Intermittent fasting is a popular diet trend of the moment. What is it, how do you do it, and should you be intermittent fasting for weight loss?
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting (IF) is a popular diet and style of eating that involves periods of eating and abstaining from eating. There are several styles of IF, but in general, a person will eat whatever they want within a constricted timeframe, and fast during the rest of the time.
Many people try intermittent fasting for weight loss. Supporters claim that IF creates metabolic changes that make it a more effective tool for weight loss than traditional caloric restriction. Is it easier to lose weight on IF because of metabolic changes in your body? Read on to find out.
Styles of intermittent fasting
There are several intermittent fasting schedules people may choose to follow. The most common involve alternate day fasting, modified fasting regimens, and time-restricted feeding (1).
Alternate Day Fasting: This style combines fasting days when nothing is consumed, and feeding days, when you can eat and drink whatever you want.
Modified Fasting Regimen: Similar to alternate day fasting, a modified fasting regimen involves days where you eat and drink whatever you want. But, instead of completely fasting on fasting days, you severely restrict your intake to 20-25% of your energy needs.
Time-Restricted Feeding: During time-restricted feeding, you eat food every day but within a predetermined time restraint. Therefore, you are fasting from ~12-21 hours each day.
What are the weight loss benefits?
Proponents of IF proclaim it has several health benefits including weight loss. Some think that IF causes increased fat loss due to lower levels of insulin in the body during fasting. Insulin is a hormone that helps our cells store energy from food. The pancreas releases insulin in response to eating food.
Support for IF says if we fast long enough, we don’t produce insulin to store food as energy. Therefore, we turn to stored energy in the form of fat, making IF more efficient for weight loss than traditional caloric restriction. Human studies have found IF can be a successful tool for weight loss (2, 3, 4, 5). But, is IF more effective for weight loss than traditional caloric restriction?
Caloric restriction for weight loss simply means you are consuming less energy than your body needs to maintain its current weight. You need to create a caloric deficit to lose weight. One pound of weight loss = cutting 3500 calories. This rule of thumb is the scientifically accepted number for weight loss.
Should you try intermittent fasting for weight loss?
Taken as a whole, IF and weight loss research can be widely attributed to the fact that IF causes a caloric deficit, and therefore produces weight loss (1, 2, 6, 7). If you’re losing weight doing intermittent fasting, it’s because you’ve created a caloric deficit.
Overall, the research supports a recommendation that intermittent fasting is a viable alternative to caloric restriction, but it is not superior. For weight loss, it doesn’t matter what time you eat, as long as you are eating less than your body needs so it burns stored energy.
It all comes down to lifestyle! Everybody is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. If your schedule allows for fasting, and you are able to do so without feeling hungry, tired, or low energy, go for it. But, if you know you need breakfast to be productive during the day, traditional caloric restriction is probably better for you.
These healthy foods are the best foods for brain health. Add them to your shopping list and eat up!
Our brains are incredibly powerful organs. They use about 20 percent of our bodies calories each day, so it is important to fuel them properly.
Recent research shows there is likely a link between diet and cognitive decline or developing dementia later in life. Several studies illustrate the benefit of following a Mediterranean style diet to reduce cognitive decline and risk of dementia. There is also promising research for the MIND Diet. This diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean Diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
These three eating patterns have a few things in common. First, they focus on eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins. Also, these eating patterns limit intake of saturated fat, red meat, processed foods, and sugar.
Best Foods for Brain Health
While a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and healthy fats is very healthy overall and helps prevent disease, there are some specific foods to focus on for brain health. These foods contain nutrients that are essential for our brains to stay sharp and function well. These foods will help protect your brain from inflammation, aging, and cognitive decline!
1. Leafy Greens
Leafy greens are full of important nutrients that benefit our brains, including vitamins E and K, lutein, nitrates, and folate. A recent study found that eating 1 serving of leafy greens per day was associated with slower cognitive decline (6). Fill up on all the spinach, kale, collard greens, and arugula!
Blackberries, blueberries, strawberries…they are all some of the best fruits for brain health! Berries are rich in antioxidants, which combat free radical damage and inflammation in our cells. One review suggests that berries may slow down or reduce the severity of changes in the brain and disease development associated with aging (7). Berries are also low in sugar and high in fiber, making them great for digestion and satiety, too.
You’ve probably heard that salmon and fatty fish are good for us. They seem to be particularly important for brain health, though. Salmon and fatty fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, which our bodies cannot produce themselves. A 2016 study found an association between eating seafood once per week and slower decline in multiple cognitive domains (8).
The same effect may not be true of fish oil supplements. One notable study found no difference in cognitive function between participants taking fish oil supplements and those not taking them (9). I recommend eating sustainable, wild caught seafood at least once a week to ensure you reap the brain health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.
Here are some salmon and fatty fish recipes to try:
Vegan and vegetarian friends, you’re in luck! You do not need to consume fish to get brain health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Walnuts are a good plant based source of omega-3 fatty acids, but they are a different form than the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. But, one recent study found that our bodies convert the form in walnuts (ALA) to the more beneficial forms of omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA (10). We just might need to eat a little more of the plant based forms to get the benefits!
Yes, you can continue drinking you morning cup of jo! Coffee and tea both contain caffeine, which might be important for brain health. Caffeine may improve several aspects of brain health, including short-term memory, reaction time, learning, and mood.
One review found that caffeine may be associated with reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia (10). In one of the studies included in review, drinking 3-5 cups a day was even beneficial!
To sum it all up, fill your plate with nourishing vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, and even a little caffeine, and your brain will thank you!
Let me know if you love this post by leaving a comment below, and check out Instagram and Pinterest for more healthy lifestyle inspiration. Thanks for stopping by!
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Nutrition Myths, Busted: think sugar is addicting? Is the sugar in fruit bad your you? Does sugar cause diabetes? Read on to learn what the science has to say!
Sugar. We know too much of it is bad for our health. Too much sugar can cause weight gain (1), increase cardiovascular disease risk (2), and displaces nutrient-rich foods in the diet. Sugar is readily available in our food system in the form of snack foods, beverages, packaged desserts, yogurt, ketchup, candy…the list goes on!
The USA recommends Americans consume no more than 12 teaspoons of added sugar per day, or less than 10% of daily calorie needs (3). But, the average American consumes 17 teaspoons of sugar per day (4)!
We can all agree that we should limit our sugar intake for good health. But, there are some nutrition myths regarding sugar floating around. Learn what the recent research says about sugar!
Myth #1: All sugar is bad for you, even the sugar in fruit.
First, let’s clarify something. All sugar, regardless of what kind, is ultimately broken down into simple sugars. A majority of the sugar we digest is broken down into glucose, and some of it is converted to fructose. So, no matter if you eat a cinnamon bun, an apple, or a literal spoonful of sugar, it all gets broken down into the same thing. Ultimately, your body will use or store the glucose from fruit and a pastry the same way.
That being said, the sugar you consume with fruit comes with a lot of other beneficial nutrients! First, fruit is full of vitamins and minerals our bodies need, such as vitamins A, C, folate, and potassium. Also, fruit is a good source of fiber. The fiber in fruit fills us up, but it also slows down digestion. Therefore, the sugar within fruit is broken down and released into the bloodstream more slowly, preventing a rapid spike in blood sugar.
Fruit can absolutely be part of a healthy diet. The current dietary guidelines recommend about 2 cups of fresh fruit per day. Make sure to keep the skin on, because that is where the fiber lives! Choose fruit over processed foods, like cookies and sugary cereals, to avoid consuming too much added sugar.
Enjoy 2-3 servings of fruit per day to get important vitamins, minerals, and fiber in your diet.Regardless of where it comes from, all sugar is broken down by the body into simple sugars to be used for energy or stored as glycogen or fat. Excess added sugar is where we get in trouble, because it displaces more nutrient-rich foods in the diet.
Myth #2: Sugar is just as addicting as drugs.
Many of us have seen headlines comparing sugar to cocaine, heroine, and other highly addictive drugs. But is sugar addicting, just like these commonly abused drugs?
The idea that sugar is addicting is based on the premise of how the brain responds to sugar. When we eat sugar, the pleasure center in the brain lights up. Dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter, levels surge. What else also activates the reward center and triggers dopamine release? Highly addictive drugs, including heroin, cocaine, and opiates (5).
But, sugar is different from these drugs. First, our bodies naturally will crave and enjoy sugar, because sugar = energy for our cells and brain. We are rewarded with feeling good when we eat sugar, because we need some to function!
A recent review of the literature about sugar addiction showed key differences between drug addiction and sugar (6). Rats given sugar or cocaine would seek cocaine despite negative consequences, which was not observed with sugar. Also, when presented with environmental stimuli associated with sugar or cocaine, rats who previously had cocaine displayed patterns of habitual drug seeking. This review concluded that there is little evidence to support sugar as an addictive substance.
While sugar activates the same reward center in our brains as drugs, there is little evidence to show it is an addictive substance. Our bodies need sugar in the form of glucose for energy, so eating sugar makes us feel good.
Myth #3: Eating too much sugar causes Type 2 Diabetes.
Glucose and insulin have a close relationship. Insulin is a blood sugar regulating hormone. When we eat sugar, our bodies break it down into glucose, and it travels to the blood. This triggers the pancreas to release insulin, which allows glucose to enter our cells. This process lowers our blood sugar levels to normal after we eat.
Type 2 Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects the body’s ability to metabolize and regulate blood sugar levels. A person with type 2 diabetes will either not respond properly to insulin, or not produce enough insulin. So, they struggle with maintaining a safe and stable blood sugar level. A normal fasting blood sugar level is <100 mg/dL, but someone with diabetes may have a much higher level, because they aren’t able to move the sugar from their blood to their cells.
A common misconception about type 2 diabetes is that eating sugar causes it. When you think about it, this idea kind of makes sense. You have too much sugar in your blood, so you must be eating too much sugar. That’s why it is so important to have a grasp on sugar digestion, absorption, and insulin regulation.
What really causes type 2 diabetes?
Some risk factors include: overweight/obesity, genetics, age, race, physical inactivity, or other conditions like PCOS or gestational diabetes (7). Poor diet also may elevate risk of Type 2 Diabetes, which includes an excess of saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars. But whether or not you develop a disease is complicated and individualized, so no one risk factor determines your destiny.
There are several risk factors for developing Type 2 Diabetes, but specifically eating too much sugar is not one of them. To reduce your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes, manage your weight in a healthy way, exercise, and eat a balanced diet that limits saturated fats and added sugar.
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What’s the deal with detoxing? Does it really work? Read on to separate detox nutrition myths from the facts!
We’ve all seen and heard about detox diets, teas, and nutrition trends. Celebrities endorse detox products all the time, and it can be tempting to buy into the miracle results they seem to produce. But, just like all things nutrition, the facts are a bit more complicated than what meets the eye.
Today, I’m breaking down three detox nutrition myths that are popular today. Read on to get the facts about juice cleanses, detox teas, and water fasting for detox!
Myth #1: I can do a juice cleanse to detox my body after eating like crap.
Juice cleanses are one of the most popular experiences related to detox culture. A juice cleanse is a type of detox diet where someone consumes only fruit and vegetable juices without eating solid foods, for a temporary period of days to weeks. Some of the main reasons people go on a juice cleanse are to lose weight, eliminate toxins, reduce inflammation, and detoxify the body.
But how does detoxifying the body actually work? Do we need to eliminate solid foods to do so? The resounding answer is no. Our bodies are extremely efficient at detoxifying themselves. The liver and kidneys are extraordinary organs that remove toxins from our bodies.
How the liver and kidneys detoxify the body
First, the liver prevents toxins from entering the bloodstream. Detoxifying alcohol, waste products, drugs, and other toxins is actually one of the major functions of the liver (1).
The kidneys are constantly filtering our blood. They eliminate toxins when we urinate. The kidneys eliminate drugs and waste products formed in the body (2).
Juice cleanse drinks may contain high amounts of vitamins and minerals, but they unfortunately do not boost they body’s ability to naturally detoxify itself. Furthermore, juice cleanses often lack other important nutrients including fiber, protein, calcium, and healthy fats. In order to keep our bodies functioning optimally, we need to have a balanced diet from all food groups!
Supporting liver and kidney health
The good news is, we can do a lot to protect our liver and kidneys, so they can continue to do their job detoxifying our bodies. We want to keep our blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels in check, because these health issues may contribute to poor liver or kidney function (3). Here are some foods to include in your diet to support your liver and kidneys:
Myth #2: Detox teas can help me lose weight and get rid of toxins and bloat.
Detox teas are a little newer to the scene than juice cleanses, and have several celebrity endorsers. Detox teas are herbal teas that claim to detoxify the body. Many are used in the hopes of producing weight loss, laxative effects, or liver cleansing. They commonly contain ingredients like ginger, dandelion root, milk thistle, and turmeric.
Detox teas differ from juice cleanses because they are used in addition to solid food. You don’t abstain from eating, you just drink several servings of detox tea throughout the day for the effects.
Detox teas may lead to weight loss, but it’s not because your body is detoxifying itself and eliminating toxins causing you to retain weight. Many of these teas contain laxative ingredients like senna and cascara. So, you’re probably not properly absorbing the food you are eating and going to the bathroom a lot more than usual.
Health benefits of tea
Detox teas are not a miracle product that will produce weight loss, better health, and whole body detox. But, I encourage you to include tea in your diet for several health benefits!
Tea (and coffee) support liver and kidney health, because they are both high in antioxidants. Keep your liver and kidneys in tip top shape to ensure your body is detoxifying efficiently.
The antioxidants in tea are also linked reduced incidence of heart attack, as well as lowering bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and raising good HDL cholesterol (4).
Several herbal teas contain anti-inflammatory properties, especially if they contain ingredients like ginger, turmeric, hibiscus, and rooibos.
Myth #3: Water fasting can completely clean out and detox my system.
Water fasting has been around for centuries, but is a relatively new trend in the wellness world. During water fasting, you abstain from eating or drinking anything but water for a period of time. Water fasts usually last five to 40 days. There are water fasting centers you can go to complete a water fast under medical supervision.
Some limited research has shown water fasting can promote weight loss and reduced blood pressure (5). It also may reduce oxidative stress. It may stimulate autophagy, a process by which the body breaks down and recycles old cells. But, prolonged water fasting is an extreme and unnecessary measure that can be dangerous.
Negative effects of water fasting
Water fasting may negatively impact the kidneys (6). Water fasting can cause fainting from a sudden drop in blood pressure. You are also at risk of lean muscle loss, which is the metabolically active tissue in our bodies. It also may cause heartburn, because your stomach continues to produce acid even in the absence of food (7). Prolonged fasting also negatively impacts our metabolism, because our body becomes extremely efficient at holding on to calories.
In lieu of water fasting, make healthy changes to your diet! Include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins to fuel your cells. Avoid excess processed foods, added sugars, and alcohol, which all provide few nutrients for our bodies to use.
If you liked this detox nutrition myths posts, you might also like the others in this series:
We all want to stay healthy when on the road. Here are 10 RD-approved healthy travel snacks to pack with you on your next trip!
Traveling to new places is one of the greatest things in life, don’t you agree? I love going somewhere I’ve never been, and I am so grateful that I am able travel.
While most of my travel is for fun, lots of people travel for work on a regular basis. My dad has always traveled a ton for business, and now a bunch of my friends are frequently on the go.
As an RD, one of the most common questions my friends ask me is how to be healthier when traveling for work. They love living a healthy, active lifestyle at home, but find this lifestyle doesn’t transition well to life on the road.
Eating Healthy on the Road
My tips for eating healthy while traveling don’t differ much from healthy living at home. Choose meals that are mostly vegetables and lean protein. Go for whole grain carbohydrates rather than processed ones. Avoid excess added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. But one of my favorite ways to ensure you stick to your wellness goals on the road begins before you leave your home. Be prepared with healthy travel snacks!
Packing healthy travel snacks is a key piece of the healthy traveling puzzle. For one, having a healthy snack in your bag eliminates the need to buy snacks on the road. These options are often limited in selection and low in nutrients. Well-planned travel snacks actually fill you up, because they are full of all the good stuff that makes us feel satiated. Plus, you’ll save money by avoiding those $7 bags of trail mix at the airport snack stand.
10 Healthy Travel Snacks
Healthy travel snacks should have some combination of fiber, protein, and healthy fats to keep us full. We want to avoid excess added sugar, sodium, and saturated fat, as well as highly processed foods. Stock up on some of these delicious snacks to prepare for you next trip! I love these options because they easy to transport, don’t require refrigeration, and are full of good-for-you ingredients.
1. Fresh whole fruit
Choose firm, whole fruit that does not bruise easily. I love bananas, apples, oranges, and clementines. Fruit is great on its own or paired with nut butter for a more filling snack.
2. PB+J sandwich on whole grain bread
Mom knew best – a PB+J sandwich is an awesome healthy travel option! You’ll get some filling fiber from whole grain bread plus healthy fats and protein from the peanut butter. Choose lower sugar jam, or make your own chia jam!
Nuts are easy to carry, and a handful helps tide you over until you can eat your next meal. Look for unsalted or lightly salted nuts or trail mix to avoid excess sodium intake. We all know the swelling is real when we are in the air!
4. Popcorn or popcorn trail mix
This is one of my favorite snacks for home or travel! Popcorn is a whole grain, crunchy, satisfying, voluminous snack. Popcorn has fiber and air, both of which keep us full. Air-popped popcorn or a lightly seasoned version is best. I also love to add nuts and seeds for healthy fats and protein when preparing my popcorn.
5. Nut butter packets
Nut butter packets are one of my favorite food innovations. I always bring a few with me on a trip to eat with fresh fruit, spread on some whole grain crackers, or added to hotel oatmeal for breakfast.
While we’re on the topic of staying regular, high fiber cereal is another healthy travel snack idea if this is of concern for you. Munch on it dry, or add it to yogurt you purchase on the road or in the airport.
8. Oatmeal packets or cups
Another portable snack, plain oatmeal has both soluble and insoluble fiber, thiamin, iron, and zinc. Just add hot water to a packet or cup prepare! To make it a meal, add a handful of nuts and sliced banana.
9. Chickpea snacks
If you love potato chips, chickpea snacks are a satisfying, healthier alternative. Each serving of chickpea snacks has about 6 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein. They are salty, crunchy, and super delicious!
Bars are always an easy travel snack option! Just make sure to choose bars with minimal added sugar and a decent amount of protein. When reading the ingredient list, look for whole ingredients you recognize, like nuts, seeds, or dried fruit. I look for bars with no limited to zero added sugar, 2-3 grams of fiber, and 4-5 grams of protein per serving. Some of my favorites are RX Bar, Larabar, and KIND bars.
Let me know if you love this post by leaving a comment below, and check out Instagram and Pinterest for more healthy lifestyle inspiration. Thanks for stopping by!
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In this edition of ‘Nutrition Myths Busted’, we are talking weight loss. From carbs to calories to skipping meals, get the most up to date research here!
Since starting my nutrition private practice this year, almost every single one of my clients has wanted to lose weight. With that goal comes a flood of questions. Should they try Whole30? What about keto? How about meal replacement shakes?
After I say my part about weight loss, balanced meal planning, and macronutrient needs, my clients are sometimes a little underwhelmed. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix, magic pill, or specific diet that guarantees weight loss fast.
The good news is, weight loss is possible and attainable. Just like most changes in life, weight loss is built on the culmination of healthy habits. Make small, sustainable changes to your diet and lifestyle, and you will see results! It takes a little patience because healthy weight loss is slow and steady, but you absolutely can be successful at weight loss.
Today, I’m breaking down three weight loss nutrition myths I hear and read over and over. I’m covering carbohydrates, calories, and skipping meals and how they all relate to weight loss. Read on for the science-backed details!
Weight Loss Myth 1: Carbs make you fat.
Back in the 1990s, the low-fat craze took over in America. But now, things have shifted, and low-carb diets are all the rage. From paleo to keto, many of today’s hottest diets promote low carbohydrate intake.
For reference, the Dietary Guidelines recommend 45-65% of our diets come from carbohydrates, or about 225-325 grams of carbs per day. The ketogenic diet (which was developed for people with epilepsy) recommends just 50 grams per day.
The research shows that in the short term, low carb diets might be slightly more effective for weight loss than other diets (1). When I say slightly, I mean the difference of 2-3 pounds over 12 months. A difference this small is negligible for those with a significant amount of weight to lose. Furthermore, research shows that adherence to very low carb ketogenic diets is nearly nonexistent after 6 months.
What all this tell us is that low carb diets may jumpstart weight loss in the short term, but after a year of dieting, the difference is inconsequential. Also, low carb diets, especially the ketogenic diet, are not sustainable long term. When considering a diet, ask yourself if you think you’ll be eating this way when you’re 85. If the answer is no, it’s probably not a sustainable pattern of eating that will produce long term results.
Furthermore, when you eliminate carbs, you are eliminating super important vitamins, minerals, and fiber! A high fiber diet is actually extremely conducive to weight loss, because it fills you up on fewer calories. The takeaway here is to choose whole grain, complex, fiber-rich carbs to promote weight loss while still meeting your micronutrient needs. Check out this post for to learn more about fiber-rich foods!
Weight Loss Myth 2: I can eat whatever I want and lose weight, as long as I stay under my calorie goal.
I think a lot of us have experience with counting calories. When we have a specific number in mind about how much we should eat every day, this can quickly become the most important driving factor of our food choices. We choose 100-calorie packs over satiating nuts for a snack because they are lower in calories. But, there is so much more to a calorie than the number, and the quality of your calories matters.
Not all calories are created equal
The calories in our food have different effects on metabolism when the food is actually digested and absorbed (2). For instance, an apple and a slice of white bread have roughly the same number of calories. But, the apple has 4 grams of fiber, whereas the white bread has none. The fiber in the apple will slow the digestive process, keeping us full for longer, and avoiding a quick spike in blood sugar. The white bread breaks down quickly, so the sugars rapidly absorb into our blood.
When we choose meals and snacks that have a balance fiber, lean protein, and healthy fats, our bodies digest them more slowly, we have a more stable blood sugar curve, and we feel fuller for longer. The benefits of fiber in particular are extra notable, because we don’t even digest it! It passes through our digestive tract, feeds the good bacteria in our guts, or gets exits our bodies. When we feel full, we eat less overall, which ultimately leads to weight loss.
Of course, consuming an excess of ANY macronutrient will be stored as fat. But, we can prevent eating in excess in the first place by choosing balanced meals, never restricting ourselves too much, and practicing mindfulness while eating.
The best foods for sustainable weight loss are not low calorie foods, but whole, unprocessed foods from all food groups because they metabolize more efficiently, keep us full, and help prevent overeating in the first place.
Weight Loss Myth 3: Skipping meals will help me lose weight.
Skipping meals may work for short term weight loss, but it is absolutely not sustainable or healthy for the long term. In fact, it might actually disrupt your metabolism. Metabolism is all the chemical processes that happen inside our bodies that keep us alive. It encompasses burning calories and fat for energy, and using energy to rebuild tissues.
One study found that there was no difference in body weight after 1 year between breakfast eaters and breakfast skippers (3). Also, the breakfast eaters had higher intakes of important nutrients, like thiamin, niacin, and folate.
Another study looked at breakfast skipping, dinner skipping, and eating a conventional 3 meals per day (4). After the breakfast skipping trial, post-meal insulin levels and fat oxidation increased. This may signify changes in metabolism that could lead to increases in inflammation and difficulty managing glucose levels in the long term. This increases risk of Type 2 Diabetes and weight gain.
Skipping meals and it’s effect on metabolism
We can rev up our metabolism to a degree every time we eat. Protein and fiber-rich foods have high thermic effects, because they take longer to digest and absorb than refined carbs and fat (5). This means it takes more calories to digest protein and fiber than other foods. Skipping meals has the opposite effect on metabolism. Our bodies are very smart, and will go into “starvation mode” when they are severely calorie restricted. We become accustomed to burning less calories to perform necessary functions and hold on tight the the calories we DO get (6).
While skipping meals may induce weight loss via a calorie deficit early on, it is not sustainable and may damage our metabolism, which makes it even harder to lose weight in the long term.
I hope you guys enjoyed reading this weight loss nutrition myths post! To summarize, there is no quick fix for weight loss if you want it to last long term. Small changes that work within your lifestyle will lead to weight loss success, along with a well-balanced diet that includes fiber-rich carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fat. Check out my last ‘Nutrition Myths, Busted’ post here!
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Today, I’m breaking down four nutrition myths in regards to all things protein! Read on to learn what the science has to say on plant-based protein, soy, and protein supplements.
Nutrition is a relatively new and emerging science. There is a ton of fresh information out there regarding nutrition, food, and wellness. There are also many people who deem themselves “experts” in this space who love to give advice on what you should be eating. Because of this, it can be overwhelming and confusing to dig through information to find answers to your nutrition questions. Lucky for you, that’s my job as a registered dietitian!
In the very first post of my Nutrition Myths series, I’m delving into myths surrounding all things protein. Raise your hand if you’ve heard any of these statements: Plant-based diets don’t provide enough protein. You need protein supplements after a workout. Soy protein may cause breast cancer. Collagen supplementation will improve your hair, skin, and nails. As an RD, I know I’ve heard my fair share, plus many more like them. Let’s get into the nitty gritty of these four myths, and break down the facts.
#1 – Plant-based diets don’t provide enough protein.
A balanced, well-planned vegan or vegetarian diet absolutely can provide enough protein. The key here is balanced. If you follow a plant-based diet, make sure to include plenty of plant-based protein sources in your meals and snacks daily! Some of my favorites include quinoa, legumes, and tofu.
Protein needs do vary individually, based on many factors including age, activity level, and preexisting health conditions. That said, many of us get more than enough protein each day without even trying! In general, an adequate amount of protein is 0.8-1.2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day. For a 130 pound woman, that equates to 47-71 grams of protein per day. A vegan could easily hit this range by eating 1 cup of beans, 1 cup of lentils, 1 cup of quinoa, and 1 cup of tofu in a day!
Verdict: A well-planned, balanced plant-based diet provides enough protein from food sources, including legumes, beans, nuts, and soy products.
#2 – You need protein supplements after you work out.
I’m not the only one who has seen people waltzing around the gym with their shaker bottle filled with a protein drink. Protein supplements come in all different varieties these days. There’s whey protein and casein protein from milk, as well as many vegan varieties from peas, hemp, rice, and soy.
But, are these protein supplements necessary after a workout, or any time, for that matter? For a majority of people who work out regularly, the answer is no. While you should be eating a meal or snack that contains protein within an hour of exercising, choose food first before supplements to refuel. One cup of Greek yogurt, a two-egg omelet, or a 3 oz of salmon are all perfect options, as they provide 15 grams or more or protein!
Verdict: There is no need to take protein supplements for the average person who works out up to an hour a day. Protein rich foods provide enough high quality protein to support muscle repair and growth.
#3 – Soy protein heightens breast cancer risk.
Soy is one of the most controversial foods of our time. Soy foods include tofu, tempeh, edamame, and soy protein isolate. It is low in saturated fat, contains fiber, protein, and important nutrients like calcium, iron, and potassium. Soy also contains phytochemical compounds, called isoflavones.
Soy isoflavones are phytoestrogens, which means they have a very similar structure to the hormone estrogen that our bodies produce. The skepticism revolving soy protein is largely due to these compounds and their potential effect on the body as promoting hormonal cancers, especially breast cancer. In the past, we thought that soy isoflavones bind to estrogen receptors in the same way as the estrogen hormone. We now know that they bind differently, and have different functions than estrogen (1).
The research has shown that soy consumption does not increase risk of breast cancer. Lifelong soy consumption may in fact lower the risk of breast cancer! Studies that looked at Asian women who eat soy throughout their lives have found this connection (2).
While moderate amounts of soy foods in the diet have no effect of breast cancer risk (and may decrease risk), the same cannot be said for soy protein supplements. These supplements are much higher in isoflavones than tofu, tempeh, or edamame. Right now, there is not enough research to show whether these supplements have any effect on breast cancer risk. For now, I recommend taking them in moderation, like all things in our diets.
Verdict: Moderate consumption of soy foods are safe and may actually help reduce breast cancer risk in certain populations.
#4 – Collagen supplementation will improve your hair, skin, and nails.
Collagen is one of the trendiest food products on the market these days. It’s touted for improving nail strength, hair length, reducing wrinkles, and eliminating joint pain. But what is it? Collagen is connective body tissue protein – think bones, skin. tendons and ligaments. It’s the most abundant protein in the body, making up about 30%. The collagen supplements we ingest are made from cooking the tendons, ligaments, skin, and bones of animals, then drying them into a powder form (3).
Collagen contains 19 amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. In particular, collagen includes glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. It is difficult to obtain the amino acid hydroxyproline from other protein sources. The thought is that collagen supplements, which contain hard-to-get hydroxyproline, will lead to higher endogenous collagen production. Increased collagen production is thought to improve hair, skin, and nails, as well as joint pain.
How it all Breaks Down
Unfortunately, we don’t get to choose what the amino acids do in our bodies. When we take a collagen supplement, the protein is broken down into single amino acids (or very small chains) when it is digested and absorbed. The individual amino acids may not be used for collagen production at all! Just like “spot training” doesn’t work to tone specific areas of your body, the body will prioritize where the amino acids are needed. We cannot alter this process by taking collagen supplements.
While some studies have shown beneficial results of collagen supplements on skin health and joint pain (4, 5, 6), there are no long term studies to support these results. It’s also important to note that many of the current studies have limitations, such as small sample size. Also, be sure to look at who is funding the studies you read – they are often funded by the collagen industry, which poses a conflict of interest.
Verdict: There is not enough research to show collagen supplements support endogenous collagen production, and the amino acids from collagen supplements will be used as the body needs.
I hope you guys loved reading this post about protein nutrition myths! I would love to hear what myths are on your mind, so I can break them down in another Nutrition Myths post in the future.
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