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Column: It's My Health!

Gerald Lopez

Food Myths

And a Call for Common Sense

by Gerald Lopez, LLB; Dip.Ayurvedic Medicine

We think of myths as irrational thinking of times past. But many myths continue to exist even in this so-called scientific era. In fact, science is often used to propagate myths for commercial ends!

I will look at three popular diet ideas, present some of the arguments, and let you decide for yourself.

Not ALL fats are bad for you

Food Myth 1 - “Fats Are Bad For You”

Apart from giving us insulation and nice curves, fats serve other very important functions in the body — Fats make up our brain and nervous system. Fats make up the outer boundaries of our cells. Fats act as vital messengers for the whole body to work.

So why do we despise fats?

This irrational fear seems to have started in the mid-20th century when researchers declared that fats, especially saturated fats, caused heart diseases. This was in spite of the fact that people had been eating butter, and pork and beef fat for ages, and that the first identifiable cases of heart disease were in the 1930's. This opened the field for vegetable oil, margarine and low-fat-food manufacturers, who never looked back.

Ironically, excessive intake of vegetable oils is now known to be pro-inflammatory, causing heart disease, arthritis and auto-immune disorders! Certain vegetable oils high in omega-3 fats (such as olive, flaxseed & rice bran oil) and fish oils are now prescribed to help alleviate inflammations.

Recent research is showing that saturated fats, such as butter, coconut oil and palm oil, contain fatty acids that boost the immune system. In fact, mother's milk has some of the same fatty acids as coconut oil. Butter and milk contain vitamin A and D which are not obtainable from vegetable oils.

Here's another popular misconception: the fat that you eat makes you fat. This has spawned popular products - endorsed by doctors - that claim they promote weight loss by stopping you absorbing the fats in your food. This is sheer unscientific nonsense.

Good fats, including saturated fats like butter and coconut oil - in moderate amounts - DO NOT cause weight gain because:

  • They are readily available energy sources, so the body uses them up.
  • They improve metabolism and the quality of body fats.
  • They cause people to eat less as they make food more satisfying!

What happens when natural fats in the body are replaced by artificial fats – such as trans fats or hydrogenated fats found in some processed foods? The body's messaging system breaks down, causing disruption in the body. Trans fats have been implicated in a wide variety of illnesses, including heart disease and obesity.

Fat phobia has got to the stage that people avoid eating fats altogether - a dangerous trend when parents don't feed children fats because "fats are bad for you". Please don't do this. Children need good quality natural fats to develop and be healthy. And so do you.

The message is:

  • Eat fats in moderation, according to your body type.
  • Eat high quality fats, including fish oils, butter, olive oil, coconut oil, and ghee (clarified butter).
  • Avoid trans fats and hydrogenated oils found in many commercially-processed foods, such as margarine, cookies, peanut butter, chips, etc.

A good balance of meat + vegetables

Food Myth 2 - “Meat is Bad for You”

When I was a vegetarian 25 years ago, I could hardly eat anywhere because everyone served meat. Now there is a vegetarian restaurant on every street corner! Many people have adopted vegetarianism because they have the idea that "meat is bad for you".

As a natural health practitioner, I have not noticed any significant differences in health between vegetarians and meat-eaters. I have found many vegetarians with shocking health problems, and big meat eaters with serious problems too (especially in later life).

Some natural health practitioners, especially Ayurvedics, try to turn clients to all-vegetable diets. Ayurvedic practitioners probably do this because their teachers, like many Indians, are vegetarians. However, fish and meat have been eaten in India for tens of thousands of years. The oldest ayurvedic texts (written over 2,000 years ago) describe the health properties of a vast range of animal meats and other animal products.

The diet that is suitable for you depends on many factors: what you are used to, your body type, your lifestyle and level of activity. If you are a vegetarian, are underweight, anemic, and habitually feel low in energy, you may need some meat. If your digestion is weak, and you feel heavy and stiff, you may need to reduce meat intake.

My suggestion is to be honest about your needs, rather than stubbornly follow ideals — Whatever choices you make, go for the best quality, most ethical produce. For example, eat fresh, organic vegetables; and meats from naturally-raised animals.

A healthy mix of cooked + raw foods

Food Myth 3 - “Raw Food is Better”

The last 25 years have also seen the rise of "raw foodism" - and the argument that raw vegetables contain enzymes that are destroyed by cooking. Followers believe raw food is "live" and cooked food is "dead". Another argument is that cooking produces toxic substances.

Traditional cultures that eat raw foods are virtually (or perhaps completely) non-existent — How come people didn't think it was a good idea before now?

The benefits of "enzymes" that raw food is supposed to provide you, is not valid either — Your digestion breaks down all enzymes anyway, live or dead!

What cooking does do is make foods more digestible and their nutrients easier to assimilate. This may in fact make more nutrients available to the body than raw foods. I have repeatedly seen that people with sensitive digestion fare better with cooked vegetables and even cooked fruits, such as stewed apples.

I believe the ideal is to mix mainly cooked foods with some raw foods, such as salads. Vary the mix according to the seasons and your body type. Raw foods do provide beneficial phytonutrients, such as volatile oils, which are destroyed by cooking. But don't rely on raw foods as a main source of nourishment.

The conclusion is - need I say it? - be sensible rather than extreme about your diet!

Have A Health Question?

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Click here to Ask Gerald!

Learn first to listen to your body - then listen to others' ideas. Respect traditional diets (especially those of your cultural background) and identify the wisdom in them. Be open to alternative sources of information - such as It's My Life! ezine - to counter mainstream thinking which is outdated or false.

And feel free to ask me questions by clicking the "Ask Gerald!" button — Perhaps I could base my future articles on the best of your questions!

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About the author:
Gerald Lopez offers ayurvedic consultations and massage at his New Zealand practices, as well as ayurvedic massage retreats in New Zealand and Tonga. Visit Gerald's website at for more information.

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