The pros say it’s time to stop believing these misconceptions about healthy eating and weight loss.
When it comes to hot-button topics, proper nutrition is near the top of the list. Regularly, Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDN’s) hear clients continuously tell them they’re fed up with hearing conflicting nutrition information and don’t know what to believe. Dietitians are with you on this one! Everyone seems to think they are a nutrition expert these days, which results in widespread nutrition confusion. Here are the top 10 nutrition myths that dietitians cannot stand, and the truths they want you to know.
Myth #1: Superfoods are exotic and expensive.
This myth is a pet peeve for many RDN’s. While most dietitians love learning about nutrient-packed foods from around the world, they want people to know that local, everyday foods are superfoods, too, and are far less expensive! Eating a diet that’s high in processed foods but then adding in some goji berries and spirulina doesn’t mean you have a healthy diet. You’ll save money and be much more robust if you focus on eating more whole foods and “everyday superfoods” like spinach, mushrooms, squash, blueberries, oranges, apples, lentils, whole grains, and nuts. These familiar foods are packed with antioxidants and fiber and won’t blow your budget like that small bag of acai powder will.
When a new exotic superfood comes on the market and becomes super popular, keep in mind that it’s probably just a fad. There will never be one food that’s better than all the others. Remember: Variety is essential when it comes to eating well. Ask yourself if spending money on the superfood of the moment is the best way to enhance your health, or if other parts of your diet could use a tune-up.
Myth #2: Being slim means you’re healthy.
This myth is a tough one to let go of because our society is so focused on body size. Everywhere we look, society seems to tell us that being slender is more desirable. Luckily, this myth is starting to dissolve. “We really have very little control over the size and shape of our bodies, and these things don’t determine our health,” says Kaleigh McMordie, RDN, of Lively Table. Research suggests that overweight people who are active can be healthier and live longer than slimmer people who don’t exercise. We all have different body types, and it’s about time we stopped focusing on size and shifted our focus to developing healthier habits.
Dietitians want to see people choosing foods based on their nutritional benefits, not just thinking about calories. For example, having salmon on a salad is a more nutritious choice than having processed chicken breast strips loaded with artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives.
Myth #3: Vegetarians and vegans don’t get enough protein.
This one has been around for a long time, and plant-based dietitians have had enough. There is no substantial evidence that people must have meat to survive. “A well-balanced plant-based diet with a variety of plant foods is healthful and nourishing to the body,” says Jennifer Rodriguez, RDN, of Food Is Vida. “It can provide all amino acids needed when caloric needs are met for an individual.” As Amy Gorin, RDN, a dietitian in New York City, explains, “You have to plan out your meals and make sure to incorporate good sources of protein. Pulses such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, and dried peas are a good source of protein, offering about 8 grams per ½ cup cooked serving. I like to pair them with sautéed veggies and brown rice or even use them as a pizza topping.”
A well-planned vegetarian or vegan diet may also lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and some types of cancer. However, if you want to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, it’s a great idea to meet with a dietitian to make sure you’re getting all of the nutrients you need.
Myth #4: You should avoid all sugar—even fruit.
Sugar-free diets are all the rage right now, but there’s a difference between sugar found in whole foods such as fruit and vegetables and the refined sugar found in processed foods. Those whole foods naturally come with fiber to help slow down your body’s absorption of their natural sugars. “The 2015 Dietary Guidelines explicitly calls for limiting added sugars, the type of sweeteners found in cookies, cake, candy, and sweet beverages, to 10% of your daily calories or less,” explains Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, of Better Is The New Perfect. “That recommendation doesn’t include naturally sweet foods, which are sources of important vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.”
If you want to cut back on sugar, it makes far more sense to limit added sugars instead of cutting nutrient-packed foods out of your diet. Food companies disguise added sugars under many different names so be cautious when at the grocery. (See Here are 56—yikes!—to recognize.) Clearly, fruit, vegetables, yogurt, and kefir are in a different category than soda and baked goods. The latter are high in added sugars and calories and low in nutrients.
Myth #5: Soy is full of female hormones.
Are you worried that eating soy foods or soy protein will make men grow breasts or increase your cancer risk? The research on soy says these are myths. “What I want people to know is that there is a huge difference between estrogen (the hormone in your body) and phytoestrogen (the much weaker type found in soy),” stresses Nita Sharda, RDN, of Carrots & Cake. “When we review the literature, there is no significant effect on human health when soy is consumed. In fact, eating 2-3 servings of whole soy foods a day can have a protective effect.”
Ginger Hultin, dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, states, “Soy will not cause feminizing effects in men, it is safe and healthy for children to eat, and it does not cause or promote cancer. There is evidence that it is good for bone health and the cardiovascular system and it is a nutritionally dense, protein-rich food source.” It is best to choose whole soy foods like soybeans (edamame) and fermented soy such as tempeh and miso for gut health. These types of soy are the least processed and will be highest in nutrients.
Myth #6: You need to ban carbs to lose weight.
Ok, this one is my pet peeve! This nutrition myth has been around for years, and it drives myself and dietitians like Kristen Smith, RDN, founder of 360FamilyNutrition, nuts. “Don’t be afraid to eat carbohydrate-containing foods, but try to keep the portions in check,” Smith says. “One of the best options for keeping portions of carbohydrates in check is to follow the USDA’s MyPlate method: Fill 1/2 of your plate with fruits and vegetables, 1/4 with whole grains, and 1/4 with a lean protein source.” Christina Fitzgerald, RD, owner of Fitzgerald Nutrition, agrees: “When thinking about nutrition and weight, the bigger picture of overall quality and quantity of food choices is much more important. Eating more than your body needs will cause weight gain, not one nutrient alone.”
Swapping out refined grains like white bread for carbs that provide slow-burning energy, such as steel-cut oats, sweet potatoes, and quinoa is a healthy move, but banning all carbs from your diet is not necessary. At worst, it could lead to more carb cravings, and weight regains once you go off your low-carb plan.
Myth #7: The diet that works for models and celebrities will work for you.
So your favorite celebrity drank nothing but tuna water and asparagus juice and lost 15 pounds in two days. Does that mean you should try the same thing and expect to get the same results? Of course not! Thinking that celebrity diets will work for you is a myth dietitians hate. First of all, consider the source of this extreme diet information. Is it helping to sell magazines or get more page views? As The Plant-Powered Dietitian Sharon Palmer, RDN, says, “You have no idea if the purported diet is really what the celebrity consumes.”
Celebrities are usually chosen based on their good looks and slender body types, which are genetic gifts. Palmer notes, “People have tremendous genetic variability in body type and metabolism, making it very difficult for many people to achieve the magazines’ portrayal of what they consider beauty.” I like to remind myself and my clients that models and other celebrities have tons of help running their lives. That means they’re okay to spend a couple of days not functioning well thanks to a crash diet. You probably don’t have the same luxury, or a full-time doctor at your beck and call when things go wrong. Not to mention the negative impacts on your health and metabolism over time. Get your nutrition and diet advice from people who are experts, not celebrities.
Myth #8: Natural sugar isn’t sugar.
So you’re trying to cut down on added sugars, and you’ve switched out your white sugar for honey, agave, or maple syrup. You may be getting a few antioxidant benefits from the honey or maple syrup, but otherwise, your body similarly metabolizes them and other sugars. Rebecca Clyde, RDN, owner of Nourish Nutrition, has had people tell her they’re following a sugar-free diet, but they still have agave or honey. “Honey, agave, and other types of sugar are not sugar-free, and they are still processed to some degree,” she points out. “They aren’t healthier than cane sugar. Let’s stop villainizing sugar and honoring honey and other sweeteners and just count them all as equal.”
Myth #9: High-fat foods are bad for you.
Think eating fat makes you fat? Research suggests this is a myth. A lower calorie eating plan that includes healthy fats can help people lose more weight than a similar diet that’s low in fat, according to a study in the International Journal of Obesity. That’s because fat helps you enjoy your food more and prevents you from going hungry. Both of these are key to losing weight and keeping it off.
“While fat definitely has more calories per gram than protein and carbs (9 calories per gram versus 4 calories per gram), it’s not the enemy,” assures Natalie Rizzo, RDN, a registered dietitian in New York City. “An observational study suggests that replacing 5% of your total calories from saturated fat with unsaturated fat actually decreases death rates by 27%. In other words, don’t be scared of the healthy fats found in foods like walnuts, olive oil, and avocados.” Include some healthy fats at each meal to help you feel satisfied and stay full longer. Add avocado to smoothies, wraps, oatmeal, and salads along with nuts and seeds. You can also use it in salad dressings combined with extra virgin olive oil.
Myth #10: Mixing carbs with protein and fat is bad for digestion.
The myth that mixing different types of foods is hard on our digestive system has been around for decades. Initially, it was referred to as “food combining,” and it’s now experiencing a resurgence as “the Dissociated Diet.” The idea is that you need to eat protein-rich foods such as eggs at one meal and carbohydrate-rich foods such as toast at another meal, but never together. “This myth makes no scientific sense because once food reaches your stomach, your stomach acid begins breaking down all types of food.,” says Lindsey Pine, RDN, owner of TastyBalance Nutrition. “In fact, it’s beneficial to mix carbs, protein, and fat in the same meal or snack because you’ll get a wide range of nutrients, avoid insulin spikes, and the protein and fat will help with satiety.” Could you imagine never having berries with your yogurt or cheese with crackers ever again? Your digestive system is designed to handle a variety of foods.
Eat what you enjoy and what makes you feel good. Do not base your eating regimen on the latest fad diet!
Create a work of art! Add color to salads with baby carrots, shredded red cabbage, or green beans. Include seasonal veggies for variety throughout the year.
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