Dietitians debunk pervasive nutrition myths

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Nutrition serves as the cornerstone for optimal well-being. The landscape is cluttered with numerous myths and misinformation regarding nutrition. Dietitians help break down myths and spit facts to demystify nutrition.

Assorted healthy foods debunking nutrition myths, including vegetables, lean meats, nuts, and grains arranged on a table.
Dietitians are dishing out what’s fact and what’s fiction in the world of nutrition. Photo credit: Depositphotos.

It’s easy for one to get confused and caught up with the latest craze or fad diet, especially when it’s being plastered all over TV, social media and magazines at checkout aisles.

The body needs water, fats, protein and glucose to perform bodily functions, but some of these sources play a more important role than others. Protein from animal sources is not the same as protein from plant-based sources. Fats from animals are not the same as those from olives, seeds or coconuts, so it’s easy to understand why nutrition is so confusing. 

Myth: Fat makes you gain weight

Eating fat will not make you gain weight alone. Instead, increased body fat happens when your body hits a caloric surplus. This can be caused by eating more calories than your body needs to maintain its weight or hormonal imbalances when your body produces too much or too little of hormones like insulin, leptin, insulin-like growth factors, estrogen and adipokines.

In fact, healthy fats from high-quality animal products such as eggs, butter, fatty fish and grass-fed fatty cuts of meat are great sources of essential nutrients. Some of these nutrients include fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, along with omega-3 fatty acids.

It’s long been believed that you should limit saturated fats. Yet, a study from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology shows no beneficial effects of reducing saturated fat intake on cardiovascular disease and total mortality. Instead, they found protective effects against stroke. Saturated fat intake does increase low-density lipoproteins, or LDL, a type of cholesterol found in most individuals, but it’s the size of these particles that matters. Saturated fats tend to increase larger LDL particles and not the small, dense LDL particles that are related to cardiovascular disease risk. 

Most doctors only order total LDL cholesterol labs and not LDL particle sizes, so if you’re curious as to what yours are, ask your doctor to add them, or you can order them yourselves from private laboratories.

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Myth: Skipping a meal helps with weight loss

You may think skipping meals is the same thing as fasting or intermittent fasting. It’s not. Some people might skip meals and instead have a coffee or tea, which may blunt their appetite for a little bit. Tea and coffee, whether or not they have sweeteners or fats added, will break a fast. Typically, when one is fasting, they would only consume water or nothing at all, especially if they are fasting for labs or procedures. 

Fasting, on the other hand, is when you don’t consume any food or nutrients for a period of time. You may see it called intermittent fasting or water fasting. Typical fasting is a 16-hour period during which you do not eat or drink anything other than water, followed by an eight-hour period where eating and drinking is allowed. 

A study from the Annual Review of Nutrition showed that “intermittent fasting is a safe diet therapy that can produce clinically significant weight loss in individuals with overweight or obesity. These regimens may also improve some aspects of cardiometabolic health such as blood pressure, insulin resistance and markers of oxidative stress.”

Fad diets

Every year, there tend to be a few new fad diets that celebrities endorse, boasting claims of weight loss, gut health, anti-aging and the list goes on. Some come back strong every few years, and others are brand new.

“With the new year, people may try the Whole 30 plan to detox their bodies or lose weight after the holidays,” states Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD Founder of Sound Bites Nutrition. “Your liver, kidney, and lungs detoxify your body through metabolism, urination, laxation and respiration. As long as these organs are functioning, your body does this work for you.”

Andrews reports, “The diet limits just about everything, including alcohol, caffeine, dairy products, sugar, honey, artificial sweeteners, beans, processed food, bread, pasta, rice and other carbs. My clients that have tried it admit that it’s very difficult to follow and they typically end up reverting to old habits if they even make it to 30 days.”

If you haven’t heard of the Sirtfood diet, that’s okay. Sharon McCaskill, MA, RDN founder of The Helpful GF states, “The Sirtfood Diet promotes foods rich in sirtuin-activating compounds such as kale, red wine, dark chocolate and other plant-based options believed to activate proteins associated with metabolism and longevity. While many of the foods recommended on this diet are nutritious choices on their own, this fad diet is highly restrictive and unsustainable due to its extreme calorie restriction, potential nutrient deficiencies, and the challenge of maintaining such dietary constraints over an extended period.”

Myth: Non-caloric sweeteners won’t spike your blood sugar or cause weight gain

Ali Miller RD, LD, CDE Functional Medicine dietitian and author of “The Anti-Anxiety Diet” mentions why savory foods can be a better alternative when stating, “Channel savory when it comes to optimal eating for wellness. Keep low glycemic with whole food choices, and don’t mess with your tastebuds. Even consuming natural non-caloric sweeteners like monk fruit, stevia and erythritol can stimulate a response in receptors on our tongue and pancreas, driving a release of insulin. This is concerning as insulin release without glucose can drive blood sugar crashes and, over time, can drive insulin resistance, which pairs with an increased risk for obesity and diabetes. Also, several large-scale studies have shown individuals that drink diet beverages to be associated with weight gain, not loss.” 

Myth: Avoid all processed foods

When it comes to choosing the types of foods one consumes, the least processed foods typically tend to be better. “The majority of foods are processed to some degree through the manufacturing process. Yes, there is some truth to limiting foods high in salt and sugar that are typically added in processed foods to preserve them, but it doesn’t hurt to eat some processed foods if that is the convenient way of getting your nutrition in,” states Patricia Kolesa MS, RDN owner of Dietitian Dish LLC.  

Kolesa continues by saying, “One example of this is beans. Beans are a great source of many nutrients in the diet being high in fiber, magnesium, iron and protein. Beans come both canned and dried, but sometimes people can’t wait for the dry beans to soak 24 hours and it’s easier to use canned beans in recipes.”

In a world inundated with nutrition myths and fad diets, it’s hard to know what’s fact and what’s fiction. It’s essential to turn to evidence-based information from qualified professionals like dietitians to help you navigate the misinformation, which can often lead to confusion about what constitutes a healthy diet. 

Lara is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Personal Trainer. She is also a recipe developer, photographer and runs the food and travel blog Lara Clevenger. She shares easy recipes that are mostly low-carb, along with travel adventures. 

Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The contents of this article are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice. The content presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or dietary changes. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk.

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