Fewer things can generate more controversy and disagreement than discussions about food and nutrition. It often seems that people will never reach any kind of consensus on what we should and shouldn't eat. But there may actually be a few exceptions to this. Here are 10 nutrition facts that everyone actually agrees on — well, perhaps almost everyone.
Top image: Arnold Schwarzenegger poses with fruits, via Associated Press.
We all know that added sugar is bad. Some think sugar is a simple matter of “empty” calories, while others believe it to cause diseases that kill millions of people each year.
It is definitely true that added sugar (sucrose and high fructose corn syrup) contains empty calories. There are no nutrients in it and if you eat a lot of sugar then you’re likely to become deficient because you aren’t getting enough foods that actually have nutrients in them.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg; there are other, much more serious dangers of sugar that are now reaching mainstream attention.
How does fructose do this? Well, fructose is metabolized strictly by the liver over time, causing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, insulin resistance, elevated triglycerides, abdominal obesity and high cholesterol (4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).
Fructose also makes our brains resistant to a hormone called leptin, which effectively makes our brains want to get fat (10, 11, 12). This way, eating an excess of added sugars sets up a relentless biochemical drive in the brain to keep eating sugar, getting fatter and eating even more sugar.
Bottom Line: Added sugar provides empty calories and is believed to be a leading cause of diseases that kill millions of people each year.
Omega-3 fatty acids are extremely important for proper functioning of the human body.
For example, DHA, an Omega-3 fatty acid derived from animals, makes up about 40% of the polyunsaturated fats in the brain (13). Being deficient in Omega-3 (very common) is associated with a lower IQ, depression, various mental disorders, heart disease and many other serious diseases (14).
There are three main sources of Omega-3 fats: ALA (from plants mostly), DHA and EPA (from animals). The plant form, ALA, needs to get transformed into DHA or EPA in order to function correctly in the human body. There is some evidence that this conversion process is ineffective in humans (15).
Therefore, it is best to get Omega-3 fats from animal sources, including fish, grass-fed meat, Omega-3 enriched or pasturized eggs, or fish oil.
Bottom Line: A large part of the population is Omega-3 deficient. Avoiding a deficiency in these essential fatty acids can help prevent many diseases.
We are all unique, and subtle differences in genetics, body type, culture and environment can affect which type of diet we should eat.
Some people do best on a low-carb diet while others may do fine on a vegetarian high-carb diet. The fact is, what works for one person may not work for the next.
To figure out what you should do, a little self experimentation may be needed. Try a few different things until you find something that you enjoy and that you think you can stick to. Different strokes for different folks!
Bottom Line: The best diet for YOU is the one you get results with and that you can stick to in the long term.
Trans fats are also known as partially hydrogenated oils. They are made by mixing unsaturated fats with hydrogen gas at a high heat to make them resemble saturated fats. This process is very disgusting and it amazes me to think that someone thought these fats would be suitable for human consumption.
Trans fats raise the bad cholesterol and lower the good cholesterol, cause abdominal obesity, inflammation and insulin resistance (16, 17, 18). In the long term, consumption of trans fats raises the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, depression and many more diseases (19, 20, 21, 22, 23).
I recommend you avoid trans fats as if your life depended on it.
Bottom Line: Trans Fats are chemically processed fats that cause all sorts of damage in the body. You should avoid them like the plague.
Vegetables are good for you.
They are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and an endless variety of trace nutrients that science has just begun to uncover. In observational studies, eating vegetables is associated with improved health and a lower risk of disease (24, 25, 26).
I recommend that you eat a variety of vegetables each day; they are healthy, fulfilling and add variety to the diet.
Bottom Line: Vegetables are rich in all sorts of nutrients. Eating vegetables each day is associated with improved health and a lower risk of disease.
Vitamin D is a unique vitamin. It actually functions as a steroid hormone in the body.
The skin makes Vitamin D when it is exposed to ultraviolet rays from the sun, and this is how we got most of our daily requirement throughout evolution. However, today a large part of the world is deficient in this critical nutrient. In many places, the sun simply isn’t available throughout most of the year. Even where there is sun, people tend to stay inside a lot and use sunscreen when they go out, but sunscreen effectively blocks Vitamin D generation in the skin.
If you’re Vitamin D deficient, then you’re actually deficient in a major hormone in the body, and a deficiency is associated with many serious diseases, including diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis and others (27, 28, 29).
The best way to know is to see a doctor and have your blood levels measured.
Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to get enough Vitamin D from the diet. If getting more sun is not an option, taking a Vitamin D3 supplement or a tablespoon of cod fish liver oil each day is the best way to prevent/reverse a deficiency.
Bottom Line: Vitamin D is a crucial hormone in the body and many people are deficient in it. Reversing a deficiency can have powerful health benefits.
There are a lot of differing opinions about carbs and fat.
Some think fat is the root of all evil, while others believe carbs are the key players in obesity and other chronic diseases.
But what pretty much everyone agrees on is that refined carbohydrates are at the very least worse than unrefined (complex) carbohydrates.
There are some nutrients in high-carb foods like grains that can be beneficial. However, when you process the grains you remove most of the nutrients and then there’s nothing left but the bad stuff, massive amounts of easily digestible glucose.
Eating refined carbs will cause rapid spikes in blood sugar, followed by a surge of insulin in the blood which triggers fat storage and contributes to insulin resistance and various diseases like obesity and diabetes.
I personally don’t think that grains are necessary at all, the nutrients in them can be acquired from other healthier and more nutritious foods in greater amounts. But it is very clear that whole grains and unrefined carbohydrates are at least a lot better than their refined, processed counterparts (30, 31).
Bottom Line: Refined carbohydrates like processed grains are unhealthy. They are lacking in nutrients and lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin, which can cause all sorts of problems down the line.
“Nutritionism” is the idea that foods are nothing more than the sum of their individual nutrients. It's a trap that many nutrition enthusiasts tend to fall into — but it’s simply not true.
Nuts, for example, aren’t just shells loaded with Omega-6 fatty acids in the same way that fruits aren’t just watery bags of fructose. Rather, these are real foods with a massive variety of trace nutrients. The vitamins and minerals, the ones you can also get from a cheap multivitamin, are just a small part of the total amount of nutrients in foods.
Therefore, supplements, at least the supplements we have today, are not able to replace the nutrients we get from real foods.
Now I will admit that supplements can be beneficial, especially for nutrients that are generally lacking in the diet like Vitamin D and Magnesium.
But no amount of supplements will ever make up for a bad diet. Not a chance.
Bottom Line: It is much more important to eat real, nutritious foods than to count on supplements to provide the nutrients you need.
“Diets” are ineffective. That is a fact.
They may lead to short-term results, but as soon as you start eating junk food again you will gain the weight back. And then some. This is called yo-yo dieting and is extremely common. Most people that lose a lot of weight on a diet end up gaining it back whenever they “stop” the diet.
For this reason, the only thing that can give you actual long-term results is to adopt a lifestyle change.
Bottom Line: Adopting a healthy lifestyle is the only way to ensure long term weight loss and a lifetime of improved health.
Processed food is unhealthy.
As the food system has become more industrialized, the health of the population has deteriorated. During food processing, many of the beneficial nutrients in the food are removed. Not only do they remove healthy nutrients like fiber, but they also add other very harmful ingredients like added sugar, trans fats and refined wheat.
Additionally, processed foods are loaded with all sorts of artificial chemicals that have absolutely not been proven safe for long term human consumption.
Basically, processed foods have less of the good stuff and a LOT more of the bad stuff. The most important thing you can do to ensure optimal health is to “eat real food.” If it looks like it was made in a factory, don’t eat it!
This article originally appeared at Authority Nutrition.
Images: Aleksandar Mijatovic/Shutterstock; saurabhpbhoyar/Shutterstock; Tim UR/Shutterstock; George Dolgikh/Shutterstock; AnjelikaGr/Shutterstock.