Is the paleo diet right for you? Should you go vegan? Should you try that detox diet? Is gluten hurting you?
In your quest for improving your diet, it’s likely you’ll come across confusing and contradictory advice regarding how and what to eat.
As Michael Pollan puts it in his book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto:
What to eat, how much of it to eat, what order in which to eat it, with what and when and with whom have for most of human history been a set of questions long settled and passed down from parents to children without a lot of controversy or fuss.
But over the last several decades, mom lost much of her authority over the dinner menu, ceding it to scientists and food marketers (often an unhealthy alliance of the two) and, to a lesser extent, to the government, with its ever- shifting dietary guidelines, food- labeling rules, and perplexing pyramids.
In the many decades of trial and error in finding a way to optimally, we have gained both solid advice and a plethora of fads and trends.
So, how do you differentiate between sound nutritional advice and misleading advice?
The following myths are common pieces of advice you still hear nowadays from friends, family, and even doctors, however, researchers and scientist have long debunked these common healthy eating misconceptions.
Myth #1: Focus on counting calories
Truth: Focus on nutritional quality.
One of the easiest loops to get caught on when you’re trying to “eat right” is obsessing over how many calories you’re eating.
Even though it’s important to match your food intake with your physical activity, focusing on nutrient quality is a much better way of getting to your ideal weight (without the stress of counting calories).
Instead of reading how many calories a protein bar has, read how many ingredients it has. If it’s more than 3-4 and you see artificial flavorings or ingredients you don’t recognize, don’t take it home.
The beauty of focusing on the quality of the nutrients instead of counting calories is that you’ll naturally gravitate towards whole foods. Since processed food will never be more nutritious than a whole food, you’ll buy more real food that will help you reach your own healthy weight.
See how it’s all connected?
Myth #2: You need to eat breakfast everyday.
Truth: Skipping breakfast is not unhealthy.
Even though you hear everywhere that breakfast is the most important meal of your day, this is a very wide advice that doesn’t apply to everyone.
Studies have shown that skipping breakfast can actually help you avoid metabolic diseases. As long as are not hungry, not eating in the morning has its benefits.
Another study found that if you’re a breakfast skipper, continuing to do so has a positive effect on your cognitive processes.
The reason you hear you should eat breakfast is partly based on studies that have found a correlation between skipping breakfast and higher MBIs, but there’s no actual causation link, meaning there’s no proof that skipping breakfast causes weight gain.
Myth #3: Breakfast cereals are a healthy option
Truth: Boxed cereals are unhealthy. Choose nuts, seeds, oats, or homemade granola instead.
Even though they have health claims all over the box, boxed breakfast cereals at processed foods, and processed foods have unhealthy ingredients, period.
Most breakfast cereals have a long list of ingredients that include sugar, corn syrup, preservatives (like TBHQ), flavorings, and processed grains stripped of their nutrients.
In other words, breakfast cereals give you the calories, but not the proper nutrition.
Better alternatives to breakfast cereals include chia seed pudding, oatmeal, overnight oats, and yogurt with granola and fruit.
Myth #4: Eating mini meals throughout the day boosts your metabolism
Truth: Mini meals don’t make a difference in your metabolism.
Eating mini meals throughout the day is believed to boost your metabolism, and therefore help you lose weight. However, studies have shown that eating this way doesn’t help you burn fat or lose weight any faster.
Eating smaller meals doesn’t make a difference in weight loss unless you’re eating fewer calories overall with your mini meals.
As long as you’re eating real foods and don’t consume more calories than what you’re burning, there’s no difference between eating 3 meals a day or several smaller ones.
Myth #5: You have to eat foods you dislike
Truth: There’s plenty of whole foods for you to choose what you like.
You don’t have to like every single vegetable or fruit. You don’t need to like salad.
The difference between a diet and lifestyle is that with a lifestyle you enjoy what you eat.
Healthy eating is about having meals that are both nutritious and tasty, otherwise, your healthy habits won’t last.
Whole foods give you a lot of flavors you can choose from.
Finding what you like, and making those foods a regular part of your diet is the secret to long-lasting health.
Myth #6: You need regular detox cleanses
Truth: You can be healthy without cleanses.
Detox cleanses are periods ranging from a few days to a couple of weeks in which you eat a strict set of foods and drinks that are meant to help you clean your body from toxins.
However, in the majority of these diets, those “toxins” and the methods to remove them aren’t clearly defined. Several reviews have discussed the usefulness and effectiveness of mainstream detox diets and concluded they don’t significantly help you manage your weight or eliminate toxins.
Although, not all cleanses are equal.
I fully support cleanses that are aimed at helping you make long-term changes by introducing healthy, diuretic, and alkalizing foods to your diet and transition out of processed foods.
These detoxes have the ultimate goal of helping you make a change, rather than being a quick fix.
The detox diets that are harmful to your health are quick fixes in which you have to drink solely liquids, such as juices, teas, and water.
Strict detox programs involving mostly juices and diuretics deprive your body of essential nutrients it needs to thrive, such as healthy fats, minerals, vitamins and protein.
Myth #7: You need cheat days
Truth: Cheat days promote an unhealthy mindset.
Cheat days are a clear sign of a diet mindset. It evokes a thought of “guilt” or that it’s “wrong”.
Relying on specifics days to eat or binge on not-so-healthy foods because you’re not really enjoying your “regular” diet is unbalanced and bound to make you quit that diet eventually.
Pleasure is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. You will feel healthier and happier when you find a pattern of eating that you enjoy and that leaves you satisfied.
Also, viewing these days as an “escape” is a toxic way to perceive the food you like.
It’s okay to indulge from time to time, this isn’t cheating.
The best way to indulge without harming your health is being mindful about your choices.
Do you want brownies? Eat them without feeling guilty. Be aware and acknowledge you’re in control of your choices.
As long as realize you’re in charge, you will keep on making healthy choices the majority of the time and avoid binging when you indulge.
Myth #8: You need all the superfoods mentioned in the media
Truth: You can be incredibly healthy without “superfoods”.
The products labeled as “superfoods” are often rare and exotic foods with a significant nutritional value, but they’re not essential.
We are now able to know about and get these products only thanks to the era of globalization we’re living in.
When humans were hunter-gatherers, our nutrition was limited to what we could find or grow within the zone we were living in. Every group, regardless of the area they lived in, adapted to the food available and stayed healthy.
So, when you hear about new products with great properties, don’t let it overwhelm you.
You won’t be less healthy if you can’t find or afford them.
As long as you focus on eating real, whole foods, you’ll get the nutrition your body needs to thrive.
Leafy greens, veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds are the REAL superfoods!
Myth #9: Avoid saturated fats at all costs
Truth: Saturated fats are not bad for you
Saturated fats have been getting a bad rap ever since the “low-fat” trend began in the 1970’s.
We are finally getting out of the low-fat craze and embracing healthy fatty foods like avocados and nuts.
Nonetheless, there’s still a lot of controversy over saturated fat.
It’s commonly believed it causes heart disease, however, this causation is not backed by scientific studies.
You know what healthy food everyone is loving lately? Coconut oil.
Coconut oil is high in saturated fat. One tablespoon contains 60% of the recommended daily intake of saturated fat, but no one is telling you to stop eating coconut oil.
This is one of the problems of focusing only on “saturated fat”. You need to consider the quality of the foods it’s coming from first.
Saturated fat from pizza and fried chicken is certainly bad because of the food it’s coming from.
Saturated fat from grass-fed butter or dark chocolate won’t harm your health.
Myth #10: You need multivitamin supplements
Truth: If you eat a balanced diet, multivitamins are not necessary.
Even though multivitamin supplementation sounds like a great way to stay healthy, studies have found these supplements have no significant effects on people with a varied diet.
One study found that supplementation with beta-carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E, could even increase mortality. This is because vitamin A, beta-carotene, and vitamin E are fat-soluble vitamins, and these type of vitamins are capable of accumulating in the body for longer periods of time in comparison to water-soluble ones, increasing their toxicity potential.
Unless you’re severely undernourished, multivitamin supplements are not making a significant difference in your health, and they could even be harming you.
As long as you incorporate fruits and veggies into your daily diet, you will get all the vitamins and minerals you need.
Living healthy doesn’t have to be a struggle.
Your two best tools to always know what choice to make are:
- Keeping it simple
- Loving yourself
When in doubt, remember that whole foods will always keep you healthy, no matter what new trend pops up.
If you think a certain diet or habit is making you miserable, stop doing it and find a healthy lifestyle that makes you feel happy.
If you keep it simple, love yourself, and listen to what your body needs, you’ll be able to avoid the confusion that’s out there.
Start making healthy changes. You can do this.