“Behind most food myths, there’s a quinoa seed of truth.” – Nina Lemuel, Certified Health & Wellness Coach
As a Certified Health & Wellness Coach, I encounter many people that believe the popular misconceptions about nutrition. Although the misconceptions contain some level of fact, there is a higher level of fiction! Here are 5 facts about the most popular food myths you’ve been believing.
Myth #1: “Going vegetarian will help you lose weight and be healthier.”
A vegetarian diet is excellent for good health when you follow the general rules of a nutritionally-balanced diet and get the nutrients from vegetables that you miss by giving up animal foods. On the other hand, avoiding meat won’t keep you healthy if you consume a lot of high-fat, nutrient-empty, junk foods. Vegetarians must also have a healthy lifestyle to harvest the full benefits of their eating. The vegetarian who loads up on chips fried in hydrogenated oil, along with high-fat cheese, and artificially-sweetened or highly-sugared beverages would be better off nutritionally if he had less of a sweet tooth, cut down on fat, and indulged in a little animal protein.
Myth #2: “Grains products such as bread, pasta, and rice are fattening and you should avoid them when trying to lose weight.”
Complex carbohydrates are needed for a “healthy” weight loss. You should not avoid carbohydrates (or “carbs” for short) but choose the “right” carbs over empty carbs. Carbs provide the energy you need to think, move, and learn. Complex carbohydrates are found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These are absorbed more slowly from the intestine into the blood and provide steady levels of energy, released over time. The energy speeds up the metabolism and helps you lose weight at a healthy rate. Simple carbs are found in junk foods and are digested quickly. The energy from these sugars enter the blood quickly. You will get a surge of energy, but it doesn’t last long. The blood rises, but then it falls, leaving you hungry again and irritable. The “right” or “healthy” carbs are found in foods such as:
- Fresh fruit
- Fresh vegetables
- Dairy products, especially Greek yogurt (choose organic when possible)
- Beans and legumes (beans, lentils, peas)
- Pasta (especially whole grain)
- Potatoes (with skin)
- Whole grain bread (homemade is better)
- Whole grain cereals
- Sweet potatoes
- Rice (brown or wild)
“Empty” carbs are unhealthy carbs because they don’t have much nutritional value. The sugars found in soda, juice, other sweetened beverages, and packaged snacks and cookies are a good example of “junk” carbs. These sugars are digested quickly, leading to ups and downs in blood sugars and causing weight gain, especially the low-fat and sugar- free packages. Choose the “right” carb as often as you can, and you will experience a more sustainable weight loss.
Myth #3: “High protein weight-loss diets are safe.”
Be careful with these. It is generally unwise to use a high protein diet to lose weight. The protein overdose sends the kidneys into overtime. High protein diets are potentially harmful to people with kidney or liver insufficiency. Before trying this type of diet, be sure to consult your doctor and/or registered dietitian.
The reason that high protein diets work is the same reason that other weight loss diets work: they are lower in calories. High protein diets substitute fish and vegetable protein for meat and dairy protein, and this reduces the amount of fat in the diet. There is little research that shows this approach works, or more importantly, is safe. Think smart. Any diet in which you eat fewer calories than you burn will result in weight loss, regardless of whether the diet contains primarily fat, carbohydrates, or proteins.
Ideally, growing children should be eating approximately 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day. Adults need about ½ gram of protein per pound of body weight per day. Brains function better on smaller amounts of food, in just the right proportions of proteins, eaten throughout the day. Eat a well-balanced diet and don’t eat more calories than you burn. That’s the safest approach to weight management.
Myth #4: “You should avoid all fats if you’re trying to be healthy or lose weight.”
Let’s look at the definition of fat! Fat is an oily substance found in some plant foods, fish, and meat that is important for the health of all cells. According to the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute, the Standard American Diet (SAD) has a double fat fault – too much of the wrong fats and too little of the right ones. Just as with carbs, there are good fats and bad fats, fats you should eat more of and fats to avoid. Fats build the brain. The brain is 60 percent fat. Fats build healthy skin. Fat under the skin keeps you warm. It also gives the skin a smooth, nice-looking firm texture. Fats help the body use important vitamins. Fats in the foods help the intestines absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K. Fats provide energy. Body fat stores energy. When the body runs out of fuel from a meal or snack and its small amount of stored carbs, it dips into its reserves and burns fat to keep you going. Fats are filling. Fats in food help you feel satisfied. Fats add to the pleasure of eating. Fats give foods a good flavor. Fats carry more flavor than carbs and protein. Not all fats are created equal! In a nutshell, feed your family more fat that comes from seafood and plants and less fat that comes from animals.
Myth #5: “To lose weight you must give up all your favorite foods.”
A healthy lifestyle involves many choices. Choosing a balanced diet or healthy eating plan is one of them. Let’s begin by defining what a healthy eating plan is.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, a healthy eating plan:
- Emphasizes fruits and vegetables
- Includes lean meats, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts
- Is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars
- Requires you stay within your daily calorie range
Do I have to give up my favorite food?
No! Make peace with your food choices. You can enjoy your favorite foods even if they are high in fat or added sugars. The key is to eat them occasionally and be mindful of the time of day and/or night. If it happens to be a late night of celebrating a special occasion or gathering with friends, balance it out with extra physical activity the next day. Here are a few tips to help you enjoy your comfort foods without any guilt:
- Eat them less often: If you are in the habit of eating high-fat foods every day, cut back to once a week and gradually move to twice a month.
- Eat smaller amounts: If your comfort food is ice cream and you normally would buy a ½ gallon, start buying a pint and eat only ½ and save the other ½ for next week. Portion control is key!
- Homemade over processed: If popcorn is your treat, try popping it at home topping it off with different oils, herbs, and spices such as olive oil, cracked black pepper, garlic powder, paprika, etc.…
The point is this, substitute more, eat less, and less often but you don’t have to give up your favorite foods to lose weight and be healthy. Enjoy all foods responsibly and exercise regularly!