“Are you sure? Check Again.” —Thich Nhat Hanh
Misinformation is the name of the game when it comes to mainstream nutrition and training. Controversy may be more evident in the nutrition world—after all, everyone has to eat.
To help you through the confusion, here are 12 “facts” that we all agree on that can guide us in our pursuit of the best life. Then we have 12 lies or “not facts” of fitness and food—think twice about listening to such advice!
Fact #1: Omega-3 Fats are “healthy fats” that are essential for the body to function properly. Get EPA and DHA in your diet every day—get them by eating fatty fish or pasture raised meat.
Lie #1: Canola oil is a great “heart healthy” fat that you should use regularly.
Not so! Canola goes through rather incredible processing before it makes it into the bottle—it’s heated, washed, and treated with the chemical hexane. It also has a poor omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. Avoid canola!
Fact #2: HIT (High-Intensity Training) can help you lose fat. HIT programs favor the use of the anaerobic energy system, burning a lot calories fast, raising metabolism during the recovery period, and building muscle.
HIT training has also been found to convey the following benefits: better brain function, depression prevention, better pain management, improved circulation and lung function, lower blood pressure and resting heart rate, and decreased chronic inflammation.
Not Fact #2: Aerobic training can help you lose weight and everyone should do it regularly.
If you enjoy aerobic training, please don’t let this deter you. The point is that if you are doing it to lose fat or improve health, it’s not your best choice.
According to scientist Stephen Boutcher, “The effect of regular aerobic exercise on body fat is negligible.” Boutcher looks at the short- to moderate-term uselessness of aerobic exercise for fat loss, whereas longer surveys show that people who do aerobic training chronically often gain weight over time.
A 2006 study that tracked runners for 9 years showed that most of them gained fat and increased waist circumference. Only those who tripled their weekly mileage from 16 km/week to 64 km/week lost weight.
Fact #3: Squats are an excellent exercise and everyone should be doing some form of them. They work the whole body and studies show squatting can produce major functional benefits: better mobility, faster walking speed, better bone strength, stronger core musculature, faster running speed, greater vertical jump height, and better athletic performance.
Lie #3: Squats are dangerous and will damage the knees and spine.
Lie! Squats are not dangerous if you do them correctly.
In fact, squatting is a natural motion performed by our ancestors on a regular basis. We evolved from people who didn’t have chairs and spent their days moving heavy stuff and tending crops and they needed to squat to accomplish these tasks.
In addition, a number of studies show squats can optimally strengthen the entire thigh and hip musculature so as to prevent knee pain and dysfunction. Depending on training status, you may need to start with unilateral split squats instead of barbell squats—but the same principles apply to unilateral squats as to barbell back squats: Go all way the down!
Fact #4: Sitting all day is extremely bad for you. Research shows that people who sit for more than 6 hours a day have greater risk of kidney disease, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and premature death.
Not Fact #4: You can counter the ills of sitting all day by working out regularly.
Unfortunately, this is not so. Research into the effects of having a sedentary desk job show two key points:
1) Within a population that exercises at a vigorous intensity a few days a week, the amount of time spent being inactive is dramatic and not significantly lessened by regular workouts.
2) In just 20 minutes of sitting, your blood sugar and insulin can get out of whack. A little longer and oxygen saturation of the muscles drops and gene activity decreases, which directly influences protein synthesis and the clearance of waste from cells.
Fact #5: Eating a high-protein, low-carb diet of whole foods can help you lose fat. High-protein, low-carb eating may be more effective and sustainable for more people than a low calorie or low-fat diet. It’s a scientific fact that high-protein, low-carb diets are effective for decreasing body fat because they help sustain lean mass and metabolic rate (calories burned at rest).
Lie #6: High-protein, low-carb diets are dangerous and don’t work.
Lie! Saying they don’t work is blatant disregard of the evidence
. Same goes with saying they are dangerous.
Among the lies about high-protein diets are that they damage healthy kidneys, cause ketoacidosis, cause nutrient deficiencies, cause bone loss, and will cause poor brain function. The truth is, if you prepare a high-protein, low-carb whole foods eating plan, you may find that you have more energy, better health, and enjoy eating delicious meals!
Fact #6: You can build amazing abs with compound lifts (squats, deads, chins, clean, snatch, lunges, presses, pulls). You can showcase those abs by maintaining a low body fat.
Lie #6: Isolation ab exercises can help you lose belly fat and get great abs.
Most readers already know this is a lie. Bulletproof abs are made in the kitchen, with compound lifts, and the addition of sprints when necessary.
Did you know there’s research to show ab training is a waste of time? A 2011 study showed that 6 weeks of ab training 5 days a week for 45 minutes produced no change in body fat, abdominal fat or waist circumference. The only benefit was being able to do about 33 percent more sit-ups!
Fact #7: The perfect diet varies for each person and is informed by genetics. It is the one that helps you feel energized, mobile, pain free, and with optimal body composition. If it ain’t broke, there’s no need to fix it.
Not Fact #7: It’s okay to bash other people diets.
Obviously, not a fact and not okay!
With all the dietary confusion that is compounded by a multi-billion dollar lying food industry, it’s tempting to start bashing other people’s eating styles. Let’s stay positive and focus on evidence-based education: This may be the only way to outsmart dangerous food policy and marketing.
Fact #8: Eating berries will improve your health—and they’re delicious! Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and cherries have been shown to counter cardiovascular inflammation, speed recovery from intense exercise, reduce muscle soreness, enhance brain function, and decrease the ill effects of a high-fat diet.
Not Fact #8: Antioxidants will save us.
Not so much. The misconception that consuming antioxidants will save us comes from an oversimplification of the body’s internal antioxidant system.
The truth is simple, but misunderstood: We have an internal protection system called the Anti-Inflammatory Cascade. A substance called glutathione, which our bodies produce, drives the Cascade. Foods that contain what we casually call “antioxidants” help glutathione do its work to protect us. These foods include berries, certain nutrients like zinc and alpha lipoic acid, and other plants. The solution is to consume whole antioxidant-rich foods in-season.
Fact #9: Eating vegetables will improve your health. Green vegetables are beneficial for body composition because they are filling, low energy, high in a gazillion nutrients, provide fiber, are affordable, and are easy to eat. Eating fresh vegetables is associated with lower disease risk in a number of studies.
Lie #9: Vegetables are good for you in any form, whether it’s processed, packaged, or added to a cake.
Not so. Look, carrot cake, zucchini bread, and ketchup may have a place if they are homemade, but that doesn’t mean that eating them constitutes a serving of vegetables. The perfect diet varies for everyone, but to get the most out of veggies, stick to fresh or frozen, steamed veggies.
Fact #10: Resistance training is great for health and body composition. There’s no downside to lifting weights: You will build muscle, improve insulin health, become more mobile, have better cognition, improve heart, lung, and bone health, have better reproductive function, and have greater chance of avoiding disease. Everyone should strength train!
Not Fact #10: Light load training is just as good for building muscle as heavy load training.
Not exactly. Recent research shows that in untrained people, lifting light weights to failure will build the same amount of muscle as heavy weights. The problem is this study was widely publicized and missed the message that after 6 months, trainees need to increase the weights to continue making progress. Long-term results come from a carefully planned, progressive program, not lifting measly loads.
Fact #11: Probiotics can improve gut health, improve brain function, and help you achieve optimal body composition. A lofty statement, especially since research into the role of the bacteria in our guts is in the early stages, but it appears to be true.
There’s evidence that overweight people can lose fat by taking a probiotic that alters the type of bacteria living in the gut. In addition, since the majority of the chemical transmitter serotonin is made in the gut, probiotic appear to improve cognition and boost mood.
Not Fact #12: Yogurt is a great source of probiotics.
Not exactly. Plain fermented dairy such as yogurt is an acceptable source of probiotics that is beneficial for the gut. But, most of the readership is aware of that most of the yogurt on the market has chemicals and sugar added to it and the live bacteria are pretty much non-existent.
Depending on your gut situation, a probiotic supplement may be needed, or you may be able to create a healthy gut by eating probiotic foods (kimchi, sauerkraut, keifer) and eliminating processed foods.
Fact #12: Overeating regularly can make you gain fat. Eating more calories than you expend can make you fat. However, this is not very useful when we consider factors such as insulin sensitivity, the thermic effect of food, and factors that influence resting energy expenditure, which brings us to the lie…
Lie #12: All calories are equal when it comes to weight loss. It doesn’t matter what you eat as long as you eat fewer calories than you expend.
The funny thing (not funny “ha-ha”) is that there will probably a comment to this article saying that a “calorie is a calorie!” However, a few things show this is not so:
1) Many factors affect the number of calories you expend daily: Something as simple as working at a standing desk versus sitting desk can cause your body to use at least 25 more calories per hour (that’s 200 extra a day!), or doing a HIT weight workout with short rest periods has been shown to increase resting energy expenditure by 25 percent (354 calories) during the 24 hour recovery period whereas a traditional strength workout with long rest periods increased resting energy expenditure by only 5 percent (98 calories).
2) The body uses different amounts of calories to break down protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Protein burns the most calories, followed by carbohydrates, and then fats. The body also processes certain types of fat differently. For example, omega-3 fats enhance the activity of something called uncoupling protein genes that cause you to burn calories at an accelerated rate by raising body temperature. This is why "healthy" fats don't make you fat, but can make you lose fat.
Please, if you take away one single thing from this article, know that all calories are not equal when it comes to fat loss. If you are convinced otherwise, consider what the Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh writes about mindfulness and certainty:
“For doctors, the wrong diagnoses can kill people, so they have to be careful. Doctors have told me that in medical school they are taught that even if you are sure check again…Sometimes we are too sure of our perceptions….It would make you safer to write in calligraphy, ‘are you sure?’ and hang it in your office. That is the bell of mindfulness. Always go back to your perception, check it again, and don’t be too sure of it.”