The dangers of misunderstanding nutrition

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Written by Amrita Basu

Nutrition invariably carries with it a bunch of myths that need to be understood in the right perspective lest running after them becomes a major risk. When the tenets of nutrition are misunderstood they tend to rise and terrorise.

Are nutrition myths dangerous?

Yes, they can be. The next plausible question will be if one can take Nutrition advice from one’s next door neighbor and BFF? Obviously no if you are serious about your health. A friend told me they were bamboozled by false health information on TV &  social media. Another talked about several blogs having raving reviews for a honey brand with the same language! One reader asked me why I didn’t like soybean when so many health bloggers loved it!

Well, health blogging is competitive but definitely profitable. However, if you are worried about the quality of information that you consume, be careful. Just as you need to watch what you eat, you must carefully curate what you read. As a doctor, I am legally licensed to give health information.

You might want to ask ifself-proclaimed Health and nutrition gurus without license are dangerous? This question works for me and so I would be careful about going for a crash course or some sort of a bridge course and I would also be careful when googling for medical and health information as even Google has cracked its whip on health sites recently. All these precautions are essential because some of these YLYM (Your life, your money)update can seriously jeopardize your health aims. Thus the source of your information needs to be diligently authenticated before you decide to follow the advice mentioned there. You cannot obviously blame misprints for your health.

Does this mean that one must necessarily stop Googling? No, just curate with care. The search engines make information freely available, giving you an overview.To separate the grain from the chaff, you need professional help.

What to look for in an online health resource?

A good authority site will display the credentials of the author. Check sites like Lybrate and LinkedIn for qualifications of the doctor who wrote the postif you are interested. Lybrate listing needs medical registration details uploaded before listing.Most sites, like the Mayo clinic have the name and credentials of doctors displayed. Do check resources mentioned in the blog post that you are referring as they need to be from authority sources.

If information appears to be biased and with contradictory information,and no credentials, just step away and restart your search.

Nutrition Myths Busted

Myth 1 : When you want to lose weight,expensive health food is the only way!

Diet food versus Gharkakhanaor home-cooked food.This is the fight between so-called health food and healthy food.India has different food cultures from North to South and East to West.What’s interesting is that in all the regions,Gharkakhana is more or less healthy.Keeping the calories in mind, eating fresh, controlling portion size, actually works if you don’t have medical obesity.

Just remember that all those packets of dietnamkeen, lose-extra-pounds-cornflakes,and diet sodaare not suitable for anyone.Diet namkeen or baked namkeens, for instance, has only a miniscule difference in calorie count from the fried variants.Check the food label at the back of the pack and compare. If it doesn’t have nutrition and calorie information in a standard format,it’s not a good idea to snack on it!

Myth 2 : Skip the carbs

It is fine to believe that skipping carbohydrates forever is not sustainable. For working adults, children,and adolescents an inclusion of carbs is necessary, for instance, if the brain needs to keep doing its job. The brain needs a lot of sugar as it is the only energy substrate that neurons can break down. It is possible to form glucose from protein and fat but needs hours of complex metabolic process. Therefore, in the morning before going to school or college of work, you need that carb.Get the right carbs without fearing their complex structure.

Fruits and veggies have complex fibers which help in slow breakdown and release Of sugars in the bloodstream.Fruit juices are just not equal to fruits as the more processed your food is,the worse it is for your body. A golden rule to know is that good complex carbs simplify health. Do not skip the carbs!

Myth 3 : Salt restriction is needed only if you have a blood pressure problem

Excessive sodium can be a problem for all of us. What we must know is when food has excessive salt that can harm. The saltiness in your food is because of table salt or common salt chemically known as sodium chloride.When you add salt while cooking,they break down sodium enter your cells.ThisIncreases sodium load.But food may stillnotbe salty enough as the nature of the compound changes and sodium and chloride acts no longer like table salt.But what if you add the salt at the end of the cooking process? This is when it lightly coats the food, doesn’t break down well, and steps out of the permissible range.

The trick here is to know how much salt is fine.It is safer to take about one teaspoon (5 gram)of salt every day. But it will be better if one restricts salt intake to 3 gram per dayfor better cardiovascular health.

Most processed foodisHFSS (High-fat salt sugars) driven and is a well-known devil in pretty packaging.Think fast food,packaged snacks and you’ll know thatthe saltier food is, the more sugar you crave.In simpler terms, it is not advisable to risk your health by following celebrity endorsement of unhealthy health food.

Myth 4 : The soybean myth: The good, bad & ugly

The good part of a soyabean rich diet is that it has high-class protein and plant estrogen besides PUFA. It is full of antinutrientsthat block the good effects of other nutrients.Without fermentation,soyabean is not good for you. The Chinese use a lot of soy products but they are nearly always in a fermented state. Also, it is bad for your thyroid gland. The soy you eat is a waste product after the soya oil is extracted.It’s not fit for human consumption until it undergoes chemical processing and additives. You already have enough soy protein in your diet through the hidden sources and so there is no need for more anyway.

A lot of studies point to controversial and contradictory results. While the Chinese and Japanese consume about 8 gram of fermented soya per day through their diet, a higher consumption trend has been noticed in the food habits in the west. The ugly perspective of soybean includes thyroid dysfunction and obesitythat can affect even the way you think.

What about Soya milk? Even this form of soya can make one gain weight without increase of any other calorie source… and it is so easy to chug down calories when in liquid form. Therefore, choose your protein with care.

Myth 5 : About Probiotics in health drinks work

Probiotics are the good bacteria in your gut, oral cavity and elsewhere, which have surprising benefits. Improving gut health is most well known but they also affect mental health, oro-dental health and more. This part is no myth. The problem starts with the source of probiotics.

People often wonder if fresh is better then packaged or if it isbeneficial to supplement diet from Probiotic health drinks?Probiotics are live bacteria and need good preservation and handling. The best sources are packaged well to maintain the viability of organisms. Consuming probiotics that are multistrain is better as different strains have different actions and usefulness. Sometimes even commercial yogurt has acceptable levels of viable organisms. One must remember that products with added sugars, flavors and chemical agents with probiotic bacteria will have limited health benefits in the long run. If you want to include probiotics, have fresh homemade curd, set around 12 hours earlier. This is the purest source of live bacteria.

Myth 6 : All caloriesare similar

Is a calorie justa calorie or more? Does the source of calorie change how the body uses it? These are all questions which have vague and contradictory answers. Fat metabolism is much more efficient at storage stage but is different once nutrients break down. So while you need a balanced diet, how much of what you eat is essential. The difference between calorie in and calorie out determineswhether you gain weight or not and thus a balance in intake is crucial.

We are all responsible for our own health choices. It is best if one makes healthy choices after consultation with a professional.Beware of falling victim to nutrition myths.

References that may be useful :

Brown IJ, Tzoulaki I, Candeias V, Elliott P. Salt intakes around the world: implications for public health. Int J Epidemiol. 2009;38:791-813 

Soybean Milk and the Production of Goitre.” Can Med Assoc J. 1960 Sep 10;83(11):608.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1938649/pdf/canmedaj00856-0043b.pdf

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