11 Nutritionists Debunk Popular Health Myths
How many of these have you believed?
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You Can Stop Believing These Myths Now
There is so much misinformation swirling in the world of nutrition, it can be difficult to know what’s true and what’s fake news. So we asked Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) armed with the latest research to set the record straight on the most common dietary myths.
Myth #1: Only Eat Fruit in the Morning
"There is no doubt that a variety of fruit can be refreshing, delicious and nutritious. But for some people when taken alone, fruit can spike blood sugar levels with a surge of sweetness, albeit natural," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of Better Than Dieting and author of Read it Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table. Taub-Dix explains that this is especially true at breakfast time when "it’s best to combine the carbs in fruit along with protein and/or fat to help provide long-lasting energy while keeping blood sugar levels balanced." She recommends combining a banana with some crunchy almond butter or adding chopped mango to cottage cheese.
Myth #2: Snacking Revs Up Your Metabolism
"While it is true that every time you eat your metabolic rate bumps up slightly as it digests, absorbs and assimilates nutrients, it is not true that eating frequently boosts your 24-hour metabolic rate," explains Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, CHWC, FAND, author of Prediabetes: A Complete Guide. "That bump in metabolic rate, called the thermic effect of food, is related to what you eat. It is not related to how often you eat," Weisenberger clarifies. In other words, if you ate the exact same food amounting to 1600 calories in 3 meals or in 3 meals and 3 snacks, the thermic effect of food will be the same at the end of the day. Your 24-hour metabolic rate will be the same. "Researchers have looked for the ideal eating frequency for weight loss, and no one has found it yet," claims Weisenberger. Instead of letting some out-of-date diet myth dictate how often you eat in a day, she recommends letting hunger guide you. And when you do snack, pick foods that fill in nutritional gaps. You’ll rarely go wrong with fruits and vegetables.
Myth #3: Coconut Oil Can Melt Your Fat Away
"First off, it’s important to know that fat can’t melt. Fat cells simply shrink in size" explains Manuel Villacorta, MS, RD author of Flat Belly 365. Villacorta adds that the research behind coconut oil is flawed. The claim is that coconut oil medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) have a fat-burning effect on the body. While there is some research that suggests that MCTs could help with fat loss, the amount of MCTs in coconut oil is too small in reasonable portions to have the same effect. One tablespoon of coconut oil has 120 calories and, at the end of the day, calories matter.
Myth #4: Eating Carbs at Night Results in Weight Gain
Many claim that if you eat grains or other carbs such as fruit or starchy vegetables at night, your body cannot process them and they will be stored as fat. However, "the body is quite efficient at digesting and metabolizing carbohydrate-containing foods at any hour of the day," explains Leslie Bonci, MPH, RDN, CSSD, LDN, owner of Active Eating Advice. Bonci further says that limiting carbs may mean you don't have enough energy to get through the day. Plus, the fiber in high-carb foods such as fruits and vegetables can help to fill you up during the day, and fiber in grains contributes to satiety as well as flavor and texture.
Myth #5: Only Shop the Perimeter of the Grocery Store
"My goodness the bakery department is located in the perimeter of the store, and clearly Americans don't need to add more desserts in their diets," says Dr. Joan Salge Blake, EdD, RDN, Author of Nutrition and You, and Clinical Associate Professor, Boston University. "More importantly, you are missing all of the good stuff in the middle of store such as whole grain breads and cereals, heart-healthy beans and other legumes, and frozen fruit and veggies," Salge Blake explains. She recommends shopping throughout the entire store, aisles and all, for a healthy, balanced diet.
Myth #6: One Food or Food Group Causes You to Lose (or Gain) Weight
"While opinions run wild in the media, the truth is that there’s no one food that makes you gain weight, and there’s no one food that helps you lose weight," states Amy Goodson, RD and nutrition communications consultant in Dallas, TX. Goodson explains that reaching and maintaining a healthy weight requires a balance of carbs, protein, fats, veggies and fruit, and eating appropriate portions. To think that one food changes everything for every person is silly and shows a lack of knowledge in science and metabolism.
Myth #7: A Vegetarian Diet is Healthier Than One That Includes Meat
"When you think of any diet, you have to think of moderation and balance: fruits and vegetables, protein, starch, dairy or soy milk," says Jonathan Valdez, owner of Genki Nutrition and media representative for New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Valdez explains that "too many times I have found vegetarians or vegans clients lacking many nutrients including iron, zinc, vitamin D, calcium, protein, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fats. The same is true for meat-eating clients who were missing out on the fabulous vitamins and minerals found in fruits and vegetables. But I have also seen both done healthfully, where clients are eating a well-balanced diet whether they include meat or not."
Myth #8: Skipping a Meal Will Help You Burn Fat Stores
"Many people rationalize skipping a meal in their busy days by thinking they have plenty of body fat to burn for energy," says Jenna Braddock, MSH, RDN, CSSD, LD/N, sports dietitian, blogger at Make Healthy Easy and Founder of Off-Season Athlete. Braddock explains that while research is beginning to suggest some efficacy for planned fasting, simply skipping a meal in your day does not guarantee your body will immediately go into fat-burning mode. Interestingly, it is the contrary: your metabolism may actually slow down and preserve some fat stores. Skipping a meal can also compromise your energy, which can negatively impact your productivity, mood and overall quality of your day. If you're planning to exercise later in the day, skipping a meal could also make it difficult to get the most benefit. Braddock recommends that on days when you need energy to perform at work, home or anywhere, strategically eat throughout the day for the highest-quality energy, contributing to you being your best.
Myth #9: Avoid Fruit Because it Has Sugar
"Comparing the sugar in a banana to the sugar in candy is ridiculous," exclaims Michelle Dudash, RDN, author of Clean Eating for Busy Families. "Fruit contains the naturally-occurring sugars which the brain uses to function," explains Dudash. She says that you get much less sugar from a piece of fruit compared to that in candy and soda. For example, one small banana (100 g) contains 12 grams sugar, while 100 grams of milk chocolate candies contain five times that amount (63 grams sugar). Even a standard (48 grams) package of candy contains 30 grams sugar and without the slew of beneficial vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients found in fruit.
Myth #10: Sugar Causes Diabetes
"While sugar can cause cavities and contribute extra calories in the diet, it does not cause diabetes," says Melissa Joy Dobbins, MS, RDN, CDE dietitian and certified diabetes educator, The Guilt-Free RD and Sound Bites. Dobbins explains that when we eat sugar, our body responds by releasing insulin to help the body metabolize the carbohydrate. If the body does not need the sugar for energy, it gets converted to fat for storage. If a person has diabetes or pre-diabetes, this metabolic process may result in a high blood sugar, but in absence of these conditions, the blood sugar levels remain normal.
Myth #11: Juicing is a Good Way to Lose Weight
"Please, please don’t follow this advice!" begs Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area. She explains that drinking a juice-only diet is going to create many problems for you. For one, the diet provides you with mostly carbohydrates and leaves you lacking in protein and fat. Your body needs these nutrients to both function optimally and to feel full. A just-juice diet also likely provides much less calories than you need for the day, and it would be hard to have the energy to exercise. Gorin says that if you’re trying to lose weight, instead focus on eating a balanced, healthy diet with plenty of fruit and veggies, protein such as eggs and chicken breast, whole grains like oats and quinoa, and healthy fats like olives and avocado. Cut calories by limiting the foods your body doesn’t need, like alcohol and candy.