It’s the 21st century, and we’ve never had more access to information about our health.
Science and medicine are improving continually, and our non-stop access to media means we’re often bombarded by articles, programs, advertisements, and gurus who tell us how to stay healthy with their lists of what to do and what not to do.
But sometimes, that wisdom is, in fact, not wisdom at all. It’s best to rely on science to know what is and isn’t healthy for us – but often, it’s fads and companies promoting products that catch our ear.
I’m here to tell you something – a lot of the nutrition “knowledge” floating around out there is simply untrue.
It can be hard to sort the fact from the fiction, though, so I’ve pulled together a list of some of the worst diet advice out there. Follow these pieces of nutrition “wisdom” at your peril!
Throw out your egg yolks (or avoid eggs entirely)
For some reason,eggs are often the target of celebrity “nutritionists,” or those trying to sell you diet products.
Ask most nutritionists though, and they’ll set you straight – eggs are fantastic for your health. In fact, they almost qualify for that “superfood” label people love to throw around.
So where did eggs go wrong to make themselves such a common target?
It’s the simple fact that the yolks are high in cholesterol.
So, since, we all know that high cholesterol is bad, what’s to be done? Many nutritionists and celebrity dieticians will tell you – just eat the egg whites.
The problem? Egg whites are as bland as they look – they’ve got practically no nutrients.
Not only do eggs made with the yolks taste better, evidence is now building to suggest that eggs don’t have a negative effect on your cholesterol at all.
A 2012 study published in the British Medical Journal states that, “Higher consumption of eggs is not associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease or stroke.”
Further research from the University of Connecticut found mixed results in people eating three eggs a day for a month. Those susceptible to raised cholesterol did have heightened cholesterol – but only in the good kind, HDL.
The study’s researchers concluded that the heightening of these levels resulted in no increased risk for coronary disease. In addition, the majority of respondents had no impact whatsoever on their cholesterol.
So what are you missing out on if you forgo eggs, telling yourself it’s safer to just skip them altogether?
- High quality proteins, healthy fats, vitamins minerals, and antioxidants
- High amounts of choline – a brain nutrient that 90% of people don’t have enough of
- Improved weight loss potential, as eggs can help you feel fuller for long.
When I make the time to eat a breakfast consisting of two eggs – be they fried, scrambled, or, my favorite on lazy weekends, in a gorgeous israeli Shakshuka recipe, I’ve found that I stay fuller for much longer.
The result? None of that naughty snacking I was so prone to when I just had some cereal or toast for breakfast.
Take Home Advice: Eat eggs for breakfast to help you feel full all day and to improve your overall nutrient intake in a way your body can easily process. Healthy, balanced diets should include food that’s nutrient-rich, and eggs are one of those “superfoods.”
Lower the fat – pump up the carbs
Low fat diets sound good – because we’ve demonized fat. We tell ourselves that we should avoid fat, because surely it will make us fat?
Ever wonder why people are still fat, even with all the low-fat alternatives filling the supermarket shelves?
Fat isn’t the enemy. Low-fat diets can be appropriate, depending upon your health – but if you’re obese or have type 2 diabetes, they can be destructive. That’s because low fat diets rely on higher levels of carbs, and higher levels of carbs raise blood sugar.
A two-year study by the Swedish Council on Health Technology Assessment involving the review of 16,000 studies conducted until 2013 made the conclusion that a high-fat, low-carb diet is the best choice for most people.
This recommendation that resulted in the official change of Sweden’s governmental dietary advice, suggesting that low carbohydrate diets can improve good cholesterol and lead to improvements in glucose levels of those already struggling with obesity and diabetes.
Another American study on the effects of a low-carb diet on mood and hunger found that those on a low-carb diet lost almost twice the weight as the group of low-fat participants over a six month period.
Members of this experimental group also expressed fewer feelings of hunger throughout the study.
I know myself that, while carbs can make me feel good in the short-term – toast, yum! – they also tend to leave me feeling pretty hungry quite soon after.
I’m not going to cut my toast habit out altogether, but what I’ve learned from Sweden’s health program and from other sources has certainly persuaded me to reach for the carbs less often when I’m hungry.
This isn’t just about weight loss, though.
A moderate diet involving low carbohydrates and higher fat and protein can also help your heart. The trick is making sure those are healthy fats and proteins.
A study over 20 years of more than 80,000 women found that those with lower carbohydrate diets and high-fat and protein diets had substantially lower risks of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
This was only true, however, for women who replaced carbohydrates with healthy vegetable-sourced fats and proteins. If a diet was high in animal fats and proteins, the benefits were negligible.
Take Home Advice: Low-carb, high-fat diets may work better for you than the often-recommended high-carb, low-fat diet. If you have diabetes or are obese, consider cutting down on your carbs to lose weight (with your doctor’s approval, of course).
Make sure to replace those carbs with healthy fats. As with all good dietary advice, focusing on food quality is more important than just food quantities.
A calorie is a calorie… is a calorie
Calorie counting is everywhere these days. Even fast food joints advertise their calories – albeit often in tiny writing on the bottom of their packaging.
It’s good to be informed how many calories are in something, which is why it’s great to see so many companies beginning to list their nutritional information.
But focusing only on calories leads to a major downfall mentioned earlier – we aren’t focusing on food quality.
The problem with the calorie as a measurement is that it makes every calorie sound equal.
However, just as I’m sure you realize with other types of measurements- they aren’t always equal. Take time for an example…
If you spend 10 minutes with your friend, but while away those minutes playing around on your phone or watching TV, those minutes aren’t really what can be considered “quality time.”
If you sit down together, have a coffee or go for a walk, and really make an effort to connect, on the other hand, those minutes will feel much more important to you.
Just like time spent together can be quality or not, calories can be a measurement of an amount of food that’s healthy – or an amount of food that’s not.
On the one hand, 30 M&Ms total 200 calories – but so does 150 grams of hard-boiled eggs.
It seems obvious that one of those options is far healthier in terms of macro and micronutrient counts.
But when we focus on calorie counting, we tend to make every small, on-the-spot, food decision based on how many calories something has – not how healthy those calories are for us.
The problem with that is that, while your home cooked meal might have more calories than a Big Mac burger by itself, your home cooked meal will also have fewer processed fats, hormones and preservatives.
It should also have more focus on healthy protein and lean fats than a Big Mac, which maxes out its calories from fat intake.
Plus some foods can actually help us burn calories, while others do not.
How full are you right now?
Ever eat something and still find yourself feeling starving?
At parties, we can chow down on candies, chips and alcohol – consuming huge amounts of calories while still not feeling full at all. These kind of calories are sometimes referred to as empty calories.
That’s because different foods help you feel fuller for longer – therefore, making you feel less hungry later on. That makes it easier for you to keep eating healthfully – and within appropriate restraints.
Just because calories aren’t everything doesn’t mean we need to throw food portions and control out the window!
Foods such as eggs, potatoes, and meat can all help you feel full for longer, for fewer calories, than sweets, ice-cream or sugary grain products.
Additionally, if you consume high amounts of protein everyday, you can boost your metabolism and reduce your appetite and cravings.
One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association followed three different groups of study participants who ate the same number of calories, in different combinations foods.
Surprisingly, the people who ate less fat burned 300 calories a day less than those on the low-carb diet.
This difference was attributed to the potential slowing of the metabolism that occurs when a human is not consuming enough fat.
While people may lose weight eventually when they eat low-fat diets, this weight is usually regained after people begin eating normally again. Their metabolism has been slowed down, and their bodies must find away to compensate for this change.
Take Home Advice: Not all calories are created equal. Favor food quality over calorie counting, and make sure that the calories you consume are valuable to your body.
Focus on calories that bring nutrients and other substances your body needs along with. The so-called “empty” calories in alcohol, soft drinks and other junk foods just aren’t giving your body what it needs.
Replace natural products with “skinny” alternatives
Our shopping aisles are absolutely full to bursting with “diet” versions of the natural foods humans have been eating for centuries.
Companies hear you worrying about getting fat, but they know that our human nature is to want to indulge. So they offer you what they claim is the ultimate win-win – your favorite product, only with fewer calories.
One example is butter.
According to many studies, butter is actually good for us – it’s a natural product that’s made from few ingredients. Margarine, its diet replacement? Not so much.
See, the problem is that we’ve become too used to swapping the words “low calorie” and “healthy” as if they were interchangeable. If by “diet,” you mean low calorie, you aren’t focusing on the old meaning of diet – that which makes up what you eat.
A healthy diet isn’t just a low calorie one – it’s one that gives you all the nutrition you need and none of the junk you don’t.
In fact, a study published in the British Medical Journal found that saturated fats from milk, cheese and meat products have a protective effect our health systems, while the trans-fats found in margarine, baked goods and other processed products harm our bodies.
Margarine isn’t food – it’s a food replacement, designed to tell you what you want, while actually giving you none of the nutrients you need.
I remember the day I switched to margarine. I was in the aisle, looking down at my stomach and thinking, “I wish I could lose a few pounds before summer.”
We’ve all been there.
But I simply love toast in the morning, and giving it up seemed like too much to ask. So I looked at the margarine – which, of course, offered me less calories – and I bought it.
It didn’t taste as good as butter, but I got used to it. I told myself I was doing the right thing for my body.
But once again, I was seeing food as something I wanted – something that needed to be denied. I also was patting myself on the back for choosing a lower calorie option, while not changing anything about my health.
In fact, I was hurting it.
But when things are hurting our insides, we often don’t know. It’s a case of “out of sight, out of mind.”
Medical professionals tell us that processed foods increase our risk of illness – so why do we keep eating them?
It isn’t in the food manufacturers’ best interests to tell you that.
They want to make more products they can market to you, which is why so many processed fats and oils make it into our food.
Take Home Advice: Eat natural products, not highly processed ones. Stick to butter, milk and meat fats, rather than trans-fats. If a product is “new” in terms of human history, it probably isn’t good for you.
A more natural product is almost always a better option.
Use vegetable oils for your cooking needs
It’s common advice that you should add seed or vegetable oils to your diet, as they’re high in polyunsaturated fats and some studies suggest they lower cholesterol levels.
Unfortunately this kind of simplified medicine, which works well for TV or popular magazines’ headlines, is often misleading.
Lowering cholesterol isn’t necessarily something that’s going to prevent heart disease. There are many other factors that can either improve or negatively impact your chances of developing the disease.
Surprisingly, in fact, a Canadian Medical Association Journal analysis of polyunsaturated fats in certain vegetable oils found that you could increase your risk of coronary artery disease by consuming them.
But these oils are harmful for a number of other reasons as well. While they might have loads of polyunsaturated fats, they’re commonly omega-6 fatty acids.
High levels of omega-6 fatty acids can cause inflammation in the body, which is why it’s important to balance your consumption of omega-6 and omega-3.
If you have too many omega-6 fatty acids in your diet and not enough omega-3 fatty acids, you might be heightening your risk of developing a number of chronic diseases.
One study, published by the US National Library of Medicine, found that most Westerners have a diet lacking in omega-3 fatty acids, with “excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids.”
They linked this imbalance to the prevalence of cardiovascular disease, cancer and autoimmune diseases.
Ultimately, the study concluded that:
“A lower ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is more desirable in reducing the risk of many of the chronic diseases of high prevalence in Western societies, as well as in the developing countries, that are being exported to the rest of the world.”
So what can you do? A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition labeled claims that olive oil may protect cardiovascular function as convincing.
On the other hand, the comprehensive study found that evidence supporting claims that canola oil has similar health benefits is limited.
They also found that, while canola oil may present some health benefits, these are often limited by the oxidative process in frying. Olive oil, on the other hand, retains its health benefits in any use – cooked or uncooked.
Take Home Advice: Olive oil is a better, healthier alternative than canola oil. Use olive oil when cooking or adding to dressings, but be wary of products that advertise health benefits without explanation.
It’s always a good idea to research whether or not your body really needs the “essential ingredients” the product advertises.
Being informed about what’s what in nutrition has helped me keep fit and healthy – not to mention done wonders for my figure.
So many times we fall for what the media tells us is true, without looking into it further. If it’s happened to you before, don’t be embarrassed – it’s easy to be sucked in by flashy marketing campaigns and shocking “statistics.”
With that in mind, I want to hear from you. What health fads have you fallen for or almost been sucked in to?
Leave me a comment below with a piece of nutrition wisdom you’re starting to question so that the whole community can learn together!