Common Nutrition Myths

It's hard to decipher myth from fact when there's so much information out there about nutrition. Is there any truth in some common misconceptions, or are they simply marketing terms? We've asked our Head of Nutrition to bust some of the most popular myths we've heard.

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Myth 1: Cut out carbs to lose fat

Whilst cutting sugary and refined carbohydrate foods may help you lose unwanted body fat, it’s only part of the picture. Fibrous, starchy carbohydrate foods are important contributors to a wholesome diet. Consumed regularly, these foods help satiety and will help prevent over-eating. Whilst it’s necessary to moderate the portion sizes of carbohydrate foods if you want to lose weight, don’t cut them out completely.

Myth 2: Skipping meals will help you lose weight quicker

Actually, the opposite may be true. Take the following example: an overweight lorry driver who doesn’t eat much during the day whilst they're on a long drive, then comes home in the evening and eats a huge evening meal. Sure, the lack of exercise may be a factor in their weight, but the missing of meals is a key reason.

If you don’t eat, your body enters ‘fasting mode’ and your metabolic rate may slow down to conserve energy. A slow metabolism means that you’re not burning energy as readily as you should and you’re more likely to store energy as fat and not burn current stores. If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s imperative to have three to four (depending on how active you are) small, regular meals a day including protein foods and fibrous carbohydrates at each.

Myth 3: ‘Low-fat’ or ‘fat-free’ foods are better for you

From as far back as the 1970s, we’ve been led to believe that fat is ‘bad’ for health and there have been campaigns targeted around getting us to consume less fat. Moreover, this is still happening and archaic food labelling often focuses on fat as a bad nutrient. Fat is not bad! We need fat, and including a sensible amount of the right types of fat at each meal is paramount for a nutritious diet. Furthermore, be careful of snack foods labelled as ‘low-fat’, as they are often higher in sugar than their equivalents. Read more on fats here.

Myth 4: There are certain foods that will help you lose weight

In one sense this isn’t actually a myth as foods rich in protein are more thermogenic than foods rich in carbs, or fat, based on a gram for gram basis. Protein and fat are more satiating than carbs, and fibre-rich foods will help keep you feeling full and to stop snacking on high-calorie foods. Therefore, indirectly some foods may support you in your quest to lose weight.

However, there are no foods that will actually cause a calorie deficit and weight loss. There is a theory regarding negative calories and some fibre-rich foods, for example celery, which have negligible protein, fat and digestible carbohydrate content. For these foods, the theory is that as there is an energy cost of digesting food due to the action of the digestive system, this energy cost is greater than the energy provided by the food. Sadly, however, this isn't true as there is some energy provided by fibre (around 2 calories per gram of fibre, compared with 4 calories per gram of digestible carbohydrate) so there is an energy contribution from foods like celery, albeit small, debunking the negative calorie theory. That’s not to say that foods like celery aren’t great to support weight loss – they most certainly are fabulous choices – it’s just that munching on a load of celery isn't going to make you lose weight directly.

Myth 5: Snacking is bad for you

Too much snacking may be bad for you, but in moderation – and with the right snack choice – snacking can be a useful way of getting some extra nutrition as well as keeping those unwanted hunger pangs at bay!

Myth 6: Cut out your favourite foods in order to lose weight

You don’t need to cut any food completely out of your diet if you’re trying to lose weight. Consuming your favourite foods in moderation may help you stick to a weight loss plan. Of course, how much you include will depend on what your favourite foods are, and if they are high-calorie this will affect how much you include them in your diet.

Myth 7: Track your calories on a daily basis to know you’re eating the right amount

Whilst the more nutritionally enthusiastic amongst us may find it useful to know which foods are high in calories and which foods are lower, you do not need to count calories. You do not expend exactly the same amount of energy every day. Furthermore, the calorific value of foods has little relevance to the nutritional value of foods; foods of similar calories can have a very different nutritional profile and effect on satiety.

Myth 8: Eating before bed will make you fat

Eating before bed won’t make you fat! However, it’s not a good idea to eat too much last thing at night because it’s not great for digestion if you lie down in bed with a full stomach. Also, as our metabolic rate is typically faster in the morning and slower in the evening – related to the secretion of hormones involved with the metabolism like insulin – ideally, spread food intake throughout the day.

Myth 9: Fruit is bad for you because it contains a lot of sugar

No-one ever got fat from eating fruit! Sugar is only bad for you if you consume too much. Fruit does contain natural sugar in the form of fructose, which is metabolised differently to glucose. Fruit is also rich in fibre, which will help slow down the digestion of foods, and fruit is packed with a range of different vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.

Myth 10: If you exercise regularly, you need more protein in your diet

If you’re exercising hard, you may need to increase your food intake in order to fuel additional energy requirements (if you’re not looking to lose weight, of course). As you’re eating more food, you will, by default, be consuming more protein, and this is sufficient, especially considering that the Western diet is already typically higher in protein than required. You certainly won’t need to increase your protein intake any more than what will be provided by upping your food intake.

Myth 11: A vegan diet doesn’t provide enough protein

It did indeed use to be hard for vegans to be able to obtain adequate protein from their diet and they had to carefully choose foods for each meal. However, the modern vegan has an easy life: it’s easy to obtain adequate protein as there are loads of high-protein plant-based products readily available like tofu, hummus, tempeh, soya-based desserts, vegan protein powders and Huel. Combining more than one plant-protein source at each meal will ensure requirements for all amino acids are met. Read more about protein quality here.

Myth 12: Going vegan can help you lose weight

Maybe! But that will depend on your diet in the first place. If you were eating a rubbish omnivorous diet, then switching to a plant-based diet will typically mean you are more conscious of your food choices. However, a vegan diet is not necessarily a diet synonymous with weight loss. If you’re eating too much, then you won't lose weight. Plus vegan diets may be a little carb-heavy if you don’t plan correctly. And many calorie-dense foods (like flapjacks) are permitted in a vegan diet.

Myth 13: Detox diets are beneficial for your body to reboot you

Don’t get us started on this one! What does ‘detox’ even mean? And ‘reboot’ is something you do with your PC and has no relevance to the human body! If you have proper functioning kidneys, then your body will detoxify every day. If you see an article about so-called ‘detox diets’, stop reading it!

Myth 14: Going gluten-free is healthier for you

Unless you are coeliac or have one of the other rare conditions that mean you have a genuine intolerance to gluten, then gluten is not ‘bad’ for you. Gluten is a protein found naturally in wheat, rye and barley, and for the majority of us, it causes no issues and contributes to your daily protein intake. Read more about gluten here.

Myth 15: Superfoods are a great way of getting key nutrients

‘Superfood’ is another marketing term with no actual meaning in nutrition. Some foods touted as being ‘superfoods’ do contain some vitamins and minerals, but at levels lower than in a portion of regular fruit and veg. Your overall diet is the key to obtaining adequate amounts of all vitamins and minerals and all food is ‘super’!

Myth 16: Coffee is bad for you

Until recently, doctors seemed to think that coffee was bad for you. We're not sure where this came from. Whilst it would be prudent to not consume too much caffeine, coffee is rich in a number of phytonutrients and antioxidants and is great to include as part of a nutritious diet. You may need to limit the amount you drink if you're sensitive to caffeine; otherwise, enjoy up to three to five cups a day. Read our article Health Benefits of Coffee.

Myth 17: Salt is bad for you

Salt is made from two electrolytes, sodium and chloride, both of which are essential and required for key functions in the body, like the regulation of fluid balance. The problem is only when you have too much salt in your diet, which has been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Moderate the amount of salt you consume, but don’t cut it out completely.

Myth 18: You need to have milk and dairy products to obtain enough calcium

Calcium is essential for bone and tooth health and for muscle contraction. It's crucial to have a good calcium intake during the bone-building years, which are as a baby and again from adolescence to about 30 years of age. This is especially important in females. Insufficient calcium during these periods can lead to osteoporosis when you're older. Dairy products are rich in calcium, but if you exclude dairy, you can get adequate calcium by including a range of the following in your diet: plant-based milks (e.g. soya, oat, almond) enriched with calcium, nuts, seeds, dark green vegetables, pulses, oily fish with edible bones and Huel.

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