Science Meets Diets: Debunking Nutrition Myths
TONY COX, host:
Here's NPR's Farai Chideya with a different kind of challenge on her continuing road to wellness.
FARAI CHIDEYA: A little over six months ago, I turned over a new leaf in my life. I decided it was time to take responsibility for my own health. I admit I'm actually beginning to enjoy exercising the more that I try new workouts - whether it's yoga, basketball or boxing.
But one of my greatest struggles has been in reforming my eating habits. So NEWS & NOTES nutritionist Rovenia Brock is here to help me outwit some common diet and nutrition myths. Welcome, Dr. Ro.
Dr. ROVENIA BROCK: It's a pleasure to be with you, Farai.
CHIDEYA: So people have all sorts of theories and ideas about what you're supposed to eat, when you're supposed to eat, you know, all sorts of things. And I'm just going to run some things by you that a lot of us have heard and see which ones you think are true.
Now is it bad for you to eat after a certain time in the evening? People say don't eat past 7:00 p.m.
Dr. BROCK: Yeah. I don't like the word bad, but I will say that the reason you're advised not to eat past a certain time - what's really more realistic is that you cut your food consumption off about two to three hours before you're going to bed. And the reason is because you're going to be sedentary.
CHIDEYA: So we're going to mark that one as a true with some modifications.
Now next question: how much weight is it safe to lose per week? There are ads that say lose 30 pounds in six weeks. Is that possible? Is it safe?
Dr. BROCK: It's possible, it's definitely not safe. What's really recommended is that you lose one to two pounds per week. If you do so gradually, you are much more likely to keep the weight off, assuming you have increased your physical activity and you are eating foods that are much more nutrient dense as opposed to calorie dense.
One to two pounds per week is a gradual weight lose. It is a safe weight loss. And when you do lose weight rapidly like that, what is most often the case is that at first it's mostly water. And then the other thing is because it does happen so quickly, as soon as you stop doing what it was that you did to get that way, you're going to gain the weight back. And most often, you gain more back than you lost the first time.
CHIDEYA: Okay. So is it safe? That's a false.
Now does stress make your tummy fat? There's all these TV commercials for drugs that claim to take away the stress-induced belly fat from cortisol. Is that true?
Dr. BROCK: There is definitely a big truth grain to this. Now this is an evolutionary process. So quickly put: they start to peak between three and six in the afternoon. Your body starts to get ready for the next day. The point is though those stress hormones, which are cortisols, do circulate in the blood at that time. They cause you to have cravings for the high fat, you know, high sugar stuff. And if, in fact, you do consume those foods, you will start to put on weight and it will happen in the belly region.
And so the best thing to do is as you get closer to the end of your day, what you definitely want to do is start to eat foods that are high in proteins. So a little grilled or roasted chicken and turkey and do vegetables rather than having Ben and Jerry become your best friends.
CHIDEYA: What about the drugs that are sold over the counter, Internet? Do those seem to help?
Dr. BROCK: Not really, because it's a naturally occurring process. The stress hormones are going to be circulating in your blood. And these sort of synthetic - shall we put air quotes around the word - remedies really don't do a whole lot to keep it at bay. What really helps is if you change you diet and change your lifestyle. And ultimately, you're going to see long-term success, and that kind of success has staying power when you do it the right way. Trying to fix this with chemical concoctions and over the counter quick fixes in the long run give you short shrift.
CHIDEYA: So cortisol, true. The claims for fighting it, false.
Dr. BROCK: Right.
CHIDEYA: Lack of sleep: does that make you fat?
Dr. BROCK: No, but it makes you tired.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHIDEYA: All right. That's a false.
Here's a paradox that I can offer myself up as: all through college I ate, you know, the low fat, the low this, the low that. I didn't lose any weight from that. So do diet foods generally mean that you are getting what you need to be thinner?
Dr. BROCK: You and probably 80 percent of your audience have had the same experience, Farai. And the reason is because when you see diet foods or something's low fat or low-sugar, the tendency is to overeat. So if you just had one serving of the traditional counterpart of whatever that food is, you're much better off.
If you see something's that low fat, most often people think, well, I can just have the whole box. But it didn't say low-calorie. It said low fat or low- sugar. And often when one ingredient is taken out of a food, another is increased in order to compensate for the lost in taste.
So, no, ultimately diet foods do not help you to lose weight.
CHIDEYA: So diet foods help you drop pounds is a false.
Finally, does drinking water make you less hungry and help you lose weight?
Dr. BROCK: Sort of. And the reason…
(Soundbite of laughter)
Dr. BROCK: …many times you could feel, when you get a hunger pain, sometimes it's actually a signal that you're thirsty, and a lot of people don't realize this. So sometimes when you think you're hungry, if you just go get a glass of water, you'll find that your hunger pains is really staved off.
The other thing is if you fill up on water - if you're going to go out to dinner, if you're about to have a meal and you fill up on water, you'll find that you're feeling full so you don't have room to eat as much and therefore consume as many calories as you might have without having had the water.
CHIDEYA: So as for the water, we're going to chalk that up to a mainly true. Thanks for putting on your decoder ring for us, Dr. Ro.
Dr. BROCK: It's always a pleasure.
COX: That was NPR's Farai Chideya with NEWS & NOTES nutritionist Rovenia Brock, author of Dr. Ro's Ten Secrets to Living Healthy. Next time, what's in your fridge? For National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day, Farai and her trainer toss junk food in the trash and learn to eat more healthful foods.
(Soundbite of song, “Eat It”)
Mr. WEIRD AL YANKOVIC (Musician): (Singing) Don't want to argue, I don't want to debate. Don't want to hear about what kind of food you hate. You won't get no desert till you clean off your plate, so eat it. Don't you tell you're full, just eat it. Eat it. Get yourself an egg and beat it. Have some more chicken, have some more pie…
COX: That's our show for today. Thanks for listening. To listen to the show, visit npr.org. NEW & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.
(Soundbite of song, “Eat It”)
Mr. YANKOVIC: (Singing) Your table manners are a crying shame. You're playing with your food, this ain't some kind of game. Now if you starve to death, you'll just have yourself to blame, so eat it. Just eat it. You better listen, better do what you're told…
COX: I'm Tony Cox in for Farai Chideya. This is NEWS & NOTES.