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Five things to teach employees about nutrition

Updated: May 17, 2023

As the vendor with the most accurate information about nutrition, we try to attack nutritional misinformation head-on. The added advantage of our Q&A format is that we can identify the biggest myths by looking at the number of incorrect answers to our questions. Here is our debunking of the five biggest myths in nutrition.


1. Gluten is fine for most (not all) of us


What you are about to read here doesn’t apply to everyone. If you have celiac disease, certainly cut out every iota of gluten. (A doctor can test you for celiac.)


Additionally, about 10% of us experience “heightened gluten sensitivity.” If you think you might be in that 10%, eat a couple of slices of pizza. Nothing screams gluten like pizza dough. If you feel fine, digestively, after that, you don’t have heightened gluten sensitivity.


Otherwise, the enduring myths about gluten need some serious correcting. To begin with, eliminating gluten won’t help you lose weight. The opposite may possibly be the case.


Products sold as “gluten-free” either never had gluten in the first place (like soda) or they are replacing the gluten with something that is worse, like added sugar.


The downsides of eliminating gluten if you don’t need to:

 

2. Avoiding vitamin deficiencies may be hazardous to your health.


How can that be?


Some of us don’t get the Recommended Daily Allowance of various vitamins and minerals. For instance, if you live in a cloudy climate and don’t get out much or consume fortified dairy, you may be Vitamin D-deficient. (You are also much more likely to get told you have a Vitamin D deficiency than actually have one of any clinical significance.)


And heavy drinkers lose out on B vitamins and some others. Pregnant women should take folic acid and possibly iron (the latter under a doctor’s supervision due to toxicity concerns).


Certainly there are other situations too, but most people do not have a clinically significant vitamin or mineral deficiency. And if you think you might, there are plenty of inexpensive multivitamin/multimineral supplements.


So where does this section header come from? How can we harm ourselves?

Easy: many if not most packaged products that scream about their vitamins are full of added sugar. This is true of many packaged cereals and virtually every “juice drink” that brags about being “high in Vitamin C.” SPOILER ALERT: You do not have a Vitamin C deficiency. Ironically, the more junk food you eat and (especially) drink, the more Vitamin C you probably get.


The exact statistics aren’t kept, of course, but it’s likely that for every American with a clinically significant vitamin deficiency, there are about 10,000 with concerning levels of Hemoglobin A1c.

 

3. The one nutrient we are deficient in never gets talked about


We have this as a question in every on-site trivia contest we do, and of course in the standard Quizzify curriculum. And yet even though we give the hint that “the recommended allowance is 38 grams for men and 25 grams for women,” very few people guess right. The hint is a bit subtle, but vitamins and minerals are measured in milligrams. Only macronutrients – protein, fat, carbs – are measured in grams.

The answer? Fiber. Americans are woefully deficient in it. Its benefits not only cover regularity, but many more things as well. Fiber is rarely ballyhooed in advertising, because it's not remotely as sexy as advertising “high in protein” or “provides 100% of all vitamins and minerals.”


(In case you are keeping score at home, fiber is a carbohydrate. It just isn’t a source of calories, like other carbohydrates.)

 

4. Saturated fat is not evil


To understand why saturated fat and fats in general have a bad rep, we have to go back to the 1960s, when the sugar lobby bribed researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health to demonize it. (In case you’re still keeping score at home, the Harvard School of Public Health is not the same as Harvard Medical School. Our questions are reviewed by doctors at Harvard Medical School, and hence you see that “shield” on them.)


I personally took at course in Nutrition from the exact same researcher, Dr. Frederick Stare, who was the recipient of the bribe. He had his underlings teach most of this course, but he himself taught the modules on sugar, or, as he called it, “simple carbohydrates.” I recall him describing how those are the end product of metabolism of complex carbs and fats anyway, so sugars can’t be bad for us, right? Right? But fat, he explained, makes us fat. Meanwhile, like my classmates, I’m busily taking notes. Like everyone else, it took me years to unlearn this stuff.


Here is the latest:

  • Dairy fat is different from fat found in meat. It seems to have some heart-protective qualities. Also, nonfat and lowfat yogurt is often laced with sugar to make it taste good. You would be much better off with full-fat dairy for that reason alone.

  • Saturated fat itself seems to be enjoying a renaissance. It has moved up from “bad” to “controversial.” Along with the whole bribery scheme, it’s quite possible that the earlier studies showing how bad it is were overlooking other dietary choices that tend to correlate with fat. Like if you go to the ballgame, do you accompany your hot dog with beer or a kale smoothie?

If you are still doing health risk assessments, it is important that they line up with Quizzify’s answers, or employees might get confused by incorrect information. Here is an example of incorrect information in risk assessments that can cause employees to be confused. While some information is accurate, switching to lowfat yogurt and avoiding oils such as olive oil are bad ideas. And "avoiding added sugar" is correct, but unhelpful on its own, as the next section explains.


 

5. Every packaged food that tastes sweet (and does not use an artificial sweetener) has added sugar


Generally, the louder the packaging on sweet-tasting foods shouts about health benefits, the more sugar they contain. The label may not say “sugar,” but it’s sugar. People often ask: “What about honey?” Well, locally sourced honey may have some health benefit, but it’s also 99.9% the same as sugar. There are 60+ synonyms for sugar, and food companies aren’t shy about using them. Not to mention the loopholes like the one that allows Naked Juice to be full of sugar while proclaiming the opposite in capital letters.



(Alert readers will also note the reference to being "packed with Vitamin C," which you now know is a dead giveaway for added sugar.)


With artificial trans fats no longer legal, there is pretty much no consensus on anything else as a risk factor, other than eating too much added sugar. And yet we do. Often not by choice, but our “choice” is constrained by our collective nutritional illiteracy in the face of brilliant sleight-of-hand by food companies in fine-tuning ingredients and writing the labels describing them.


That’s why we have Quizzify, to level the playing field. Wiser employees make healthier decisions…and healthier decisions save money.





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