Nutrition Myths are EVERYWHERE!
Nutrition myths and misconceptions are everywhere! They’ve been around as long as we have, but in the age of social media and communications that can travel the globe in a matter of seconds, misinformation about nutrition seems more widespread than ever before.
Rarely a day goes by that I don’t hear or read about a bizarre new fad diet or celebrity-endorsed eating plan that is not backed by science. Here are 5 nutrition myths that I was happy to bust for Newsweek in this recent video series.
1. MYTH: Going gluten-free means your diet will be healthier
- Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye grains. It’s not an unhealthy food!
- If you are diagnosed with celiac disease or if you have a sensitivity or intolerance to gluten, a health care practitioner will likely prescribe a gluten-free diet for you.
- Otherwise, there is no evidence that eating a gluten-free diet is healthier. A gluten-free diet is also not intended to help with weight loss.
- Eating gluten-free can actually make it harder to get enough of the fiber, vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients that the body needs to thrive, since many of the nutrient-dense grains that contribute to our fiber and micronutrient intake contain gluten.
- Gluten-free diets can absolutely be healthy – whether they are depends on the food choices of gluten-free you make and how much variety you incorporate into your daily diet.
- For example, if you follow a gluten-free diet primarily made up of commercially prepared, packaged and processed products, it will promote your health as little as a diet that is primarily made up of heavily processed packaged products that do contain gluten.
2. MYTH: Regularly do juice fasts/detoxes/cleanses to rid the body of excess toxins`
- Scientific evidence does not support the notion that juice fasts or cleanses are effective in detoxing the body, getting rid of excess toxins or promoting health.
- In fact, very-low-calorie juice fasts that include a laxative regime as a part of the program can be dangerous and cause negative health effects such as dehydration, disruption of intestinal flora, electrolyte imbalance and impairment of normal bowel function.
- Our liver, kidneys and lungs are already really effective at detoxing the body and do so regularly!
- When a product, supplement, diet or service sounds too good to be true or claims that it can “detoxify” the body, “balance body chemistry” or act as a “magic pill” for weight loss, it’s a red flag.
- What’s confusing is that some people may actually feel more focused and energetic during and after a “detox” which likely perpetuates the myth that it’s effective and important for health. The mental clarity and increased energy are more likely caused by eating more vegetable and fruits than usual and because most “detox diets” eliminate the heavily processed foods that contribute to feelings of sluggishness and lethargy. Don’t fall for it!
- To feel and look your best every day, live a nutrition lifestyle made up of a variety of mostly minimally processed, nutrient-dense, whole foods.
3. MYTH: Don’t eat fruit because it has too much sugar
- It’s easy to get confused between refined sugars and natural sugars found in fruits. Fruit does indeed contain sugar. But there are key differences between the natural sugars found in whole fruits and the refined sugars added to processed foods to make them taste better and increase their shelf life.
- First, fruit contains fiber which helps slow the absorption of fructose, the main type of sugar found in fruit, into your bloodstream. This is good because it helps prevent the surges in blood sugar that when repeated, can over time lead to insulin resistance and increase risk for type 2 diabetes.
- The fiber in fruit also helps us feel fuller longer, which in turn, helps us eat fewer calories and therefore better manage our weight.
- Third, the fiber in fruit also contributes to the good bacteria in our intestines, which in turn contributes to better gut health.
- Eating a variety of fruits means you’ll get a good spectrum of antioxidants.
- A good rule of thumb is to “eat a rainbow of fruits.” This is because the many different colors in fruits (and all produce, for that matter) are an indication of different types of nutrients.
4. MYTH: Organically grown produce contains more nutrients than conventionally grown produce
- Organic fruits and vegetables may help reduce your pesticide intake and organic farming practices tend to be kinder to the planet and more sustainable for the environment. These are compelling reasons to choose organic.
- BUT there’s no convincing evidence that conventional and organic produce are substantially different in nutrient composition.
- Other variables like ripeness have a greater influence on the plant’s nutrient content.
- A well-cited analysis by a group of Stanford scientists reviewed decades of research and found very few differences in the nutritional content of organic and conventionally grown foods. They concluded that choosing only organic produce does not provide obvious, immediate health benefits.
- Whether to buy organic produce is a matter of personal choice.
- Know before you buy that any nutrient differences that do exist are so small that they’re unlikely to influence health.
5. MYTH: It doesn’t matter what you eat as long as you stay within your daily calorie limit
- Focusing on calories only, otherwise known as the CICO Diet (Calories In, Calories Out) can be an effective way to lose a few pounds in the short term but it is only part of the story when it comes to long term weight management and overall health and wellbeing.
- We used to think that in order to lose 1 pound, you had to simply create a deficit of 3500 calories (or eat 500 calories less per day for a week) and if you did this over several months, you would continue to lose about a pound per week until you reached your goal weight.
- The reality is that this equation rarely works; the weight loss trajectory isn’t that simple and doesn’t take into consideration the many metabolic and genetic differences between people that affect weight management.
- Focusing solely on the number of daily calories and ignoring the quality and balance of the foods you eat can result in a long list of issues that include nutrient deficiencies, poor sleep, fatigue, hormonal imbalances, bad moods, loss of lean body mass which can lead to lower metabolism, skin problems and compromised immunity.
- Quality and quantity are both essential when it comes to managing your weight, however quality is more important than quantity when your diet is already made up of mostly minimally processed, plant-based, nutrient-dense foods. This is because nutrient-dense foods like broccoli are high in nutrients but naturally low in calories. So you can eat a large volume of them and still manage your weight.
- An example of a HELPFUL food for weight management: Beans – for many reasons – one of which is that beans contain something called resistant starch, a type of carbohydrate that is hard to digest, which means that the body isn’t able to absorb many of its calories.
- An example of a HARMFUL food for weight management: refined white carbohydrates found in white flour and white rice. These are high glycemic foods that are rapidly absorbed after you eat them. This raises your blood sugar quickly, which causes the secretion into your blood stream of large amounts of the hormones, Insulin, and Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1. Excess levels of these hormones are unfavorable because they direct the calories you eat to be stored as fat rather than burned for energy.
- Bottom line: in the short term, focusing on the number of calories per day rather than making healthy food choices might lead to a few pounds of weight loss but not without some of the potential negative health outcomes.
- In the long term, it’s highly likely that focusing only on the number of calories will lead to negative health outcomes that will multiply and intensify, and that weight loss will slow down as the metabolic rate changes over time.
Do you have any burning nutrition questions or concerns that I can clear up for you? Drop me a line in the comments – let’s bust some nutrition myths together!
Cheers and warmest wishes for good health,