Posted: Monday, October 14, 2019

The Whole Truth About Dietary Half-Truths

These days, it can be tough to separate fact from fiction in a lot of different areas. Sometimes things are exaggerated, sometimes things are completely false and sometimes things evolve so that what was true before is no longer true now. The latter can frequently be the case with nutrition advice. Health and nutrition science is constantly changing as experts learn more about the human body, how it processes food and how that food can be either helpful or harmful to our overall health. It moves so fast that it’s often challenging to change people’s minds about well-worn myths, and doing so can take a long time.

“Sometimes, I come across dietary statements that have a kernel of truth in them somewhere, but are not fully accurate, which we call ‘half-truths,’” Blount Memorial registered dietitian Heather Pierce said. “For instance, there’s the idea that, no matter how you choose to see it, a calorie is a calorie. And while this is true – a calorie is a measurement of energy – not all calories are handled in the body the same way. For instance, 200 calories in a soda is not equivalent to 200 calories from a steak. They create different hormonal responses because they use different pathways for different macronutrients. Soda, of course, also raises our glucose and insulin levels, while a steak does not,” she explained. “The 200 calories you get from eating a steak not only helps you get protein, they also help activate the satiety hormones in your stomach,” she added.

Pierce says there also is a half-truth surrounding the relationship between eating habits and metabolic rate. “I’ve heard the notion that eating six small meals each day can rev your metabolic rate,” she said. “While eating small meals can be beneficial for some conditions, missing a snack or meal won’t tank our metabolic rate or toss us into ‘starvation mode.’ In fact, research indicates that we burn the same amount of calories whether we eat six meals a day or the standard two or three,” she said. “Also, frequent snacking has the downside of keeping our insulin levels elevated, which actually can hinder weight loss,” she explained.

“Finally, you may have heard the idea that you can eat anything you want, as long as you do so in ‘moderation,’” Pierce said. “There is some truth to this, but it’s definitely not true for everyone, and can be a particularly slippery slope if you happen to have addictive food behaviors. The ‘full-truth’ is that we have to accept that some foods can be triggers that lead to binges. Often, these are processed carbohydrate foods, such as crackers, snack cakes or ice cream, but they really can be any food that activates the body’s endorphin/reward system,” she explained. “So-called ‘moderation’ is so vague and undefined, so it’s critical that if we are going to use the word ‘moderation,’ we must be specific and define what it means. As always your doctor or a registered dietitian can help you determine what exactly ‘moderation’ means for you,” she added.

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