With seemingly every fad diet that makes it into mainstream recognition, another nutrition myth is born. At a lunch and learn held on 24 May for employees of PwC and Dart in Camana Bay, several of those myths were debunked by Dr. Graeme Close, head nutritionist for England Rugby and professor of human physiology at Liverpool John Moores University.
With findings based purely in scientific research, Close disproved many common nutrition and health myths, ranging from the optimal amount of sleep to low-carb diets.
Myth: “It’s about carbs/fat/protein, not calories.”
Truth: Calories still matter.
Despite many fad diets supporting a laser focus on specific nutrients, like low-carb or high-fat diets, ultimately weight maintenance will always come down to a balance of calories consumed versus calories expended.
“Controlled chamber studies that we conduct time and time again show that calories still count,” Close said.
Myth: “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
Truth: Breakfast is no more important than other meals.
This phrase was actually coined by Kellogg’s as a marketing tactic to get people to purchase and consume more cornflakes, Close said.
“There is no evidence that eating breakfast kick-starts your metabolism,” he said. “You don’t wake up in the morning not metabolising — you’re not a car!” There have been numerous meta-analyses conducted on the subject of skipping breakfast and its effects on weight gain or loss, he said. The only correlation to skipping breakfast and weight gain is if people are hungry and are skipping breakfast as a way to save time, only to cave and indulge in something unhealthy later as a result.
“If you aren’t hungry and can get by with liquids in the morning, try starting your meals at lunch,” Close suggested, adding that for those who are hungry, a healthy meal in the morning is a good start to the day.
Myth: “It’s my parents’ fault.”
Truth: Weight control and metabolic speed are not genetic.
Those who argue they have a predisposition to gaining or losing weight have been proven incorrect. Close said that studies have revealed there is no genetic predisposition for weight control or metabolism speed. Instead, there is a proven predisposition when it comes to appetite hormones, which can affect weight by means of their influence on food intake based on hunger levels.
The two appetite hormones — ghrelin and leptin — are responsible for signalling to the body that it is hungry or full. Some people are born with a tendency to permanently feel hungry or rarely feel full, and this can impact their ability to gain or lose weight. Close’s best advice in this instance is to plan your day and rely on an eating schedule more than your body’s signals for monitoring food intake.
Myth: “Carbs are what make you gain weight.”
Truth: Carbohydrates fuel activity needs.
Many decry the value of carbohydrates, claiming this macronutrient is the cause of all weight gain. Carbohydrates are actually extremely useful for fueling our body’s activity needs, but should be eaten in accordance with a planned physical activity schedule.
“Let the demands of your day dictate your energy intake,” Close said, adding that for the England Rugby team, he has planned out a weekly chart indicating when players should consume more carbohydrates. The meal plan is tied to the team’s training sessions, with more carbs scheduled on days of intense training and fewer carbs scheduled on easier training days.
Myth: “Eating red meat is as bad for you as smoking.”
Truth: Scientific studies are inconclusive that eating red meat causes cancer.
Close also discussed the growing concern over consuming red meat. While red meat has been classed as a carcinogen by the World Health Organisation, the studies are not perfect as they don’t isolate correlations to inactivity and other lifestyle elements, Close said. Still, it is always recommended to consume fresh fish, vegan proteins and white meat instead. He ensures the England Rugby team regularly eat a vegan meal to ensure they are ingesting different forms of protein.
Myth: “I don’t need much sleep.”
Truth: Ample sleep is vital to good health.
Close’s strongest advice was to get more sleep. Explaining that society celebrates those who can get a lot achieved with little sleep, he encouraged the attendees to change their thinking on how much sleep they need.
“Lack of sleep is now considered a carcinogen by the World Health Organisation,” he said. “Men getting less than five hours of sleep can experience a significant drop in testosterone and see a reduction of up to 60 per cent of the natural killer cells that attack disease in the body.”
His advice for getting better sleep included taking a hot shower before going to sleep in a cool room, helping to encourage the body’s drop in temperature.