5 Biggest Diet Myths
The new year is in full swing and, even though I personally don’t buy into new years resolutions, I am hoping that 2018 is the start of making healthier choices with my diet and exercise routine. Despite huge progress in the health and wellness industry the past decade, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the abundance of information that is not only available, but constantly bombarding us on the internet. To make matters worse, even expert opinions can contradict each other. So what’s a person to do in a social media age fueled by exercise and diet fads? I got candid with Dr. Nas Al-Jafari, one of the masterminds behind Intercare Wellness, to set the record straight. Here are his top five diet myths you can officially call busted:
1) Just measure calories in and calories out
The myth that the human body is a simple calorie scale – calories in vs calories out – is heard so commonly that it is almost written in to gospel. Unfortunately, a majority of mainstream nutritionists and doctors have still got it wrong when it comes to weight loss. This conflicting advice within the healthcare community, which is often played upon by media outlets, leads to a confusing picture.
On the face of it, the concept is logical and simple; we either eat too much or exercise too little – right?
What we actually should be asking ourselves is:
Why am I eating or exercising too little?
Weight is primarily determined by your hormones. In simple terms, the body has evolved to prevent you from starving; by reducing your basal metabolic rate — the calories you burn at rest — and by increasing hunger during periods of calorie restriction. Therefore, in the short term calorie restriction may work. However, study after study has demonstrated that these effects are short lived and people often end up heavier than when they started.
2) All calories are equal
Along similar lines, it has also become increasingly clear over time that the notion “all calories are equal” is, in fact, a lie. If only it was so simple!
Food contains much more than just calories; it contains chemicals that trigger biological reactions. Food is metabolized differently depending on its composition and due to differences in a person’s hormonal state.
Insulin is a significant driver of weight gain. However, diets high in fats and, to a lesser degree, proteins, have far less of an insulin response, independent of calories consumed. Fats and proteins are also good at switching off the hunger hormone, Ghrelin, and activating the “I’m full signal”, Leptin, leading to less calorie consumption in the long term. Your body also requires much more energy to metabolize protein than fat and carbs. Put simply, protein-based diets have a “metabolic advantage” over typical calorie-restricted, low-fat diets.
3) Too much fat is bad for us
We’ve all heard the confusing terms “good fats” and “bad fats”, but what do they actually mean? A very simple rule to follow is that if the fat in question is naturally occurring or undergone very little in the way of processing — nuts, meat, fish, coconut oil, avocados, eggs, milk — then these are very healthy. Studies are increasingly demonstrating that, when compared with the typical low-fat and highly refined diet, diets consisting of higher natural fat content are more favorable for sustained weight control and our general health.
4) Eat small meals regularly
Another healthy eating myth is the idea that smaller, more regular meals are somehow better for weight control, over less frequent larger meals. The human body was not designed for the constant consumption of food. We are best suited to eating less frequent meals during a smaller eating window; for example, hunter-gathers consumed most, if not all, food during daylight hours. Some studies have even shown that people eating more calories during a smaller timeframe can be better for weight maintenance than those eating less calories over a more protracted time. The bottom line is that most people need to re-balance their daily fasted-feasting cycle by having less frequent meals during a shorter time period.
5) Breakfast is the most important meal of the day
It is and it isn’t. The thing is, breakfast has to be just that, ‘breaking’ a ‘fast’
With our modern day lifestyles we are increasing eating breakfast earlier and having our evening meals later. As a result, there is no period of fasting during the day. Similarly, the foods people generally eat at breakfast (particularly when we’re in a rush) are the very foods we should be avoiding; heavily refined carbohydrates — cereals, breads, pastries, rice — all of which are not much better than consuming a bowl of sugar.
When it comes to breakfast, timing and contents are key. Dr. Al-Jafari recommends that breakfast should be preceded by a period of fasting (anywhere between 12-18 hours) and ideally consumed earlier in the day to stay in tune with our biological clock (Day:Night cycle).
This is a big shift from a typical eating schedule, but smaller lifestyle tweaks can help you head in the right direction — like no eating after 8pm. As with all aspects of our diet, we should shy away from refined foods at breakfast and obtain a healthy balance of unrefined carbohydrates, natural fats and proteins. (If you need inspiration, check out my post on quick and healthy — or at least healthier — breakfast recipes.)
Hungry for more? Intercare Wellness offers everything you need to get your body in top shape in 2018, whether you’re just starting your wellness journey or are looking to reach peak performance. The clinic, conveniently located in Marina Village in Abu Dhabi, offers everything from medically based advice to vitamin infusions to DNA testing. Book an appointment with the wellness expert himself, Dr. Nas Al-Jafari, or follow him on Instagram at @primal_doc.