The 10 Dumbest Diet Myths

Don’t believe the hype! Have you fallen for one of these dietary acts of idiocy?

As a T Nation fan, you’d never fall for the same diet and nutrition myths that the lay public falls for, right? Nah, you’re too smart for that. But let’s make sure. Have you fallen for one of these dietary acts of idiocy?

1. Hey, Soy May Shrink My Balls, But At Least It’s Good Protein!

About 15 years ago, I broke the news to the physique world that a few studies had shown that soy results in testicle shrinkage and lowered testosterone levels. Still, some people steadfastly clung to the notion that soy protein is at least a good muscle builder.

They had somewhat of a leg to stand on, albeit a short stubby one that was covered with scabs. Their reasoning was that soy protein was different from soy in that the isoflavones implicated in lowering testosterone and the shrinking of testicles were removed in processing and none of them were present in the protein itself.

That may or may not be true, as some reports indicate that the isoflavones are indeed present in some brands of soy protein. Regardless of which position you support, recent research gives us an altogether different reason to avoid soy.

A study at McMaster University found that when it comes to muscle protein synthesis (MPS), soy is no better than water. The researchers gave 30 men 0 grams of protein, 20 grams of soy, or 40 grams of soy at rest and after resistance exercise. They then compared the results to a group of men who had used 20 or 40 grams of whey protein instead.

While 40 grams of soy increased MPS modestly, 20 grams of soy worked as well as 0 grams of soy. Both 20 and 40 grams of whey, however, increased MPS significantly. The researchers theorized that whey worked well (and soy didn’t) because whey has a much higher percentage of leucine, the “master amino” acid for muscle building, than soy.

Likewise, a higher percentage of the amino acids in soy, including leucine, are diverted towards oxidation, which makes them unavailable for protein synthesis.

Clearly, if you want to grow muscle, it’s best to avoid soy protein until the unlikely event that some miracle study convinces us that all soy’s problems have been remedied.

2. Your Liver is a Waste Dump! Detoxify It!

Somewhere along the line, some wild wag of a well-meaning naturopath, herbalist, or anal fetishist got the idea that our bodies needed periodic cleanings.

They reasoned that the air, water, and food we breathed or ingested was rife with toxic chemicals. The naturopath and the herbalist recommended we occasionally refrain from eating solid foods and instead quaff unappetizing blends of kale, celery, and turnip to purge ourselves of these toxins.

The anal fetishist reasoned that we should instead come in the back way and hose our colons with water, coffee, or cat litter (bentonite) to flush out the toxins.

Well, they were all half right.

The air, water, and food we breathe or ingest is indeed filled with toxic chemicals, but the body has a pretty efficient detoxifying system set in place in the liver, kidney, and spleen. What’s more, there is no widely accepted evidence that juice helps them do their job more efficiently.

These systems do, however, need nutritional support. Paradoxically, fasting deprives the liver of amino acids (cysteine, glutamine, glycine) that are important to this natural detox process. Likewise, amino acids make toxins more water soluble, which allows them to be eliminated through bile.

And the colon cleanse? That’s too silly to even begin to address.

3. The Growth Hormone in Milk Caused Junior to Grow Two Heads!

Stop with the GH phobia, already. Yes, some segments of the dairy industry use growth hormone to increase milk production and yes, some of it seems to get into the milk that we ingest. Big deal. Bring it on.

GH is a big honkin’ protein molecule and, once ingested, it gets broken down into its constituent amino acids, pretty much like any other protein that slides down our wild ride of a digestive system.

Besides, it’s bovine GH and unless one of your parents was an ungulate with four stomachs that wore a bell around his or her neck, it wouldn’t have any effect on you, anyhow.

4. Cancer Feeds on Gummy Bears!

Back in 2007, some bastard launched an Internet hoax titled “Cancer Update from John Hopkins.” Among other things, it explained that “cancer feeds on certain foods like sugar.”

It scared the bejesus out of cancer patients everywhere, causing many of them to eschew sugar. Things got worse in 2012 when the venerable 60 Minutes program aired a segment on a doctor who pretty much made the same assertion.

Anxiety-ridden cancer patients began to purge their cupboards of anything that might have sugar in it. The trouble is, lots of things have sugar in it, and if you know anything about cancer patients, you know that one of the main problems they face is getting enough calories and nutrition, mainly because they often lose their appetite from chemotherapy.

There are obvious problems associated with not eating, but one of them is particularly dire. Studies of malnutrition in AIDS patients from the 80’s tells us that once your body weight drops to about 66% of ideal (or cells drop to about 54% of normal), you die, regardless of anything else that’s going on with your body. As such, cancer patients need to eat anything just to keep their calories up.

Besides, cancer doesn’t feed on sugar, per se. Oh, it’ll surely utilize sugar, but ever since Adolf Krebs, who discovered the eponymous Krebs Cycle, began mincing pigeon breasts in his laboratory, we’ve known that the common metabolic intermediator of all energy demands is 6-carbon sugars, which includes all carbohydrates, not just sugar.

Can you starve cancer cells by dumping all carbohydrates? Maybe, but everything else suffers before the cancer is starved, so this cancer/sugar myth is one that needs to be quickly squelched.

Oh yeah, people should probably remember that simply appearing on television doesn’t convey true expert status to anyone. Producers book people based on controversy and pizzazz, consequences be damned.

5. Oh No! Giant Chickens With Gyno Are Coming to Get Us!

I suppose it’s commendable that well-meaning mommas rummage around the frozen food sections of grocery stores looking for chicken labeled “hormone free” or “natural,” but it’s a waste of momma love.

The “hormone free” label is unnecessary and manipulative since the use of hormones in poultry is illegal. As far as “natural,” it means that there aren’t any artificial ingredients or preservatives in the chicken, but that’s true of almost any bird in any grocery store.

And as long as we’re on the subject of labels, “free range” suggests that the chickens lead idyllic lives ranging the prairies for grasshoppers and the meaning of life.

Unfortunately, it only means they have access to the outside, but that could mean there’s a hole in the wall they could theoretically squeeze through, or maybe have access to a small fenced-in area of concrete that’s adjacent to Interstate 5.

“Farm raised” is probably the silliest of all, since few chickens are raised on golf courses, sorority houses, or in the back offices of Charles Schwab.

6. Oh No! I Didn’t Get My Daily Allotment of Riboflavin!

I’ve written about how people who ate only nutrient-dense food could theoretically eat as much as they want and not gain weight. The “trick,” of course, is that nutrient-dense foods are usually calorically sparse, and if you fill yourself on low-calorie foods, you’ll quash your appetite and you won’t gain weight.

However, I’ve discovered a sub-sect of people who, despite eating “healthy,” are still managing to fatten themselves up. They’ve apparently found a loophole in my argument and they’re exploiting it mightily.

Here’s what’s happening: They’ll have breakfast. They’ll order eggs and whole grain toast with organic butter. And some yogurt. And Granola. Oh yeah, some orange juice and a bowl of fruit. And bacon. Almost forgot the bacon.

They’ve embraced the idea of complete nutrition and nutrient-dense foods, but they’ve taken it to an absurd extreme by trying to get all their nutrients in every meal. As a result, their calorie-intake is off the charts. Despite their sound nutritional choices, they get fatter and fatter.

What they’ve neglected is that you don’t have to get all your nutrition in every meal. It’s like the old beans and rice thing practiced by vegetarians. Rice is lacking in the amino acids lysine and threonine, so you had to eat beans with it to make a complete protein because beans had the lysine and threonine that rice lacked.

Well, it’s true, but you don’t have to have them in the same meal. You can eat your rice and have some lysine-containing food later on in the day.

You don’t necessarily even have to get all your micronutrients in one day. Instead, you can look at your nutrition in blocks of two or three days, or even a week. While there are daily requirements for many vitamins, many others are stored for later use.

As an extreme example, the daily requirement for Vitamin B12 is about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. However, the body recycles some of the Vitamin B12 and stores can last between 5 months and 30 years before any kind of deficiency would become apparent.

Eat your nutrient-dense foods, but there’s no need to get every macronutrient, vitamin, mineral, phytochemical, or antioxidant in every meal, you fat bastard in the making.

7. Whole Milk is What They Used to Kill Rasputin!

For years, America has treated whole milk as if it were a liquid medium used to transport Ebola virus. People thought it made you fat, raised your cholesterol, and hardened up your arteries, so they chose skim milk or even non-fat milk, which is sort of the Coors beer of milk, i.e., colored water.

Surprisingly, though, a lot of evidence has surfaced that shows that those who drank whole milk (and ate high-fat dairy in general) were less likely to get fat than those who ingested lower-fat versions.

The studies seemed legit and significant, too – no three-person pool of test subjects conducted by some business with skin in the game. One tracked men who ate high-fat dairy over a 12-year period and the other was a meta analysis of 16 studies. Both showed that a high-fat diet was associated with a lower risk of obesity.

The yet-to-be validated thinking is that high-fat milk contains some bioactive substance that may alter the metabolism in a way that helps use fat and burn it for energy. Of course, this “bioactive substance” may merely be conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid that’s long been known to be a fat burner.

As far as the heart-health concerns, few people realize that in addition to containing saturated fatty acids – whose role in heart disease is now thought to be minimal to non-existent – whole milk contains oleic acid, which is the heart-healthy fatty acid that makes olive oil so highly prized by nutritionists.

Of additional concern is the vitamin paradox presented by skim or non-fat milk. Milk contains fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K. However, when you eliminate the fat from a milk product, you also end up taking out most of the fat-soluble vitamins, which then have to be added back in.

However, unless you’re ingesting some fat with your milk, have recently ingested some fat, or plan on soon ingesting some after you finish your glass, much of the vitamins in it flounder around your intestines, waiting in vain to be picked up and distributed to the body as opposed to suffering the ignominy of being excreted into the toilet bowl.

If you’re a calorie counter, you may want to continue with skim or non-fat milk. Others might want to give whole milk another chance.

8. Of Course You’re Fat and Have B.O. and Acne! You Ate Some Fructose!

The human body prefers glucose as its energy source. However, it quite readily accepts fructose, too.

When ingested, the fructose is shuttled to the liver (unless you’re really energy depleted) and then diverted to liver mitochondria, which either package the fructose as glycogen for short-term use or store it as fat.

While this process is reversible, it’s not a good thing for liver health or function if it continues for any length of time. Some scientists have even gone so far as to call fructose “alcohol without the buzz.”

Unfortunately, the fact that fructose can be stored as fat and that it’s potentially damaging to the liver have caused a disproportionate fear of fructose, a condition I call “fructose derangement syndrome.”

The research just doesn’t support the fears. John Sievenpiper, a nutritionist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada, looked at 41 studies using humans and noted that when people ate the same amount of calories, whether it was from fructose or some other carb source, they gained the same amount of weight.

And, you can easily make an empirical observation and see that despite the mass avoidance of all things fructose, national obesity claims have continued to rise.

But let’s apply some logic to the situation. The most “potent” fructose blend – the much-dreaded high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – has a fructose content of about 55%, while the remaining 45% is glucose. Compare that to sucrose, or table sugar, which is a blend of 50% glucose and 50% fructose.

That means that if you were to eat 100 grams of HFCS a day, which is a little over the amount you’d ingest in three cans of Coke, you’d be getting 5 more grams of fructose than if you ingested an equal amount of sucrose.

That’s small potatoes, which, coincidentally, contain a relatively high amount of fructose, at least in comparison to most other vegetables.

9. Don’t Eat Turkey and Drive!

The way most people talk, you’d think the holiday turkey was made of dark meat, light meat, and Ambien. Others, supposedly more knowledgeable, believe turkey makes you sleepy because it contains the amino acid tryptophan, which is a precursor to the relaxation, feel-good hormone, serotonin.

Yes, turkey contains tryptophan, but so do all complete protein sources. Besides, tryptophan is a large, clumsy amino acid that has a hard time squeezing its molecular frame through the doggie-doors of the blood brain barrier.

When tryptophan is ingested as part of a complete protein, some of the other smaller, more nimble amino acids get to the blood brain barrier first and block tryptophan’s clumsy attempts to get through.

Now, if you were to ingest tryptophan on its own, it’d be a different story. With no competition, it might manage to squeeze through the barrier in large numbers and do its serotonin thing. But the notion that turkey makes you sleepy is horseshit, or rather turkey shit.

What’s likely making you pass out into the leftover puddle of gravy on your plate is the enormous, fat and carb-laden, 3,000 calorie meal you just ate as an homage to gluttony, not to mention grandpa’s special holiday drink, which is just shots of Wild Turkey whiskey.

10. Regular Salt Will Make Your Head Explode!

I’m not going to talk about how the link between sodium intake and hypertension is tenuous at best. Instead, I’m going to discuss something far more insidious and it has to do with what the “salt is bad” myth has done to most of us nutritionally.

You’re aware that the body needs iodine, right? The body uses it to synthesize the thyroid hormones T3 and T4. If there’s not enough iodine in the diet, you might develop thyroid nodules or even a monstrous, freak-show goiter on your neck.

However, a milder deficiency might make it hard for you to stay lean, or saddle you with mysterious fatigue, depression, some unexplained autoimmune disease(s), a psychiatric disorder, fibrocystic breast disease, or even cancer. Other less serious problems might include dry skin or constipation.

If you live by an ocean, you probably get plenty of iodine (provided you eat locally grown foods). However, the farther away from the ocean you live, the harder it is to obtain enough iodine.

Luckily, in 1924, the smart people at the Morton Salt Company started adding iodine to their salt. That pretty much took care of all iodine deficiency in the U.S. as people in Kansas got as much iodine in their diet as people in Massachusetts.

But then came the doctors. They started telling people to restrict their salt intake, lest they develop high blood pressure and invite heart failure. People listened. As a result, they started to develop iodine deficiencies.

But there are other factors, too, that make it statistically probable that you have an iodine deficiency. For one, chemicals in drinking water like chlorine and fluoride compete with iodine for the same receptors in the body. Then there are the people who exercise a lot, as they excrete a lot of precious iodine through their sweat.

What you’re left with is a society where, by some estimates, up to 74% of its adults are deficient in iodine.

What many of you need to do is to start using iodized salt again. Don’t think that you’re off the hook because you get plenty of salt when you eat out or you eat lots of canned food or Doritos. Restaurants or processed-food manufacturers don’t use iodized salt.

Likewise, the sea salt and pink gourmet salt from the Gobi Desert that your cosmetic and deodorant-avoiding naturalist girlfriend use contain only meager amounts of iodine.

Get thee some old fashioned Morton’s Iodized salt and keep a shaker on the table and use it liberally (provided you don’t have sodium-related hypertension, of course).