The Most Shocking Diet Myths
Last Updated: Jan 18, 2017
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Good information is hard to come by -- especially when it comes to what you eat. Among the hundreds of diets and endless nutritional claims, it’s hard to know what’s good for your body and what's just hype. That’s why we surveyed the most common diet questions and had expert nutritionists set the record straight. Dig in and enjoy!
MYTH 1: EAT MORE OFTEN TO BOOST YOUR METABOLISM
You might've heard a lot about stoking you "metabolic fire" by eating more frequent meals, but there's no consistent evidence to prove this, says Emma-Leigh Synnott, an exercise and nutrition specialist. The truth? The energy it takes to break down food is directly proportional to the amount of calories in the meal. So it doesn’t matter if you eat three meals of 600 calories or six meals of 300 calories. Find a plan that works with your body and your schedule and stick with it.
Will Eating 6 Times a Day Rev Up Your Metabolism?
MYTH 2: "CLEAN FOODS" MAKE YOU LOSE WEIGHT FASTER
Many people believe that eating unprocessed foods will help them lose weight faster than if they eat more processed foods, says nutrition specialist Emma-Leigh Synnott. This isn't necessarily true. In order to lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn. Regardless of where your calories come from, if your daily intake has the same energy and macronutrient content, you’ll likely get the same results on the scale. But that's not a license to fill your plate with chips and cake. The healthier the foods you eat, the healthier you are overall. Your body runs more efficiently, you feel better and you help fight chronic disease such as diabetes and heart disease.
The DOs and DON'Ts of Clean Eating
MYTH 3: YOU CAN ONLY DIGEST 30 GRAMS OF PROTEIN PER MEAL
This myth was started by research that shows muscle protein synthesis (or how your body breaks down protein) is maximized around a 20- to 30-gram dose of protein. However, this has nothing to do with the rate of digestion of protein. When you eat a bigger meal, it takes longer to digest. That’s not to say there aren’t protein limits, but those relate to how much you can have in a single day -- not a single meal, says nutritionist Alan Aragon.
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MYTH 4: FAT MAKES YOU FAT
Originally coined in the 1980s, the myth that "fats make you fat" continues today, and the low-fat industry is still booming. The reality is that fats are not the big, bad wolf they're made out to be, and in order to maintain optimal health, you need fats in your diet, says nutrition specialist Emma-Leigh Synnott. And yes, that even includes saturated fats.
18 Fat-Rich Foods That Are Good for You
MYTH 5: NIGHT EATING MAKES YOU FAT
Your body doesn't work on a 24-hour cycle. If you eat 2,000 calories in the morning or eat the same 2,000 calories at night, your body processes it the same way. The proof? When people in an Israeli study ate their biggest meal after 8 pm (compared to those who ate a large breakfast), the night eaters lost more weight and fat. In the end, it’s still about calories -- not when they're consumed.
MYTH 6: DON'T EAT CARBS AT NIGHT
As you saw with the "fats make you fat" myth, nothing can make you fat in the absence of a calorie surplus. In fact, there's very good evidence to suggest that having a good meal at night, including carbohydrates, is actually good for your weight-loss goals, says nutrition specialist Emma-Leigh Synnott. It helps maintain lean mass as you diet and also helps promote the hormones that assist with overall fat loss.
16 Snacks That Are OK to Eat at Night
MYTH 7: CALORIES DON'T COUNT
Several diets promote the idea that specific types of foods or diet set-ups (like low-carb/high-fat) influence hormones in a way that overrides the basic laws of thermodynamics, says nutritionist Alan Aragon. While the types of foods you eat do matter, so do calories. Always remember the bottom line instead of little tricks. It'll be more effective.
Track Your Calories With LIVESTRONG.COM's MyPlate App
MYTH 8: CARBS ARE FATTENING
Some people don’t just think carbs are bad at night -- they think they're bad at all times, says nutritionist Alan Aragon. However, carbs can help you lose weight, build muscle and sleep well at night. If there’s any issue with carbohydrates, it’s that they can be a source of processed sugars that play a big role in overeating and gaining weight.
16 Diet-Friendly Healthful Carbs
MYTH 9: DIET SODAS ARE FATTENING
This is a tricky one. Diet sodas are often accused of tricking your body into thinking you're having something sweet. And thus, they're also accused of setting off physiological processes that make you crave more sweets and store more fat, says nutritionist Alan Aragon. However, this just isn’t true, and there’s no research to support the theory. But there are plenty of other reasons to kick your soda habit (diet or full-calorie). One being that artificial sweeteners can change the composition of your gut bacteria over time, increasing glucose intolerance, according to a 2014 Israeli study.
MYTH 10: CHOOSING LOW GI CARBS IS ESSENTIAL FOR LOSING FAT
The glycemic index is supposed to measure how different foods affect your blood sugar levels, and therefore, relate to your ability raise insulin and store glucose (sugar) as fat. But it’s not that simple. There are many other factors that impact your insulin levels, such as fat, protein and fiber in a meal, says nutritionist Alan Aragon. A better rule is to focus on the number of calories, quality of other nutritional factors and the amount of processing involved in making a food.
MYTH 11: ANY "WHITE" FOOD WILL MAKE YOU FAT
Just because a food has more or less nutritional value, doesn’t mean it will pack on pounds. The belief that white bread is worse than wheat bread is less about white bread being a trigger for weight gain, and more about the benefits of whole grains and fiber. Any food, as long as it’s eaten in moderation and it fits into your macro quota for the day, can be part of a healthy diet.
MYTH 12: THE PALEO DIET IS SUPERIOR FOR HEALTH
The Paleo Diet has been a hot topic for a while. There's nothing wrong with the Paleo diet, and many people experience success with the plan. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best option for everyone. The Paleo Diet is just another diet that bars people from eating certain foods they enjoy, which can create problems for long-term dieting success and optimal health, says nutritionist Alan Aragon. As with any diet, it’s always best to find what works best for your lifestyle. If that's the Paleo Diet, great, if not, move on.
Why Go Paleo?
MYTH 13: WEIGHT-LOSS SUPPLEMENTS WORK
Most fat-loss supplements are a waste of money, not to mention that many of them have risks that far outweigh the small edge they may provide toward the goal of fat loss, says nutritionist Alan Aragon. The truth is, the actual fat loss caused by any supplement is minor, and even less significant in people who are overweight or have a significant amount of weight to lose, he says. Bottom line: The best and only real way to see your abs to focus on what you eat and how you exercise.
The 12 Most Overrated Supplements
MYTH 14: DAIRY MAKES YOU FAT
Once again, people are looking for a weight-gain boogy man. But there’s nothing implicitly wrong with milk or cheese -- assuming you don’t have an allergy. In fact, researchers from the University of Tennessee found that dairy might help the loss of belly fat when you’re on a diet. Just keep an eye on the quantity, since cheese and milk can both be high in calories.
Should You Cut Dairy From Your Diet?
MYTH 15: PROTEIN SHAKES MAKE YOU BULKY
Look on the nutrition label of almost any protein powder. You might be surprised to find that most powders have about 100 calories per saving. And no matter how powerful a protein might claim to be, no one is bulking up from just 100 calories. But don't confuse a protein powder with a weight gainer -- the latter of which is packed with more calories.
15 NEW Ways to Use Protein Powder (That Aren't Shakes)
MYTH 16: PROTEIN BARS ARE HEALTHY
While protein shakes can fit into pretty much any diet, most protein bars are better suited as an occastional treat. Why? Because the majority are loaded with more sugar than a traditional candy bar. And while added protein is a benefit, many bars inflate the amounts of protein by listing gelatin as a source (even though it’s not a quality source). Your best bet: Stick to whole foods as a snack.
The 7 Best Protein Bars and 3 to Avoid
MYTH 17: YOU NEED TO CUT YOUR SODIUM TO HELP HEART HEALTH
You need salt in your diet to help maintain your natural blood pressure levels from dropping too low. While it’s true that most people eat too much salt, the damage it causes is overstated. The only people who are really at risk are those with dangerously high blood pressure. Even then, there are several ways to offset the sodium in your diet, such as adding more potassium. But the links to weight gain and heart troubles are overstated.
MYTH 18: YOU NEED TO EAT IMMEDIATELY AFTER A WORKOUT
Research indicates that protein synthesis (your ability to create muscle) is primed about one to three hours after your workout. That’s why you’ve been told to eat immediately after your workout. But most of that research is based on people who didn’t eat before training. If you eat a protein-filled meal before your workout, you’ll still have amino acids available, meaning the timing of your post-workout meal is less important.
11 Easy Post-Workout Foods
MYTH 19: PROTEIN IS DANGEROUS FOR YOUR KIDNEYS
This rumor -- fortunately -- has no research to back it up. Go ahead and search. While eating protein can increase the amount of blood your kidneys filter, that doesn’t mean it strains your normal functioning. In fact, studies have proven that eating more than one gram per pound of body weight causes no damage or disruption of normal kidney functioning. Again, everything in moderation.
MYTH 20: HIGH FRUCTOSE SUGAR IS WORSE THAN REGULAR SUGAR
High-fructose sugar gets a bad rap these days. From a chemical structure standpoint, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is nearly identical to table sugar, says nutritionist Alan Aragon. And while you can find HFCS is many foods, it's not more likely to cause overeating (as argued by several in the anti-HFCS camp). In fact, research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that there is no difference between real sugar and HFCS on your hunger, fullness or overall caloric intake.
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