26 health myths (or how to separate fat from fiction)
CONSUMER LINE - Ching Alano (The Philippine Star) - July 29, 2012 - 12:00am

You probably grew up being fed a mouthful of incredible health myths. For instance, hear this: Goat’s milk will grow the boobs of your baby girl. I was breastfed. Now, I know why I need support from the Community Chest.

Is it really true that you will gain weight if you eat after 8 p.m. (or is it 6 p.m.?). We often do press work until past midnight and we usually eat dinner after 6 p.m. (like most normal people). Is that why we’ve all grown fatter as the years (26 and counting) go by at the STAR? Now, that’s a big fat lie! Experts say it’s not what time you eat that counts but what you eat and how much exercise you get. You gain weight when you eat more calories than you burn off. I like to think that we burn some calories after dinner at work when we do some “calisthenics” like jumping to conclusions, stretching our imagination, sweating the small stuff, and lifting a finger.

And for all ye coffee hounds out there, we pose this sober, sedate question: Is it really true that caffeine is good for a hangover? Experts share this grain of wisdom: Not true. The caffeine in coffee can make a hangover worse by dehydrating the body.

Well, here are 26 more popular health myths and facts, as written and gathered for the STAR by Hawaii-based Filipino nutritionist Dr. Angel Respicio Jr. from Harvard Medical School, Dr. Mercola, Gary Taubes, and Weston A. Price websites:

1. Myth: Saturated fat causes heart disease.

Fact: This unproven hypothesis that dates back to the 1950s has been harming your health and that of your loved ones for about 40 years now.

The truth is, saturated fats from animal and vegetable sources, like coconut oil and palm oil, provide the building blocks for cell membranes and a variety of hormones and hormone-like substances, without which your body cannot function optimally.

2. Myth: Saturated fat clogs arteries.

Fact: Most of the fatty acids found in artery clogs are unsaturated (74 percent), of which 41 percent are polyunsaturated (like canola oil, corn oil, and soybean oil). (Lancet 1994 344:1195)

3. Myth: To avoid heart disease, we should use margarine instead of butter.

Fact: Margarine eaters have twice the rate of heart disease as butter eaters. (Nutrition Week 3/22/91 21:12)

4. Myth: Coconut oil causes heart disease.

Fact: When coconut oil was fed as seven percent of energy to patients recovering from heart attacks, they showed greater improvement compared to untreated patients, and there was no difference compared to patients treated with corn or safflower oils. Studies show that populations who consume coconut oil have low rates of heart disease. In fact, coconut oil may be one of the most useful oils in preventing heart disease because of its antiviral and antimicrobial properties. (JAMA 1967 202:1119-1123; Am J Clin Nutr 1981 34:1552)

5. Myth: Low-fat diets are healthy.

Fact: The low-fat diet prescription may have done more harm to the health of millions than any other diets. The low-fat craze has led to the increased consumption of trans-fats (partially hydrogenated oils and margarine), which we now know increases your risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

The main culprit behind excess weight (and all the chronic diseases associated with it) is actually the consumption of too much sugar and all sorts of grains, which rapidly convert to sugar in your body. Did you know that a heaping tablespoon of rice or a small bite of bread is equivalent to one teaspoon of sugar?

To end all this confusion, know that eating fat will not make you fat as long as you don’t hide it in lots of rice. The bottom line (if you’re really conscious of your waist line) is, fat makes you feel full longer so you eat less in between meals.

6. Myth: For good health, serum cholesterol should be less than 180 mg/dl.

Fact: The all-cause death rate is higher in individuals with cholesterol levels lower than 180 mg/dl. (Circulation 1992 86:3:1026-1029)

7. Myth: Eating saturated fat and cholesterol-rich foods will cause cholesterol levels to rise and make people more susceptible to heart disease.

Fact: Many studies show no relationship between diet and cholesterol levels. There is no shred of evidence that saturated fat and cholesterol-rich food contribute to heart disease. Even as beef-eating Americans have cut back on saturated fat and cholesterol-rich foods, rates of heart disease have gone up.

8. Brown eggs are better than white eggs.

Fact: Here’s the final word from the eggspert, the Egg Nutrition Center: “The color difference is due to the specific breed of hen. Hens with white feathers and white earlobes will lay white eggs, whereas hens with red feathers and matching-colored earlobes give us brown eggs.”

What makes an egg better than the other is the type of food eaten by the hen. In her book Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon said, “Eggs from chicken fed flax or fish meal or, better yet, pasture-fed so they can eat bugs and worms have nutritional qualities far superior to those battery-raised eggs. Properly produced eggs have vitamins A and D. They also have special long-chain fatty acids called EPA and DHA, which play a vital role in the development of the nervous system in the infant and the maintenance of mental acuity (think of memory) in adults.”

9. Myth: Egg yolk is bad, throw it away and eat only the egg white.

Fact: Egg yolk is the most concentrated source of choline, a B vitamin found in lecithin that acts as a scrub to the arterial walls, keeping them patent and therefore allowing blood to flow freely. Lecithin from eggs also prevents bile from turning to gallstone. Health editor Chris Masterjohn hails the egg (particularly the yolk) as it provides consumers with — hold your breath now — EPA and DHA and other healthy fats, calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12, vitamins A, D, E, and K, carotenes, and all the essential amino acids (complete protein) tryptophan, threonine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine and valine. 

10. Myth: You risk overeating cholesterol if you eat two egg yolks every day.

Fact: The body needs 4,000 mg. of cholesterol daily to maintain a sharp brain and a healthy body. Most of that is synthesized in the liver. An egg yolk has 215 mg. of cholesterol. If you consume two egg yolks or 430 mg. cholesterol, the liver will only make 3,570 mg. to come up with the total of 4,000 mg. needed daily.   Dr. David Kritchevsky calls this the biosynthetic capacity of the liver. He was the number one and original proponent of the cholesterol scare who conceded in his article “History of Recommendations to the Public about Dietary Fat,” The Journal of Nutrition, Vol. 128 No. 2 February 1998, pp. 449S-452: “The role of dietary cholesterol in cholesterolemia and atherosclerosis is unclear, the serum cholesterol levels of men with coronary heart disease bore no relation to their habitual intake of cholesterol.

11. Myth: Cholesterol in egg yolk, shrimps, crabs, and other sources directly cause brain stroke.

Fact: Cholesterol is a very big molecule such that it cannot pass through the blood brain barrier. The brain is highly dependent on cholesterol, but its cholesterol metabolism is unique. Because the blood-brain barrier prevents brain cells from taking up cholesterol from the blood, the brain must produce its own cholesterol. The brain’s cholesterol is much more stable than the cholesterol in other organs, but when it breaks down, it is recycled into new cholesterol right in the brain. The brain has a higher cholesterol content than any other organ. In fact, about 25 percent of the body’s cholesterol is found in this small organ, which accounts for less than two percent of the body’s weight. Most of the cholesterol is in the myelin sheaths that surround the axons of nerve cells, protecting the cells and facilitating the speedy transmission of the electrical impulses that govern thought, movement, and sensation.

12. Myth: Cholesterol comes only from fat.

Fact: Cholesterol is a waxy substance derived from acetyl CoA. Acetyl CoA is a product of the metabolism of fat, carbohydrate, and protein.

13. Myth: Artificial sweeteners are safe, well-tested, and help promote weight loss.

Fact: The bitter truth is that nearly all the studies that have carefully analyzed artificial sweetners show that those who use them actually gain more weight than those who consume caloric sweeteners. The reasons for this ironic reality are: The sweet taste alone appears to increase hunger, regardless of caloric content, and disrupt the body’s natural ability to “count calories.”

14.Myth: Artificial sweeteners are good for diabetics and dieters.

Fact: One reason for aspartame’s potential to cause weight gain is because phenylalanine and aspartic acid — the two amino acids that make up 90 percent of aspartame — are known to rapidly stimulate the release of insulin and leptin, two hormones that are intricately involved with satiety and fat storage. Insulin and leptin are also the primary hormones that regulate the body’s metabolism.

So although you’re not ingesting calories in the form of sugar, aspartame can still raise your insulin and leptin levels. Elevated insulin and leptin levels, in turn, are two of the driving forces behind obesity, diabetes, and a number of the world’s current chronic disease epidemics.

15. Myth: Brown sugar is better than white sugar.

Fact: Sally Fallon clarifies it in her book Nourishing Traditions: Raw, natural, turbinado, and sucanat sugars, Florida crystals, and brown sugar are all refined, meaning the nutrients have been removed. A small amount of molasses may be added back to give it a brown color. They are refined sugars in disguise! Natural sweeteners are healthier, their nutrients are intact, such as raw honey, maple syrup, rapadura sugar, stevia powder, dehydrated date sugar, molasses, malted grain syrup, sorghum syrup, naturally sweetened jams, muscovado, and evaporated sugar cane juice.

16. Myth: Yogurt will make you slim.

Fact: Yes, but only if it is not laden with sugar. What gives yogurt a big health plus is the presence of probiotics Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. They partially break down lactose and predigest casein. These make it easier to absorb milk in yogurt, especially for those who are lactose-intolerant. Most yogurt products available on the market today are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, a sweetener more dangerous than refined sugar. Some have added food coloring and preservatives, contributing to oxidative stress.

17. Myth: Soy is a health food.

Fact: The meteoric rise of soy as a “health food” is a perfect example of how a brilliant marketing strategy can fool millions.

Thousands of studies have linked unfermented soy to malnutrition, digestive distress, immune-system breakdown, thyroid dysfunction, cognitive decline, reproductive disorders and infertility, cancer, heart disease, brain damage, infant abnormalities, thyroid disorders, kidney stones, food allergies, and impaired fertility.

However, organic and, most importantly, properly fermented soy does have great health benefits. Examples of such healthful fermented soy products are tempeh, miso, and natto.

18. Myth: Beef causes colon cancer.

Fact: Here’s the beef — even with higher beef consumption, Argentina reportedly has lower rates of colon cancer compared to the US. Mormons have lower rates of colon cancer than vegetarian Seventh Day Adventists. (Cancer Res 35:3513 1975)

19. Myth: Aspirin is your safe bet to ward off heart disease.

Fact: Some doctors may prescribe it, but scientific studies have failed to prove that low-dose aspirin offers safe and effective protection from cardiovascular disease. Many studies even suggest aspirin may be doing more harm than good.

Rather than preventing them, aspirin seems to change the way vascular events present themselves. The number of non-fatal events may be reduced, but there is an increase in sudden deaths. Aspirin may conceal a cardiac event in progress.

20. Myth: A low-salt diet is good for controlling hypertension.

Fact: Salt’s demonization had its roots in the early 1970s, when studies seemed to show a link between sodium intake and high blood pressure. A 1998 meta-analysis of 114 clinical trials published in the Journal of the American Medical Association did not support a general recommendation to reduce salt intake. Two years later, another study in the journal Hypertension concluded that “no single universal prescription for sodium intake can be scientifically justified.” Dr. John Laragh, founder of the American Society of Hypertension, states with a grain of salt: “Is there any proven reason for us to grossly modify our salt intake or systematically avoid table salt? Generally speaking, the answer is either a resounding no, or at that, at best, there is not any positive direct evidence to support such recommendations.”

So, when is salt not a sin?

Answer: When it comes from naturally evaporated sea water. 

21. We must drink six (or eight) glasses of water a day.

Fact: Conventional wisdom calls for six to eight large glasses per day, but Oriental medicine teaches that this is dangerous practice that puts undue strain on the kidneys, according to Sally Fallon.

One urologist said, “The rule of thumb is not how much you drink, but you must void two liters of water a day.” If you do the math, does it mean you have to drink two liters of water a day? No! Water is a by-product of carbohydrate and fat metabolism, hence you need less than two liters. There are instances where you might be sweating a lot or losing water insensibly (through your breath or skin, in unusual temperatures) and might actually need more water. So, let your urine output be your guide.

22. Is fish good for the brain?

Fact: This is one myth that holds water. Actually fatty fish, fish liver oils (remember cod liver oil?), and fish eggs are rich in docosahexaenoic acid or DHA. DHA is found abundantly in the human brain because it is essential for its development and function. There’s nothing fishy about the fact that fish oil is very fragile — deep frying a fish in high heat will destroy all the good fish oil.

23. Does smoking after a meal help digestion?

Fact: Some nicotine-dependent people feel better when they smoke whether before, during or after a meal. There’s no scientific explanation for that. What we do know is that smoking does not help with anything; fact is, it can cause lung cancer.

24. Myth: Drinking coffee is healthy.

Fact: The sweet news is that according to a Harvard study, coffee is helpful for diabetics, but only if you drink six cups per day. You don’t benefit if you drink five cups or less.

In her book Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon says, “Caffeine and its related substance theobromine (from tea and cocoa) are like sugar in their effects on the body. They stimulate the adrenal glands to release an adrenaline-like substance, which in turn causes the liver to release sugar into the blood stream. This is what gives you the ‘lift’ but only for a few minutes. Often, the blood sugar-lowering mechanisms overreact, causing low blood sugar and its concomitant complaints of chronic fatigue, dizziness, depression, allergies, and behavioral disorders. Caffeine irritates the lining of the stomach and can cause an increase in stomach acid. It affects the nervous system, leading to insomnia and restlessness. Prolonged use of caffeine can contribute to any one of a number of serious diseases such as cancer, bone loss, mental disorders, and birth defects.”

25. Myth: Cereals are very handy and healthy.

Fact: Here’s how your morning cereals are made: First, a slurry of the grains is created and then forced out of a little hole in a machine called an extruder at high temperature and pressure. Depending on the shape of the hole, the grains are made into little o’s, flakes, animal shapes, or shreds, or they are puffed (as in puffed rice). Paul Stitt, in his book Fighting the Food Giants, tells us that the extrusion process destroys most of the nutrients in the grains. It destroys the fatty acids and the chemical vitamins added at the end. The amino acids are rendered very toxic, especially lysine, a crucial nutrient which is denatured by extrusion. So why not go back to the good old-fashioned porridge or traditional breakfast, so Sally Fallon suggests.

26. Myth: Red wine is healthy.

Fact: Shall we drink to that? But first, read this: You probably know that red wine has many health benefits including antioxidant power, anti-inflammatory, blood-sugar regulation, neuro protection, and increased energy, mood, and endurance. The so-called “magic” ingredient in wine is resveratrol. It is actually the resveratrol in wines and alcohol that is heart-friendly. But to get the daily dose of resveratrol from red wine, you have to drink about 75 glasses per day.

Hope these morsels of info help you separate fat, er, fact from fiction, or the wheat from the chaff.

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