Debunking Common Food Myths

There seem to be endless, conflicting studies and opinions on foods that are good for you, and foods that are not. Claims volley back and

One Healthcare Professional Weighs In

There seem to be endless, conflicting studies and opinions on foods that are good for you, and foods that are not. Claims volley back and forth; data suggests something one day, and another thing the next. 

Red meats; milk and dairy; eggs; tallow. Some tout these commonly debated foods as necessary nutrition; others say they are unhealthy for the body. 

Dr. Michael Jones, a medical bariatrician, said in many ways, the surface is just being scratched in metabolic health research—and there is no “silver bullet food.” >>

“Nutrition research is notoriously difficult, because our test subjects are free-living subjects, and a lot of the data we get is self-reported, because we can’t force people to do what we want them to do,” Jones said.
“Now, that doesn’t mean it’s worthless.
We get good insight. But it takes repeated studies in different populations over time, looking at different angles to start putting it together like a jigsaw puzzle.” 

Dairy

Jones said his general advice is to limit dairy. Although he does not forbid dairy consumption, humans do not need it.

Milk contains “a little bit of Vitamin D, but you can get more Vitamin D by eating the right veggies. You don’t really have to have milk to get your Vitamin D,” Jones said. “Calcium? OK, a reasonable amount of calcium. There’s also a lot of foods where, if we’re eating a broad variety of healthy foods, we’ll get our calcium intake as well. You don’t necessarily really have to have milk to do that.”

Jones said the main culprit in many dairy products—like most other foods—is added sugar. Yogurts, ice cream, flavored milk drinks; all include added sugars. 

“At the center of most metabolic conditions…we end up tracing a lot of this back to insulin resistance,” Jones said. “Abnormal glucose metabolism, and abnormal utilization of insulin, and abnormal production of insulin.” 

Alternative sources of some commonly-cited dairy nutrients are available. Sunlight, fatty fish, egg yolks, soy milk, beef liver, and cheeses—both in moderation—are good sources of Vitamin D, Jones said.

Red Meat

Controlled studies on the impacts of red meat, especially its impact on LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, are limited. However, Jones said current research suggests LDL cholesterol and its link to cardiovascular diseases tends to be more genetic. 

“A lot of the rise in LDL cholesterol is not lifestyle-dependent. It’s largely more genetic,” Jones said, citing studies published in some journals. “Now, triglycerides and HDL cholesterol tend to be linked to dietary choices. Contrary to popular understanding, it’s not as much the fat intake as it is the sugar intake.” 

As a medical specialist, Jones said he is more inclined to treat a person for insulin resistance, get high blood pressure under control, or otherwise treat underlying risk factors and cultivate good exercise habits to reduce cardiovascular risk than he is to instruct them to cut out red meats. 

Alternative protein sources include lean meats; certain seafood; eggs; legumes, like beans, lentils, and chickpeas; nuts and seeds; soy products, including tofu, edamame, and tempeh; whole grains, like brown rice, quinoa, barley, farro, and bulgar; and cheese and yogurt in moderation.

Eggs

Some studies have linked eggs to increase in cholesterol. Other studies say eggs are packed with important nutrients, show no correlation to elevation in cholesterol, and are an excellent food to incorporate in one’s diet.

“Personally, I think eggs are great,” Jones said. “They’re a great source of protein. We’ve never found a significant increase in somebody’s cholesterol and risk of cardiovascular disease that we can pin on eggs alone.”

Eggs have one gram of carbohydrate each, and Jones said he frequently recommends them. 

Tallow

Tallow is a saturated animal fat predominantly used as cooking grease, and in things like candles, soaps, and lubricants. It can also be used in skin care, providing natural vitamin-rich moisturizer. 

Concerns about tallow typically revolve around its status as a saturated fat.

While tallow can be used healthfully, Jones said, it is not one of his normal recommendations and
should be moderated.

“Tallow is not something I have gotten into the habit of recommending routinely, as it does have some benefits, but could also have some reasons to limit,” Jones said. 

Nutrients found in tallow include vitamins A, D, E, K, and B12, and selenium and zinc. Other taste benefits are a high smoke point, and a source of beefy flavor for dishes like stew. Tallow can also be cheaper to purchase than some plant-based oils and butters. 

“Fats in general sort of have been given a bad rap,” Jones said. “To this day, we still don’t really have any great cause and effect studies showing a direct causal relationship between saturated fat and cardiovascular disease. There is a correlation that could eventually be proven to have causation, so I’m not out here telling my patients, ‘Look, live completely off of bacon.’ But I don’t tell people they shouldn’t eat it, either.” 

Jones said his family uses these fats to season some of their foods. 

“As for how much to use in nutrition, I know of no helpful studies looking at this, though I do believe that the idea of saturated fats as the bogey-man are a bit overblown,” he said. “In the end, however, if someone is overly fixated on tallow they may find themselves guilty of ‘majoring in the minors’. For most Americans, there is much lower hanging fruit to pick as it relates to our eating habits.”  

How to make healthy choices? 

Jones’s top three health-promoting foods, which he recommends, are a variety of leafy greens; fish, particularly salmon; and avocado. 

“There are very few perfect foods, and the characteristics of one food that might be perfect for one person, depending on their health and their conditions, might be slightly different for somebody else, but in general, I think we can categorize health-promoting foods,” Jones said.

Consuming unprocessed, or minimally processed foods, is crucial to overall health and longevity.

While studies agree that processed foods are less healthy, and in some cases even harmful, prone to causing health problems over time, scientists are still trying to find out what exactly about the processing causes such detriment to human health. It is best to avoid processed, or hyper-processed, foods as far as possible, Jones said.

“We pretty much have honed in on the fact that processing of foods makes them less helpful for us, and in some cases harmful. We don’t completely understand why,” Jones said. “The more that oat looks like it did when it was on the stalk… chances are, the better it is for you.”

Jones developed an acronym to help guide individuals in food and nutrition choices: eat CLEAN

C = Clear of additives and preservatives. 

L = Low glycemic index.

E = Eclectic. A wide variety of healthy foods.

A = Anti-inflammatory.

N = Non-processed.

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