It seems like every year there’s a new nutrition trend, backed by lots of smart-sounding pseudoscience. But it’s important to separate the truth from the trend before you unconsciously (or consciously) make it a part of your diet. It’s time to bust these eight common diet myths.
1. A vegan diet is automatically healthy
Some people go vegetarian or vegan for animal welfare reasons. Others do it because they think it’s a healthy choice. But is it? “Vegetarian and vegan diets can be healthy, but they can lack certain nutrients,” according to Harvard Medical School. “You may have to use a little creativity to ensure you get enough protein, calcium, iron, and vitamin B12.”
Likewise, just because a food is vegetarian or vegan, that doesn’t mean it’s automatically healthy (e.g., potato chips). Just like with any diet, you have to look at the balance and nutrition of all the foods you’re eating.
2. Raw foods are the most nutritious
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The raw food diet has become trendy lately. “Its supporters believe that consuming mostly raw foods is ideal for human health and has many benefits, including weight loss and better overall health,” according to Healthline. One of the main beliefs is that cooking destroys nutrients and enzymes in foods that are essential to human health. But science doesn’t always support that notion.
Yes, sometimes cooking does diminish certain nutrients, but in other cases it can actually increase their availability. For instance, one study found cooking elevated the antioxidants and accessible lycopene in tomatoes. Plus, cooking kills bacteria and helps to reduce some harmful compounds in foods. So eating a combination of raw and cooked foods is typically a healthier approach.
3. Frequent small meals are better than fewer large ones
You’ve probably heard the advice to eat several smaller meals throughout the day versus just a few larger ones. People claim this can help you lose weight by keeping your metabolism active. But again, science doesn’t back this idea.
“Eating 2-3 meals per day has the exact same effect on total calories burned as eating 5-6 (or more) smaller meals,” according to Healthline. “Eating frequently may have benefits for some people (like preventing excessive hunger), but it is incorrect that this affects the amount of calories we burn.” Some research has even shown that frequent eating can increase liver and abdominal fat. So at the end of the day what you put into your body is more important than how frequent your meals are.
4. Carbs are the enemy of weight loss
The low-carb diet that was so popular in the ’90s and early 2000s has given way to other nutrition trends. Yet some people still tend to view carbs as the enemy, especially for weight loss. But the truth is not all carbs are evil. “Cutting them out altogether means you’re losing an opportunity to improve your health and your weight,” Cleveland Clinic says.
Simple and refined carbs — cakes, cookies, crackers, pasta, etc. — aren’t very nutritious and can contribute to weight gain. So when people lose weight from “cutting carbs,” it’s likely because they avoided these foods. But healthy carbs from whole grains, fruits, vegetables and more are part of a nutritious diet. And it’s time they stop getting lumped in with their unhealthy cousins.
5. Fat in food equals fat on your body
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The fat-free/low-fat diet was the trend prior to everyone avoiding carbs. And while many people have finally learned to embrace fats, some still are scared fat in food might end up as excess fat on their bodies. But like carbs, not all fats are equal. “Choose heart-healthy unsaturated fats, such as olive and canola oil, nuts, nut butters and avocados over those that are high in saturated and trans fats, including fatty meats and high-fat dairy products,” Mayo Clinic says. These healthy fats help our bodies protect organs and absorb nutrients, among other benefits.
Moreover, low-fat or fat-free products can backfire in terms of weight and overall health. They often contain added sugar and sodium to make up for the loss of the fat’s flavor. And they’re not as filling as higher-fat foods. So it’s all about eating the right portions of healthy fats to reap the benefits.
6. Eating lots of protein strains your kidneys
Some people might believe eating protein causes your kidneys to work harder, raising your risk of kidney disease. This notion has gotten tied up with protein because there’s a little truth to it. “Although it is true that people with established kidney disease should cut back on protein, this is absolutely not true of otherwise healthy people,” Healthline says. “Numerous studies, even in athletes that eat large amounts of protein, show that a high protein intake is perfectly safe.”
Research actually has shown a higher protein intake might help to lower your blood pressure and combat Type 2 diabetes — two risk factors for kidney disease. Plus, protein consumption helps to maintain a healthy weight, which also benefits kidney function. So again, a balanced diet is what strengthens your body and prevents disease.
7. A detox diet is worth a try
Detox diets and cleanses have become incredibly popular — often thanks to celebrities on social media peddling pseudoscientific detox products. But these dangerous products are typically a waste of money — and can end up doing more harm than good. “There’s very little evidence that dietary cleanses do any of the things they promise,” according to Mayo Clinic. “The fact is we don’t need to cleanse our bodies. Our liver, kidneys and gastrointestinal tract do a good job of detoxing it every day.”
Some of these diets essentially starve you (or use laxatives) to cause you to drop weight quickly. But that’s incredibly unhealthy and can upset your gut health, among other issues. Instead, focus on cutting processed foods and drinking lots of water if you want to rejuvenate your system.
8. Calories in versus calories out determines weight
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Many people believe weight is a reflection of willpower, based on caloric input versus output. But it’s so much more than that. “The human body is a highly complex biological system with many hormones and brain centers that regulate when, what and how much we eat,” according to Healthline. “It is well known that genetics, hormones and various external factors have a huge impact on body weight. Junk food can also be downright addictive, making people quite literally lose control over their consumption.”
Furthermore, not all calories work in the same way. “Different foods go through different metabolic pathways and have direct effects on fat burning and the hormones and brain centers that regulate appetite,” Healthline says. For instance, a high-protein diet can actually increase your metabolic rate. Thus, weight is not as simple as counting calories and willpower, and you should never assume you know what’s going on in another person’s body.
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