Food For Thought

5 Things You Thought Were “Bad” For You (But Aren’t)

Time to bust some myths and feel good about welcoming some former guilty pleasures back into our lives with open arms!

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the past two years is not to take conventional “wisdom” at face value. Our society is notorious for wrongly demonizing certain thing while praising others that might not necessarily deserve it, jumping to conclusions in the absence of adequate evidence.

Some of the things that are most commonly vilified are, in reality, incredibly health-supporting and biologically compatible for humans. Not only that, but it could be argued that their absence in our lives has contributed to more sickness than it has prevented. Ready for some un-brainwashing? 🙂

1. Saturated Fat

Butter

The myth that saturated fat makes you fat and/or causes heart disease is alive and well, and it’s no wonder – the idea is consistently propagated by mainstream media, health “authorities” and by individuals. Sadly, most people still assume it’s fact and may look at you with two heads when you inform them otherwise!

The misguided assumption that saturated fat is unhealthy took shape as a result of some flawed observational studies from the 1960s and 1970s, after which consumption of whole, naturally-occuring saturated fats (like those found in meat, eggs, butter and coconut oil) dropped. While people decreased their intake of saturated fats, their intake of processed grains, sugars and refined, inflammatory vegetable oils (e.g. margarine, canola oil) skyrocketed, largely (and perhaps unconsciously) in an attempt to replace the missing calories and flavour. Both the increase of refined carbohydrates and refined oils in modern diets and the decrease of naturally-occurring saturated fats correlate with the prevalence of lifestyle-related diseases like heart disease, diabetes, obesity and more.

Since the 1960s and 1970s, many studies have re-examined the relationship between saturated fat and heart health and discovered that there is literally no association between saturated fat consumption and cardiovascular disease.

This revelation is actually unsurprising when we remove our cultural bias. After all, saturated fat forms the core structural fats in the body, comprising 75-80% of fatty acids in most cells, and they’re the primary storage form of energy for humans. In other words, when we store excess energy from food for later use, it’s in the form of saturated fat. If saturated fat is bad for us, why would our own bodies be genetically programmed to use it as a fuel source?

Unlike polyunsaturated fats (especially omega 6s found in refined vegetable oils) and carbohydrates like glucose and fructose, saturated fats have no known toxicity, even at high doses. In fact, the process of converting saturated fat into energy the body can use leaves no toxic byproducts; it leaves nothing but carbon dioxide and water.

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2. Cholesterol

Free Range Egg

Another falsely demonized, but vitally important nutrient is dietary cholesterol, particularly from whole, animal sources like eggs, meat and butter.

Though touted as the causal factor of “high cholesterol” in the blood and thus heart disease, accusations against dietary cholesterol could not be further off the mark. In fact, the most extensive study on risk factors for cardiovascular disease ever performed found that there is absolutely no correlation between large amounts of cholesterol in the diet and risk of heart disease.

In reality, it’s difficult to overstate how vital cholesterol is to the human body. A lipid present in the cell membrane of each and every one of our body’s cells, cholesterol is one of the fundamental building blocks of our being. We rely on it for healthy cells, bone structure, muscles, hormones, sex, digestion, brain function, memory, nerve endings, movement – without it, we would die instantly.

Cholesterol is so important to our bodies, our livers regulate levels and produce 1000 milligrams or more per day – significantly more than conventional dietary recommendations for 300 mg daily.

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3. Salt

sea salt

For a long time, sodium has been thought to elevate blood pressure and therefore raise your risk of disease. While it’s true that it can mildly elevate blood pressure in the short term, studies do not support the idea that lowering sodium helps improve actual hard outcomes like heart attacks.

In biological and physiological reality, salt is not going to kill us; however, a lack of salt will kill us quickly. Sodium is a crucial electrolyte in the body and our cells need to keep it within a very tight range, or we’ll die.

While it’s true that processed foods often contain added sodium and processed foods can be dangerous, it’s not the salt within that’s going to harm us; it’s the refined vegetable fats, sugars, empty calories, lack of nutrition and additives that will do us in.

Unless you have elevated blood pressure, there is no reason to avoid adding salt to your foods to enhance their flavour, particularly if you are eating mostly real foods (meat, vegetables, etc.) which are naturally low in salt. We should ideally use sea salt for its added minerals and elements, but table salt is not harmful.

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4. Coffee

Coffee

Coffee, particularly the caffeinated variety, has earned a bad reputation among some health experts. Unless you have individual sensitivities to coffee when it comes to digestion or sleep, there’s little evidence to support avoiding the energy-boosting beverage.

Coffee is loaded with antioxidants (outranking both vegetables and fruits combined as the biggest source of antioxidants in modern western diets), and in addition to providing us with a boost of energy when we need it, long-term studies suggest that coffee lowers the risk of a number of diseases. Some benefits associated with regular coffee intake include:

  • Improved brain function
  • Assisted fat burning
  • Lowered risk of diabetes
  • Reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
  • Liver protection against cirrhosis and cancer

Remember, though – if you’re drinking coffee, try not negate the benefits with sugar, harmful artificial sweeteners or other junk. Now that you know the truth about saturated fat, why not enjoy it with some coconut oil or milk, some grass-fed cream, or Bulletproof-style?

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5. Sun

sun

Attention, fellow sun-worshippers! It’s time to reconsider what you’ve heard about avoiding sun like the plague and compulsively applying sunscreen, and feel better about spending more glorious time outside.

Mounting evidence has confirmed that exposure to the sun in appropriate and measured timeframes has a number of health benefits – related and unrelated to vitamin D production – such as:

  • Enhancing mood and energy (endorphin release)
  • Supporting cardiovascular health
  • Enhancing muscle strength
  • Contributing to a healthy immune system
  • Promoting healthy bones and teeth
  • Encouraging nitric oxide production (protects skin from UV damage and promotes cardiovascular protection, wound healing and anti-cancer activity)
  • Treating skin diseases
  • Protecting against and suppressing symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS)

While it’s possible to get vitamin D from natural food sources, sunlight is by far the best way to get your vitamin D. And while the sun has gotten a bad rap,  mounting evidence confirms that appropriate sun exposure actually helps prevent skin cancer. In fact, melanoma occurrence has been found to decrease with greater sun exposure, and can be increased by sunscreens.

With this said, overexposure and sunburn is not ideal; instead, try to spend enough time in the sun to build a base tan. Smart sun exposure is the most natural way to prevent sunburn or skin damage, and moderation is the key to getting the benefits of sun exposure without overdoing it. Twenty minutes to an hour of sun per day (sans sunscreen!) should be plenty to make enough vitamin D.

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