Nutrition myths such as these are everywhere, perpetuated by those who do not have nutrition qualifications and those who stand to profit¬ from a diet program or food product. There is so much noise in the nutrition space that it can be difficult to sift through the myths to find the facts.
Nutrition information can be confusing. There is so much information out there, and much of it is flawed, misinterpreted, or flat-out false. Let’s review why nutrition myths exist?
Many writers or bloggers who write about nutrition do not have the relevant educational and professional backgrounds. Like in all sciences, we continually learn more about nutrition as more research is completed. Other nutrition myths persist because of how some people draw on their personal experiences and the experiences of those around them. For example, if me and my friends try a diet and it works for all of us, then our human bias might lead us to believe that this diet works for everyone. We might want to share our experience with everyone an attempt to help other people. While well-intentioned, this is a flawed way of interpreting nutrition science and sharing advice.
Let’s review 5 common nutrition myths!
1. Myth: Eating any carbohydrates cause weight gain.
Fact: No one nutrient, food, or food group causes weight gain.
Weight gain is complex and cannot be attributed to just one food or food group.
When we talk about carbohydrates, it’s important to decipher the kind of carbohydrates and their impact on your weight. Complex carbohydrates, whole grains, fruit, vegetables, beans, and lentils are an essential component to a healthy lifestyle as they offer fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Simple carbohydrates include: candies, baked goods, fruit juices, and syrup. These carbohydrates may have more sugar and be less nutritionally dense. It’s important to remember that all foods fit and that carbohydrates are a key component of our lifestyle as they are the body’s preferred energy source.
Any food – not just carbs – eaten in excess of what your body needs, will result in weight gain. Highly processed carbohydrate foods are prevalent in the Western society. Often these foods are higher in calories with small such a small amount of food that it does not take very much consumed for weight gain to occur. In addition, many of us tend to have a craving for higher carbohydrate, sweet foods which we may over-eat causing further weight gain.
Bottom Line: When it comes to carbohydrates, consider the quality. Choose carbohydrates that offer other the most nutrition per serving including fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Complex carbohydrates with fiber digest and absorb more slowly than simple carbohydrates and are the preferred source.
2. Myth: Gluten free diets are healthier.
Fact: Only some people need to follow a gluten-free diet.
Gluten is a group of proteins found in cereal grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. People who are diagnosed by a doctor with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity should avoid foods with gluten. Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which eating gluten results in damage to the small intestine. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is an intolerance to gluten that results in similar symptoms to celiac disease but is not diagnosed as celiac disease. With both conditions, a gluten-free diet will help manage symptoms.
For a person without these conditions, foods withOUT gluten (gluten free) can be part of an overall healthy diet. For those that do not have these conditions, they do not need to consume a gluten free diet which tends to be higher in calories and lower in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Bottom Line: You don’t need to follow a gluten free diet if you do not have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
3. Myth: Alkaline water is better than regular water.
Fact: Drinking plain water is appropriate.
Recently, alkaline water has become all the rage touting health benefits including weight loss, increased energy, immune support, and anti-aging benefits. What is alkaline water? Alkaline water is referring to the pH level of the water. Most water has a pH of 7, alkaline water has a pH that is higher. Our bodies like to maintain a neutral pH, closer to that of normal water, and does an amazing job of maintaining its preferred ph.
The studies done so far have been relatively small. As such, there is not enough evidence to support health claims about alkaline water. Because of this, the worry is that alkaline water benefits can be used as a marketing ploy used to sell more products at a higher cost, without enough evidence to support the claims. The United States FDA has yet to support any of the health claims made about alkaline water. Although thought largely to be safe, alkaline water can contain contaminants or less minerals than regular water.
Bottom line: Regular water is sufficient for most people. No evidence to support claims made about alkaline water.
4. Myth: I can’t eat after 7 pm (or another time after dinner)
Fact: There is no magical time at night to stop eating
Nothing magically happens to food making it less caloric at a specific time at nights. It’s more about the overall calorie intake throughout the day and NOT the timing of the calories that matters.
However, research supports those who work night hours, have a greater incidence of obesity. Nighttime eating may be more attributed to habit, stress, cravings, and mindless eating and not at all related to true hunger. Nighttime eating can make it difficult to pay attention to hunger and satiety cues.
Some people choose to stop eating at a certain time each evening due to intentional fasting. Intermittent fasting has gained popularity in recent years as an eating pattern that vacillates between periods of eating and periods of fasting. Common plans are to eat for 8 hours, fast for 16 hours or to eat for 12 hours and fast for 12 hours. Fasting has been around for many years and is often done for religious reasons. Fasting is not for everyone, especially those with diabetes, underweight, have history of disordered eating, low blood pressure, or are pregnant or breast feeding.
Bottom Line: No matter the time, if you are truly hungry – eat.
5. Myth: Juicing or cleansing is required to “detox” your body.
Fact: Our body has natural mechanisms through which to detox and does not need to be cleansed.
Often juices or cleanses claim to aid weight loss, improve skin health, and detox the body by removing toxins. However, our body is efficient at detoxing itself.
We do not need specific foods, drinks, or diets to detox because our body does that through our kidneys, liver, lungs, skin, and GI tract. It’s unclear if cleansing or juicing actually detoxes the body of the toxins we are trying to get rid of. Some people like juice cleanses as it helps eliminates foods that may be bothering them or helps jump start an important health change they want to make. Juicing and cleanses are not mean to be a long-term plan given they are low in calories and protein. Please talk to your doctor or nutrition professional before taking supplements or following a low-calorie restrictive diet.
Bottom Line: Cleanses and juices can be used for the short term. However, the best way to promote overall health is a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, and lean protein. This way of eating can include other foods too but eaten in smaller amounts less often.
What deciphering nutrition information what “red flags” should I look for?
The internet and social media are filled with potential land mines of misleading nutrition information. Keep an eye out for these red flags:
• Read “.com” sources with a critical eye. While some may provide credible nutrition information, “.com” indicates a commercial domain, so they intend to make a profit.
• Be wary of a source that does not list an author or a reviewer, or either person does not have listed credentials relevant to the field.
• Assess whether the website or social media page sells products, including both food and supplements. Companies that sell products may be pushing their own agenda in conjunction with offering nutrition information.
• Evaluate websites and social media for marketing gimmicks. Gimmicks may include weight loss guarantees, celebrity spokespeople, extremely restrictive diets, exaggerated claims, and greenwashing.
• Listen to friends and family but do your own research. Although friends and family mean well, they may be perpetuating myths by sharing information that’s specific to their personal history or experiences.
How can I find credible nutrition information?
Credible nutrition information can seem hard to find amidst other information sources. Utilize these strategies to find information that you can count on:
• Seek out .org, .edu, and .gov sources. Read articles critically. If the information sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
• Look for pieces written by authors and/or reviewers with relevant credentials. Check the date published and peruse the source list.
• Do your own research. Rather than taking what someone else says at face value, read about the topic yourself, seeking several high-quality sources.
• Consider the body of evidence, rather than a single scientific study, to inform thoughts and opinions.
• Follow dietitian bloggers and social media accounts by looking for “RD” and “RDN” after their names or other credentialed professional.
• Be open to new ideas. Like all fields, nutrition evolves. We continually learn from research studies and deepen our knowledge of nutrition science.
It is difficult to sort nutrition facts from fiction. What we choose to eat is complex. Factors that affect what we eat include our tastes and preferences, our family’s tastes and preferences, cultural traditions, budgets, values, accessibility, convenience, time, social pressures, and yes, nutrition myths. There is no one way of eating that works for everyone because we are navigating all of these factors when we choose what to eat. Research the information and don’t just take what you read at face value. Also remember that what may be touted as a nutrition myth in one culture may be used frequently and considered a fact in another. Nutrition information is always changing based on newer research and so what may be a myth today may prove to be a fact in the future, further complicating the big picture. For now, keep an open mind but maintain a healthy dose of skepticism.
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