10 Diet & Nutrition Myths Debunked
Written by Gloria Tsang, RD
Published in November 2005
Top 10 Nutrition Myths - debunked by Dietitians
- Sugar Causes Diabetes
The most common nutrition myth is probably that sugar causes diabetes. If you have diabetes, you do need to watch your sugar and carbohydrate intake, with the help of your Registered Dietitian, to properly manage your blood sugar level. However, if you do not have diabetes, sugar intake will not cause you to develop the disease. The main risk factors for Type 2 diabetes are a diet high in calories, being overweight, and an inactive lifestyle.
For more details, read Does Sugar cause Diabetes?
- All Fats are bad
It's a long-held nutrition myth that all fats are bad. But the fact is, we all need fat. Fats aid nutrient absorption and nerve transmission, and they help to maintain cell membrane integrity - to name just a few of their useful purposes. However, when consumed in excessive amounts, fats contribute to weight gain, heart disease and certain types of cancers.
Not all fats are created equal. Some fats can actually help promote good health, while others increase the risk for heart disease. The key is to replace bad fats (saturated fats and trans fats) with good fats (monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats).
For more details, read Fats 101: Bad Fats vs Good Fats
- Brown Sugar is better than White Sugar
The brown sugar sold at grocery stores is actually white granulated sugar with added molasses. Yes, brown sugar contains minute amounts of minerals. But unless you eat a gigantic portion of brown sugar every day, the mineral content difference between brown sugar and white sugar is absolutely insignificant. The idea that brown and white sugar have big differences is another common nutrition myth.
- Brown Eggs are more nutritious than White Eggs
Contrary to a widely believed nutrition myth, eggshell color has nothing to do with the quality, flavor, nutritive value, cooking characteristics, or shell thickness of an egg. The eggshell color only depends upon the breed of the hen.
According to the Egg Nutrition Council, "white shelled eggs are produced by hens with white feathers and white ear lobes and brown shelled eggs are produced by hens with red feathers and red ear lobes. There is no difference in taste or nutrition content between white and brown colored eggs".
For more details, read Eggs and Cholesterol
- Avoid seafood to lower blood cholesterol
I still can't believe it, but I heard this nutrition myth from my own doctor! In fact, the dietary cholesterol found in seafood and other meats has little effect on blood cholesterol in most people. Saturated fats and trans fatty acids are the most important factors that raise blood cholesterol.
Saturated fats are usually found in meat products and packaged foods, and trans fatty acids are found in packaged snack foods, deep-fried foods or firm margarine containing hydrogenated oil.
For more details, read The Myths of Cholesterol
- Avoid carbohydrate to lose weight
The key message that many low-carb diets convey is that carbohydrates promote insulin production, which in turn results in weight gain. Therefore by reducing carbohydrate intake, you can lose weight. Unfortunately, this is just another nutrition myth.
Many low-carb diets actually do not provide sufficient carbohydrates to your body for daily maintenance. Therefore your body will begin to burn stored carbohydrates (glycogen) for energy. When your body starts burning glycogen, water is released. Therefore the drastic initial drop of weight at the beginning of a low-carb diet is mostly the water that you lose as a result of burning glycogen.
The truth is that low-carb diets are also often calorie-restricted! Followers only eat an average of 1000 - 1400 calories daily, compared to an average intake of 1800 - 2200 calories for most people. To lose one pound a week, you only need to eat 500 fewer calories per day in your normal diet. Therefore, it doesn't matter if you eat a high- or low-carb diet, you will lose weight if you decrease your caloric intake to less than needed to maintain your weight.
For more details, read Low Carb Diets - do they work?
and A High Carb Diet won't make you fat
- Avoid nuts as they are fattening
Yes, it's true that nuts are quite calorically dense. Fifteen cashews, for instance, deliver 180 kilocaleries! On top of that, it is very tough not to overeat these tasty snacks. But if you can restrain yourself from overeating them, nuts can be a part of a healthy diet.
It's a nutrition myth that nuts should be avoided. In fact, nuts are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (the good fats) as well as plant sterols, all of which have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol.
In 2003, the FDA approved a health claim for seven kinds of nuts stating that "scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces (45 grams) per day of most nuts as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease." Instead of simply adding nuts to your diet, the best approach is to eat them in replacement of foods high in saturated fats.
For more details, read Health Benefits of Nuts
- Eating for 2 is necessary during pregnancy
Energy requirements vary among individuals. Unfortunately, the idea that pregnancy is an ice cream free-for-all is a nutrition myth. It is generally recommended that pregnant women increase their daily intake by 100 kcal in the first trimester and 300 kcal in the second and third trimesters. An extra snack before bedtime consisting of a fruit, a serving of milk or yogurt, and a few biscuits is often enough.
A daily prenatal multivitamin supplement is often recommended during pregnancy, but not a daily bowl of ice cream!
For more details, read Healthy Weight Gain during Pregnancy
- Skipping meals can help lose weight
Many people think that by skipping a meal, they will be eating less food and therefore lose weight. As we now know, this is a nutrition myth. People who think skipping meals means weight loss do not understand how our bodies work.
If you skip a meal, your body will think that you are in starvation mode and therefore slow down the metabolism to compensate. You then tend to overeat at the next meal. Often, skipping a meal and then eating too much at the next one means that you have a higher total caloric intake than if you just ate more frequently throughout the day. A better approach is to eat smaller frequent healthy meals and snacks to keep your blood sugar balanced.
For more details, read 10 Tips for Easy Weight Loss
- Red meat is bad for health
I often hear people saying that they do not eat red meat. When I ask why they don't, or even what they consider to be red meat, the answers vary dramatically.
It is true that some studies have linked red meat with increased risk of heart disease, partly due to the saturated fat content. In fact, even chicken can contain as much saturated fat as lean cuts of beef or pork. For instance, a serving of sirloin beef or pork tenderloin has less saturated fats than the same serving size of chicken thigh with skin. It is true that poultry like chicken and turkey is naturally lower in saturated fats. But it is only true IF you do not eat the skin.
It is a nutrition myth, however, that red meat is altogether bad for your health. Instead of excluding red meats, choose leaner cuts of beef and pork. For beef, choose eye of round, top round roast, top sirloin and flank; for pork, choose tenderloin and loin chops.