A recent survey by the American Psychiatric Association found that we are more anxious than ever, about health, finances, relationships, politics…you name it. On a scale of 1 to 100, this year’s national anxiety score is 51, which is a 5-point increase from 2017.
There’s surely plenty to worry about these days. But anxious people tend not to be great problem-solvers. So, let’s at least make sure we’re not stressing out about things that we don’t actually need to worry about. As my contribution to the general well-being, here are ten nutrition concerns that you can probably cross off your list.
1. Not getting enough protein.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about the benefits of eating more protein, including better appetite control, weight management, preserving lean muscle, and improving recovery from surgery, illness, or even just hard workouts. But now, I’m hearing from a lot of people who are stressed out because they are not able to eat 150 grams of protein every day. Relax! You do not necessarily have to eat that much protein in order to get the benefits. Every little bit helps. In my article How to Build More Muscle with Less Protein, I explain how to get the most benefit out of the protein that you do eat. The quick and dirty tip: Eat less protein at dinner and more at breakfast and/or lunch.
2. Getting too much protein.
Ironically, while half of the Internet seems hell-bent on getting us to eat more protein, the other half is warning us that we are already eating too much. As I explained in my article Do Americans Eat Too Much Protein?, these fears are unfounded. The amount of protein that we consume is not damaging our kidneys or weakening our bones.
Carbohydrates have had a rough decade, shouldering most of the blame for our epidemic rates of obesity and diabetes. It’s a good idea to limit your intake of refined carbohydrates and added sugars, and to balance your intake of healthy carbohydrates like fruits and whole grains with healthy sources of fat and protein. And, of course, it’s not only about the quality of your food choices, the quantity matters too. But it has been repeatedly proven that low carbohydrate diets are no more effective in losing or maintaining your weight than other diets. The diet that works best is the one that you can stick with and that will usually be one that fits your lifestyle and tastebuds. If you need help finding your best diet, start here.
4. The Dirty Dozen.
Many of you have memorized this list of fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide residues and assiduously avoid eating or buying them unless you are sure they are organic. In terms of minimizing your exposure to pesticides or reducing your risk of cancer, this is wasted effort. As I wrote in my article on How to Reduce Your Exposure to Pesticides, the amount of pesticides you are exposed to from eating Dirty Dozen produce is far too small to pose a health risk. The cancer-prevention and other benefits of eating those fruits and vegetables far outweigh any risks.
5. Cooking the Nutrients out of Foods.
Another persistent and unnecessary worry is that we are cooking (or breeding) all of the nutrition out of our foods. Some nutrients do get lost when foods are cooked but also just when they are washed, or frozen, or even stored in the fridge. But it’s OK. There is still plenty of good nutrition to be had from these foods. What’s more, the recommended amounts for fruits, vegetables and other foods assume that some of them will be cooked or otherwise processed, so that’s already built in. Cook your vegetables however you find them most palatable and you’ll probably more than make up for any nutrients that are lost by eating more of them.
Once again, there’s an equal but opposite worry about how cooking affects nutrients. For every person worried that cooking their foods will destroy the nutrients, someone else is worried that NOT cooking their foods will expose them to so-called “anti-nutrients” like phytates, lectins, or oxalates. Not only is there very little evidence to suggest that lectins, phytates, or oxalates are causing health problems (for First World inhabitants, anyway), but lectins and phytates actually have beneficial effects on health. Cross this one off your worry list as well.
7. Skipping Breakfast.
Are you forcing yourself to eat breakfast because you’re worried that skipping breakfast will cause you to gain weight? Relax. There have been dozens of studies—including randomized, controlled trials—showing that eating breakfast has little to no impact on weight gain or loss and that people who eat breakfast often end up eating more calories than those who don’t. Our belief in the protective effect of breakfast far exceeds the actual evidence.
If eating breakfast works for you, keep right on doing it. But skipping (or delaying) breakfast can be a perfectly healthy option…as long as your daily intake is otherwise nutritious, balanced, and right-sized.
8. Starvation Mode.
But won’t skipping breakfast cause your body to go into starvation mode? Nope. This is another one of those things that people worry way too much about. The idea is that you need to eat every 2-3 hours in order to keep your metabolism from slowing down. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Starvation mode is a real thing but it’s not what you think. If you go several days without eating or eating almost nothing, your metabolism will indeed slow down in an effort to conserve energy and extend the length of time it will take you to starve to death. But not eating for 5 hours between lunch and dinner, or going 12 hours between dinner and breakfast is not going to cause your metabolism to slow down. In fact, going longer between meals can actually benefit your metabolism and weight management efforts in several ways.
If you’re running out of room on your phone, you can safely delete the app whose only function is to nag you to drink more water!
There’s a widespread myth that the vast majority of Americans are chronically dehydrated. Although dehydration can be a problem among the elderly and those exerting themselves in hot and/or dry conditions, the typical American is not in danger of dehydration. And contrary to everything you’ve been told, you do not have to drink 8 glasses of water a day in order to meet your fluid requirements. So, if you’re running out of room on your phone, you can safely delete the app whose only function is to nag you to drink more water! Although dehydration is probably not something you need to worry about, you may still find that drinking some extra water can help you manage your appetite and even feel more alert.
10. Not Having a Perfect Diet.
I think it’s great that people seem to be so interested in nutrition these days. But ideas about what it takes to be healthy seem to be getting more and more extreme, requiring that you completely eliminate certain ingredients, foods, even entire food groups. The problem with these all-or-nothing approaches is that they are rarely sustainable. And when people can’t do it all, they end up doing nothing. Your diet does not have to be perfect in order to be healthy. You’ll get a lot more benefit from eating pretty well most of the time than you will from eating perfectly two weekends per year.
What’s still on your worry list?
Of course, there are dozens of worries I haven’t listed here but have discussed in previous podcasts. So, if things like how eggs and cholesterol, red meat and cancer, kale and your thyroid, soy and hormones, or anything else is still on your worry list, check the archives. If you don’t see it, let me know and I’ll address it in a future podcast or Live Q&A session.
Here’s to making life just a little less worrisome!
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