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There are many diet myths and misinformation both available online and spread via social media.
Newsweek debunks outdated diet data and reveals what you really need to know about adopting healthy habits.
The ‘Calories In, Calories Out’
‘Calories In, Calories Out’ (CICO) is a fundamental concept in body weight regulation and extremely close to scientific fact—however, the logic of this viewpoint is problematic, as it prevents people from seeing the bigger picture.
Relying solely on a low-calorie diet does not account the large number of variables that may prevent people from losing weight.
CICO adopters may decide to opt for low calorie, nutrient-poor foods like rice cakes and egg whites over higher-calorie, nutrient-dense foods like avocados and whole eggs.
Such measures may actually prevent people from losing weight, as they may affect other important factors, such as genetics and certain medical conditions.
High-fat foods are ‘bad’ for you
While this out-of-date diet theory is finally being put to rest, some people still fail to distinguish between good and bad fats.
Dietary fat is now recognised as an essential element of a healthy diet.
Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are known as “good fats” because they are good for your heart, your cholesterol, and your overall health.
And addition, low-fat diets have been linked to a greater risk of health issues, such as metabolic syndrome, and may lead to an increase in insulin resistance and triglyceride levels.
MedicineDirect.co.uk pharmacist Hussain Abdeh told Newsweek: “Arguably the biggest diet myth, and one that I have to dispel on a weekly basis is that fat is bad for the body and will cause you to put on weight.
“There is a huge misconception that a high fat intake is directly related to obesity, however it is the wrong type of fat intake that is responsible for obesity.”
Breakfast is the day’s most important meal
Breakfast was once thought as the most important factor for weight loss and preventing the onset of hunger.
However, 2019 research published in the BMJ suggests eating a proper breakfast is not necessary to set you up for the day, or to prevent hunger pangs in the afternoon.
Also, intermittent and responsible fasting, where breakfast is skipped or postponed, has been linked to a wide range of benefits, including improved blood sugar control and reductions in inflammatory markers.
However, such advice does not extend to children, adolescents or those with increased nutrient needs, such as pregnant women and those with certain health conditions.
Mark Gilbert, nutritionist at The 1:1 Diet by Cambridge Weight Plan, told Newsweek: “Whether you eat breakfast or not, one excellent tip is to ensure that you have a good dose of protein in your first meal of the day.
“It keeps you fuller longer and is likely to tip the scales in your favour.”
Consume small meals frequently for optimal health
Many people cling to the concept eating smaller, meals more frequently can improve metabolism and weight loss.
However, if you are healthy, the frequency of your meals is irrelevant as long as your energy levels are sustained.
But, be aware how people with specific medical conditions, including diabetes, coronary artery disease, irritable bowel syndrome and pregnant women, may benefit from eating more frequent meals.
Artificial sweeteners are a “healthier” diet option
A growing interest in low calorie, low carb, sugar-free foods has led to an increase in products that contain non-nutritive sweeteners.
However, the American Heart Association now categorises low-calorie sweeteners and artificial sweeteners as non-nutritive sweeteners, because they offer no nutritional benefits such as vitamins and minerals.
Non-nutritive sweetener intake may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes by leading to negative shifts in gut bacteria and promoting blood sugar dysregulation.
Diet quality is more important than macronutrients
The ratio of macronutrients (carbs, fats and protein) in a diet is far from being all that matters in both weight loss and overall health.
Although adjusting macro ratios can benefit health in many ways, the most important factor in any diet is the quality of the food consumed.
As a result, solely focusing on macronutrients ignores how others food types can affect metabolic health, disease risk and even how long you live.
White potatoes are unhealthy
So-called “unhealthy” white potatoes are traditionally shunned by those wishing to shed weight or improve their diet.
But although eating too much of any food—including white potatoes—can lead to weight gain, these starchy tubers are highly nutritious.
Plain white potatoes can aid weight loss and maintenance and are an excellent source for vitamins C and B6, a good source for fiber, manganese and they contain more potassium than bananas.
Hussain Abdeh told Newsweek: “Potatoes contain antioxidants that may help to suppress the growth of liver and colon cancer cells.
“Furthermore, potatoes are more filling than other sources of carbohydrates, such as pasta.
“For this reason, you will feel fuller at the end of a meal and be less tempted to snack later on.”
Low fat and diet foods are simply “healthier”
The “fat-free” option is not a healthy diet shortcut to keep cholesterol levels down or lose weight.
Peer-approved research reveals many low fat and diet items are made more palatable but instead containing increased levels of sugar and salt than their regular-fat counterparts.
Experts suggest the best bet is to instead do without these products and instead enjoy small amounts of foods like full-fat yogurt, cheese, and nut butter.
Pharmacist Hussain Abdeh told Newsweek: “People who are trying to lose weight and boost their general health often tend to avoid this starchy vegetable because of the bad reputation it has.
“However, what many don’t seem to realise is that potatoes are very nutritious and can be a healthy complement to a balanced diet.”
Health supplements are a waste of money
According to the FDA, “Three out of every four American consumers take a dietary supplement on a regular basis.”
Although consuming a nutrient-dense, well-rounded diet is the most important component of health, supplements are demonstrably beneficial.
Supplements play a particularly important role for people with health conditions including type 2 diabetes and those on statins, proton pump inhibitors, birth control, and antidiabetic medications.
And people with specific genetic mutations like methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, pensioners, and pregnant or breastfeeding women are others who could benefit from taking particular supplements.
A very low-calorie diet is a good method to lose weight
While reducing calorie intake can indeed boost weight loss, cutting calories too low can lead to metabolic adaptations and long-term health consequences.
The U.K’s NHS writes in a statement: “A very low-calorie diet is a clinically supervised diet plan that involves eating about 800 calories a day or fewer.
“They are sometimes considered for obese and severely obese people who are managing diabetes, going to have surgery or preparing for fertility treatment.”
However, studies have repeatedly confirmed low-calorie dieters rarely succeed in keeping excess weight off in the long-term.
Being skinny is “healthy”
Being thin should by no means be equated with good health and although there are higher risks for heavier people, thinner people should never assume they are immune to health issues.
Experts now agree the most important is consuming a nutritious diet and maintaining an active lifestyle, as these behaviors often improve your body weight and body fat percentage.
Calcium supplements are necessary for bone health
Many people are told to take calcium supplements to keep their skeletal system healthy.
However, recent research has revealed supplementing with calcium may actually do more harm than good.
Dr Erin Michos, associate director of preventive cardiology for the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease told HopkinsMedicine.org: “A nutrient in pill form is not processed in the body the same way as it is when ingested from a food source.
“Furthermore, people believe that the proof that calcium supplements fortify bones is more robust than it really is.”
Studies have linked calcium supplements to an increased risk of heart disease, while they fail to reduce the risk of fracture or osteoporosis.
Fiber supplements are a good substitute for high fiber foods
With many struggling to consume sufficient dietary fiber, some people turn to supplements.
However, although fiber supplements can improve health by assisting bowel movements and blood sugar control, they should not act as a substitute for real food.
High fiber whole foods like vegetables, beans, and fruit contain nutrients and plant compounds that work synergistically to promote good health.
All smoothies and juices are healthy
While smoothies—in moderation—are a useful element to a balanced diet, people should focus primarily on lower sugar fruits, such as fresh or frozen produce.
Try and include one or more sources of protein including yogurt, kefir or milk, in addition to healthy fats from nuts, seeds or avocado.
Everyone can benefit from probiotics
Probiotics can aid digestion and help maintain gut health, however, they are often overprescribed.
Research has demonstrated some even may not benefit from probiotics in the same way as others.
Not only are some people’s digestive systems resistant to probiotic colonization, but introducing probiotics through supplements may lead to negative changes in their gut bacteria, while bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine can result in bloating and other unpleasant side effects.
Weight loss is “easy”
There is unfortunately no quick fix to achieving healthy and lasting weight loss.
Weight loss requires consistency, hard work and patience, while genetics and other factors can make weight loss much harder for some.
Tracking calories and macros helps lose weight
Obsessively cataloguing everything you eat can be a hassle adding unnecessary stress to your life, which can inhibit embracing a healthier lifestyle.
But although you do not necessarily need to track macros or calories to lose weight, you need to be in an energy deficit and tracking may help with checking this.
High cholesterol foods are “unhealthy”
Although some foods contain cholesterol, they surprisingly do not make a significant difference to the cholesterol in your blood.
While some people are more sensitive to dietary cholesterol than others, overall, nutrient-dense, cholesterol-rich foods can be included in a healthy diet.
And adding cholesterol-rich, nutritious foods such as eggs and full-fat yogurt to a diet may boost health by making you feel full, in addition to providing important nutrients that other foods lack.
Eating disorders only affect women
Eating disorders can in reality affect people of any age, race, gender and sexual orientation.
More than 30 percent of adolescent men in the U.S. report body dissatisfaction and the use of unhealthy methods to attain their ideal body type.
Please be aware of how eating disorders can present differently in men than women, and they are more prevalent in adolescent and young adult men who identify as gay or bisexual.
Carbs make you gain weight
Any food can cause weight gain if too much is consumed, so regardless of whether a diet is high in fat or high in carbohydrates, you are likely to gain weight if you frequently consume more energy than your body uses.
Gram for gram, carbs contains fewer calories than fat. Wholegrain varieties of starchy foods are good sources of fibre.
Elena Ognivtseva, a health, fitness and nutrition expert, told Newsweek: ” Compared to fat, carbohydrates have gram for gram less than half the calories.
“Try to opt for wholegrain foods such as oats, wholemeal bread and brown rice over white bread, white rice or white pasta.”
Dairy causes inflammation
Some people choose to eliminate dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese from their diet due to a belief that dairy causes damaging inflammation.
However, this may not be entirely accurate, as research reveals dairy, particularly fermented dairy like yogurt and kefir, may have anti-inflammatory properties.
Almond milk is healthier than cow’s milk
Because it frequently has fewer calories and omits dairy, a diet myth that almond milk is always the better option persists.
However, this depends on how “healthier” is defined, as a lot of conventional almond milks are actually made with very few almonds and are often full of processed fillers and added sugars.
Gluten-free products are healthier
Consuming products containing gluten can be caustic or even deadly for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
However, others have nothing to fear when it comes to consuming gluten and such products are sometimes more processed, higher in sugar, and lower in fiber than their gluten-containing equivalents.
MedicineDirect.co.uk pharmacist Hussain Abdeh told Newsweek: “Opting for desserts that are gluten-free is not a healthier alternative to regular desserts. In some cases, the gluten substitutes can actually lead to a high calorie content.
“If you are gluten-intolerant, gluten-free foods are excellent sources of nutrients.
“However, when it comes to the desserts, these should still be eaten as part of a well-balanced diet and enjoyed in moderation.
“Eating a large gluten-free dessert is no healthier than enjoying a regular slice of cheesecake.”
Sugar is “toxic”
Added sugars are frequently found in greater quantities in processed foods, so eating a lot of such meals can harm health.
But our bodies use sugar, in the form of blood glucose, to power almost every activity in our cells, meaning it plays an important role in healthy living.
“Detoxing” is important
Many diet fads advertise their ability to “detox” your body from toxins.
However, attempting such cleanse or trying to detox can be a really bad idea, as this can eliminate multiple macronutrients and deprives the body of the nutrients and energy required to run through its internal processes.