3 Toxic Food Rules Busted (Hint, Carbs, Fats & Protein Are Cool Again)

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Written By

Lauryn

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Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

It seems like we are always hearing about what foods we “can’t” have or the latest toxic food rules or laws for eating. Often times, many of these rules are even conflicting. For instance:

Keto advocates cry, “Carbs make you fat” vs. the USDA advises us to “Eat 6 to 11 servings of whole grains” each day.

The vegans say, “Meat causes cancer!” While the paleo adherents cry, “Bring on the bacon!”

Aye aye aye! What’s the right way to eat?! 

Sometimes all these rules can become toxic to our own health and relationship with food. 

Newsflash: There is no one-size-fits-all to health, nutrition or the “ultimate” human diet

Every body is different, and your body’s needs are 100% unique to you—dependent on your current health, your goals, your lifestyle, your digestion and your relationship with food. 

Let’s bust 3 toxic food rules that are not the entire story… 

3 Toxic Food Rules…Busted

Toxic Food Rules - Woman Looking And Holding Cookies, Trying To Avoid Them

Toxic Food Rule #1: Meat Causes Cancer

The great meat debate has been an ongoing source of conflict between varying groups for the past 20 years—especially since the release of the famous “China Study” book, published in 2005, often cited as the leading authority on the reasons to not eat meat.  In it, the authors explain the 1980’s “China Project” research study in layman’s terms, concluding that that people should eat a predominantly plant-based diet—excluding animal products (including beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, and milk), processed foods and refined carbs— to avoid, reduce, and reverse the development of numerous diseases. 

Since then, there have been many more studies out there linking meat consumption (especially red meat) to cancer. However, does this link actually mean that meat causes cancer, or is there something else that sets the stage for meat to cause cancer? Here are 3 things to consider (that most news headlines won’t tell you): 

Fact 1: Cancer is Like an Autoimmune Disease (and anti-Inflammatory foods are best)

Call it “cancer,” “Lupus,” “Hashimoto’s,” “Celiac,” or any one of the other 100+ autoimmune diseases now classified by the CDC, all autoimmune diseases share a common link—your body is attacking its own tissues and there is an inflammatory (autoimmune and immune) response.

What causes this immune response in the first place? 

Inflammation, or “stress.”  

Inflammation and stress are interchangeable terms in the autoimmune disease presentation. Anything that causes inflammation is a “stress” to your body—setting you up for the perfect storm of autoimmune disease (i.e. body attacking itself). Stress goes far beyond mental stress. It includes things like:

  • Pesticides on fruits & veggies
  • Gut irritating foods (high intake of grains, sugar, processed, hydrogenated oils or refined foods)
  • Conventional meats (containing hormones & antibiotics)
  • Lack of a balanced diet (i.e. high meat consumption without enough greens, prebiotics, healthy fats or fermented foods)
  • Low water intake (for flushing the body)
  • Gut dysfunction (low stomach acid, low digestive enzymes, bacterial overgrowth)
  • Toxins in our environment (products, home, mold, metals exposure, air quality)

Given these facts, high meat consumption can certainly be a source of inflammation for some people—particularly depending on the type of meat consumed (organic vs. conventional); a lack of veggies in the diet; or underlying gut conditions (that helps digest the meat in the first place). 

However, as noted above, meat is NOT the only source of inflammation in the body connected to stress and disease.  Essentially, any time we lack balance in our diets and lives (such as lacking nutrient-dense foods) stress and inflammation happens.

Common examples of dietary stressors that trigger inflammation for some people may include: 

  • High Intake of Raw and Cruciferous Vegetables

FODMAPS  are difficult for some people to digest and break down—especially those with SIBO, IBS or gut issues.

  • Whole Grains, Nuts & Beans

Unfortunately, most of the grains sold in the U.S. today are highly processed, pseudo-versions of grains, filled with enriched flours, fillers, sugar and oils; or not properly soaked or sprouted, containing heavy amounts of phytates and lectins that our digestive tract cannot break down. Nuts and beans also contain these compounds and can cause gut irritation.

  • Sugar & Artificial Sweeteners

Sugar feeds cancer cells. Artificial sugar is not much better, correlated with tumors and various forms of cancer in multiple studies cited by the National Cancer Institute.

  • High Fat or Protein Diets Without Enough Greens

For those with a sluggish, under-functioning, liver-gallbladder, fats and proteins can be more difficult to digest—particularly in the face of low green and veggie intake. (No, fat is not bad for you, but if you, once again, lack balance then inflammation risk is higher)

The Bottom Line: Cancer is an inflammatory autoimmune disease that is triggered when your body encounters various inflammation and stressors. Certain dietary triggers (like poor quality meat consumption, or lack of veggies with your proteins) may be more “inflammatory” to some people, whereas other stressors, (such as lack of sleep and smoking) are more present and inflammatory for others. 

Fact 2: “Leaky Gut”& Dysbiosis are the Roots of Cancer…Not Meat

Hippocrates said it best: “All disease begins in the gut.”  “Leaky Gut”  and an unhealthy gut microbiome are another common link that all autoimmune diseases share—including cancer.  

Unfortunately, for a long time, debates over “what causes cancer” have been heavily weighted at particular foods and lifestyle stressors, such as meat, smoking and lack of fruits and veggies. However, valid or not, the root cause is often missed in all these studies, claims and debates—leaky gut.

Your gut is the gateway to your health. If your digestive tract and gut microbiome are unhealthy, then you are less likely to digest and absorb your nutrients properly to feed the rest of your organs and cells.

Additionally, in the case of “leaky gut,” food particles and foreign proteins from the foods you eat seep into your bloodstream, undigested, where your body’s immune defense system then attacks itself to get those proteins out of there (i.e. “autoimmune response” or “autoimmune disease”). If this happens continually, over time, this autoimmune attack wreaks havoc on your health, resulting in various autoimmune disease presentations or symptoms. In functional medicine we say, “Genetics load the gun, but environmental factors (diet, gut health and lifestyle) pull the trigger.”

Similarly on this topic,  for a long time, it has been presumed that red meat causes heart disease due to its high cholesterol and saturated fat content. However, research now shows this is not the case, as unhealthy gut bacteria have been implicated as a more likely culprit in the red meat-CVD correlation: intestinal microbes have been shown to metabolize carnitine, a trimethylamine abundant in red meat, into trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO), a well-characterized pro-atherogenic species that is associated with heart disease.

The Bottom Line:

You may have the genetics for cancer or other health conditions, but only when other environmental factors are “stressed” (like your gut health) is when that cancer presents itself. We still have a lot to learn about the influence of the microbiome on health and disease, but we know enough already to conclude that the gut-disease link is significant.

Fact 3: Meat Studies Don’t Necessarily Use “Healthy” Controls

Toxic Food Rules - Different Types Of Meat

Given the fact that more than 1 in 2 Americans already have a chronic disease in our country, are studies with “average” controls of the population really all that healthy? While syndromes and diseases like IBS, acne, allergies, anxiety, constipation, pre-diabetes and more may be considered “healthy,” “normal,” or “average” in our society, these issues typically signify something else (health related) is going on under the hood—especially gut health and hormone related. Additionally, most studies rarely ever mention what else the control subjects ate in their diet. Diets rich in gut-irritating foods can equally wreak havoc on one’s health, including foods like:

  1. Whole grains (i.e. cereals, quinoa bowls, oats)
  2. Difficult-to-digest nuts or beans
  3. Nutrient-deficient veggie intake (fact: only 1 in 10 Americans eats the recommended number of veggies)
  4. “Healthy” fat free ice cream, processed bars, or shakes (laced with synthetic ingredients like: guar gum, erythritol, vegetable glycerin, pea protein and other inflammatory fillers) 

The Bottom Line:

When interpreting a study that claims “meat causes cancer,” or “carbs cause weight gain,” or even “broccoli causes cancer,” ALWAYS question: Who were the test subjects? What was their current lifestyle, diet and gut health like? There’s often more to the story than meets the eye.

Toxic Food Rule #2: Saturated Fat & High Cholesterol Cause Heart Disease

Many studies show no relationship between diet and cholesterol levels and there is no evidence that saturated fat and cholesterol-rich food contribute to heart disease. This evidence is so apparent in fact that the US Dietary Guidelines no longer includes any restrictions on dietary cholesterol—a complete 180-degree turn from their advice to limit cholesterol consumption since the early 1960s.

Unfortunately, many people—practitioners included—have still been conditioned to believe that fat (especially saturated fat, found in red meat and fatty meats, butter, ghee, coconut and eggs) and cholesterol are “bad,” Ironically, even as Americans have cut back on “saturated fat and cholesterol-rich” foods, rates of heart disease have gone up—begging the question, why?! Maybe saturated fats and cholesterol actually don’t cause “high cholesterol” in the first place…

Yup, contrary to popular belief, saturated fats and “high cholesterol foods” actually give our body only a fraction of cholesterol anyway.  Only about 20 percent of the cholesterol in your body at any given time comes from the diet. The rest is made by your liver, because cholesterol is an essential nutrient that performs many important functions in the body.

We actually need cholesterol for our health! Cholesterol is produced by almost every cell in the body.

Too low of cholesterol on bloodwork can be just as problematic as “too high” of cholesterol markers—and both extremes (either too high or too low) of cholesterol are typically more important as indicators of inflammation and/or liver dysfunction in the body. In addition, “total cholesterol” and LDL markers on bloodwork only portray a piece of the puzzle. 

Vital (Good) Roles of Cholesterol

  • Makes cells “bulletproof” (stronger and less permeable outside; not so prone to toxins)
  • Nature’s repair substance, used to repair wounds, including tears and irritations in the arteries.
  • Production and balance of hormones (including our sex hormones and cortisol-stress hormones)
  • Vital to the function of the brain and nervous system.
  • Protects us against depression; it plays a role in the utilization o seratonin, the body’s “feel-good” chemical.
  • Creates bile salts, needed for the digestion of fats
  • Precursor of vitamin D—we need cholesterol to help us have enough vitamin D (for energy and skin health)
  • Powerful antioxidant that protects us against free radicals and therefore against cancer.
  • Cholesterol, especially LDL-cholesterol (the so-called bad cholesterol), helps fight infection.

So if Fat is “Good”…What Fats Should I Eat?

Balance and variety is key. Mix it up!

Heart Healthy Fats

Eat Liberally:

  • Coconut oil & coconut (fruit, butter, flakes)
  • Palm oil
  • Olive oil & olives
  • Ghee
  • Grass-fed butter
  • Lard
  • Tallow
  • Duck fat
  • Organic meat/dairy fat
  • Pastured eggs
  • Macadamia oil

Eat in Moderation

  • Sesame oil
  • Walnut oil 
  • Pecan oil
  • Almond oil
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Avocado oil and avocados
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Nut and seed butters

Avoid

  • Soybean oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Corn oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Wheatgerm oil
  • Canola oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Cottonseed oil
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Rice bran oil
  • Vegetable Oil

Toxic Food Rule #3: Carbs Make You Fat

Toxic Food Rules - Donuts, Carbs

Carbs have been an age old debate in nutrition world. In the low fat era they were cool, then with the Atkin’s, South Beach and Keto resurgence, they were “bad”—associated with weight gain, insulin spikes, unwanted body fat, and brain fog. 

Despite the case against carbs though, no study or research to date has shown that moderate amounts of real, whole food carbohydrates do harm. 

In fact, when we look to anthropological research of hunter-gatherers in both prehistoric and modern times, we see that a vast majority of healthy humans ate higher carbohydrate diets (plant foods), primarily because that was the food readily available on the land. Many of our ancestors ate upwards of 100 to 200 grams of fiber everyday—a stark contrast from the 8 to 15 grams of fiber most Americans get in their daily diet. Many tribes ( ike the Incas, Okinawans, and Kitavans) ate anywhere from 65-70% of carbs very day, yet had a lower disease rate and enjoyed a healthy body weight than most Americans.  Their food staples were things like tubers, stems, leaves, fruits and other plants. Meat made up.

In addition, many studies claiming that moderate to higher carb diets are “worse” for our health than higher fat diets for weight loss and body composition are not the whole story! 

Problems with Most “Carbs Are Bad” Studies 

Here’s a few problems with many toxic food rules and “carbs are bad” studies…

  1. Many studies overlook balance & moderation—focusing on super high carb or low carb extremes.

What about a “balanced diet” with carbs, fats and proteins?! Most studies compare super high carb or super low carb—extremes.

2. Many carb studies only consider the Standard American Diet’s version of carbohydrates.

There is a difference in acellular carbohydrates (including processed breads, cereals and other refined foods) versus vegetables, fruits and starchy tubers and prebiotics (like cooked and cooled white rice, oats, beans, etc.).

3. Many studies don’t consider how our gut microbiome.


Our gut bacteria influence insulin metabolism and carbohydrate digestion. Unhealthy gut bacteria are also responsible for the release of circulating LPS in the blood of those with impair glucose metabolism.

The big idea? Your body loves balance!

The human body ultimately desires balance (carbs, fats and proteins). Not all carbohydrates are created equal and a healthy gut equals healthy insulin levels and greater (quality) carbohydrate tolerance. 

But don’t just take my word for it. See what research says about the “case for carbs”…

The Case for Carbs #1: Cutting Carbs Doesn’t Necessarily Increase Metabolism or Fat Loss

For 4 consecutive weeks, 16 overweight or obese men were fed a standard American diet, high in carbs (50% Carbohydrate, 15 % Protein, 35% Fat)—including refined carbs like lemonade, granola bars, pretzel sticks and sandwich bread. The participants were then immediately switched to a very low carbohydrate, ketogenic diet (5% Carbohydrate, 15% Protein, 80% Fat) for another 4 weeks. 

Both the high carb diet and the Keto diet were equal in calories and protein, and they had no access to any outside foods for the entire 8 week period. Participants also worked out on an exercise bike for 30 minutes daily. Changes in energy expenditure, body composition and relevant blood markers were recorded each day using the gold-standard methods where possible. 

After the first 4 weeks on the high carb diet, participants lost 1.1 lbs of body fat on average. Switching to the low carb diet for the remaining 4 weeks led to an initial dip in insulin levels by almost half and increased metabolic rate by 57 calories per day on average, however, once again participants lost just 1.1 lbs of body fat and within a few more weeks, metabolic rate decreased back down to just 40 calories per day. 

The Case for Carbs #2: Moderation Does a Body Good (Carbs Included)

Toxic Food Rules - Woman Holding A Burger, Trying To Control Her Cravings For Carbs

In another 6-week trial, 20 people were randomly assigned to follow either a ketogenic diet (5% carbs) or a moderate carb diet (40% carbs). All food and beverages were provided to participants to keep things controlled, and by the end there was no difference in average weight loss, fat loss or insulin changes. If anything, strictly cutting carbs led to less fat loss as time went on, and subjects on the extremely low carb diet reported feeling low on energy and overall mood. 

The Case for Carbs #3: Carbs are Essential for a Healthy Gut

Fiber-rich, whole food carbs (like veggies, fruits and some starches like sourdough bread, potatoes, squashes, root vegetables, oats, beans and rice) promote the growth of healthy bacteria. 

Whereas acellular carbs (grains, pastas, cereals, breads, processed foods) cause low-level inflammation, linked to side effects like leaky gut, candida, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), dysbiosis and food intolerances, leading to increased insulin resistance and metabolic mayhem as well in the process. 

Carbohydrates are essential for a healthy gut, and a healthy gut equals a healthier you!

On the flip side, if you DON’T have a healthy gut or enough healthy gut bacteria, carbohydrates may not make you feel great. 

(This is the reason why some people may claim that carbs—even whole food carbs—give them brain fog, lethargy or ‘cause weight gain’). 

One study from the Mayo Clinic comparing the differences of gut bacterial profiles in patients in an intervention program for weight loss, discovered those with an increased abundance of phascolarctobacterium lost nearly 20 pounds over the course of 3 months and also had better carbohydrate metabolism and insulin levels, than those who had more unhealthy gut bacteria. (Those with an abundance of unhealthy bacteria only lost 3 pounds—despite following the same program!).  

Other research has demonstrated those who have an underlying gut problem (like SIBO, dysbiosis, candida or yeast overgrowth) are more susceptible to the negative side effects that low carb advocates talk about (like weight gain, brain fog, sugar cravings). 

So….what about people who actually do feel great on a low carb diet? A lot of times this is the case because, once again, you have gut dysbiosis (imbalances in the gut), making you think that low carb diets make you feel great (when in actuality, you could heal your gut, and increase your carb tolerance). 

The Case for Carbs #4: Too Much of Anything (Carbs or Fats) is Not a Good Thing

In a study of 16 men (9 lean and 7 obese), test participants were fed a strict weight gain diet with 150% of their daily caloric requirements. The additional 50% of calories came from either carbohydrate or fat for 14 days at a time. Subjects completed both diets in a crossover design. Researchers found that both carbohydrate and fat overfeeding caused almost identical increases in body weight, fat mass, and lean mass

Break the Toxic Food Rules

Few! We discussed A LOT of information in this article. 

Want help in declaring more Body Love + Food Freedom? Reach out to our clinic today for support in writing a new story for your health, body and mind!

References 

Meat References

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Saturated Fat & Cholesterol References

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  2. CDC.  2014. Prescription Cholesterol-lowering Medication Use in Adults Aged 40 and Over: United States, 2003–2012. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db177.htm; Adedinsewo, D., Taka, N., Agasthi, P., Sachdeva, R., Rust, G., & Onwuanyi, A. (2016). Prevalence and Factors Associated with Statin Use among a Nationally Representative Sample of US Adults – National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2011–2012. Clinical Cardiology, 39(9), 491–496. http://doi.org/10.1002/clc.22577
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Carbohydrate References

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