The Only Three Things Everyone Agrees on When It Comes to Nutrition

There is no consensus on nutrition . On many topics – fats, salt and carbohydrates and more – government guidelines say one thing, but fans of paleo, vegan, or trendy diets will insist otherwise. Pretty soon, you just don’t know what to think about eggs, white bread, or low-fat salad dressing.

But there is at least some good news. Most people agree on three main things: sugar, trans fats, and vegetables. From boring mainstream government directives to sometimes controversial movements like Paleo to overtly unscientific people like Food Babe , this is something almost everyone agrees on. While I’m sure there is someone out there who disagrees (and they will likely appear in the comments to this post), these three statements are as close to consensus as you can hope to get.

Consensus # 1: Minimize Sugar

The only disagreement about sugar is whether it’s bad for you or really bad for you. The World Health Organization says the evidence linking sugar to obesity and tooth decay is compelling enough to maintain a strict limit: no more than 10% of your calories should come from added sugar. (Five percent would be even better, they note.)

The US government agrees. Years ago, the food pyramid mildly discouraged “fats and sweets.” They later proposed a calorie limit for these ingredients together (under the catchy name SoFAS, for solid fats and added sugars). This year’s proposed update has been cut to the point: Added sugar should make up no more than 10% of your daily calories and should be listed as such on food labels. This means that a can of Coca-Cola or Starbucks smoothies should list 80% of your allowed sugar for the day.

To be clear, added sugar includes regular table sugar (sucrose), as well as corn syrup and natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup: they’re all basically the same, and small differences aren’t enough to make a real difference to your health. health . We must limit them all.

Why is there no love for sugar? At best, these are empty calories: instead of a can of Coca-Cola, you can “spend” the same amount of calories on a glass of milk or a side dish, a handful of nuts, or a few slices of a hamburger. Along with these calories, you get vitamins, protein, or other beneficial nutrients. Coca-Cola offers none of this.

There is evidence that sugar is bad news for other reasons as well. It increases triglyceride and bad cholesterol levels and is strongly linked to diabetes . Endocrinologist Robert Lustig is one of the most respected sugar detractors, and he claims that sugar, especially the fructose half, causes fatty liver and ” every chronic metabolic disease you can think of .”

Who Else Against Sugar? Paleoguru such as Robb Wolf and Mark Sisson . Sustainable Nutrition Representative Michael Pollan . Even Food Babe . I found one exception to the rule: The Sugar Association would like you to eat more sugar, stating that it can be “part of a healthy diet” and that the only thing wrong with it is its calories. In other words, their best argument for sugar is the same as one of their arguments against sugar: empty calories.

Consensus # 2: Avoid Artificial Trans Fats

During the production of partially hydrogenated oils, “trans fats” are formed , which are not found in nature. The resulting oil is perfect for donuts and pie crusts, for frying butter and for making margarine. Because it can replace “unhealthy” saturated fats, it has become extremely popular and only recently phased out. (These saturated fats turned out to be not all that bad, but that’s another story .)

By the way, there is a family of trans fats that occur naturally, especially in dairy products. They, including conjugated linoleic acid , seem to be somewhere between harmless and beneficial . This complicates labeling because you can’t do everything without trans fats, and you shouldn’t even try to. When we talk about “bad” trans fats, we mean the artificial kind of partially hydrogenated oils.

These trans fats have been linked to heart disease and possibly diabetes and obesity. It’s hard to say for sure if trans fats are the culprit as they tend to be part of a diet that includes a lot of unhealthy foods like fried foods and mass-produced muffins. Trans fats may not be as bad as everyone thinks, but they made this list because no one is protecting them .

The USDA put trans fats on the naughty list (they were one of the “hard fats” on SoFAS – saturated fats came in second – and are still on the list of things to avoid in the new guidelines). The World Health Organization agrees . Meanwhile, anyone advocating for “natural” foods, from paleo to vegan and beyond (Food Babe: check ), recommends avoiding them and the processed foods they are a part of.

Consensus # 3: Eat More Vegetables

It’s almost too easy. Vegetarians love vegetables because it’s obvious. Paleo and natural food proponents point out that vegetables were part of our diet even before we officially became human. The USDA has identified vegetables as the largest segment of MyPlate . Every solid food detox diet is rich in vegetables, and we noted earlier that most diets can be boiled down to the words “eat more vegetables.”

Niggles are rare: potatoes are sometimes controversial because they are very starchy. Paleo people don’t like beans . But leafy greens and other standard vegetables have a ton of health benefits that no one disputes: They are full of vitamins and fiber and are associated with a lower risk of heart disease . So listen to your mom and eat these vegetables.

I almost want to include fruits on this list, but then you start to argue about whether some fruits contain too much sugar. However, whole fruits are praised by almost everyone – even Robert Lustig says that the sugar in fruits is good because nature has laid fiber in them.

The last warning

Ironically, these three things – because they are so consistent – are widely used by the disseminators of shitty science. They make good statements to get you to agree before they voice their weirder beliefs and sales pitch.

“There is too much sugar in our diet,” they say, and you nod. “A clean, healthy diet includes lots of vegetables!” they continue and now you do agree. That’s when they sell you their customized detox plan or shiny new blender .

Instead, take these three principles for granted: they are something to remember with any diet or healthy eating plan. And if you do it right, you know you have a good start .

Vitals is a new blog from Lifehacker dedicated to health and fitness. Follow us on Twitter here .


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