5 Health Myths Spread by Mainstream Nutrition

Monday Jul 14 | BY |
| Comments (3)

Lies the Media Tells You

Eggs are bad for you. High fructose corn syrup is no different from other sweeteners. These are the myths spread by mainstream nutrition—and they’re all wrong.

It was Benjamin Franklin who was quoted as saying, “Believe none of what you hear, and only half of what you see.”

This may be good advice to follow when listening to the media about health and nutrition. New studies are published every day, and many times they directly contradict the findings of earlier research.

We all thought taking a multivitamin everyday was beyond questioning, for example, until recent studies found that it made no difference in the health or longevity of patients.

It can get confusing sometimes, so to help provide a little clarity, we’ve listed some of the popular myths below that have been spread by mainstream nutrition—and have since been proven to be false.

1. You should take a multivitamin every day.

We don’t always eat nutritious meals, the theory goes, so taking a multi-vitamin can help fill those nutritional gaps our diets leave behind. At the very least, they won’t hurt us, and will likely help in one way or another.

Yet recent research shows these ideas may be completely wrong. At the end of 2013, three studies came out questioning the wisdom of taking a multivitamin every day.

  • Heart disease and cancer: Researchers reviewed evidence to date looking for the benefits of vitamin and mineral supplements for the prevention of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Their conclusion? No. They don’t help.
  • Cognitive health: Researchers looked at the effect of multivitamins on cognitive health, particularly as we age. The followed a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial from 1997 to 2011, and found that long-term use of daily multivitamin supplements did not provide any cognitive benefits.
  • Narrowed arteries: Researchers looked at whether high-dose multivitamins may help prevent atherosclerotic disease. They looked at over 1,700 patients aged 50 years and older who had gone through a heart attack at least six weeks prior to the beginning of the study. They then assigned them to either an oral, 28-component, high-dose multivitamin and multimineral mixture, or a placebo. They then followed them through to time of death, with a median follow-up of 26 to 60 months. They found that the supplements “did not statistically significantly reduce cardiovascular events.”

In an editorial accompanying the studies, researchers stated: “Stop wasting money on vitamin and mineral supplements.” They added that some supplements in high doses, including beta-carotene, vitamin E, and possibly vitamin A, can be harmful, with links to lung cancer and all-cause mortality. They concluded by stating, “These vitamins should not be used for chronic disease prevention. Enough is enough.”

They did acknowledge that in some populations of people who have certain health conditions, more research is needed, but that a healthy diet and good behaviors trumps supplements every time.

The shift today is to more specific, targeted nutrient replacement with supplements. In 2010, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee identified seven shortfall nutrients of public health concern. These included:

  • vitamin B12,
  • vitamin D,
  • folic acid,
  • iron,
  • calcium,
  • potassium,
  • and fiber.

Rather than take a multi-vitamin, consumers are now advised to look at their diets, risk factors, and blood tests to determine any potential nutrient shortfalls.

2. Sugar or high fructose corn syrup—your body can’t tell the difference.

Mainstream nutrition loves spreading this myth as much as they can. Sugar is sugar, they say, and it doesn’t matter in what form it comes.

But again, research has shot holes in this supposed “fact.” The body uses fructose differently than it does glucose, it’s natural source of fuel. A 2007 article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition stated that fructose is absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract by a different mechanism than that for glucose. Whereas glucose stimulates the release of the hormone insulin, fructose does not. It also fails to stimulate leptin—another hormone that’s critical for the regulation of energy intake.

Researchers have found that fructose increases the concentration of fats (lipids) it the blood, and that it’s metabolism occurs mainly in the liver. Animal studies have found that fructose affects certain genes that trigger the production of fat, and increases triglycerides in the liver.

Studies have also demonstrated health issues with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), specifically. This sweetener is basically a mixture of fructose and glucose, but with a higher percentage of fructose. A 2010 study animal study found that excessive consumption of HFCS—such as we’re seeing in today’s diet, where HFCS is in sugar-sweetened beverages, but also in condiments, soups, yogurts, breads, and much more—may contribute to the incidence of obesity. In fact, the animals that ate HFCS gained more weight than those eating regular sugar, even though both consumed the same number of total calories. They also had higher triglyceride levels, and were more likely to pack on dangerous fat in the abdominal area.

“Some people have claimed that high-fructose corn syrup is no different than other sweeteners when it comes to weight gain and obesity,” said psychology professor Bart Hoebel, “but our results make it clear that this just isn’t true, at least under the conditions of our tests.”

A later 2013 human study also found that fructose fails to reduce the amount of circulating ghrelin (hunger-signaling hormone) as much as glucose does. Participants who consumed glucose showed lowered activity in the hypothalamus region of the brain, whereas fructose actually prompted a spike in this area—suggesting it may actually cause an increase in hunger.

3. Eggs are bad for you and will increase your risk of heart disease.

Eggs are high in cholesterol—about 185–210 per egg (in the yolk), which is over half the recommended daily limit of 300 mg. Too much cholesterol in our diet translates to too much cholesterol in our blood, which can lead to plaque buildup in the arteries, increasing risk of a heart attack.

Except eggs don’t do that. More recent studies have shown that the cholesterol in eggs does not go straight to the bloodstream and into our arteries. Instead, only a small amount actually passes into the blood. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, “most people make more cholesterol than they absorb from their food.” They go on to state that in studies of more than 80,000 female nurses, consuming an egg a day was not associated with a higher risk of heart disease.

  • No changes in blood cholesterol levels: In 2006, researchers found that 70 percent of the population experiences either a mild increase or no change at all in blood cholesterol when consuming high amounts of dietary cholesterol.
  • Bodies adapt by producing more HDL cholesterol: Another 2006 study found that when people ate three or more eggs a day, their bodies adapted by creating more HDL “good” cholesterol—suggesting that eggs may even be beneficial to cholesterol content in the blood. In 2012, researchers gave middle-aged participants with risk factors for heart disease and diabetes either three eggs or a cholesterol-free egg substitute each day—while moderately restricting carbohydrates—for 12 weeks. Total and LDL “bad” cholesterol did not change in either group. Further, the egg eaters had a greater boost in HDL “good” cholesterol.
  • Beneficial for eye health: Researchers from the first study above also noted that eggs are good sources of the nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin, which are critical to eye health. There is evidence, as well, that lutein may help to inhibit processes that start the development of artery narrowing.
4. You should eat many small meals throughout the day rather than three main ones to lose weight.

Yes, eating spikes your metabolism slightly, but the science doesn’t support the idea that eating more often helps you lose weight.

  • 1997: A review of all studies on the subject at the time failed to find any significant relationship between a “nibbling” meal pattern and weight loss. Researchers found no difference in 24-hour energy expenditure between those who nibbled and those who gorged their food.
  • 2010: Researchers investigated whether increased meal frequency had any effects on weight loss. They gave one group of participants three meals and three snacks a day, and the other group three meals a day. Both groups consumed the same total amount of calories. There were no differences in weight loss or appetite measurements between the groups. The researchers concluded that increasing meal frequency did not promote greater weight loss.
  • 2010: Researchers gave participants either three meals or six meals a day, with different levels of protein in each group. The higher protein levels led to greater feelings of fullness, but the six meals a day actually led to lower levels of fullness than did the three meals a day. Researchers noted that “the fullness-related responses were consistently greater with higher protein intake but lower with increased eating frequency.”

In fact, eating less often may have health benefits. A 2004 study, for example, found that decreased eating frequency was associated with a lower risk of colon cancer among men, and a 2013 study found that eating larger meals fewer times a day rather than having smaller portions of food more frequently could be more beneficial to obese women’s health, because eating several times a day poses the risk of overeating or making unhealthier food choices.

5. Eating fat increases risk of heart disease and weight gain.

The American Heart Association, the National Institutes of Health, and the World Health Organization have worked hard to teach us all that we needed to reduce dietary fat to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Most of us bought into this myth, but it didn’t help us get any healthier. In the 1960s, we got about 45 percent of our calories from fats and oils, and about 13 percent of us were obese. Today, we take in less fat (about 33 percent of calories from fats and oils), yet we are facing an obesity epidemic, with a third of our population qualified as obese.

Now, some of the leading health organizations are asking us to end the low-fat myth. Studies have determined that the total amount of fat in our diets has nothing to do with disease or weight.

  • Colon cancer: A 2006 study found that a low-fat dietary pattern did not reduce risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Heart disease: Another 2006 study found that a dietary intervention that reduced total fat intake and increased intakes of vegetables, fruits, and grains for a period of eight years did not significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), stroke, or coronary heart disease (CHD). A meta-analysis of 21 studies published in 2010 concluded, “there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD.” In March 2014, a review and meta-analysis of over 70 studies involving over 600,000 participants concluded: “Current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats.”
  • Weight loss & other cancers: According to the Harvard School of Public Health, “a growing body of evidence has been pointing to its [low-fat diet] inadequacy for weight loss or prevention of heart disease and several cancers.” An eight-year trial that included nearly 49,000 women found no health benefits associated with a low-fat diet. It didn’t help protect against breast cancer, colorectal cancer, or cardiovascular disease, and at the end of the testing period, the women were generally the same weight as women who followed their usual diets.

This doesn’t mean we should chow down on butter, bacon, and cheese. Consuming more plant-based fats and cutting back on animal fats may still help us avoid heart disease. In 2010, for instance, researchers performed a review and meta-analysis on randomized controlled trials, and found that consuming healthy polyunsaturated fat (PUFA)—found mostly in plant-based foods and oils—in place of “harmful” saturated fat (mainly from red meat and full-fat dairy), resulted in reduced risk of coronary heart disease.

Eating so-called “good” fats has also shown in some studies to lower LDL “bad” cholesterol and improve levels of HDL “good” cholesterol. It may also help prevent insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.

Did you fall for these health myths? Have you since changed your habits? Please share your thoughts.

* * *

Stephen P. Fortmann, et al., “Vitamin and Mineral Supplements in the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer: An Updated Systematic Evidence Review for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force,” Annals of Internal Medicine, December 17, 2013, http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1767855.

Francine Grodstein, et al., “Long-Term Multivitamin Supplementation and Cognitive Function in Men: A Randomized Trial,” Annals of Internal Medicine, December 17, 2013, http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1789250.

Gervasio A. Lamas, et al., “Oral High-Dose Multivitamins and Minerals After Myocardial Infarction: A Randomized Trial,” Annals of Internal Medicine, December 17, 2013, http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1789248.

Eliseo Guallar, et al., “Enough is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements,” Annals of Internal Medicine, December 17, 2013, http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1789253.

George A. Bray, “How bad is fructose?” American Society for Clinical Nutrition, October 2007, 86(4):895-896, http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/86/4/895.full.

“Fructose Metabolism More Complicated than was Thought,” Science Daily, December 11, 2008, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081209221742.htm.

Bocarsley ME, et al., “High-fructose corn syrup causes characteristics of obesity in rats: increased body weight, body fat and triglyceride levels,” Pharmacol Biochem Behav 2010 Nov; 97(1):101-6, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20219526.

Hilary Parker, “A sweet problem: Princeton researchers find that high-fructose corn syrup prompts considerably more weight gain,” Princeton University, March 22, 2010, http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S26/91/22K07/.

Katherine Harmon Courage, “How Corn Syrup Might be Making Us Hungry—and Fat,” Scientific American, January 1, 2013, http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2013/01/01/how-corn-syrup-might-be-making-us-hungry-and-fat/.

“Fats and Cholesterol: Out with the Bad, In with the Good,” Harvard School of Public Health, http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/fats-full-story/.

Fernandez ML, “Dietary cholesterol provided by eggs and plasma lipoproteins in healthy populations,” Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care, 2006 Jan; 9(1):8-12, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16340654?dopt=Citation.

Janet Raloff, “Reevaluating Eggs’ Cholesterol Risks,” Science News, May 2, 2006, https://www.sciencenews.org/blog/food-thought/reevaluating-eggs-cholesterol-risks.

Christopher N. Blesso, et al., “Whole egg consumption improves lipoprotein profiles and insulin sensitivity to a greater extent than yolk-free egg substitute in individuals with metabolic syndrome,” Metabolism—Clinical and Experimental, March 2013; 62(3):400-410, http://www.metabolismjournal.com/article/S0026-0495(12)00318-6/abstract.

Bellisle F, et al., “Meal frequency and energy balance,” Br J Nutr, 1997 Apr; 77 Suppl 1: S57-70, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9155494.

Cameron JD, et al., “Increased meal frequency does not promote greater weight loss in subjects who were prescribed and 8-week equi-energetic energy-restricted diet,” Br J Nutr, 2010 Apr; 103(8):1098-101, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19943985.

Leidy HJ, et al., “The influence of higher protein intake and greater eating frequency on appetite control in overweight and obese men,” Obesity, 2010 Sep; 18(9):1725-32, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20339363.

Wei JT, et al., “Eating frequency and colon cancer risk,” Nutr Cancer, 2004; 50(1):16-22, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15572293.

“New study challenges meal frequency sterotypes about women,” Patient.co.uk, January 4, 2013, http://www.patient.co.uk/wellbeing/health/new-study-challenges-meal-frequency-stereotypes-about-women.

Shirley A. A. Beresford, et al., “Low-Fat Dietary Pattern and Risk of Colorectal Cancer: The Women’s Health Initiative Randomized Controlled Dietary Modification Trial,” JAMA, February 8, 2006, 295(6):643-654, http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=202340.

Howard BV, et al., “Low-fat dietary pattern and risk of cardiovascular disease: the Women’s Health Initiative Randomized Controlled Dietary Modification Trial,” JAMA, 2006 Feb 8; 295(6):655-66, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16467234.

Patty W. Siri-Tarino, et al., “Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease,” Am J Clin Nutr, Janaury 2010, http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2010/01/13/ajcn.2009.27725.abstract.

Rijiv Chodhury, et al., “Association of Dietary, Circulating and Supplement Fatty Acids with Coronary Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” Ann Intern Med 2014; 160(6):398-406, http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1846638.

Mozaffarian D, et al., “Effects on coronary heart disease of increasing polyunsaturated fat in place of saturated fat: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials,” PLoS Med, 2010 Mar 23; 7(3):31000252, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20351774.

“Low-Fat Diet Not a Cure-All,” Harvard School of Public Health, http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/low-fat/.

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho. www.colleenmstory.com


Comments are closed for this post.

  1. Diana says:

    Agree with everything you said except for the meat part… read this article
    Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association
    of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease1–

  2. Andrew says:

    Dear Coleen,
    Your quote of Benjamin Franklin is appropriate. There are several direct and indirect coronary and cancer risks which can be reduced via vitamin supplementation contrary to the statement above.

    Diabetes is a leading cause of kidney disease (CKD) which itself often leads to coronary events. Diabetes is associated with poor uptake of several B vitamins relevant to podocyte health in the kidneys, and early high-dose B1 (Thiamine), B6 and B12 supplementation can reverse CKD. Further, B3 (Niacin) intake is linked to reduced atherosclerosis and increased vessel lumen diameter. Finally, Vitamin K2 (MK-7) has been shown to reduce coronary calcification and decrease associated mortality. Please consider the associated links below.

    I apologize for the number of links attached, but feel it important (vis-a-vis your quote above) to patients who may despair and stop taking effective supplements critical to their well-being.

    Sincerely yours,
    Andrew Z.







  3. My husband still firmly believes in the six-meals-a-day theory. Research presented in “The 8 Hour Diet” convinced me otherwise, although I didn’t actually lose weight on that diet (or on six meals a day, or any other diet for that matter). I’m back to eating three meals a day. It seems to work best for me.

    Comments are closed for this post.