It’s amazing how much commonly believed nutrition information is based on myths. It seems that, if you say something often enough, it appears on the internet or, worse still, is incorporated into a meme on Facebook, many people believe it’s true.
So, to save you falling for the many nutrition myths that are currently doing the rounds, here are ten of the top myths that you really shouldn’t believe!
1. The standard Food Pyramid diet is best for weight loss
The standard Food Pyramid diet it very old – almost 75 years. It recommends that you eat at least 60% carbohydrates, moderate amounts of protein and only a little fat. Sadly, this is almost the opposite of what you need! Unless you are very active, you just don’t need that much carbohydrate and very low fat diets are seldom healthy – you NEED a good amount of fat and not all fats are bad.
Instead, flip the food pyramid upside down and your diet will instantly be healthier. More healthy fats, less carbs and a decent amount of protein is a much better option. Check my recent article “Simple Vs. Complex Carbs”.
2. Diet foods are healthy foods
If you want to lose weight, you may well have considered things like fat-free ice cream and sugar-free cookies. While these foods are a little lower in calories, they are far from healthy.
Most diet foods contain lots of artificial ingredients and low fat foods invariably contain lots of sugar – otherwise they’d taste horrible!
Diet foods play on the idea that you can eat junk food and still lose weight. Sadly, you cannot. Foods like cookies, cake, candy etc. are what caused you to gain weight in the first place and diet versions of these foods are not really any better. Yes, you might save you a few calories but then you go and eat more of them (because they are diet foods) and wipe out any benefits. This is called the “health halo” and a common problem with diet foods.
If you want to lose weight, you need to stop eating the foods that made you fat in the first place and not eat diet versions of the same foods.
3. Eggs and other high cholesterol foods are bad for your health
Lots of people throw away their egg yolks because they are worried about cholesterol. The thing is, dietary cholesterol has very little effect on your blood cholesterol. Cholesterol is a non-soluble lipid that your body cannot use for energy but it’s still very important. In fact, it’s so important that your body makes around 1500mg per day of the stuff.
If you eat a few eggs, your body simply produces a little less cholesterol itself to maintain a healthy level.
If your cholesterol levels are raised, it’s probably because your body is producing more than usual rather than you have eaten too much. Your body uses cholesterol to repair the damage caused by trans fats which are in the so-called healthy oils so many people use for cooking such as sunflower oil. Cut out the trans fats and your cholesterol levels should decline all by themselves.
Despite eggs being high in cholesterol, they do not raise blood cholesterol or increase heart disease risk for the majority of people.
4. All fats are bad for your health
With all the low fat foods available, you could be mistaken for thinking that all fats are bad. The Food Pyramid helps perpetuate this myth by purposely limiting fat intake. The trouble is, not all fats are bad and some are even super-healthy.
Of all the different types of fat around (saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, trans), the only unhealthy fat is trans fat which can be deadly. How do you get trans fats? In processed foods and heating or cooking with polyunsaturated fats. Yep – the fats you are told that are the healthiest are also the ones that cause problems when heated!
To avoid problems with fats, avoid trans fats and do not heat or cook with polyunsaturated fats. Natural fats are actually not only good for you but essential so don’t fear all fats. Learn more about healthy fats at “How to Choose Healthy Fats”
5. All calories are the same – no matter where they come from
- Protein – 4 calories per gram
- Carbohydrate – 4 calories per gram
- Alcohol – 7 calories per gram
- Fat – 9 calories per gram
However, not all calories are equal. It takes different amounts of energy to process different foods and so a calorie from protein is not the same as a calorie from fat. This is why counting calories is a little bit flawed and the actual composition of your meals is just as important as the size of your meals.
Simply swapping carbs for protein reduces the number of calories you consume because breaking down and digesting protein uses more energy than breaking down and digesting carbs. More about the differences between calories on my article “Calories – The Good , The Bad and The Ugly”.
6. Protein bars are just for athletes
Protein bars are marketed as being only suitable for athletes and exercisers but they are so much more than food for fitness people!
Protein bars are a great alternative to sugary snacks when you are trying to lose weight. Many taste like candy but contain far fewer calories and virtually none of the sugar. Their high protein content also helps keep you feeling fuller for longer. Many also contain fiber and healthy fats as well as vitamins and minerals.
If you are looking for a healthy snack to hold you over between meals or a convenient meal replacement for when you can’t have a meal replacement shake, a protein bar is a very good choice. My recommendations of the best healthy protein bars at “The Best Protein Bar for You”.
7. Eating at night makes you fat
Your body needs a certain number of calories per day to maintain your weight. That number depends on how active you are, your age, your gender and other genetic factors. Let’s say that you need 2000 calories per day.
If you eat 500 for breakfast, 500 for lunch, and 250 for snacks, you are left with 750 calories for dinner. If you eat more than 750 calories, you’ll gain weight. It doesn’t matter if your largest meal of the day is your breakfast or your dinner – it’s how much you eat that matters.
You could eat nothing all day and then eat all 2000 calories at 11pm before going to bed and still not gain weight. You either eat too little, enough, or too much; the time that you eat will not cause weight gain.
However, many people tend to eat too much at night simply because that’s when they relax and eat mindlessly. It’s not the time but the fact they eat too much that is the problem.
8. You can eat whatever you want if you take a vitamin/mineral supplement
A vitamin/mineral supplement can be a useful back up to your healthy diet but is not a replacement for eating lots of naturally nutritious foods.
Many people think that they can eat nothing but unhealthy junk and, so long as they take a vitamin/mineral supplement, they’ll be okay. Big mistake!
Vitamin/mineral supplements are nutritionally incomplete compared to real food. Sure, they contain the main vitamins and minerals but they are missing many of the lesser-known ones. In addition, the ratios of nutrients in a supplement never match how these substances are found in nature. Yes, an orange contains vitamin C so a vitamin C supplement can be useful but what about all the other things in that orange like phytochemicals, anti-oxidants, fiber and other healthful compounds.
By all means take a vitamin/mineral supplement to top up an already healthy diet but do not think that even the best supplement can protect you from an otherwise unhealthy diet because it cannot.
9. You must drink eight glasses of water per day
Do you know where the recommendation to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day came from? No, and nor does anyone else. It just appeared and was quickly adopted by just about every nutritional authority in the world.
It has a nice ring to it but the eight glasses rule has no basis in fact or science.
Instead, drink water when you are thirsty, when your urine is dark, if you have been sweating a lot or your mouth feels dry. If you live somewhere hot, you’ll need to drink more and less if you live somewhere cold.
Self-regulating your water intake means you’ll probably drink more than the recommended eight glasses. Of course, you’ll need more water in the warm summer and less in the cold winter but that’s something the eight glasses rule ignores.
10. Losing weight means you’ll have to starve yourself
Most diets are very restrictive and severely limit how much food you can eat. Yes, they cause weight loss but only for as long as you can stick to them. In some cases, this means your new weight loss diet only lasts a couple of days which is not long enough if you have a lot of weight to lose.
Hunger, like you’ll get from starving yourself, will chip away at your willpower until you simply have to quit your diet; it’s not a matter of if but when. Even the hardiest dieter can only resist hunger for so long. And when hunger strikes, you are very likely to eat way too much and that means any weight lost will quickly be regained. In short, your diet will have failed.
Super-strict diets might promise fast fat loss but, when it comes to losing weight, faster is not better. The faster you lose weight, the hungrier you are going to be and the more likely you are to break your diet, overeat, and then regain any weight lost.
When you are trying to lose weight, a little hunger is normal and easily fixed with a small snack like a protein bar, “Why a Protein Bar?”. However, if you are hungry all the time, you simply are not eating enough! Ultimately, severe hunger will derail your diet – it’s unavoidable.
Forget super-strict starvation diets; they do not work. Instead eat healthily and in moderation to lose weight slowly and comfortably.
It’s amazing how many of these nutrition myths people believe – even so-called experts and the media too. However, it’s easy enough to bust these myths by looking at the scientific literature that supports it. Or rather, the lack of it!
Do not fall for these myths; you’ll undermine your health and weight loss progress if you do. Instead, let science tell you what is right and what isn’t and if in doubt, do your own research.