The Most Shocking Diet Myths
Last Updated: May 29, 2012
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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. That’s why we surveyed your most common diet questions and had expert nutritionists set the record straight. Dig in and enjoy.
EAT REGULARLY AND BOOST YOUR METABOLISM
You might hear a lot about "the metabolic fire" being helped with frequent meals, but there is no consistent evidence to prove this, says Emma-Leigh Synnott , BVSc, 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.
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"CLEAN FOODS" MAKE YOU LOSE WEIGHT FASTER
Many people believe that eating unprocessed foods will make them lose weight faster than if they eat more processed foods, says Synnott. This is not true. In order to lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn. Regardless of whether your energy comes from Snickers bars, or fruit and nuts, if your 24-hour intake has the same energy and macronutrient content, you’ll likely get the same results on the scale – up or down!
But remember, the healthier the foods you eat, the healthier for you. Your body runs more efficiently, you feel better and you help fight chronic disease such as diabetes and heart disease.
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, M.S.
FAT MAKES YOU FAT
Originally coined in the 1980s, the myth that "fats make you fat" continues and the low-fat industry is still booming. The reality is that fats are not the big baddies they are made out to be, and in order to maintain optimal health, you need fats in your diet, says Synnott. That even includes saturated fats.
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NIGHT EATING MAKES YOU FAT
Your body does not work on a 24-hour cycle. If you eat 2,000 calories in the morning and eat the same 2,000 calories at night, your body will process it the same way. The proof? When people eat their biggest meal after 8pm (compared to those who eat a large breakfast), the night eaters lose more weight and fat, according to Israeli researchers. In the end, it’s still about calories — not when they are consumed.
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DON'T EAT CARBS AT NIGHT
As we saw with the "fats make you fat" myth, nothing can make you fat in the absence of a calorie surplus. There is very good evidence to suggest that having a good meal at night, including carbohydrates, is actually good for your weight loss goals, says Synnott. It helps maintain lean mass as you diet, and also helps promote the hormones that assist with overall fat loss.
CALORIES DON'T COUNT
Several diets promote the idea that specific types of foods or diet setups (like low-carb/high fat) influence hormones in a way that overrides the basic laws of thermodynamics, says nutritionist Alan Aragon, M.S. While the types of foods you eat do matter, so do calories. Always remember the bottom line instead of the little "tricks." It'll be more effective.
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CARBOHYDRATES ARE FATTENING
People don’t just think carbs are bad at night — they think they are bad at all times, says 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 are a source of processed sugars that play a big role in overeating and weight gain.
DIET SODAS ARE FATTENING
Diet sodas are often accused of "tricking" your body into thinking you're having something sweet. And thus they are also accused of setting off physiological processes that make you crave more sweets and store more fat, says Aragon. However, this just isn’t true, and there’s no research to support the theory.
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CHOOSING LOW GI CARBOHYDRATES IS ESSENTIAL FOR LOSING FAT
The glycemic index is supposed to measure how 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 Aragon. A better rule is to focus on the calories, nutrition and the amount of processing involved in making a food.
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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 protein-carbohydrate-fat quota for the day, can be part of a healthy diet.
THE PALEOLITHIC DIET IS SUPERIOR FOR HEALTH
There is nothing wrong with the Paleo diet, and many people experience success with the plan. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best option. 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 Aragon. As with any diet, it’s always best to find what works best for your lifestyle.
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WEIGHT LOSS SUPPLEMENTS WORK
Most fat-loss supplements are a waste of money, and many of them have risks that outweigh the small edge toward the goal of fat loss, says 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, says Aragon. Bottom line: The best and only real way to see your abs to focus on what you eat and how you exercise.
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DAIRY MAKES YOU FAT
There’s nothing 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 because cheese and milk are both high in calories.
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 100 calories. Just don't confuse a protein powder with a weight gainer — the latter of which is packed with more calories.
PROTEIN BARS ARE HEALTHY
While protein shakes are for everyone, most protein bars are better suited as a Halloween 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.
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.
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.
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 1 gram per pound of body-weight causes no damage or disruption of normal functioning.
HIGH FRUCTOSE SUGAR IS WORSE THAN REGULAR SUGAR
From a chemical structure standpoint, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is nearly identical to table sugar, says Aragon. And while you can find HFCS is many foods, it is 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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