5 Myths That Derail Diet Goals
January 3, 2022
When it comes to what to eat, everyone has an opinion. There’s no shortage of information out in the world on what’s the healthiest way to eat, or the best diets for weight loss. And as nutrition science continues to evolve, changes in the advice and best practices that experts preach. The result: lots (and lots) of misinformation about what makes a meal “healthy.” We talked to Libby Mills, R.D. about some of the most prevalent diet myths—and the advice to follow instead.
Myth: Carbohydrates are the enemy.
Fact: Pasta- and potato-lovers can breathe a sigh of relief. Carbohydrate-rich foods, like bread, potatoes, beans, and grains, are not the enemy. (In fact, no food is—even treats can fit into a healthy diet.) The key is limiting refined carbohydrates (these are often those found in processed foods and treats like cookies and cakes). And instead, eating more whole grains (such as whole grain rice or whole wheat products), which contain more fiber and nutrients.
Research links a high-fiber diet and whole grain intake with lower risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and colorectal and breast cancer. Stick to whole grains, fruits, legumes, and vegetables as your main carb sources, and balance them out with protein and healthy fat at each meal.
Myth: You have to stick to all homemade, all the time.
Fact: Convenience foods can get a bad rap, and for good reason. Studies find that a diet high in ultra-processed packaged foods can lead to overeating, poorer heart health, and more. But there’s a world of difference between a bag of pre-cut, frozen vegetables or a can of beans (both technically processed) and a bag of chips or frozen meals high in fat or sodium, Mills says. And if the convenience of say, a bag of frozen veggies makes it easier to eat more of them, that’s worth it. Try to steer clear of packaged foods that are high in sodium (your daily recommended amount is no more than 2,300 mg/day) and added sugar when you can.
Myth: Water is the key to weight loss.
Fact: Not necessarily. While hydration is certainly important for your health and energy levels, drinking tons of water is not going to “flush out toxins” or suddenly cause your body to burn fat. And if you’re truly hungry, drinking a glass of water is not going to fool your body. “It might keep you full for a short period of time, but legitimate hunger will creep back in,” Mills says. That said, if you’re dehydrated, it may make you more likely to feel hungry when you’re really just thirsty, or to reach for a sugary snack to perk you up when a glass of water would help you feel better.
Myth: Fat is never a healthy choice.
Fact: First of all, your body needs fat, Mills says. It’s essential to building new cells, regulating your body temperature, insulating your organs, and giving you energy. And second, it makes those high-fiber foods taste a whole lot better—veggies sprinkled with chopped nuts, roasted in oil, or topped with some cheese are so much more appealing than plain or steamed ones. Making food taste good helps you eat more of those nutrient-dense foods. Plus, “having a bit of fat with meals helps keep us full between them,” Mills says.
Of course, as with everything else, moderation is key: You’ll want to keep fats between 20% and 35% of your total daily calories. Sticking to mostly plant-based, unsaturated fats is best (no more than 10% of your fats calories should come from saturated fats like those from meats, cheese, and milk). When part of a healthy diet, research has linked plant-based unsaturated fats with better health outcomes.
Myth: Going vegetarian or gluten-free=instant weight loss.
Fact: There are lots of valid reasons to choose a gluten-free or plant-based diet, like Celiac disease or a personal conviction against eating animal products. But weight loss isn’t necessarily going to be the result of these big diet shifts, Mills says. While it’s certainly possible to follow those plans healthily, “a lot of gluten-free products and bread substitutes are made with more sweeteners or more fat,” she says. With plant-based diets, she sees clients frequently swapping out meat but including cheese—and eating it in abundance, which can be too much for the heart. And while they may carry a “health halo,” snacks with labels like “plant-based” or “gluten-free” can still be full of excess sodium, sugar, or fat. Be sure to evaluate your food choices based on nutrients, rather than marketing.
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