The internet is a great thing, but unfortunately there are still a lot of nutrition myths out there! With all that information, what and who to believe can be a challenge.
Despite huge advances in nutritional science, many practitioners are still getting it wrong. I’ve read a few things recently that I’m frustrated about so I'm myth-busting today!
Here are my top 10 nutrition myths.
You can watch the video or listen to the podcast (episode 111).
- ‘Eat little and often'
One of the biggest nutrition myths STILL being advised by nutritionists, dieticians, and other health practitioners (just seen it on Jamie Oliver's site…!) – latest research shows that UNLESS you are diabetic or have hypoglemic episodes (eg get dizzy or faint if you don’t eat regularly), the body generally doesn’t do that well on grazing all day long. That’s because every time we eat, we produce insulin, too much insulin means too much fat storing and inflammation. If you leave 4-6 hours between eating you give the body the chance to use up your sugar stores and start burning fat for energy. If you’re constantly eating, you will only be burning sugar, so you’ll find it hard to lose weight, and you'll be stuck on the Blood Sugar roller coaster which can affect your energy, mood and brain function. Check out Time Restricted Eating for a way to mimic fasting.
- ‘Saturated fat causes heart disease'
We’ve been told to avoid saturated fat since the 1950’s when a study was done by a man called Ancel Keyes. He linked dietary fat with heart disease but the study was severely flawed as he was selective about what he published. Since then we have been told to avoid saturated fats and eat more polyunsaturated fats – eg vegetable oils. Obesity and heart disease have rocketed as naturally we are replacing fat with carbs, and the problem with PUFA's (Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids) is that they are very unstable and can turn into trans fats when heated and treated (eg most processed foods). They are also richer in Omega 6 fats which can be inflammatory.And as for cholesterol, recent studies have shown that saturated fat actually raises HDL (our good cholesterol).
‘Low fat products are healthy'When you remove the fat from a food (by processing it), you remove the taste. So they have to replace it with something, which is usually sugar or chemicals. Natural foods contain fat for a reason. It’s there because we need fat as a nutrient for our hormones and cells, it helps us absorb the fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K), it doesn’t raise blood sugar, it fills you up so you’re not reaching for a snack later and it tastes good!
Healthy fats in their natural form are so vital for your health. So enjoy your full fat milk, yoghurt and butter, eat your chicken skin and potatoes cooked in duck fat! They are better for you than processed low fat alternatives.
- ‘The vegan diet is the most healthy diet'
Firstly , there’s no such thing as a ‘one size fits all' diet. I’ve know people that thrive on a vegan diet and some who have suffered badly.Secondly, you can have a really healthy vegan diet, and a really unhealthy one, full of processed foods, meat substitutes, refined carbs and junk (one recent vegan client was eating chips and bread all day). Thirdly, there are nutrients that you can only get from animal foods – Vitamin D, B12 and the most absorbable of iron being a few. So you need to make sure you are supplementing appropriately.
- ‘Carbs are bad for you!'
‘Don't eat carbs' is one of the most annoying nutrition myths. If you don’t eat any carbs you are going to be ill! Carbohydrates are a macronutrient, needed for lots of processes in the body. The thing you need to be aware of is the type of carbs you’re eating, not the fact that they are carbs! All vegetables are made from carbohydrate, and most nutritionists would recommend at least half your plate is made up of veggies. Choosing low GL carbs like brown or wild rice, quinoa, oats and buckwheat and avoiding white refined carbs is where you should be focusing.
- ‘Counting calories is the best way to lose weight'
The calorie myth is one of the most obsessive and long lasting beliefs around food and weight loss. Your body is not a calorie bank account, it's a complex chemistry lab! What you eat (calories in) and then expend (calories out) is not that simple. Your body is a complex machine that uses many different processes to regulate metabolism, fat storage and energy expenditure. Calories are most definitely not equal. Food goes through different metabolic pathways that impact how, what and when you eat, despite the calories a food contains.
- ‘Green juices and smoothies are really healthy'
The problem with juices is that they are mostly high in sugar, and they don’t have any protein or healthy fats in them. Protein and fat help to slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream. You also need protein for the liver to work properly, so if you’re doing a juice programme to detox yourself, you are not helping your liver if you skip the protein. I prefer green smoothies as they include the fibre from the fruit/veg and so don’t hit your blood sugar as much. The problem is that most people make them with spinach. Spinach is rich in oxalates, which in excess can form oxalic acid and kidney stones. Eating lots of raw spinach can increase that risk. So mix up your greens, and use kale, greens and salad leaves instead.
- ‘Coffee is bad for you'
Much health advice out there has us giving up coffee. But recent studies have now shown that coffee actually reduces our risk of several diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimers and even cancer. While caffeine does increase blood pressure temporarily, scientists think it is the antioxidants in coffee that are protective. Caffeine however is not for everyone. Some people don’t detox it very well (genetically), which can cause anxiety, sleep loss, tremors. And if that's you, you need to avoid it.
- ‘Organic foods not worth the money'
Organic food is more expensive. It depends how much you value your health as to whether you think its ‘worth it’. Non organic fruit & veg is sprayed with pesticides which not only toxic to your cells, but depletes the soil of nutrients and are known Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals.
- ‘Breakfast is the most important meal of the day'
We have been told for decades (mainly by the big cereal manufacturers!) that eating breakfast is the best thing to do to kick start our metabolism and keep us energised. The truth is that everyone is different and there are no rules around this. Some people need to eat first thing to feel better, others do well on skipping breakfast and having something later on. With the huge interest in overnight fasting, many of us are benefiting from waiting a bit longer for our first meal of the day.
So those are my top 10 nutrition myths that need busting (for now!). Do check out my book if you'd like more information on what you need to be eating for your hormones!