You know how every few years there is a major reversal from the medical community about nutrition? I think we are due for another one soon.
For years, we have been told to use artificial sweeteners to replace sugar, for weight loss and to prevent diabetes. Turns out they actually cause weight gain, worsen diabetes and may also contribute to heart disease.
They appear to produce these negative health effects by an indirect means: by disrupting the normal balance of bacteria in our guts. These bacteria are important for many bodily functions, including the digestive process, the immune system, weight regulation, inflammation levels, even helping to control blood sugar. Anything that upsets their balance impacts our health.
Of course, they eat what we eat, so a healthy diet is the best way to keep our gut bugs healthy. When we consume a lot of chemicals in our food — aspartame, Splenda and saccharin were the ones tested — our intestinal bugs pay the price.
Medical nutrition seems to prefer processed foods over natural. Another example is hydrogenated fats, which we were told were better for the heart than natural saturated fats. Hydrogenated fats start out as natural unsaturated fats, but they are processed under high pressure and heat, with hydrogen bubbled through them in the presence of nickel. This makes them more stable and easier to cook with, but somehow it was also decided they were healthier than fats that are naturally present in our foods.
We now know hydrogenated fats are toxic, especially for the heart, and may soon be banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. They already are illegal in many other countries.
When I was in chiropractic school more than 30 years ago, we were warned against hydrogenated fats and artificial sweeteners based on the principle that they were highly processed and unnatural. The basic rule was don’t eat anything that isn’t food. Hydrogenated fats and artificial sweeteners certainly fall into the “non-food” category.
Another example of modern nutrition choosing chemicals over food relates to supplements. We consume tons of “vitamins” every year, in pill form and as an additive to our foods, and we are told they are good for us. My training again says otherwise and for the same reason. The vast majority of vitamins used today are highly processed and stripped down to a single molecule, unlike the whole complexes that are naturally present in foods. Supplements often are made in China because the environmental regulations are lower. It seems a healthy food like a vitamin should not involve the production of toxic waste.
It literally does not pass the smell test. In our office, we use only minimally processed, whole food source supplements that supply the whole vitamin complex, not a highly condensed, unnatural fraction.
Another nutritional myth that may be going away is using low-fat foods to control weight. It seems logical on the surface: Fats are the most calorie-dense foods, compared to carbs and protein, so we should limit how much we eat to lose weight. This is the backbone to the calorie-counting approach to weight loss — eat fewer calories, store less fat.
But many fat-free foods taste like cardboard, so sugar or other sweeteners — known causes of weight gain — are added. A diet low in fats will also be low in the important fat-based vitamins and nutrients, like vitamins A, D and E, and omega-3 fatty acids. Also, processed foods, including fat-free ones, tend to be a lot less satisfying and more addictive than intact, whole foods. We are more likely to overeat potato chips and soda than mashed potatoes and water.
Once again, a whole, intact food is altered in the name of health, and the results are not so great. According to a recent study, there was more weight loss on a low-carb diet than a low-fat one.
Here is my new favorite nutrition saying: count chemicals, not calories. The last time I was at the farmers market, the majority of the foods didn’t even have ingredient labels, listing all the additives, sweeteners, conditioners and emulsifiers. The only ingredient was pretty obvious — broccoli.
Dr. Michael Noonan practices chiropractic, chiropractic acupuncture and other wellness therapies in Old Town. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.