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Dispelling Nutrition Myths: Separating Fact From Fiction

As a nutritionist, I am regularly asked about conflicting nutrition and diet advice in the media. To make informed dietary choices that promote long-term health, it’s important to understand the truth behind these myths. Here, just in time for summer, I’ll explore and debunk common myths that can lead to misconceptions and unhealthy habits.

 

Myth 1: Carbs Are the Enemy

One of the most persistent nutrition myths is that carbohydrates (aka carbs) are inherently “bad for you” and should be avoided to lose weight or maintain health. This myth has been fueled by the popularity of low-carb diets like the Keto and Atkins diets. However, not all carbs are created equal.

Carbohydrates are a primary energy source for the body, particularly for the brain and muscles. The key is distinguishing between healthy carbs (such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans) and unhealthy carbs (like white bread and sugary snacks). Healthy carbohydrates provide essential nutrients, fiber and sustained energy release, making them a crucial part of a balanced diet. Cutting out carbs entirely can lead to nutrient deficiencies, energy imbalances and even weight gain. Instead, focus on incorporating healthy, whole-food sources of carbohydrates.

 

Myth 2: Eating Fat Makes You Fat

The fear of dietary fat has roots in the low-fat diet craze of the late 20th century. Many people still believe that eating fat directly translates to gaining body fat. This oversimplification ignores the complexities of metabolism and the role of different types of fat in the body.

Healthy fats, such as those found in avocados, nuts, seeds and olive oil, are important for various bodily functions, including hormone production, nutrient absorption and cell membrane integrity. They also provide satiety, helping us to feel full, control our appetite and reduce overeating. Trans fats and excessive saturated fats, found in processed and fried foods, should be limited, but a moderate intake of healthy fats is essential for optimal health.

 

Myth 3: Detox Diets Cleanse Your Body

Detox diets, often involving juices, teas or extreme calorie restriction, claim to cleanse the body of toxins and promote rapid weight loss. These diets are popular but lack scientific backing. Our bodies have their own highly effective detoxification system involving the liver, kidneys, lungs and digestive tract.

Instead of relying on short-term detox diets, maintaining a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet, regular exercise, adequate hydration and sufficient sleep supports the body’s natural detox processes. Extreme detox diets can lead to nutrient deficiencies, muscle loss and metabolic imbalances. A sustainable approach to health involves nourishing the body consistently rather than relying on quick fixes.

 

Myth 4: You Should Not Eat Fruit Because It’s Too High in Sugar

Americans consume excessive amounts of added sugar, which has been linked to weight gain and chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer. However, while fruit contains sugar, this sugar (called fructose) is a naturally occurring and nutritious component. Added sugar, on the other hand, is found in soda, candy and chocolate. The naturally occurring sugar in whole fruits provides energy along with fiber and essential nutrients, including vitamin C, potassium and folate. Whole fruit is an important part of a healthy diet and has been associated with lower rates of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer. In contrast, added sugar provides unnecessary calories and sugar without offering any nutritional benefits.

 

Myth 5: You Need to Take Supplements for Optimal Health

The supplement industry is booming, with countless products promising to enhance health, boost energy and guarantee that you’ll live longer. While supplements can be beneficial for addressing specific deficiencies (for example, low vitamin D levels) or medical conditions, they are not a substitute for a balanced diet.

Most people can obtain necessary nutrients through a varied and balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats. Over-reliance on supplements can lead to imbalances and even potential toxicities, particularly with fat-soluble vitamins that the body stores. It’s important to consult with your physician and nutritionist before starting any supplement regimen, and focus on building a nutrient-dense diet first.

 

Myth 6: All Calories Are Created Equal

Although calorie counts may look similar for certain foods, each food has its own unique nutrient makeup, which the body processes differently. For example, 100 calories of nuts include heart-healthy fats, fiber, protein, magnesium and other nutrients, whereas 100 calories of jelly beans contain primarily carbohydrates in the form of added sugar. The nutrients in nuts provide sustained energy and promote overall health, while the sugar in jelly beans can lead to energy spikes and crashes. Furthermore, 100 calories of chicken, which is rich in protein, is more filling than 100 calories of soda, making you feel satisfied and less likely to overeat later. Protein-rich foods like chicken help build and repair tissues and keep you full longer, whereas sugary drinks like soda are not satisfying and can lead to overeating. Foods high in added sugars can also cause fluctuations in your blood sugar, leaving you hungry and craving more food.

To maintain a balanced diet and support overall health, aim to get the majority of your calories from nutrient-dense whole foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. These foods provide essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that help your body function optimally and maintain energy levels throughout the day.


Lisa R. Young, PhD, RDN, CDN is an award-winning nutritionist, portion-size expert, and adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University. Dr. Young is the author of ”Finally Full, Finally Slim” and ”The Portion Teller Plan” and is regularly called upon by major media outlets as an authority on nutrition and health. She has been counseling adults and children for three decades and inspires her community to make healthy food and lifestyle choices. Visit her at drlisayoung.com.

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