Dietary Myths Debunked

As the excess of the holidays wanes, it seems a natural inclination to prepare lighter, simpler meals. And whether one holds a firm resolve to lose some extra pounds or simply craves something a bit more wholesome, it is interesting to look at some of the dietary principles handed down that have since been reexamined.

As an herbalist, I may routinely spend half a consultation talking about dietary choices, and then recommend appropriate herbs. Clients are often surprised, and even relieved, to hear of some of my suggestions which are based upon principles of Chinese medicine and other holistic practices.

Myth #1: Drinking a lot of water before a meal will fill you up.

Excess water before or during a meal dilutes the digestive enzymes, which are essential to breaking down food. Without sufficient enzymes, the digestive process is slowed and can result in gas, bloating, constipation, and/or diarrhea. This is especially true if the water is very cold. Ice water or other cold drinks further hampers the actions of the spleen and stomach to transform and transport food. It is best to only sip liquids during a meal, and drink larger quantities apart from meals.

Myth #2: Raw foods are superior to cooked foods.

In a static laboratory evaluation, raw foods will contain more vitamins and enzymes, however this does not translate to what our bodies can actually absorb. Many foods contain a harder cellulose layer, which our bodies cannot digest and spend a great deal of energy attempting to break down. Lightly cooked food is more digestible as the cellulose layer is softened, and the available nutrients in that food more easily absorbed.

Myth #3: A low fat diet prevents disease and is better for you.

Our bodies, and especially certain organ systems, need fat to thrive, but it is important to choose the proper types of fat. The American diet too heavily emphasizes vegetable oils rich in Omega 6 fatty acids, and hydrogenated oils, which can ultimately lead to inflammation. Our diets are also heavy in animal fats, but too much saturated fat cannot be blamed as the sole dietary culprit in diseases such as heart disease. The rate of heart disease is concurrent with the increased use of hydrogenated oils, prevalent in snack and pre-packaged foods. Emphasizing the consumption of omega 3 oils such as in fatty fish and walnuts, and using olive oil primarily for cooking will improve anyone’s health.

Myth #4: Carbohydrates will make you fat.

Eating bagels, white bread, snack foods, and relying too heavily on pasta will certainly add extra pounds, and ultimately encourage diabetes as well. But the right type of carbohydrates provide a slow, sustained release of energy that prevents blood sugar spikes and keeps us feeling satisfied. Brown and wild rice, barley, oatmeal, and other whole grains, as well as beans can be the staples of a very healthy diet. They are rich in fiber, which absorbs excess i.e. fats and cholesterol in the gut, and can be very beneficial to weight loss and general health. A look at traditional diets, of which whole grains and beans of some kind are a cornerstone, reveal some of the healthiest and leanest populations on this earth.