There are plenty of confusing myths around diet; generalised advice on what we “should” and “shouldn’t” do. However, it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ with nutrition – and a rule based “everybody needs to do this” approach is often ineffective. We are all individuals and we need different things depending on numerous factors, including lifestyle, stress, genetics and environmental elements. So whilst each myth may have a hint of truth for a few, perhaps it’s worth finding out what is best for you to eat given all your unique requirements?
Myth 1: All carbs make us fat.
Carb intake is essential, yet carbs coming from grains are not essential for everyone. This one really is an individual matter – and for certain people taking grains out can be extremely helpful. A combination of low GI carbs and protein can be a great weight loss strategy.
Myth 2: You shouldn’t eat after 7pm as food is stored as fat.
It’s the amount of calories we use up that is one determinant of weight – it doesn’t matter what time of the day we eat them. In fact, quite frequently I recommend a pre-bed snack for clients to encourage healthy sleeping patterns. (However, there are many other reasons for difficulty in losing weight which are a separate issue from calorie intake).
Myth 3: Bread causes bloating.
Bloating has many, many causes, one of which can be intolerance to gluten. It is important to start looking for the cause of bloating either with your GP or a nutritionist so it can be addressed correctly.
An exclusion diet can often help if you suspect bread to be the cause. However, there are some excellent tests available which can help identify other factors. For example, immune response to gluten, bowel symptoms, poor levels of digestive enzymes, imbalanced gut microbes or an inflammatory response. Gluten sensitivity is often a symptom of one of these underlying factors. It is often worth further investigation.
Myth 4: Frequently eating small meals throughout the day can increase your metabolism and help you to lose weight.
Increasing muscle mass is the best way to speed up metabolism. However, whilst eating more frequently may not increase metabolism, in certain people it can be really helpful for weight loss. Eating regular combination of nutrients can stabilise blood sugar levels. This significantly reduces cravings and ultimately reduces your calorie intake, particularly of sugary food.
Myth 5: You need to include dairy foods in your diet to get enough calcium.
Dairy foods aren’t eaten in the East, and yet it’s rare to see calcium deficiency related disease in these cultures. Conversely, calcium metabolism illnesses are more prevalent in the West, which has a much higher calcium intake in general. Vitamin D levels and magnesium intake are important for correct metabolism of calcium – and often, it is not calcium intake which is a problem, but body levels of these other nutrients which impact.
We really don’t need to rely on dairy for calcium. Green leafy vegetables are a fantastic source, and they also contain high levels of magnesium to help us use calcium correctly, whereas dairy contains little magnesium.
Myth 6: Foods naturally high in cholesterol such as eggs can raise blood cholesterol, increasing your risk of heart disease.
Yes indeed, previous advice about eggs has been retracted regarding cholesterol. In fact, eggs contain lecithin, which helps us remove cholesterol from the body by forming bile. Eggs are in fact encouraged as an excellent source of protein, which is important for weight loss.
In general, cholesterol levels tend to be raised by other factors, such as stress levels (all our stress hormones have cholesterol as a pre-hormone), sugar intake and a lack of fibre in the diet.
Myth 7: Raw food diets are better for your health as they’re rich in enzymes that are essential for healthy digestion.
Raw food diets are indeed nutritious, nut are not essential. So long as we have a healthy balance of nutrients, we are able to make our own enzymes. However, our capacity will be limited if we have other factors in our lives which affect body processes, such as stress, caffeine/alcohol/nicotine intakes or nutrient deficiencies.
Myth 8: It’s saturated fat in the diet that increases cholesterol and leads to heart disease.
Absolutely true! Dietary fat has had a bad press for decades, but actually fat is essential in the diet (within reason!). It’s the high sugar and white carbohydrate intakes which are problematic – and these are often high in the “low fat” alternatives available.