Separating sense from nonsense when it comes to what we eat

For some, eating in 2019 has become a very confusing experience. From what trendy diet is the healthiest to keeping up with what foods will help save the planet, visiting the grocery store has never been so overwhelming.

Luckily, bestselling author Joe Schwarcz tackles the science of eating with his new book A Grain of Salt: The Science and Pseudoscience of What We Eat, and he sat down with us at The Social to debunk some of the most common myths you may have heard when it comes to dieting. Check out his advice below, and watch the video above for our chat with him!

Who do you listen to?

As the number of resources on healthy living increases, it is difficult to separate opinion from research, but it’s important to keep in mind there are large differences between personal anecdotes and factual scientific studies.

When it comes to a specific diet that Schwarcz believes in, it’s The Okinawa Diet Plan, a much researched book chronicling the habits of the longest living population in the world. Okinawa’s eat a pound more than the average person, while eating 500 calories less by basically living off a plant-based diet. The result? They do not gain significant weight as they age. However, it is important to note that they have very high activity levels and a different lifestyle than what we could have today in Canada. You have to be very careful because we are not living like them today, but it’s interesting to look at and see what they are eating and what works.

Big breakfasts

A common health trend North Americans have been hearing since childhood is that breakfast should be the biggest meal of the day. In Shwarcz’ novel he talks about Chrono-nutrition – the science behind the timing of ones meals, revealing that there is a good amount of evidence supporting the negatives of eating late at night. Germans, Americans, Dutch and Canadians eat the largest meal at the end of the day, and the conclusion that researchers distilled out of these observations was that large evening meals are linked with obesity. Subjects who ate the largest meal early in the day tended to have a lower body mass index than found in people who ate large dinners. Those who ate a large breakfast lost two and a half times more weight and more belly fat.

Fad diets

In terms of weight loss, there are benefits to intermittent fasting, as you are generally just eating less food. However, if you want to improve your overall health, it won’t make a difference.

The keto diet seems like most revolutionary discovery of the year, with advocates claiming that it has changed their life. Essentially, those who partake in the keto diet are cutting all the carbs from their life and consuming only high fats and proteins – it’s basically an extreme version of the Atkins diet. A high fat diet can have cardiovascular risk factors, such as an increase in cholesterol – although the increase is mostly in the ‘large particle’ sub fraction that is deemed to be less risky. Due to the novel nature of the diet, researchers are largely unaware of the effects such a diet may have on heart disease in the long run, but it can cause an individual to lose weight relatively quick, keeping them motivated. Other benefits include improved control of blood sugar, better brain function and limitations in tumor growth.

Meat or meatless?

As faux meat burgers have become increasingly popularized, the real reason to try these is for the environmental reasons – not for health reasons.  Most meatless burgers contain pea protein with high salt and saturated fat, so it isn’t healthier, but it is environmentally friendly. It is also beneficial if you are increasing the amount of healthier foods like fruits and veggies you are eating.

There are numerous studies that show that eating processed meats such as hot dogs and smoked meats and all the stuff that tastes good isn’t so good for us. When it comes to red meat like steak, we have some frightening information from studies that people who eat a lot of those are not so well off. So, because you are decreasing animal protein you are increasing your intake of healthier foods like veggies and fruits, which is in turn a good idea.

Sugar and MSG

Sugar has zero benefits, so cutting it down has no risks. This is especially relevant in refined sugar not sugars found in fruits and vegetables. Similarly, MSG has been receiving a bad reputation despite repeat studies that have shown MSG does not produce numbness, weakness or heart palpitations. American style Chinese food tends to have a lot of MSG added because it brings out flavor, so the people that are sensitive to it can have effects – but it is very rare.

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