There are plenty of diet myths that float around the media, significantly coloring what we think it means to eat a healthy diet. These misconceptions often cause foods to be labeled as “good” or “bad,” and allow rules to be created on when and what you should eat. Many of these widely-held notions aren’t just false, but may also be sabotaging your healthy eating efforts. What do the medical professionals and the science really have to say about some of the beliefs we have around food? After delving into the research, we found the truth. These are 8 common diet and nutrition myths that you need to stop believing.
Eating at night will make you gain weight.
You may have heard that you shouldn’t eat past 8pm because it will make you gain weight. However, total calories consumed matters much more than timing. What ultimately determines weight gain is the balance between total calories consumed and total physical activity throughout the day. While some research shows that late night eating has been associated with weight gain, the studies show that this is correlated with late night snacking, which often results in the consumption of additional calories. However, weight gain is not shown in populations that distribute their caloric intake throughout the day and eat small, nutrient-dense snacks or meals before bed. In fact, eating a small single macronutrient or nutrient dense snack (~150-200 calories) before bed can benefit your physiological and metabolic health, and can help you sleep better.
Eggs are bad for your heart because they raise your cholesterol levels.
Have you ever heard that you should cut down on eggs because the yolks are high in cholesterol? Well, that advice isn’t based on science. A previously widely held (and totally false!) belief is that dietary cholesterol raises your blood cholesterol levels, but cholesterol found in food actually has little to no effect on raising your LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol).
What does contribute to increased blood LDL cholesterol are trans fats: unsaturated fats that do not commonly occur in nature. These fats are created through a process called hydrogenation, where hydrogen atoms are added to the carbon chain to makes oils solid at room temperature. They are found in processed and fried foods and are highly inflammatory, so avoiding these fats can help you maintain lower levels of blood cholesterol and improve your heart health.
Juice fasts cleanse toxins from your body.
Don’t buy into the marketing that bottled juice cleanse is going to detoxify your body. Guess what? You have your own detoxifiers ALREADY in your body, and they’re called your liver and kidneys. In fact, many juice fasts can be counterproductive to your health goals. Because they have high concentrations of sugar and little to no protein and fiber, juice fasts result in unstable blood sugar and energy levels.
Ultimately, there is no scientific evidence that a juice is able to leech and flush toxins out of your system. Any healthy food helps your liver and kidneys do their detoxifying work. Unless you’ve been poisoned you don’t need to go to any crazy lengths to get toxins out of your body; just eat well and balanced, nourish your body, remain active, and your organs will do their job.
Gluten-free diets are healthier than those that aren’t.
The media has had its heyday with the health benefits of gluten-free diets, and the notion that wheat is bad for you is a highly prevalent idea in the health and wellness literature. While gluten-free diets are absolutely necessary for those with celiac disease, they can also be helpful for those that may have an intolerance or sensitivity to gluten. From a strictly nutritional standpoint, however, a gluten-free diet is not always healthier than one with wheat. Many gluten-free products are higher in sugar and use refined flours from white potato and corn. Regardless of whether you’re gluten-free or not, aim for more complex carbs (i.e. whole wheat, bulgur, barley, quinoa, and rolled oats) over those that are processed or bleached. Ultimately, if you’re not sensitive to gluten, a gluten-free product is not necessarily healthier than the wheat version. Remember to read your ingredients, and choose a gluten-free diet according to your digestive needs.
Opt for low fat or non-fat dairy over full-fat, because the saturated fat content in the dairy raises your risk for heart disease.
We can’t reiterate this point enough: fat does not make you fat. Thankfully, this was a myth that was officially busted after the unfortunate low-fat craze of the ‘90s. And yes, this busted myth applies to dairy fat as well. Emerging research indicates that choosing full-fat dairy has no relationship with heart disease, and that opting full-fat over low or non-fat dairy is also correlated with lower obesity rates! Because fat is filling and satiating, those that choose full-fat dairy may actually end up eating fewer calories throughout the day. So don’t fear the fat; eating satisfying, full-fat dairy as a part of a diet full of fruits and veggies, lean protein, and whole foods can be an important part of a heart-healthy diet.
All calories are created equal.
We’re sure you’ve heard that “a calorie is just a calorie.” 100 calories of a banana and 100 calories of a cookie do the exact same things to your weight, right? Absolutely not, especially when it comes to the bigger picture of your health. At the end of the day, our bodies are not calculators, merely calculating input and output.
A vast extent of nutrition research demonstrates that specific foods and macronutrients have vastly different effects on hormones, eating patterns, and hunger. For example, protein requires more energy to metabolize than the other nutrients. Specific foods also boost metabolism, affecting the rate at which calories are burned. This can make options equal in calories cause the body to burn different amounts of calories during digestion. The bottom line is that if you are trying to manage your weight, changing your food choices may be a much more effective option than merely restricting calories.
You should opt for fat-free dressings to slash calories for a healthier salad.
Salads are both a healthy and low-calorie way to get your veggies and nutrients, so you should choose a low-fat salad dressing to keep the calories low! Um, not so fast. When you opt for fat-free dressings, you’ll be skipping out on absorbing key vitamins in your salads. Many of the most important vitamins in greens that you need for optimum health, such as vitamin K and vitamin A, are fat soluble, which means your body can’t absorb them without fat.
While this doesn’t mean it’s necessarily healthy to douse your greens in cheese or creamy filled dressing, you should add some heart-healthy, unsaturated fats in the form of a dressing made with olive or avocado oil. Don’t be afraid to add some avocado, nuts, seeds, and other forms of yummy and nutritious add-ins as well. According to a study published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, monounsaturated fat-rich dressings required the least amount of fat to get the most carotenoid absorption, while saturated fat and polyunsaturated fat dressings required higher amounts of fat to get the same benefit. Not only will you be absorbing more nutrients by adding heart-healthy foods in your salad, but the added fat will keep you satisfied for longer, making you less likely to overindulge later on less healthy foods.
Sugar makes kids hyper.
This myth is so ingrained in what we think it seems that it must be impossible that this isn’t true. However, science doesn’t support the link between sugar and hyperactivity. In a double-blind study (a type of study where neither the subjects nor the experimenters know who is in what trial group, in order avoid bias) one group of kids was offered an option with sugar, and one group an option that was sugar-free. No difference between hyperactivity in either group of kids was shown. However, studies have demonstrated that it all may be psychological; believing their child has consumed sugar changed the expectations the parents had for their child’s energy levels.
The big takeaway: question what you read! Nutrition claims and can be murky, so it’s always a great idea to delve into the science that backs up any nutrition claims you see. At the end of the day, there is no one right way of eating for anyone. When in doubt check in with a registered dietician, empirical scientific research, or even with one of our doctors, they’ll be sure to answer any questions you have about how to make the right dietary choices for you.
Author: Maggie Harriman