In the world of diet and nutrition, there may seem like there is an infinite amount of information out there. The thing is, a large portion of that information is bad, incorrect, or just plain stupid.
To help you avoid this type of information, here’s a rundown of some of the most known and unknown diet, nutrition and food myths along with an explanation for why each is nothing more than a myth, or, in some cases, a flat out lie.
1. Eating fat makes you fat.
There is only one thing that makes a person fat, and that is eating more calories than their body requires. That’s it. Nothing else causes weight gain other than eating too many total calories. So, for example, if your body requires 2500 calories per day to maintain your weight, you will gain weight if you eat more than 2500 calories per day on a regular basis. It doesn’t matter if those calories come from fat, protein or carbs. Eating too much of anything will cause fat gain.
2. Fat is unhealthy, and therefore our diets should be as low in fat as possible.
If it wasn’t for the fact that there are different types of fat, this myth may actually be true. However, since there actually ARE different types of fat, believing in this myth could actually be detrimental to your health. See, there are some fats (saturated and trans) that you certainly do want to limit somewhat (and in the case of trans, avoid altogether).
But there are two types of fat that you should purposely be eating. This would of course be polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat, also known as the “healthy fats.” Found in foods such as nuts, seeds, fish, fish oil, olive oil, and flax seed oil, these types of fat provide a variety of health benefits and are an essential part of our diet. Avoiding them because of some silly “all fat is unhealthy” idea could actually be bad for you, rather than the other way around.
3. Carbs make you fat… and are most likely the devil!
Oh boy, carbs… the official most confusing nutrient of them all. First of all, as previously mentioned during the “fat makes you fat” myth, the only thing that makes you fat is eating too many total calories. Carbs, fat, protein… it doesn’t matter. French fries and cheese burgers or steamed broccoli and grilled salmon… it doesn’t matter. If you eat more than your body needs, you gain weight no matter what it is. Simple as that.
Then there’s the whole “carb-aphobia” thing. Really, they’re not so bad. In fact, they’re a little like fat in that they have their own “good” and “bad” version. The good version would be complex carbs. This includes foods like oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat bread, fruits, vegetables and other whole grains. The bad version would be simple carbs. This includes foods like white rice, white bread, soda, candy, chips and other processed junk food.
So, for now on, if you want to call carbs the devil, at least add the word “simple” before “carbs,” as it is simple carbs that cause all of the negative carb related effects. Complex carbs on the other hand are perfectly fine and should actually comprise most of your daily diet.
4. Eating after 6:00pm, or 7:00pm, or 8:00pm, or any time late at night is bad because the food will turn straight into fat.
This one is my favorite diet and nutrition myth of them all. Here’s the thing, your body doesn’t care what time of the day you eat. In fact, your body has no concept of time. It doesn’t think “Hey, it’s 8pm, time to start converting whatever food gets eaten from this point on into fat!”
In terms of fat/weight control, your body knows one thing and one thing only, total calories. If you give your body more calories than it needs, it will store those extra calories as body fat. The time of the day that you eat plays absolutely no role in this. To your body, 300 calories eaten at 10am are exactly the same as 300 calories eaten at 10pm.
So, eat as early or as late as you want. As long as your total calorie intake for the day is what it should be, the time of the day that you eat those calories means absolutely nothing.
5. Certain foods (grapefruit, cabbage soup, etc.) can actually burn fat.
If the above myth is my favorite, this one gets second place. Just like no specific food makes you gain fat, no specific food makes you burn fat. All of this grapefruit diet and cabbage soup diet stuff is all nonsense that should be either laughed at or ignored.
If you want to lose fat, you have to give your body less calories than it needs, ideally about 500 calories below maintenance level each day. So, if your body needs 2500 calories each day to stay at your current weight, you will lose weight by eating 2000 calories per day. Your other option to lose weight would be by exercising so that you are burning extra calories. Or, for best results, a combination of both.
Now that you know will work, here’s what won’t work. Eating “magic” foods that “magically” burn fat.
6. If my food label says 0 grams of trans fat, then it has absolutely no trans fat.
Your food label is lying to you. It may say your food contains 0 grams of trans fat per serving yet it may actually contain 0.4 grams. Here’s why. The FDA’s trans fat labeling rule states that food companies only need to mention trans fat IF and ONLY IF their food contains 0.5 grams of trans fat or more per serving. If it contains exactly 0.499999, they are allowed to print “Trans fat: 0 grams” on their food label.
Yes, this is indeed dumb and wrong in every possible way. Now, if you’re thinking that slightly under half a gram of trans fat doesn’t seem like much, here’s what I have to tell you. First, ANY amount of trans fat is too much. Second, this is only per serving. If you eat a few servings of whatever this food is, all of a sudden you are eating a few grams of trans fat without even knowing it.
Fortunately though, there is a way to know it. That way is by checking the ingredients. If you see the word “hydrogenated” (or “partially hydrogenated”) or “shortening,” then that food contains some amount of trans fat whether the label says so or not.
7. 100% whole wheat bread is always healthy and is always 100% whole wheat.
Throughout a Calorie Counter, whenever I mention anything about complex carbs (aka “good carbs”) one of the foods I mention as an example is 100% whole wheat bread. The only problem is this requires a little more of an explanation to truly make sure that you are actually eating whole wheat bread.
As it turns out, some “100% whole wheat” breads are lying. They are nothing more than, at best, slightly improved versions of white bread. Others contain other junk that you don’t want your whole wheat bread to have. Luckily though, just like catching the aforementioned trans fat lie on your food label, there is a similar way to verify if you are indeed eating a healthy legit 100% whole wheat bread.
In the ingredients on the food label, here is what you should be looking for. First and foremost, the #1 ingredient on that list should be something with the words “Whole Wheat” in it. Some examples include “Whole Wheat Flour” and “Stone Ground Whole Wheat Flour.” Next up, you should NOT see the words “Unbleached” or “Enriched” anywhere in the list in any form.
You will also want to stay away from bread that have “High Fructose Corn Syrup” listed as an ingredient. And, get ready for this, but a large portion of supposed healthy 100% whole wheat bread actually contain some amount of trans fat. That means you also want to check the ingredients for those trans fat spotting words I mentioned before, specifically “hydrogenated” and “partially hydrogenated.”
If your bread fits all of the above requirements, then congrats. You found one of the few true healthy 100% whole wheat bread.