You don’t need me to tell you there’s an overwhelming amount of bad fitness and nutrition information. But you would probably prefer a simpler way to reduce the confusion, and know what to believe and what’s not worth your time.
That’s what’s delivered for free through The Born Fitness Insider, a weekly digital newsletter where experts help you make sense of the nonsense .
This is just a sample of what’s typically sent, where Born Fitness takes an inside look at Tom Brady and Giselle Bündchen’s diet, based on this article from The Boston Globe.
Framing all carbohydrates – essentially everything from lentils, apples, and broccoli to muffins, Swedish Fish, and soda – as unhealthy is nutritionally inaccurate.
We all know that Tom Brady is an incredible quarterback and Giselle is beautiful, but that doesn’t mean you should follow their nutrition plan. Despite their star power, are their chef’s recommendations worth your time?
To answer that question, I reviewed his advice with nutritionist Andy Bellatti, MS, RD.
So just what are Tom and Giselle doing right and wrong? Read on to find out how Bellatti translates the dietary suggestions into advice you can use and mistakes you can avoid.
The Tom Brady Diet: An Inside Look
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady made nutrition headlines in 2015 over his harsh criticism of Frosted Flakes and Coca-Cola. But Tom is obviously not a nutritionist, so his opinions come from somewhere. The main source: his personal chef, Allen Campbell. The Boston Globe interviewed Allen Campbell about the power couple’s dietary habits.
As a dietitian, these sorts of articles are often a mixed bag. On the one hand, the celebrity packaging takes the message of healthful eating to a wide audience that can otherwise be difficult to reach. Conversely, there is always a high risk of spotting nutritional inaccuracies and myths that only further confuse the general public.
The Good: Finding the Magic Ratio
Campbell has a plant-based, whole-food perspective, and roughly 80 percent of the food he prepares for Tom and Gisele is plant-based. That’s terrific.
Current health statistics — heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., 1 in 3 American adults has high blood pressure, and 50 percent of Americans have Type 2 diabetes or prediabetes — point to a nation in the grips of a nutritional deficit disorder.
Eating more whole, plant-based foods and fewer highly processed foods (aka “junk food”) are two of the best things the average American can do to improve his or her health. Campbell frequently prepares nutrient-rich brown rice, quinoa, millet, and beans for the superstar couple. Can’t argue with any of those recommendations.
Campbell also mentions an effort to procure sustainable and local food as much as possible, which is commendable. Unfortunately, this is where the good stops and the bad begins.
Red Flag #1: Organic is Not the Only Way
“If it’s not organic, I don’t use it.”
Organic agriculture has many environmental benefits (i.e.: reduction of agricultural pollutants and the preservation of on-farm biodiversity), but from a nutritional standpoint, a conventional avocado offers the same heart-healthy fats found in an organic avocado, and both conventional and organic oranges are excellent sources of vitamin C.
Or put more clearly: both of those conventional produce choices will always trump an organic cookie.
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Red Flag #2: The Acid/Alkaline Myth
“If you just eat sugar and carbs—which a lot of people do—your body is so acidic, and that causes disease.”
Framing all carbohydrates – essentially everything from lentils, apples, and broccoli to muffins, Swedish Fish, and soda – as unhealthy is nutritionally inaccurate. And it’s enough to confuse you into not knowing what’s OK to eat.
This statement also supports the acid-alkaline myth, a thoroughly debunked theory, which suggests that certain foods (i.e.: refined starches, coffee, and white sugar), are “acid-forming”, while others (i.e.: almonds, spinach, and grapefruit) are “alkaline-forming”.
The theory works like this: the more alkaline-forming foods you eat, the more alkaline your blood, and the more alkaline your blood, the lower your risk of developing a host of chronic diseases.
This is simply not true and here’s why. Your blood pH is tightly regulated so it stays between 7.35 and 7.45, which is slightly alkaline (1 is acidic, 7 is neutral, and 14 is alkaline).
No food can lower or raise blood pH. (Let that sink in as the first sign that any acid/alkaline diet suggestions are simply scare tactics based on bad science.)
Furthermore, a blood pH below 7.35 is known as metabolic acidosis, while alkalosis refers to a blood pH above 7.45. Either case is cause for serious concern and requires medical attention.
Copious amounts of added sugars and refined starches are problematic not because they are “acid-forming,” but because they are minimally nutritious, raise biomarkers for heart disease, and can wreak havoc on our blood sugar levels.
Red Flag #3: “No white sugar.”
Americans’ current intake of added sugars — that is, sugar added to foods during processing and preparation — is cause for concern. An ever-growing body of research has linked higher amounts of added sugar to increased risks of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.
According to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average adult man in the United States consumes 21 teaspoons a day; the average woman: 15 teaspoons.
These figures far exceed the American Heart Association’s recommendation of no more than 36 grams (9 teaspoons) for men, and 24 grams (6 teaspoons) for women per day, and the World Health Organization’s recommendation to cap added sugar intake at 10 percent of calories for adults (for a 2,000-calorie diet, that equates to 12 teaspoons per day). It’s worth noting, too, that WHO states a further reduction to five percent of total calories is suggested for additional health benefits.
Do you probably need to eat less sugar? Sure. But does white sugar need to be demonized as the source of all health problems? Not at all.
Sugar is sugar is sugar. Two tablespoons of agave nectar, maple syrup, or coconut nectar are no healthier than two tablespoons of white sugar. All forms of added sugar should be equally limited, and no form of added sugar should ever be framed as ‘healthier’ because your body will process it the same way no matter what healthy spin you try to create.
Red Flag #4: Cooking Oils and Salt
“I’ll use raw olive oil, but I never cook with olive oil. I only cook with coconut oil. I use Himalayan pink salt as the sodium. I never use iodized salt.”
This is a perfect example of someone taking a food most people believe is healthy—olive oil—and creating unnecessary confusion and fear.
Olive oil is actually quite heat stable due to its high monounsaturated fat content. Extra virgin olive oil has been shown to retain its nutritional properties up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and its smoke point is anywhere between 374 and 400 degrees Fahrenheit (when cooking oil surpasses its smoke point, free radicals are formed).
Oils high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as flax, walnut, and hempseed oil are best used in salad dressings or raw dips, as the fats are fragile and have significantly lower smoke points.
As far as salt goes, while Himalayan pink salt gets its hue from its mineral content, you would need multiple heaping tablespoons – surpassing daily sodium recommendations by tenfold – to add a substantial amount of minerals to your diet. From a culinary standpoint, different salts can provide different properties, but nutritionally all are equal.
Red Flag #5: Are Nightshades Dangerous?
“[Tom] doesn’t eat nightshades, because they’re not anti-inflammatory. So no tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, or eggplants. Tomatoes trickle in every now and then, but just maybe once a month. I’m very cautious about tomatoes. They cause inflammation.”
It is a shame that nightshade vegetables are still relegated by some to the “do not eat” pile based on inaccurate information. Nightshade vegetables – which include tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes; mushrooms are not nightshades – offer a plethora of vitamins, minerals, and anti-inflammatory compounds.
There is no scientific evidence that tomatoes cause inflammation, and, barring issues with heartburn, no real reason to avoid them. In fact, men should consume tomatoes – especially cooked ones – frequently, as they are an excellent source of lycopene, an antioxidant that may help protect against the development of prostate cancer (you also find lycopene in watermelon and red peppers, but it is abundant in cooked tomatoes).
Some eschew nightshades due to the presence of compounds known as saponins, which are also found in beans, legumes, garlic, asparagus, matcha tea, and oats. Although some dietary circles blame saponins for some health issues — especially “leaky gut”, which is not yet a recognized diagnosis due to an absence of scientific evidence — animal studies have found anti-inflammatory properties as well as an ability to bind cholesterol.
The good takeaways from this piece? Eat more plants, eat more real food, and get a be your own personal chef.
Adam Bornstein is a New York Times bestselling author and the author of You Can’t Screw This Up. He is the founder of Born Fitness, and the co-founder of Arnold’s Pump Club (with Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Pen Name Consulting. An award-winning writer and editor, Bornstein was previously the Chief Nutrition Officer for Ladder, the Fitness and Nutrition editor for Men’s Health, Editorial Director at LIVESTRONG.com, and a columnist for SHAPE, Men’s Fitness, and Muscle & Fitness. He’s also a nutrition and fitness advisor for LeBron James, Cindy Crawford, Lindsey Vonn, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. According to The Huffington Post, Bornstein is “one of the most inspiring sources in all of health and fitness.” His work has been featured in dozens of publications, including The New York Times, Fast Company, ESPN, and GQ, and he’s appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, and E! News.