March is National Nutrition Month!
And as a Registered Dietitian I have a lot of clients who ask me a lot of questions about myths vs truths that they hear and want me to dispel.
Truthfully, most of the bs I hear out on the street about nutrition (and even in the press) is often fake. So for this week, I thought about many of the nutrition myths I usually am asked about and here they are.
Hint: they’re all false – and we have an explanation for all of them!
15 Common Nutrition Myths (debunked!):
1. Everyone should be low carb. While being low-carb is very trendy and you’re guaranteed to see it advertised nearly everywhere you look, this is not a diet to automatically jump on the bandwagon with. Carbohydrates are an essential source of fiber and many vitamins and minerals, and are the body’s preferred energy source. Therefore, overly limiting carbs may compromise nutrient intake and lead to overconsuming protein and/or fat. While some people and health conditions can benefit from limiting carb intake, it’s not a “one-size-fits all” diet for these reasons.
2. Fat should be limited (even the healthy kind). The “low-fat” craze of the 80’s and 90’s has thankfully fizzled out, yet many people still tend to fear fat. This is unfortunate, though, because fat is not to be feared! And as long as you’re eating the right types (focusing mostly on mono and polyunsaturated fats), it will NOT lead to weight gain. Fat helps the body absorb certain nutrients and is crucial for hormone production. Fat also leads to satiety and can help balance blood sugar levels. We recommend including a healthy source of fat with every meal.
3. Dietary cholesterol will raise blood cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease (or worsen already present heart conditions). While this was also previously believed to be true, it has since been debunked in the past decade, and the latest version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans of 2015-2020 even removed the old recommendation to limit dietary cholesterol to 300mg/day, stating that adequate evidence was not available. In fact, only about 20% of the cholesterol in your blood stream comes from the foods you eat, with the remaining 80% coming from the body alone. There are other dietary factors, such as consuming a lot of sugar and/or animal based saturated fat that play a much larger role in blood cholesterol levels. So please, don’t fear the eggs, meat, or fish.
4. We can get all the nutrition we need from food. In a perfect world, this would be true. Yet sadly there are many reasons why it is nearly impossible to get ALL of the quality nutrients you need through food alone, even with a balanced & healthy diet. A 2004 study that evaluated the nutrient content of 43 USDA garden crops showed that there was a noticeable decline in the protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin and vitamin C content of crops between the years 1950 compared to 1999, which is thought to be caused by things such as mass production, changes in soil, and use of fertilizers and pesticides. This is one reason why strategic supplementation can be so important and beneficial for health. Reach out with questions or concerns about your unique needs.
5. Everyone should follow a low salt diet. Many people in the medical field like to place a blanket recommendation for restricting salt in the diet, yet the truth is that not everyone needs to limit salt. High quality salt (like raw sea salt or pink Himalayan salt) is a source of minerals and the sodium it contains is an electrolyte that is important for hydration status and many other things. Table salt is also fortified with iodine, which is another mineral our bodies need. Some people are more salt-sensitive than others, and there are definitely some reasons and health conditions that warrant limiting salt intake, but there is no standard amount of salt that people need to limit to. As with most things with health, salt needs are individualized.
6. When it comes to food, fresh is always best. It seems like this would always be true, but the caveat is that it’s not always. Yes, fresh foods are always preferred over highly processed foods, but when it comes to fresh versus frozen produce, frozen can be a winner. This is because frozen produce is often picked at its peak ripeness and frozen right away, which preserves nutrients. Fresh produce, on the other hand, can lose nutritional value through shipping and sitting on the shelf (or in your kitchen) for too long.
7. Following diet trends in the media is an effective way to lose weight or improve your health. Hopefully this one doesn’t come as too much of a surprise, but diet trends are just that–trends! They are not individualized and should not be followed by everyone. They can often be overly restrictive and unsustainable, which doesn’t lead to real progress. Working with a trusted healthcare professional (like a dietitian, hint hint) is the best way to come up with a plan for weight and health management, since they will be able to determine your unique needs, lifestyle, and preferences, and come up with a plan that is suitable and realistic for you as an individual.
8. Eating late at night will cause you to gain weight. This is another common fear belief that many people have, but it’s mostly unwarranted. There is nothing drastically different that happens to your metabolism when you eat at night versus earlier in the day, so just the fact of eating at 9pm will not lead to weight gain. The caveat is that a majority of your calories should not be consumed in the evening, because your body is less active during this time and there is less time for the body to use the fuel optimally, so more of it may be stored as fat. In addition, eating late at night may disrupt sleep. So don’t fear eating a nighttime snack, but try not to over consume late in the evening.
9. Everyone needs a protein shake or smoothie after working out to build or maintain muscle.You can get protein from multiple food sources, not just protein shakes! While it is true that liquids are more rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream than solid food which can help with muscle building, it is still acceptable and appropriate to get your protein in from solid food after a workout (ideally within about an hour). No protein powders are required.
10. There are some food groups that everyone should avoid. Depending on your health condition, there may or may not be a food group that would be best for you to avoid. But there are no food groups that everyone should avoid, because this is very much based on individual needs.
11. Eating soy will cause hormone imbalances. Soy gets a bad reputation, but there is no solid evidence that soy leads to hormone imbalances (or cancer, or much of the other things it is often blamed for). Because soy is a highly GMO crop, though, we recommend choosing organic soy products whenever possible, such as from tofu, edamame, tempeh, and miso.
12. Eating small, frequent meals is always best for the metabolism & overall health. It’s often said that small, frequent meals is best for metabolism, and this definitely can be true for many people. Yet there are some reasons why less frequent eating may be beneficial for other people, such as those with digestive issues. There are benefits of giving the body a longer break between eating, so this is another instance where working with a trusted healthcare practitioner is best to help determine your needs.
13. “Superfoods” are limited to things that are exotic and expensive. Many people think they have to shop at specialty grocery stores or pay a crazy amount to eat “superfoods”, but the truth is that there are many more of them than you think! The term “superfood” is subjective, and even foods like almonds, chia seeds, and berries (which can be found at any grocery store and don’t have to be expensive) have an impressive nutritional profile and can be considered “superfood”.
14. Weight is directly correlated to health (ie: being overweight means you are less healthy and being thin equals better health). This belief has unfortunately led to a LOT of weight stigma in our culture. While there are correlations between weight and various risks or outcomes of health conditions, it’s not a direct cause-and-effect. There are many overweight people who are very healthy, just as there are many thin people who have poor health. Weight is not the only factor in health!
15. All sugar should be limited (even the natural kind). Like fat and carbohydrates, not all sugar is of equal nutritional value. Natural sugars, such as those found in fruits, dairy, honey, maple syrup, and others, are accompanied by many other important nutrients which can be beneficial to health. White table sugar in a pastry, though, has much less nutritional value. There is no reason to limit fruit intake for most people, but of course it should always be consumed along with a balanced diet that has plenty of protein and healthy fats as well.