Top 5 Misconceptions About Food

By Michelle McMacken
Full article:

“As a primary care doctor, I spend my days taking care of patients with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and obesity. I also see “healthy” patients whose eating habits are starting them on the road to a future filled with doctor’s appointments and hospital visits.I enjoy reminding my patients that their fork can be more powerful than my prescription pad when it comes to preventing and reversing chronic diseases. This conversation usually uncovers some common misconceptions about food and nutrition. Here are five myths that I hear almost every day, among patients and colleagues alike:

1. “I need to eat more protein.”
Many people don’t realize that the average American consumes more than twice the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of protein, most of it from animal products. 1,2 Unfortunately, animal-based proteins have been shown to promote faster growth, not only of normal cells but of cancer cells, and have been linked to a variety of cancers as well as heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and kidney stones.3,4Plant foods contain plenty of protein, and a whole-foods, plant-based diet actually provides exactly what’s recommended in terms of protein requirements – about 8-10% of total daily calories from protein.  This happens naturally when people eat a diet of diverse, whole plant foods – there is no need to count grams of protein!  And unlike animal proteins, plant proteins from whole foods are not associated with cancer or other chronic diseases.  In fact, these foods actually prevent many of the diseases we see today!

2. “I need to drink milk to have strong bones.”
Many people equate dairy with calcium, strong bones, and the prevention of osteoporosis (low bone density). Generations of advertising slogans have perpetuated this idea. However, dairy isn’t the answer here. Studies show that dairy products may actually increase the risk of fractures related to osteoporosis!5-7The biological purpose of cow’s milk is to support the rapid growth of a calf. Humans have no nutritional or medical need to consume the milk of cows or any other nonhuman species. Cow’s milk has significant levels of female hormones, and usually contains antibiotics, pesticides, saturated fat, and cholesterol — substances that definitely do NOT do a body good! Dairy has been specifically linked with prostate, ovarian, and uterine cancer, as well as heart disease and early death.7-13The best sources of calcium come from the earth, in foods such as kale, broccoli, bok choy, and Brussels sprouts. As a bonus, these vegetables are high in vitamin K, which is also important for strong bones. Beans may be an especially good source of calcium, because they are also high in phytates, antioxidant compounds that may enhance mineral absorption14 (despite common perception to the contrary) and thus protect bone density.15 Many brands of soy milk, almond milk, orange juice, and tofu are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, just as cow’s milk is artificially fortified with these nutrients. However, there is no need to specifically target calcium sources in the diet; a diverse, whole-foods, plant-based diet will provide all of the calcium you need.

3. “Chicken, turkey, fish, and eggs are healthy sources of protein.”
Chicken, turkey, fish, and eggs contain significant amounts of cholesterol and saturated fat, in many cases as much as beef,16 so they are not “heart healthy” foods. Plant-based sources of protein contain zero cholesterol and far less saturated fat. Chicken and turkey usually contain antibiotics, pesticides, and fecal contaminants, and have been associated with salmonella, staph, and other infectious disease outbreaks. Chicken, fish, and eggs have been associated with an increased risk of diabetes.17-25 Almost all fish contain mercury, which can cause neurologic and cognitive problems; many also contain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a toxin associated with cancer.16 And a recent study showed that eggs cause intestinal bacteria to make a substance called TMAO, which can trigger heart attacks and other cardiovascular events.26Whole plant foods supply plenty of protein, and they don’t come packaged with cholesterol or high levels of saturated fat. Instead, their protein is bundled with fiber and many necessary nutrients! Great plant-based sources of protein include lentils, chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, soybeans, and quinoa. Green vegetables such as spinach, collards, broccoli, and peas are also quite high in protein per calorie. But remember, it’s not necessary to seek out plant foods high in protein, since a varied whole-food, plant-based diet will naturally provide enough protein, without special effort.27

4. “I can’t eat carbs.”

Many people are mistakenly led to believe they should avoid carbohydrates, particularly for weight management and diabetes control. Instead, they focus on proteins — especially animal proteins — and fats. Sadly, this approach actually increases the risk of chronic disease and death,28-32 and it deprives people of the numerous nutrients found in carbohydrate-containing foods.It is true, however, that not all carbohydrates are created equal. Refined, highly processed carbohydrates can raise triglycerides, promote weight gain, and drive up blood sugar. On the other hand, starches that come from whole grains bring fiber, essential fatty acids, B vitamins, zinc, and protein into our diets and provide an excellent source of energy. Beans, legumes, starchy vegetables, and fruits are other healthy carbohydrate sources. Balancing these foods with non-starchy vegetables is an optimal way to eat for weight loss, diabetes control, and reversal of heart disease.

5. “Healthy food is too expensive.”

You don’t need to shop at a gourmet health food store to find nutritious foods. Actually, some of the healthiest foods are the least expensive, and they are readily available at most grocery stores and many local farmers’ markets. Beans, lentils, brown rice, and frozen vegetables are usually inexpensive, especially when bought dried and in bulk. (Organic fruits and vegetables can cost more, but eating nonorganic plant-based foods is still more nutritious than eating meat, chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy, organic or otherwise.)Even when processed foods and animal products are sold cheaply, they are expensive in terms of the cost to your health. What you may save now, you could end up spending later in pharmacy co-payments and medical bills!“

Myths About Animals

  1. We’re Meant to Eat Animals
    “In “The Comparative Anatomy of Eating,” Milton Mills explains that human anatomy and physiology are much more akin to herbivores than omnivores or carnivores. Nevertheless, a defining feature of being human is that we are not reducible to our biology. As moral beings capable of choosing our way of life, it is worth questioning whether we are strictly “meant” to do anything.”
  2. Eating Locally Raised Animals is Sustainable
    “If a household buys only local food but regularly buys animal products, they are saving the greenhouse gas equivalent of about 1,000 miles of driving per year. However, if they eat vegan food for only 1 day a week with no regard for buying local they save the equivalent of 1,160 miles per year. […] With final transportation only accounting for 4 percent of total emissions, it is more resource efficient and sustainable to eat whole, organically grown plant foods grown 3,000 miles away than it is to eat animal foods grown by your neighbor.”
  3. Chickens Are Stupid
    “Chickens are incredibly intelligent and live complex social and emotional lives–despite the fact that, after marine animals, they are the most frequently killed animal for human consumption. They often outperform toddlers in representational and numerical abilities and can do basic arithmetic by keeping track of additions and subtractions in shuffling games. They can anticipate the future, delay gratification and exercise self-control. In one study, they chose to delay gratification for a larger food reward 90 percentof the time.”
  4. Dairy Cows Will Explode if We Don’t Milk Them
    “Expressions like ‘cows give milk’ and ‘cows need to be milked’ along with the array of dairy advertisements showing happy, willing cows are extremely deceiving. These claims overlook the basic requirement for all mammals to lactate: pregnancy and childbirth. Human consumption of dairy requires that we hijack this natural process through repeated artificial insemination and the subsequent separation of calf from mother so that we can take the milk for ourselves. […] According to the USDA, 97 percent of dairy calves are permanently taken from their mothers within 24 hours of birth.”
  5. Fish Don’t Feel Pain
    “The myth that fish don’t feel pain and don’t have a nervous systemis still alive and well despite the fact that research increasingly shows that their perception and cognition often matches and exceeds that of other vertebrates. This means that they can no longer be considered an ethical grey area. […] In all vertebrates, free nerve-endings register pain. Fish have an abundance of these nerve-endings and also produce pain-reducing substances like endorphins.”
  6. Leather is a Harmless By-Product
    “Leather is not a by-product of the slaughter industry. It is a co-product. The sale of animal skins makes up approximately half of the profits of all slaughter businesses that process cows. Factory farms could not be profitable without the sale of skins. By the pound, leather is the most profitable part of an animal. This means that cows are killed for their skin as much as they are killed for their meat.”

– Patti Nyman / One Green Planet 

Reckless Consumption Habits Endanger Animals

“It may seem like the simple act of buying a product as one individual has little impact on animals and ecosystems, but single acts practiced by many individuals accumulate into massive worldwide problems. […]

Raising cattle for beef is a leading cause of deforestation, soil erosion, water depletion, and wildlife endangerment.[…]

[T]he current state of our oceans means that all fishing is overfishing. […]

With so many plant-based alternatives to every traditional food, ingredient, supplement and cosmetic product, we can change our consumption habits to benefit endangered species and put a halt to the largest mass extinction event in 65 million years. Every individual act either contributes to the problem or is part of the solution.”

– Patti Nyman / One Green Planet