Food Myths Busted With Mensa Member JJ Virgin
JJ Virgin (shortened due to the unfortunate pronunciation of Julie while living in Japan) is smarter than you. She's a member of Mensa, and she seems to have an addiction to academia. After graduating from UCLA, she went on to graduate school for biomechanics, then sports medicine, then took doctorate-level courses in exercise physiology, nutrition and aging at USC. All in all she's taken more than 40 post-graduate courses that have culminated to make her an expert in weight loss and physical health.
JJ Virgin, right, on Freaky Eaters
So what kind of career does all this education lead to? Television, of course. Virgin is the co-star of TLC's Freaky Eaters, in which she helps people break their addictions to bizarre foods. She also recently appeared on an episode of Fat Chef and, in May, will appear on an as-yet-unnamed Discovery Fit & Health program.
In addition, Virgin is an author and public speaker and, lucky for us, a private tutor. She believes most Americans don't know food as well as they think they do, and that many of us are making a lot of mistakes when it comes to nutrition. In a sit-down with her, we learned that we're idiots for the granola bar and soy latte we had for breakfast, but that red wine should be part of our weight-loss regime. Plus a few other surprising yet handy bits of food knowledge.* Turn the page for the list.
5. You should drink lots of water, but you should not drink it with meals.
"I tell people to limit their fluid intake to eight ounces with meals because, if you think about it, if you drink a lot of fluid with meals, and if you look at most people over 30 or 35, their digestive enzymes are lower. ... The hydrochloric acid in their stomachs are lower because they're aging and they're stressed. Those are the two things that really lower HCl. Then you get a bunch of water in there and you're going to dilute it further. It doesn't make sense.
"Get up in the morning and have 16 ounces the minute you wake up. Then have another eight to 16 ounces 30 to 60 minutes before a meal, and start drinking an hour after. The most important thing to do is to drink eight ounces before bed, because a study out of the University of Chicago showed that for people with evening hunger pangs, 100% of them shut off their evening hunger pangs with a glass of water."
4. You should eat three square meals, not five or six small ones.
"Look how people eat when they snack. They're not snacking on, say, wild salmon or some Brussels sprouts. It's usually something carb-y. Calories count, but where they come from counts more. Eating something carb-y like a piece of fruit or fruit-sweetened yogurt, or an artificially sweetened yogurt, which is worse, or a granola bar, it's going to drive up your blood sugar, and when you drive up your blood sugar you drive up your insulin, and the message to your body is to store fat and shut off fat-burning.
"If you need to eat less than three to four hours after your last meal, you're doing something wrong."
3. Soy is not a health food.
"No. 1, soy and corn are the two most genetically modified crops out there. Ninety percent of it in the United States is genetically modified. That can mean problems with fertility, G.I. problems, cancer.... GMO is frightening. They've outlawed it in Europe.
"Soy is new to our food supply. It's only 1,000 years old, versus grains, dairy and domesticated animals, which are 5,000 to 10,000 years old. Soy is a phytoestrogen, which might sound good, but for boys, they don't develop like they should, and for girls, they get early periods. For older men, their brains are smaller, so there's higher risk for dementia, and for women, it can trigger some of the more estrogen-dependent cancers. We don't know. The jury's out.
"If you look at soy milk, unless you get the unsweetened kind, which is horrific [tasting], it's sweetened with sugar. Then, to process it, you take soybeans and spin them -- already they've been sprayed with pesticides, and they're 40% fat so they're just little sponges, so they absorb it -- then they spin it in an aluminum cask, so you get some aluminum, then they process it, and usually you end up with some MSG in there, too."