Debunking Common Nutrition Myths: The Truth Behind What You Eat
Man is What He Eats – Lucretius
Eating healthy and nutritious is something we all must do for our bodies. But figuring out health and nutrition is quite a task, with misinformation everywhere. The internet is a vast space where information is abundant. However, not every piece of information is reliable.
Nutrition has been a trending topic in recent times. With people becoming conscious about their health and following a healthy lifestyle, a proper diet comes into play. And eating a healthy diet implies having five meal portions throughout the day and drinking plenty of water.
It is simple. But we often get confused due to the various trends and nutritional advice on online platforms.
While one website talks well about a particular food, another will ask us to avoid it. People often follow specific advice and modify their diet, doing it all wrong and harming themselves simultaneously. Thus, it's unwise to believe everything we read on the internet.
What we should do instead is research and have a proper understanding of our nutrition intake. And choose not to be fed incorrect information while scrolling through social media channels. There are hundreds of myths involving nutrition which we believe, thanks to the constantly changing trends.
Previously what used to travel through word-of-mouth now needs a nanosecond to reach us through social media and blogs. We may not realize, but unknowingly, we make several food decisions- both healthy and unhealthy based on what we see on the internet. So, let's find some of them.
This article will discuss some common nutrition myths that need to be debunked.
Myth 1: Eating healthy comes with high costs.
It is a common notion that eating healthy comes at the cost of breaking banks. That is not true. While there are expensive healthy food items, there are affordable items too. In fact, plant-based food sources like beans and lentils are even cheaper than meat.
Fruits and vegetables have great nutritional value and do not have to be overly expensive. Similarly, oats or brown rice possess fiber and are pretty cost-effective.
You must research the healthy food data, devise a proper plan, and keep the budget accordingly. Moreover, cooking meals at home can save you a lot of money, so "eating healthy is expensive" qualifies as a nutrition myth.
Avoid convenience packaged foods because they are mostly more expensive and have fewer nutrients than foods that are made at home.
Myth 2: One should follow a gluten-free diet.
Life is a tragedy of nutrition – Arnold Ehret
In the quest to eat healthy and nutritious, people often say, "Keep your diet gluten-free." While that is true for people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, people without these conditions can add gluten-based foods to their diet.
There is no proven evidence that a gluten-free diet is healthier than one with gluten. Additionally, foods containing gluten are nutritious, with vitamins, fiber, and iron in them. Also, gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, i.e., whole wheat grains, has nutritional benefits and is part of a healthy diet.
Gluten-free foods are highly processed, often high in sugar, calories, and fat, and lack important nutrients.
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Myth 3: Full-fat products lead to weight gain.
People are terrified when they hear the term "fat." We mostly associate a high-fat diet with weight gain, high cholesterol, and whatnot. But the truth is, it is more about the type of fat than the amount.
Fat is a valuable nutrient required by our bodies. It has beneficial functions like absorbing vitamins, and protecting our organs, to name a few.
Did you know that studies are showing that full-fat dairy products lower the risk of obesity?
The reason behind believing that fat products lead to weight gain is due to their higher calorie content than their non-fat counterparts. While removing unhealthy fat from your food is good for your health, a completely low-fat diet may not be wise.
Moreover, certain low-fat foods are highly processed and contain a lot of sugar. So, one must know the difference between healthy fat and unhealthy ones. The unsaturated fat in nuts, avocados, and seeds contributes to weight management and helps reduce inflammation.
But the trans and saturated fats found in fatty meat and full-fat dairy products come with heart disease along with other risks. And these should be consumed in the least amounts. Although fat products might not lead to weight gain, they still need to be eaten in moderation.
Processed foods not only extend the shelf life, but they extend the waistline as well. – Karen Sessions
Myth 4: Carbs should be off your diet.
Carbohydrates are vital for our bodies. They provide our system with energy. We need the energy and should be using that through physical activity. So, a carb-free diet is a big NO-NO.
Be it grains or legumes, carbs provide sustained energy and help control blood sugar levels. Any diet that removes an entire food category is not ideal, for it can make you lose important nutrients.
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Before eliminating certain foods from your diet, you need to do your homework. For example, carbohydrates that are highly processed, like chips, white bread, soda, and pastries, need to be consumed in limited amounts.
In contrast, carbs that include fruits and vegetables contain vitamins and minerals, which are better sources for health. Also, consuming too many carbs is not apt, and one should focus on portion control. As it is known, too much of anything is bad.
So, the amount of carbs one requires depends on age, gender, and weight, but they should not be completely removed from the diet.
The only organ in the body that is dependent on carbohydrates is the brain.
Myth 5: Avoid eating food after 7 PM.
Today more than 95% of all chronic disease is caused by food choice, toxic food ingredients, nutritional deficiencies, and lack of physical exercise. – Mike Adams
One of the most common nutrition myths is that eating after 7 PM is not ideal for health and, thus, should be avoided. However, this is not a scientifically proven fact. There is no specific good time for meals, and there is no significant impact of the same.
Timing does not matter. What matters is the quality of your food and the calories you consume the entire day. For one person, avoiding food at night might help with their hunger urges; for another, this practice might give rise to digestive problems. It mostly depends on the lifestyle you leads and how your body takes it.
The main point is to consume nutrient-dense food that includes fruits, vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats, and many more. However, consuming food around 2-4 hours before bedtime is advisable for better digestion. Listen to your body and understand what it wants.
Myth 6: Calories are all that matter in weight loss.
Rule of thumb: Eat for what you're going to be doing, and not for what you have done. Don't take in more than you're willing to burn off. - Lee Haney
Calories play an important role in weight loss, but that's not all. Other factors must be considered. Yes, it would help if you consumed fewer calories than you burn for weight management. But you also need to fill your diet with foods rich in nutrients.
Also, you must be aware of the foods with calories but those that provide nutrition like vitamins, minerals, fibers, etc. Knowing the nutritional composition of your meals should be the priority. A low-calorie diet might help with temporary weight loss but can weaken your body later.
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Myth 7: Breakfast is the most important meal.
While breakfast is often considered the most important meal, research has yet to prove that. It is said that a healthy breakfast helps one kickstart the day with increased metabolism, full of energy, and better concentration and cognitive skills. This can be somewhat true for certain people but cannot say for all.
Intermittent fasting is a trending practice nowadays. It even comes with a plethora of benefits. As per studies, skipping breakfast can result in low-calorie intake, improves blood sugar levels and decreases inflammation. So, to practice intermittent fasting, people often skip breakfast.
However, one can fast by eating breakfast and having the last meal in the early evening. That way, one can be fasting for 14-16 hours. So, there is no hard and fast rule that eating breakfast is the most important. If you want to eat it, eat; if not, you can resort to intermittent fasting, depending on your physical requirements.
Through long years of misinformation, people have been told, ‘Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It gives you the strength, energy and vitality to do a hard morning’s work, either physical or mentally.” This is absolutely erroneous! It is not a true scientific fact. When you eat a heavy breakfast, through reflex action you feel full and satisfied, but you do not gain straight. It takes hours for this food to be processed by the digestive system before you can gain any energy or vitality from a big breakfast. Digestion is a most highly complicated process. - Dr. Paul C. Bragg
Myth 8: Eating small and frequent meals is optimal for health.
Eating small and frequent meals is sometimes advised by people for optimal health. Lifestyles, preferences, and metabolic health determine the frequency and size of meals. There are benefits of eating small and frequently, like for people with gastric conditions or diabetes, or to prevent excessive hunger.
But for certain individuals, they derive more benefits from eating three meals a day. To them, eating large meals thrice a day is more effective for their appetite and digestion. Their bodies benefit from a structured meal pattern.
At the end of the day, making healthy food choices is the way to go about it. And there is no scientific evidence that small and frequent meal patterns are healthier and better than others.
Myth 9: White potatoes are unhealthy.
White potatoes are often termed unhealthy and are mostly avoided on a weight loss journey. But the truth is, this is a nutrition myth and potatoes are inherently healthy.
They are starchy vegetables full of nutrients like vitamins, fiber, and potassium, which can be a part of a healthy diet. They are very filling and satisfying compared to other carb sources.
The most important fact is the preparation—how you consume it affects your health. Potatoes lose their nutrients when deep-fried or processed like french fries and chips,. These foods include high amounts of added fats, oil, and salt, threatening a healthy body.
When consumed frequently, these food products can cause high blood pressure, cholesterol, weight gain, and other issues. So, the nutritious way of eating potatoes includes baking, boiling, and steaming them. Also, there are different types of potatoes— all of which have unique nutritional properties.
However, the glycemic index of white potatoes is higher, which means they can cause high blood sugar levels. This is why individuals with diabetes are asked to remove potatoes from their diet. On that front, sweet potatoes are healthier for their higher fiber content and lower glycemic index.
So, remember to enjoy those delicious potato dishes, either baked or roasted. Limit the fried ones as much as you can.
Sweet potatoes boost vision and immune system.
Myth 10: High-cholesterol foods are unhealthy.
It is a scientific fact that your body will not absorb cholesterol if you take it from another person's plate. - Dave Barry
Cholesterol is found in animal products like red meat, dairy products, egg yolks, etc. It is said that cholesterol-rich foods come with health hazards, especially for the heart. But little do people know that when eaten in moderation, these foods can be part of a balanced diet.
Cholesterol-rich foods are nutritious and can boost good health. So, when consumed consciously, they do not lead to high cholesterol levels in the blood.
However, dietary cholesterol or low-density lipoprotein cholesterol can sometimes impact certain people. Their health can get affected if they consume high-cholesterol foods. But what they need to do is consume nutritious cholesterol-rich foods while limiting their intake in terms of quantity.
Quit smoking to lower cholesterol.
Myth 11: Red meat is healthy.
Red meat is a great source of protein, iron, vitamins, zinc, and other nutrients. But it is also associated with several health risks like cancer, type 2 diabetes, and other cardiovascular and chronic issues.
Red meat is naturally high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, making it a health threat. The processing methods of red meat, like smoking, grilling, or adding preservatives, are also harmful to health. And red meat consumed in that way has the potential to give rise to several diseases.
So, large amounts of red meat, especially processed ones, should be avoided. However, including red meat in the diet sometimes is quite healthy, especially the lean cuts of meat.
According to a small 2019 study supported by the National Institutes of Health, red meat contains TMAO, a molecule linked to heart disease. As per the study, participants who consumed red meat daily had three times the amount of TMAO in their circulation as those who only consumed white meat or other non-meat forms of protein.
Myth 12: Lose fat by doing cardio on an empty stomach.
To lose weight, we always resort to cardio first. And cardio is known to be a good exercise for overall weight loss. But when is the right time to do cardio?
When you do cardio on an empty stomach, also known as fasted cardio, there is higher fat oxidation than the cardio after eating (fed cardio). During fasted cardio, the glycogen stores are low, and the body depends on the fat as a fuel source. This helps in more fat-burning.
However, the total fat loss over time will not be much different for fasted and fed cardio. So, the best approach is to find a cardio routine one can adhere to sincerely and consistently. Whether in a fasted or a fed state, you should opt for the one that suits your body mechanism.
Increase the incline to make running or walking on a treadmill more effective.
Myth 13: People with Type 2 diabetes shouldn't eat fruit.
Diabetic people are known to avoid fruits and fruit juices for their sugar content. But is it true that consuming fruits can increase blood sugar levels?
When talking about fruit juices, these have added sugars and preservatives, which are not ideal for anyone to consume in huge amounts.
But about fruits—although they contain sugar, they are also full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which are needed for overall health. The two most significant things to maintain a healthy diet are balancing the intake and being mindful of what you eat. The blood sugar levels remain optimal when the portion sizes and nutrition content are balanced.
Various fruits like cherries and berries have a low glycemic index (GI), implying they do not negatively impact blood sugar levels. Even fruits with higher GI, like bananas, when combined with other foods, do not threaten the sugar levels.
Infact, as per research, people with type 2 diabetes should eat specific whole fruits to control blood sugar levels and avoid fruit juices.
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Myth 14: Snacking Is Bad for You.
If you get hungry mid-day, a banana is the best snack at your desk, after a workout, or in between classes. Fruit is a very good snack in general. - Marcus Samuelsson
Snacks are a healthy option to satiate hunger in between meals. We always assume that eating snacks is unhealthy, but that's because we consider processed snacks that have added sugar and calories. Consuming those snacks lead to weight gain along with other illnesses.
But there are healthy snacks available as an alternative option. These snacks are rich in nutrients and can help manage hunger. Examples include snacks with fruits and nuts or yogurt that can be a great addition to the diet.
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Myth 15: A Glass of Red Wine Is Needed for a Healthy Heart.
The relationship between heart health and alcohol consumption is not simple. While red wine is known to have various cardiovascular benefits, excessive consumption of alcohol can have other health risks like liver diseases, cancer, and addiction.
Red wine contains an anti-oxidant called resveratrol, which has potential health benefits. It improves blood vessel function, increases good cholesterol, and reduces inflammation. However, one should not start consuming alcohol just for the heart benefits as it poses serious health threats.
They can instead focus on other good lifestyle factors like physical activity and not smoking, to name a few.
Myth 16: There Is One Perfect Diet Plan for Everyone.
A perfect diet plan does not exist. Every individual has different needs, health conditions, and preferences. There should be an individualized approach.
Your body might respond in a way to some food, whereas someone else's body will react differently. What works for you might not work for someone else. One might prefer and include heavy carbs in the breakfast and be energetic and productive throughout the day, whereas another person might feel dizzy and lazy on this diet.
A perfect diet for an individual includes required nutrients aligned with their preferences. And it varies for every individual so it is no more than a nutrition myth that there exists one perfecr diet plan for all.
Myth 17: Meat Is Needed to Have a Balanced Diet.
Vegetarians or vegans are often mocked for lacking protein in their diet. That is a misconception that people have. Although meat is a big source of protein and other nutrients, plant-based foods are not any less nutritious.
You can have a balanced and nutrition-dense diet without including meat. Plant-based food sources like legumes, tofu, leafy greens, and grains are rich in protein, iron, vitamins, and other essential nutrients.
Just like beans, nuts, and seeds give you protein and amino acids, legumes and leafy greens provide you with iron. However, to obtain iron effectively from plant sources, consuming them with vitamin C-rich foods such as berries or citrus fruits is advisable.
Even though plant-based foods contain all 20 amino acids including the 9 essential ones, the proportion is slightly less than those in animal-based foods. In that case, you can eat different plant-based foods the entire day to obtain the required amount of protein.
It sometimes gets complicated for vegetarians or vegans to get vitamin B12 from their diet. Under such circumstances, fortified foods like cereals, plant-based milk, or supplements can add that and develop a plant-based eating plan for you.
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Myth 18: Everyone should take a multivitamin.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from 2017 to 2018, around 40% of seniors 60 and older take multivitamins or mineral supplements.
Multivitamins or dietary supplements are what people consider necessary to maintain a fit lifestyle. The truth is they might be helpful for some but not a mandate for everyone.
The necessity of multivitamins arises in specific circumstances. Examples include when people suffer from a nutrient deficiency or are in a certain stage of life, like pregnancy. One can take a multivitamin to ensure the necessary nutrition intake in these situations.
Similarly, consuming multivitamins depends on factors like age, sex, activity levels, or dietary habits. If a person lacks nutrients in their diet, adding multivitamins to their routine is advisable. And even in terms of older people, the nutrient absorption rate decreases with age, so they need to adapt to taking supplements.
However, the immediate solution is to maintain a healthy and balanced diet that includes whole foods that provide all the nutrients. No supplement can ever replace this diet.
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Myth 19: You get vitamin D just from the sun.
When we talk about vitamin D, we think about the big man of the universe—the Sun. Often, we even suffer from a vitamin D deficiency. Then we blame ourselves for not exposing ourselves enough to the sun. But that is not ideal considering the various health risks like skin cancer.
Vitamin D helps our bodies to absorb calcium, and it is important. But, as we mentioned, exposing ourselves to the sun for prolonged periods is impossible. Therefore, what we can do instead is find food sources rich in vitamin D.
Foods like tuna, cheese, salmon, egg yolk, and fortified cereals are well-known sources of vitamin D. So, the sun is not the only source of vitamin D.
Mushrooms are one of the best vegan sources of vitamin D.
Myth 20: You can eat whatever you want, if you exercise.
Diet plays a big role when maintaining a fit lifestyle. Even if exercise helps with weight loss and increases energy expenditure, having the right nutrition is paramount. Exercising provides one with some flexibility in terms of diet. But that doesn't mean one can have anything and everything.
There has to be a good quality and balance of food choices. When aiming for a healthy lifestyle, you must limit yourself to more nutrient-dense and less processed foods. Also, you have to pay attention to consuming macronutrients and hydration.
Mindful eating is a must when looking to adopt a healthy regimen.
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Myth 21: Fruit Juice Is a Healthy Alternative to Soft Drinks.
Soft drinks are mostly avoided by health enthusiasts. Considering the amount of calories and sugar they contain, it is better not to consume them frequently. And as an alternative to soft drinks, we resort to fruit juices. Our idea of fruit juice is the fruit blended in a juicer with some water in it.
The fruit juices served in juice corners contain added sugar and preservatives almost equal to soft drinks. So they being healthy substitutes is just one of the nutrition myths.
Also, fruits have natural sugar, so consuming too much of them might not be recommended. Infact, whole fruits are a better alternative as they contain dietary fiber and other nutrients.
Therefore, the next time, be mindful before sipping on juices at roadside joints. Having them once in a while is not an issue. But make sure not to make it a habit.
Also, you can always make fresher juices at home and dilute them with more water.
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These small things – nutrition, place, climate, recreation, the whole casuistry of selfishness – are inconceivably more important than everything one has taken to be important so far. – Friedrich Nietzsche
The nutrition label on the foods we eat is worth noticing. Nowadays, we believe anything and everything we see online. We might indulge in any diet we find on the internet, which can prove to be hazardous in the long run.
The diet we follow might have certain shortcomings if we do not have the proper nutritional knowledge. Thus, the nutrition myths mentioned above are crucial for people to be mindful of the foods they consume.
I hope this blog has cleared your doubts and given you more clarity regarding the various foods.
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