There’s no shortage of fabrications and old wives’ tales when it comes to food. (Just think of how many kids are convinced that apples will grow in their stomachs if they eat the seeds!) After you’ve heard them enough times, it’s a challenge to differentiate between dietary fact and fiction.
But don’t fret: At some point, everyone falls prey to misinformation about nutrition—much of which centers on calories, fat, and weight management. To help, we expose oft-repeated fallacies right here.
Truth: This assumption is fundamentally flawed in three big ways. First, active women need fat for many different bodily functions, including proper hormone development, energy production and brain function, says Heidi Skolnik, MS, CN, a nutritionist with the Women’s Sports Medicine Center in New York City. Opt for bland dressing sans this macronutrient and you’re already behind the eight ball. Next, Skolnik points out that many fat-free dressings are pumped full of sugar to boost taste.
Truth: The notion that you should be chicken about eating dark meat is without merit. What gives the dark meat of chicken or turkey its overcast appearance are high amounts of myoglobin, which provides oxygen to working muscles. Chickens and turkeys don’t fly, meaning they walk a lot, so their leg (thigh) meat is saturated with myoglobin while their breast and wing meats are paler due to low levels of this compound.
Compared to white meat, dark meat has only a few more calories and a measly extra 2 grams of fat per 3 ounces – hardly worth losing sleep over. What it does have, though, are some B vitamins, just as much first-rate muscle-building protein, plus more zinc and iron than white meat. Not to mention those juicy drumsticks are finger-licking good. So enjoy dark and white meat regularly as part of a well-balanced diet. One caveat, though: Leave the skin behind. (Check out our favorite low-carb comfort foods.)
Truth: Porterhouse and Gorgonzola lovers rejoice! Some saturated fat is harmless and may actually be good for you. Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts) researchers found that women who had the highest saturated fat intake had the least amount of plaque buildup in their arteries and a better balance of good and bad cholesterol levels.
Previous studies blaming this much-maligned fat for heart disease, obesity and diabetes have been fraught with shortcomings. It seems a key element in heart health and the battle of the bulge is using any additional saturated fat in the diet to replace refined carbohydrates such as white pasta and bleached-out bread as well as the ultimate health pariah, man-made trans fats. These are the two culprits that have increased in American diets in the past few decades – along with obesity and heart disease rates. Saturated fat intake has actually decreased.
Ditch the processed carbs, trans-fat-laden baked goods and fast-food fare, and aim to get about 10% of your daily calories from saturated fats found in beef, poultry, dairy, coconut and dark chocolate. Beyond that, 20 to 30% of calories should come from unsaturated fat sources like nuts, olive oil, fatty fish and flaxseed.
Truth: Never mind the late Dr. Atkins, you need carbs to build a lean, muscular physique. Much of that, according to Skolnik, is because carbohydrates are the primary fuel for muscle cells during high-intensity workouts. A revved-up gym session burns a ton of calories and stimulates muscle growth, both of which translate into a leaner, meaner you. Take away all the pasta, rice and potatoes and your muscles may be forced to convert protein into energy–a definite contradiction to muscle growth.
Carbs are also a must after training because they, along with protein, stimulate muscle repair and hypertrophy. “Carbohydrates consumed postworkout will boost insulin levels that help drive protein into muscle cells,” Skolnik says. So don’t hold back too much on carbs – just keep your choices healthy. After all, research now shows that women don’t burn as many carbs as their male counterparts do during exercise, so you don’t need as much as sports nutritionists once thought.
Muscle & Fitness Hers recommends that women involved in serious strength training aim for a daily carbohydrate intake of 1-1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight. Timing is important when your goal is to build muscle and burn fat. Breakfast, pre- and postworkout are the best times to consume carbs.
In your post-exercise meal, take in 20-30 grams of fast-digesting carbs, such as white breads and sugars, to boost insulin levels and drive muscle recovery. Otherwise, make sure most of your carbohydrates are in the form of whole grains, vegetables, fruits and dairy, all of which provide more nutritional benefit.