Nutrition misinformation is everywhere. Just turn on the TV or search online, and you'll be bombarded with all kinds of nutrition and weight loss advice that sounds compelling but probably has little (if any!) scientific basis whatsoever -- and may even be harmful to your health. Many myths start from a single, less-than-credible source or shoddy science and spread so widely and quickly that they're often viewed as scientific fact.
Here are five often-cited nutrition myths that may be destroying your diet.
Myth: Saturated Fats Are Healthy
Fact: Thanks in part to the popularity of the Paleo diet, which positions bacon and coconut oil as nutritional all-stars, there's a lot of conflicting information about saturated fats, and whether or not they're harmful for your health. Many of my clients are hearing that saturated fats won't increase risk for heart disease, while the overwhelming evidence still suggests that diets rich in saturated fats increase harmful LDL cholesterol and inflammation, both of which increase one's risk for heart disease.
It's important to look at saturated fat recommendations in the context of your entire diet. For example, diets low in saturated fat but high in added sugars and refined carbs will likely increase, not decrease, risk for heart disease. You want to replace saturated fat with mono or polyunsaturated fats not low-quality carbohydrates.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 7 percent of total calories from saturated fats or 140 calories for a 2,000-calorie reference diet. To meet that recommendation, eat fewer full-fat dairy products and limit fat-rich meats. Looking for a good substitution for baking or sautéing? Choose canola oil for it's neutral flavor, high mono and polyunsaturated fat and low saturated fat content. Safflower, sunflower or corn oil are also good options. At the same time, keep added sugars low -- to 6 tsp (100 calories) per day for women and no more than 9 (150 calories) for men.
Myth: You Aren't Getting Enough Protein
Many people feel that they need more protein to be healthy or build muscle mass, but chances are, you're getting enough already, and too much may not be better. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is .8 grams per kilogram body weight (about 60 grams protein for a 150-lb adults), but that's the minimum amount needed for sedentary adults to prevent a deficiency.
A more optimal goal amount is 1.5 times as much as the RDA or 1.2 grams protein per kilogram body weight or about .5 grams per pound. (If you weigh 200 pounds, that's 100 grams pro per day.) National nutrition surveillance data from NHANES show that men eat around 100 grams per day and women eat 68 grams per day, so it's likely that you already eat enough protein.
What if you have too much protein in your diet? Some studies have found associations between excess protein consumption and kidney disease. And don't forget, too many calories of any macronutrient (protein, carbs, or fat) can result in weight gain.
Myth: Diet Beverages Don't Help with Weight Loss
Many of my weight loss clients love to blame specific foods or beverages for their weight woes, rather than identifying their daily behaviors that promote overeating. Many have heard diet beverages will lead to weight gain so they drink fruit smoothies and cold-pressed juices (often with hundreds of calories) and can't understand why I would rather see them switch to a diet beverage instead of their high-priced "health" drinks.
Here's why: Losing weight comes down to eating fewer calories than your body requires, and one of the best ways to achieve a lower calorie diet is to reduce your daily calories from beverages. A recent human clinical trial published in Obesity found that dieters who enjoyed low- and no-calorie beverages as part of the program lost 13 pounds on average compared to 8.8 pounds lost among dieters restricted to enjoy water only -- and the diet beverage group reported feeling less hungry. What's more, another study published in Obesity reported that among successful dieters (those who lost on average, 30 pounds, and kept it off for at least a year), more than half regularly drink diet beverages.
Don't fall into the psychological trap of believing that because you drank a diet beverage, you have "permission" to indulge in high calorie foods. After all, losing weight comes down to eating fewer calories than you burn off.
Myth: Exercise Is Enough to Peel Off Pounds
If you thought you could simply exercise your way to weight loss without making changes to your diet, you may be disappointed. Unless you're training for an IronMan triathlon or other ultra-endurance event, exercise alone is not a good way to lose weight for most people. This is because exercise burns so few calories compared to what you can eat with an extra bite or two of food.
Unfortunately you're not going to burn off enough calories to lose much weight unless you really boost the intensity or endurance of your workouts. And, on top of that, the increase in exercise often results in an increase in appetite.
Myth: Canned Produce is Less Nutritious Than Fresh and Frozen
You may think that canned foods are less nutritious than fresh or frozen, but according studies conducted by Michigan State University, University of California at Davis and Oregon State University, many canned fruits and vegetables have equal or more nutrients than their fresh or frozen counterparts. That's because the canning process locks in flavor and freshness at the peak of ripeness and nutrition while fresh produce may travel for weeks or months before landing on your plate. And, during that time, it's losing some of its nutrients.
What's more, a well-stocked pantry that includes canned beans, tomatoes, and veggies can help you create a delicious meal in minutes, so you're less likely to eat out or order take-out.