Nutrition can be a tricky subject. New studies hit the mainstream media all the time and we can’t help but eat it all up (pun intended).
Staying informed is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. But the headlines are often confusing or contradictory to what has been published before (and what we’ve gotten used to in our daily lives).
Even worse, many news stories about food and health are communicated in a black-and-white, “click bait” sort of way. You know the ones: Try this ONE food to lose weight fast! Ugh.
Take my favourite food as an example: cheese. Remember when fat was seen as the devil and you wouldn’t touch anything that wasn’t low in fat or fat-free with a 10-foot pole? These days, full-fat products are in! Greek yogurt, avocado, coconut oil. Even cheese is making a comeback as a nutritious food with unique health benefits.
Nutrition is a complex science (here’s an excellent article that explains why), so it’s understandable that our collective opinion is constantly changing. But there are some nutrition myths out there that are leading well-intentioned people down the wrong path and I wish would go away for good:
Myth #1: Eat as little as possible throughout the day so you don’t go over your calorie limit.
This one seems to be common among women. I’m not a registered dietitian or nutritionist, but you don’t have to be to know that eating very little will not do your body any favours. Your body needs enough fuel to work properly. Missing out on that–whether it’s through a “cleanse” or just skipping meals–will mess up your metabolism long-term. This is the exact opposite of what you want.
Myth #2: Eating less fruit is a good idea because it contains sugar, and sugar is bad.
Just…no. This one makes me sad. When health guidelines say to eat less sugar, they don’t mean from whole, natural, real foods like a piece of fruit. It’s added sugar–the stuff they pump into processed products–that we’re consuming too much of. It spikes your blood glucose levels very quickly, leading to health problems like diabetes down the line. Added sugar can be easy to miss if you don’t read the nutrition facts on packaged foods (added sugars aren’t only in sweet-tasting foods).
Fruit contains sugar, yes, but it’s paired with dietary fibre which allows the body to break down the sugars more slowly.
As long as we’re talking actual fruit–an apple, a banana, strawberries, mango–and not fruit-flavoured gummies or fruit juice or something else.
Eating an orange won’t affect your blood sugar levels in the same way that a big glass of OJ would. The bottom line: cutting out actual fruit because it contains sugar does not make sense nutritionally.
Myth #3: Never eat food X ever again because it’s bad for you.
This one is by far the most common myth I hear, and it tends to come up in conversation right after “so, what do you do?” Especially when that conversation happens to be taking place in between bites of chips and dip. Awkward.
If there’s one thing we learned during our elementary school days, it’s that banning something will only make it more alluring (case in point: Pogs!). If you vow to “never” eat a certain food, chances are you’ll start to see it everywhere…in the office lunch room, at a dinner party, on TV.
Do yourself a favour and ditch the strict rules. (Obviously I’m not referring to specific belief systems like veganism or religious dietary practices here. I mean going “cold turkey” on a specific food item because of something you read or heard through the grapevine.)
A fast food meal once in a blue moon won’t kill you. Just be honest with yourself about frequency (a daily drive-thru run is something else entirely). I know, that “everything in moderation” line gets annoying, but it’s the truth.
Myth #4: Gluten-free products are healthier.
Disclaimer: I’m not talking about people who have celiac disease or any other health concern that prevents them from consuming gluten. This is a serious condition and part of the reason why countries including Canada require gluten labelling for packaged foods. Instead, I’m talking about the majority of us who heard that our friend has nixed all gluten from his/her diet and feels amazing and has lost a ton of weight, so it must be healthier, right?
Not really. Gluten is a protein found in grains that we use to make bread products. Its main job is to make dough stretchy, allowing it to rise and form air pockets when the yeast produce gas. If you don’t have a condition that requires you to avoid gluten (talk to your doctor if you’re not sure), then seeking out processed gluten-free products won’t give you any health perks. On the contrary, they’re usually filled with other things (like added sugar – see myth #2) to make them more palatable.
As for any weight loss effects – gluten is found in products that are inherently energy dense (think breads, pastas, baked goods, etc.). So if you’re replacing spaghetti with zucchini “noodles”, for instance, you’re lowering the calorie content of the meal. It’s not the gluten.
Myth #5: As long as you eat clean and focus on whole, unprocessed foods, you can pretty much eat as much as you want.
Sadly, no. Believe me, I’ve tried. Quality is important but so is quantity, and that doesn’t change no matter how nutritious your diet is. Even if you’re eating super clean, you can still gain weight if you’re consuming more energy than your body needs. Everyone’s calorie requirements are different.
Without getting obsessive about it (easier said than done, I know), find out how many calories you need on a daily basis based on your stats (weight, activity level, etc.). A registered dietitian can help with this. Then learn what proper serving sizes look like and get used to serving yourself the right amounts for your needs – not what the person next to you is eating or even what you are served at a restaurant. Don’t stuff yourself, but don’t go hungry either (see myth #1).
There you have it – 5 myths that I wish would go away forever because they prevent good people from making bad diet choices.
So what nutrition advice should we listen to, then? Here are a few basic guidelines that I like to keep in mind:
- Mostly homemade
- Plenty of plants
- Easy on the meat
- Healthy fats
- Herbs and spices
- Smaller portions
- Fewer processed foods
- Less sodium
- Less (added) sugar
And last but not least–you knew it was coming–a little moderation doesn’t hurt, either! See what I did there? :)
And now, some questions for you!
Do you pay attention to nutrition headlines?
How does the media influence your food choices?
What are some health/nutrition myths you’ve heard lately?