Nutrition Myths (Part 2) with Salima Valla, R.H.N.
It’s hard to separate fact from fiction when the headlines and opinions keep coming at you from every direction. But the very fact that you’re reading this post means that you care about your family’s health, and that’s an amazing first step towards improving it! Regardless of whether you’re plant-based, vegetarian, flexitarian or an omnivore, we can all agree on one thing: find a balance that gives you variety, makes you feel satisfied and gives you energy to keep moving.
- Dairy is super important for strong, healthy bones
We all grew up learning that calcium only came from milk, cheese, and yogurt, but guess what? Leafy greens, beans, sesame seeds/tahini, fortified plant milks and calcium-set tofu are excellent sources of calcium. Choose low-oxalate greens like kale, bok choy, collards, and Chinese cabbage to increase absorption and don’t forget to consume foods that are rich in magnesium, potassium, and vitamin C – all key nutrients for optimal bone health. Finally, if you’re not getting enough sunshine, make sure you supplement with vitamin D, and keep moving – weight-bearing exercises increase not only muscle but also bone density.
- OK but soy is definitely bad for you
Studies have shown that soy is protective against breast and prostate cancers, cardiovascular diseases, brittle bones, type 2 diabetes and cognitive decline… So why all the bad press? Perhaps the misguided belief that soy contains estrogen. It actually contains phytoestrogens, which are 1,000 times weaker than mammalian estrogens. In fact, they bind to different receptors and actually help regulate the estrogen in our bodies, which may explain why they help improve not only PMS, but even menopausal symptoms.
Keep in mind that soy comes in many different packages. It’s a common ingredient in processed foods, usually in the form of soy protein isolate, which is devoid of most of soy’s amazing benefits. Soybeans and minimally processed soy foods like tofu, tempeh and natto are packed with nutrients, including protein, fibre, iron and B vitamins, and guess what? Populations that eat 1-2 servings every day tend to show great health outcomes!
- Don’t eat legumes because they contain inflammatory lectins
Actually, this is not a myth at all – certain types of lectins are inflammatory and can even be mildly poisonous—when eaten raw! But guess what? They are virtually eliminated when legumes are properly cooked! Did you know that daily consumption of whole grains and legumes (i.e. beans and lentils) is a common factor across all the longest living populations in the world? So no need to worry about legumes anymore; they are, hands down, some of the most nutritious, affordable and versatile foods out there—as long as they’re cooked (but who’s out there eating raw beans??).
- But plant-based foods are still hard to digest!
Did you know that around 40 trillion microorganisms make up your gut microbiome? This explains what we already know—that our gut bacteria play a major part in our overall health and even in specific aspects of it like our digestion. If your gut bacteria are used to being fed a standard North American diet, which is typically low in fibre, and then you suddenly eat a fibre-rich meal full of legumes and cruciferous veggies, you may be greeted with some uncomfortable reactions like gas and bloating. But fear not! The solution is simple: slow down and let your gut bacteria adjust to these new foods. Instead of having a full bowl of lentils, have a tablespoon and increase gradually. Instead of combining beans with a high-fibre grain like quinoa or brown rice, start with white rice and then slowly incorporate whole grains. How you feed your gut has an impact on the composition of your bacteria, and as you progress, you’ll feel the difference as your fibre-loving microbes start to take over and prosper!
- Healthy eating is all about counting calories and macros
When we count calories, it’s easy to get hung up on the quantity and forget about the quality. Same goes for counting macronutrients. Are you differentiating between refined and complex carbohydrates? Trans fats and healthy fats? Nourishing calories and empty calories? The quality of our calories matters! What if I suggested that we shift our focus to our microbiome, and the fact that what we eat can alter its composition with every meal? One of the findings of the American Gut Project was that having diversity of beneficial bacteria species in the gut led to good health outcomes, like lower risk of chronic disease, better digestion, and improved mood. So how do we achieve this? It turns out that individuals who include a larger diversity of whole plant foods in their diet (i.e., several different types of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, lentils, beans, and whole grains) throughout the week are more likely to have a larger number of beneficial microbe species in their gut—regardless of whether they are omnivores or herbivores! All plants contain different types of prebiotic fibre, which feed your beneficial gut bacteria species and allow them to thrive. So next time you find yourself counting macros or calories, try counting plants instead and watch your health start to flourish!
Guest Blogger Spotlight
Salima Valla is a holistic nutritionist certified in plant-based nutrition and she loves sharing her favourite vegan recipes on Instagram (@voilasalima). Check out Part 1 of these nutrition myths here!