3 Nutrition Myths

The supply of nutrition myths is endless, and getting more endless everyday.  But there are a few major ones that influence our ideas about food and healthy diet on a daily basis:

1.  You must cook from scratch to eat healthy.  This is FALSE.  Let me repeat: FALSE.  It’s perfectly possible to eat a healthy diet of nothing but restaurant and convenience foods, and never venture into a kitchen or deal with a pile of dirty pots, pans and utensils.  Not to mention counters, floors and clothes.  Of course, some people use inability or time to cook as an excuse to just eat whatever they want.  But if you want health and convenience, there are plenty of options in restaurants, take-out and grocery stores.  You just have to make the right choices.  Some examples:

  • pre-cut fruit and vegetables and bagged salad greens at grocery stores
  • restaurant choices that feature smaller portions and plenty of vegetable or fruit side dishes instead of tired old french fries
  • take-out items that feature vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats, especially those you can purchase by weight so you can limit the amount you buy.

2.  Protein: more is always better.  Wrong.  We need a certain amount of protein daily for muscle maintenance and other metabolic needs.  That amount is actually quite modest compared to what we eat everyday from over-large servings of meats, cheese, dairy foods, eggs, protein supplements, protein powders and other protein-fortified processed foods.  What happens to all that excess protein?  Does it magically turn into muscle or provide some other health benefit?  Here’s what happens: it’s broken down into individual amino acids, and those are metabolized into….. glucose.  Sugar.  At that point, all that expensive protein is either burned off as energy, or stored up as fat.

3.  There’s a nutritional solution for every medical problem.    It’s very tempting to wonder “what do I eat for that” when faced with a medical problem.  But unfortunately not everything is about nutrition.  Certainly, a healthy diet and lifestyle helps your body resist illness in general, but sometimes it’s just a medical problem in need of a medical solution.  Don’t substitute a nutritional “cure” you found on the internet for necessary medical care.

Here’s a new study that touches on that issue.  Thanks to the buzz about fish oil and possible cancer prevention, people are supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids and buying foods fortified with them.  Now some researchers in the Netherlands are telling cancer patients to stop taking fish oil supplements, because certain fatty acids* found in them might make chemotherapy treatment ineffective.  Specifically, a study of mice with tumors showed that certain fatty acids present in fish oil help cancer cells resist chemotherapy treatment.  It turns out stem cells also produce these fatty acids, which actually help keep cells healthy.  One thing you don’t want to do during cancer treatment is keep the tumor cells healthy.

Keep in mind, this study was done with mice and very specific tumors treated with the chemotherapy drug cisplatin.  Another recent study suggested that omega-3 enhanced chemotherapy in human lung cancer patients.  Take-away message for cancer patients on chemo:  don’t just assume a nutrient is going to be helpful during treatment.  Tell your doctor about all supplements and herbs you take.  Consult a registered dietitian who specializes in nutrition for cancer.

*12-oxo-5,8,10-heptadecatrienoic acid and 16:4 hexadeca-4,7,10,13-tetraenoic acid.  The beneficial omega-3’s – EPA and DHA – are not implicated in this study.

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