Diabetes, Diet, Disease

Nutrition Myths Debunked!

According to Dr. Michelle McMacken, medical schools provide aspiring physicians with only about 20 minutes of education in nutrition. When she established her family practice, she realized she needed to explore the subject herself, for her own health and that of her patients. She says doctors are subject to the same misinformation about nutrition as everyone else.

Dr. McMacken says the most common nutrition myths perpetuated by doctors are these:

1.  “You need to eat more protein.”

In fact, most people in the developed world eat too much protein.  The average adult in the United States eats more than 1.5 times the recommended 56 grams daily for men, and 46 grams daily for women.

Popular perception is that protein makes us lean and fit. But instead, excess protein is either stored as fat or excreted as waste. Most Americans derive their protein from animal products, and the consumption of animal protein leads to obesity heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.

Doctors often recommend eating more “lean” protein. But lean meats such as chicken still provide up to three times as many calories from fat as from protein. Even fish contain unhealthy fats, along with many pollutants such as mercury.

Dr. McMacken follows a plant-based diet. She believes the best sources of protein are beans and nuts, which get less than 5 percent of their calories from fat. They are also cholesterol, hormone and antibiotic free.  A plant-based diet provides as much protein as people need, along with fiber, antioxidants and phytonutrients.

2. “You should cut back on carbs.”

Dr. McMacken points out that in areas known as “Blue Zones” – the communities around the world known for longevity – people eat high-carb diets.  Be aware, however, that all carbs are not equal. Processed, refined grains like white bread, rice, pastries and cereals raise triglycerides, promote weight gain, raise blood sugar and contribute to heart disease. Instead, she recommends eating whole grains, quinoa, legumes, starchy vegetables and fruit.

3. “Drink milk to protect your bones.”

This myth has been perpetrated by years of advertising by the milk production industry. However, cow milk and milk products contain hormones, antibiotics, saturated fat and cholesterol. Studies have linked dairy with prostate cancer and heart disease.

The best way to get calcium is through sources such as green, leafy vegetables, almonds, and sesame tahini. Physical activity and moderate sun exposure are also helpful for bone health. It is important to give up smoking and adhere to moderate alcohol consumption.

4. “If you want to lose weight, you should count calories.”

Most people are not likely to track their calories over the long term, and there is a much better way. Research proves that people who eat a plant-based diet tend to lose weight without measuring or calorie counting.  This is probably because they are consuming a higher fiber content. The key to losing weight on a plant-based diet is to eat a wide variety of healthy, whole foods. Include lentils, beans, vegetables and unrefined grains. Limit added sugar and processed food.

5. “This pill is the solution to your health problems.”

The biggest nutrition mistake doctors make, says Dr. McMacken, is overlooking the power of food itself to keep us healthy. Certainly drug therapy has its place, but most diseases have their roots in our food and lifestyle choices. She hopes in the future, doctors will look first at ways their patients eat and live.