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7 diet myths and why they’re bollocks.

July 8, 2012

 Seven. Always seven.

Seven steps to be thinner, and happier. Seven ways to stop caring about body image and embrace your curves. Seven reasons why you’ll never implement any of this advice. And so on.

Rather than break with bizarre numerical tradition, I am also giving you a ‘seven things’ list. But in a totally cool hipster naturopath way. Not in a clicheed womens’ magazine way. Just so you know.

There are an array of dietary misconceptions that are flung about like half-dried cow-patties each day; on labels, in the media, and as venomous rebuttals to the philosophy of those following a traditional lifestyleYou won’t get enough fibre if you cut out grains! All that meat is super acidic and you’re going to get cancer and diieeeeeeeee. The government wouldn’t lie to us; the food pyramid is gospel!

Ignorance is a glistening deep-fried dumpling of bliss.

But we here at Head Plant Health (edit: using the plural personal pronoun to invoke images of a professional organisation. Reality: one girl sitting alone at her computer eating desiccated coconut and macadamia nut butter) like to be contrary. The conventional wisdom has led us down a dark alley of fat-fearing fallacies, grain-pushing poppycock and flea-ridden, mangy health myths; it’s time to whip our wooden-stake out, Buffy-style, and slay the dietary demons!

Starting with a favourite…

  1. “Bread and grains have been staples of civilization for, like, ever! My grannie enjoyed a buttered roll with her dinner for all of her 104 lengthy years. I win, case closed, let me have a private moment alone with my cinnamon bun.”
(source)

Sooooooooo hate to set your big pile of blueberry bagels alight (how good would THAT smell!?), but I ain’t buying it, and neither should you. As with most commonly accepted nutritional factiods, the issue is far more complex and nuanced. Grains have only featured in our diets for the last 10 000 years, a tiny blip on the evolutionary radar. To say they have been a dietary mainstay since time immemorial is false; they are relative newbies. The question follows; are we adapted to digesting the suckers?

To compound the problem, wheat crops have been bred and modified to contain more gluten (the problematic sticky protein) in recent years, so the bread your grandparents smothered with drippings was quite dissimilar to that which we ingest today.

Add to this the fact that neolithic diets wreck havoc on the gut in a myriad of ways, and thus we are primed to react negatively to the wheat proteins (gliadin etc) due to an increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and systemic inflammation. No longer do we house the steely innards of yesteryear! To put the icing on the coconut-flour cake, just because grains have provided a cheap, plentiful abundance of calories for human populations in the last few thousand years, does it follow that this is ideal, optimal?

Mark Sisson explored this idea recently, and I think it’s worthwhile questioning the dietary practices we repeatedly enact (even those we consider ‘paleo’). Simply because hunter-gatherers, our ancestors or yo Mama did it, doesn’t make it healthful.

              2.All hail the alkaline diet! Avoid cancer-causing acidic foods and hook yourself to that IV of wheatgrass, stat!”

 
(source)

This whole craze just misses the mark for me. I mean, I don’t want to be a huge red-headed grinch and deny that a diet higher in vegetables, greens and organic fare is ace, cos it is. But the whole fanatacism about grouping edibles into red-light/green-light, acid/alkaline, good/evil is irksome, not to mention the dubious supporting science.

Does the food we eat really impact our blood chemistry so profoundly? From everything I’ve learned in anatomy and chemistry (that brief moment I raised my eyeballs from PaleoHacks to absorb a single lonely factoid) it seems that it kinda, sorta, doesn’t. Our bodies have a superb system in place to keep the pH of our blood within the anally-retentive exclusion zone of 7.35-7.45. One method involves a buffer system that uses an elaborate exchange of carbon dioxide, water and hydrogen ions and bicarbonate to keep everything ship shape.

When outside this narrow margin, we spontaneously combust and end a pile of ash and embers. You may have witnessed this as some poor individual, misguided in their nutritional know-how, polishes off a plate of steak, eggs and bacon – an acidic nuclear warhead, without a skerrick of green to be seen.

But in all seriousness, the pH of our blood has little do with the food we ingest. That’s a different highway altogether. It enters the stomach which necessarily has an acidic pH, then moves to the intestines where the pH is more neutral/alkaline. Byproducts are formed that can be both acid & alkaline, but we have systems in place to excrete them. Making your body work harder to maintain this narrowly defined pH may not be the most bah-rilliant idea, but I still think aggressively adhering to ONLY ALKALINE FOODS FOR EVER AND EVER AMEN may be missing le point.

Why not instead contemplate the inflammatory capacity of the foods you’re gobbling? The nutrient density? The quality? Once again, don’t let rules and dogma and fancy-pants designer diets be the enemy of common sense.

           3. “Fruit juice is the healthy alternative to soft drink!”

 Despite the overwhelming urge to type an emphatic ‘shit no’ and be done with it, i’ll give you a little schpiel. And perhaps a reality check.

Feast your eyeballs on this.

(Images courtesy of http://www.sugarstacks.com/)

What this delightful little visual is illustrating is the hidden sugar content in our beloved fruit juice. Some even have as much as an equivalently-sized soft drink can! But surely the organic kind with the earthy designer labels and ‘no-added sugar’ assurances are safe for hippie consumption? Sorry my hopeful fruit-juice fanciers, it simply ain’t the case. Fruit by nature is relatively high in sugar – with variation, of course – but once you squeeze the blood from a stone…fruit, you lose all the fiber, pectin, and structural beefiness. Beefiness that would have helped the sugar release more slowly, providing a much more ‘complete’ package of nutrients, leaving you with a lip-puckeringly sweet sneakily sugar-laden excuse for a healthful drink.

If you really cant live without some form of liquefied fruity bevvo, try a green smoothie with avocado, coconut water, coconut flesh, mint, parsley and 1/2-1 frozen banana. At least you’ll have some fatty input from the avo + coconut, with a relatively low-fructose offering such as banana to sweeten the deal, with fiber intact.

Be aware that even carrot, apple, beetroot and ginger juices from juice bars and the like are still very high in sugar, for the same reasons.

Moral? Eat your fruits and veggies whole, sip on filtered water, herbal teas, post-workout coconut water, and leave the $6 liquefied sugar shakes to those sorry sods riding the rickety blood-sugar roller-coaster.

         4. As an extension of #3, “Green smoothies are the pinnacle of health. One must undergo green smoothie transfusions daily. Green smoothie baths.              Green smoothie showers. Green smoothie enemas.”

I used to be a smoothie-a-holic too, i’ll admit, sporting a green-tinged upper lip at all times and smiling goofily with bushels of blended kale sprouting from between my teeth. I may cop bad naturopath juju for taking our lord’s, Pulverized Plant-Matter’s name in vain, but hear me out.

Green smoothies come in a multitude of variations, and can be ace or less-ace depending on what’s thrown into the mix. Without a doubt, they are a radically vibrant and alluringly emerald injection of nutrition into the diet of someone who sniffs at celery and baulks at broccoli.

(source)

The problem I have however is that we have the propensity to go overboard, throwing in huge whole heads of raw kale, spinach, broccoli…bigger! better! bolder! with our ingredient choices. I remember proudly demolishing cubic feet of leafy greens in single sittings, not realising that I was effectively downing a huge goitrogen shake, a massive amount of oxalates and ungodly amounts of beta-carotene in the process. The problem? These raw crucifers (such as Kale) have compounds that, especially when raw, inhibit thyroid function and bind to certain minerals in the body; spinach is high in oxalates, the ingestion of which has been implicated in the formation of crystals & kidney-stones, and vitamins and antioxidants such as the carotene family are simply not necessary in such incredible abundance – turning a peachy, sunset orange a side-effect of this mental ingestion.

Distilling such an unnatural volume of greens (and often highly sugared fruits, as per my last point) into one single swampy serving appears to me, too good to be true. In fact, daily reliance on these smoothies, often containing the same variety of greens in increasing quantities, may eventually lead to nutritional imbalances.

In addition, green smoothies without a fat source are a little bit daft, as my eloquent friend Kate over at Nutrition by Nature pointed out recently. Many vitamins are fat-soluable, necessitating a nice, creamy, fatty vehicle to assist absorption.

One last point on the smoothie thang, if you are going to slurp one down ensure you take a moment to chomp. Chewing starts the processes of proper digestion, encouraging the secretion of lingual (in the mouth) enzymes and signalling the release of gastric juices further down the jolly digestive train. I like plopping whole berries, bits of desiccated coconut, or other crunchy munchables in there to give some toothsome fodder.

This post is on ‘roids. To be continued in part two…

5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 9, 2012 10:40 pm

    Woot woot! Super thrilled that you addressed that awful ‘alkalising diet’ myth. It’s really been getting up my goat. As for myth #4, I too have reigned in my goitrogen-guzzling tendencies and am starting to realise that, while veggies are great, you can certainly OD on them just like anything else. More isn’t necessarily, well… more. In fact, ‘more’ can have you nursing a lovely little iodine deficiency… true story!
    I read recently that you could think of plants as primarily ‘cleansing’ (but not alkalising!!) foods that aid in elimination and detoxification (I hate that word… but of course we’re talking about proper various stage liver detoxification processes here not some juice fast, coffee enemas or other madness), whilst animal foods are the real nourishers that feed the body and provide the building blocks for immune function, endocrine health, bones, muscles, the brain, and other organs.
    Looking forward to myths 5-7. x

    • Catie permalink*
      July 10, 2012 8:59 am

      Love the plant/animal food analogy! Sounds like an Enig/Fallon assertion. x

  2. July 20, 2012 11:49 am

    Catie, I know that food and staying alive is kinda important and everything. But I just wanted to pom pom your writing style. Very entertaining. Am I allowed to eat popcorn while reading it?

    • Catie permalink*
      July 20, 2012 12:23 pm

      Only if the popcorn is non GM and lathered in the highest quality grass-fed butter! Thanks Megan! x

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  1. 7 diet myths and why they’re bollocks, part two. « Head Plant Health

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