p>"A target goal for a good walking workout heart rate is about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate," Rue says, adding that maximum heart rate is <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/fat-burning-heart-rate" target="_blank">typically calculated</a> by 220 beats per minute minus your age.</p><p>You can also monitor how easily you can carry on a conversation while you walk to gauge your heart rate.</p><p>"If you can walk and carry on a normal conversation, that's probably a lower intensity walk," says Rue. "If you are slightly breathless but can still have a conversation, that's probably a moderate workout. If you are out of breath and can't talk normally, that's a vigorous workout."</p>
Takeaway<p>By shaking up your routine, you can add excitement to your workout and reap even more rewards than a basic walk provides. Increasing the pace and intensity of a workout will make it more effective.</p><p>Simply pick your favorite variation to add some spice to your next walk.</p>
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