[Cue Up My Shocked Face] Federal Government Got This Wrong, Too
Recently, the federal government released updated recommendations on what you should eat, as they do every five years.
At its core, the advice is sound: Eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods—including vegetables, fruits, meat, grains, and dairy—within a caloric limit that allows you to maintain a healthy body weight.
And for the first time in history, the feds gave an upper limit on how much added sugar you should consume. But a few of the guidelines aren’t supported by solid science. Men’s Health has debunked these falsehoods before, but the myths persist. Here’s what the feds got wrong:
Sodium isn’t evil
The new federal guidelines say to restrict your sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day. But the link between salt and blood pressure has been overblown. In the 1940s, a Duke University researcher named Walter Kempner, M.D., became famous for using salt restriction to treat people with high blood pressure. Later, studies confirmed that reducing salt could help reduce hypertension.
Large-scale scientific reviews, however, have determined there’s no reason for people with normal blood pressure to restrict their sodium intake. Now, if you already have high blood pressure, you may be “salt sensitive.” As a result, reducing the amount of salt you eat could be helpful.
That said, it’s been known for the past 20+ years that people with high blood pressure who don’t want to lower their salt intake can simply consume more potassium-containing foods. Why? Because it’s really the balance of the two minerals that matters.
In fact, Dutch researchers determined that a low potassium intake has the same impact on your blood pressure as high salt consumption does. And it turns out, the average guy consumes 3,100 mg of potassium a day—1,600 mg less than recommended.
The bottom line: Strive for a potassium-rich diet, which you can achieve by eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and legumes. For instance, spinach, broccoli, bananas, white potatoes, and most types of beans each contain more than 400 mg potassium per serving.
Neither is saturated fat
The government says you should get no more than 10 percent of your daily calories from saturated fat, because of concerns about cardiovascular disease.
But hold on: A 2010 review of 21 studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found no conclusive evidence that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, or cardiovascular disease.
According to a review in the European Journal of Nutrition, a diet high in fat from dairy products such as butter may even raise levels of HDL (good) cholesterol while having no effect on levels of potentially harmful LDL (bad) cholesterol.
The upshot: Don’t fear saturated fat. Bacon is, thankfully, OK.
You’re not eating too much protein
The feds recommend that a very active adult male eat only 7 ounce-equivalents of protein per day. If you’re eating 7 ounces of chicken, that works out to 56 grams. They note that most guys are eating more than that—but that’s a good thing, because their target is way too low.
The benefit of protein goes beyond muscles, says Donald Layman, Ph.D., a professor emeritus of nutrition at the University of Illinois. Protein dulls hunger and can help prevent obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
How much do you need? Step on a scale and be honest with yourself about your workout regimen. According to Mark Tarnopolsky, M.D., Ph.D., who studies exercise and nutrition at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, highly trained athletes thrive on 0.77 gram of daily protein per pound of body weight. That’s 139 grams for a 180-pound man.
Men who work out 5 or more days a week for an hour or longer need 0.55 gram per pound. And men who work out 3 to 5 days a week for 45 minutes to an hour need 0.45 gram per pound. So a 180-pound guy who works out regularly needs about 80 grams of protein a day.
Now, if you’re trying to lose weight, protein is still crucial. The fewer calories you consume, the more calories should come from protein, says Layman. You need to boost your protein intake to between 0.45 and 0.68 gram per pound to preserve calorie-burning muscle mass.
And no, that extra protein won’t wreck your kidneys: “Taking in more than the recommended dose won’t confer more benefit. It won’t hurt you, but you’ll just burn it off as extra energy,” Dr. Tarnopolsky says.