The everchanging, ever-developing nature of science can make it challenging to keep up with the latest nutritional evidence. You can add to that the role of media and social media in fuelling misleading nutrition messages, making it even more confusing. So, what’s truth and what’s just a big load of hooey when it comes to nutrition?
Here are 8 common nutrition myths we’ve busted!
1. Carbs make you fat
BUSTED: Carbohydrates have received such a bad rap over the years. Some carbohydrates will certainly influence your weight (see myth #3), but that doesn’t mean we need to condemn this food group as a whole. Good carbs—wholegrains breads, cereals, crackers, fruit, legumes and wholegrains like brown rice, barley and quinoa, actually play an important role in weight loss! They are filling, low GI carbs that also add good amounts of fibre to your diet to prevent overeating throughout the day.
As dietitians, we see thisprobem all the time. The carb cutters are usually also those with an inevitable “sugar addiction”. It’s your body’s way of saying, Please feed me carbs.
2. You need to detox your body
BUSTED: Your body has its own elegantly designed system for ridding itself of toxins, otherwise known as our liver, kidney and spleen. January is a common time of year when detoxing sounds like a fantastic way to ‘undo’ all our festive indulgences. However, there’s no evidence showing detox diets to be effective.
So, rather than dragging out the juicer, focus on eating a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep, drinking plenty of water and returning to regular exercise—and leave the detoxing to your body!
3. I need to cut all sugar from my diet to be healthy
BUSTED: Sugar comes in many forms, so cutting all sugar is absurd. Sugar breaks down to glucose in our body to provide a fuel source for energy. The quality of this energy is dependent on the quality of the sugar you eat.
For example, there’s a big difference between the refined sugar you add to your coffee or tea and the natural sugar in fruit. This difference is in the degree of processing and the availability of other nutrients such as fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Stick to a rule of sugar being accompanied by as many other nutrients as possible. Cut out refined sugar only!
4. Eating any fast food/ takeaway food makes you unhealthy
BUSTED: If you’re a black-and-white thinker, this one will make a lot of sense to you. Often when you’re in the zone or “on the wagon” of healthy eating everything is great. But as soon as something slips in unexpectedly, or you have a weak moment and give into temptation, that’s when the guilt rises.
But one slip does not an unhealthy person make. Health is holistic and all about balance. Don’t deprive yourself and sacrifice your mental or emotional health. Allow yourself “fun” foods . . . in moderation.
5. Snacking is bad
BUSTED: Snacking isn’t any more or less important than other parts of your diet or lifestyle. We don’t have a clear definition of what constitutes a snack because one person’s snack could be a meal for someone else. While snacking regularly can be a good way to control appetite and stop overeating, if those “snacks” turn into meal-size portions, then they’re likely to increase your calorie intake for the day and increase your waistline.
The key to good snacking is to choose good quality snacks that will fill you up, such as a handful of nuts, tin of tuna, tub of Greek yoghurt or a small bowl of popcorn.
6. Eating a gluten-free diet is healthier
BUSTED: Unless you have a legitimate reason to avoid gluten, such as coeliac disease or a gluten intolerance, its best that you don’t go gluten-free. The reason? Gluten-free products are more processed and often lack dietary fibre when compared to their wheat-containing counterpart.
Gluten itself is not unhealthy for you. It’s a protein in wheat, barley and rye. For people with an intolerance or coeliac disease, eating it can cause symptoms in the gut and skin. But for the rest of us, it has no effect.
7. Low fat = healthy
BUSTED: Contrary to popular belief, low fat is not always the healthiest choice. Certainly some fats (saturated and trans fats) have been proven to be damaging to our health. But our bodies need and use unsaturated fats.
In fact, one of the healthiest dietary patterns in the research is the Mediterranean diet, which is a high-fat diet consisting of a daily serve of extra virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds.
One of the largest and longest running clinical trials in the world called PREDIMED found that adhering to a Mediterranean style diet higher in healthy fats is associated with a 30% reduction in the risk of: heart disease (primarily due to decrease risk of stroke); type 2 diabetes; and peripheral artery disease.
8. If I exercise, I should drink a protein shake or use protein supplements
BUSTED: It’s true that if you’re exercising you need protein. Your muscles need protein to grow and repair and if you’re undertaking exercise—particularly anything of high intensity. However, your body can only metabolise a certain amount of protein at a time, so overloading on protein shakes is completely pointless.
What’s more important to think about is the timing of protein around your exercise. Aim to consume protein shortly after exercise (within an hour after a workout) to enhance muscle repair and build.
Most of us consume enough protein through our diet, so instead of going for highly processed supplements/shakes, look for protein through natural wholefoods such as lean meat/chicken, eggs, fish, legumes, tofu, dairy and alternatives or nuts/seeds.
Adapted, with permission, from Sue Radd’s Nutrition & Wellbeing Clinic e-newsletter. Click here to subscribe.
Sue Radd is an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian and one of Australia’s leading nutritionists and health communicators. Her most recent book Food as Medicine: Eating for Your Best Health received the Gourmand World Cookbook Award for Best Health and Nutrition Book in the world for 2016.