Scrolling through social media, reading your favorite magazine, or visiting popular websites exposes you to endless information about nutrition and health — most of which is incorrect.
Even qualified health professionals, including doctors and dietitians, are to blame for spreading misinformation about nutrition to the public, adding to the confusion.
Here are 20 of the biggest myths related to nutrition, and why these antiquated beliefs need to be put to rest.
1. ‘Calories in, calories out’ is all that matters when it comes to weight loss
Though creating a calorie deficit by burning more energy than you take in is the most important factor when it comes to weight loss, it’s not the only thing that matters.
Relying solely on calorie intake doesn’t account for the large number of variables that may prevent someone from losing weight, even when on a very low calorie diet.
For example, hormonal imbalances, health conditions like hypothyroidism, metabolic adaptations, the use of certain medications, and genetics are just some of the factors that may make weight loss harder for some people, even when they’re on a strict diet.
This concept also fails to emphasize the importance of sustainability and diet quality for weight loss. Those following the “calories in, calories out” method typically concentrate solely on the calorie value of foods, not their nutrient value.
This can lead to choosing low calorie, nutrient-poor foods like rice cakes and egg whites over higher calorie, nutrient-dense foods like avocados and whole eggs, which isn’t the best for overall health.
2. High fat foods are unhealthy
Though this antiquated and incorrect theory is slowly being put to rest, many people still fear high fat foods and follow low fat diets in the hopes that cutting their fat intake will benefit their overall health.
Dietary fat is essential for optimal health. Plus, low fat diets have been linked to a greater risk of health issues, including metabolic syndrome, and may lead to an increase in insulin resistance and triglyceride levels, which are known risk factors for heart disease.
What’s more, diets that are higher in fat have been proven just as effective — or even more so — than low fat diets when it comes to encouraging weight loss.
Of course, extremes in either direction, whether it be a very low fat or very high fat diet, may harm your health, especially when diet quality is poor.
3. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day
While it was once thought that eating breakfast was one of the most important factors in setting yourself up for a healthy day, research has shown that this might not be the case for most adults.
For instance, research indicates that forgoing breakfast may result in reduced calorie intake.
Moreover, partaking in intermittent fasting, during which breakfast is either skipped or consumed later in the day, has been linked to a plethora of benefits, including improved blood sugar control and reductions in inflammatory markers.
However, intermittent fasting can also be accomplished by consuming a regular breakfast then having your last meal earlier in the evening to maintain a fasting window of 14–16 hours.
Keep in mind that this does not apply to growing children and teens or those with increased nutrient needs, such as pregnant women and those with certain health conditions, as skipping meals may lead to negative health effects in these populations.
On the other hand, some evidence shows that eating breakfast and consuming more calories earlier in the day rather than at night, coupled with reduced meal frequency, may benefit health by reducing inflammation and body weight.
Regardless, if you enjoy breakfast, eat it. If you’re not a breakfast person, don’t feel the need to add it to your daily routine.
4. You need to eat small, frequent meals for optimal health
Eating small, frequent meals regularly throughout the day is a method used by many people to boost metabolism and weight loss.
However, if you are healthy, the frequency of your meals does not matter as long as you meet your energy needs.
That said, those with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, coronary artery disease, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), as well as those who are pregnant, may benefit from eating more frequent meals.
5. Non-nutritive sweeteners are healthy
The rising interest in low calorie, low carb, sugar-free foods has led to an increase in products that contain non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS). While it’s clear that a diet high in added sugar significantly increases disease risk, intake of NNS can also lead to negative health outcomes.
For example, NNS intake may increase your risk of type 2 diabetes by leading to negative shifts in gut bacteria and promoting blood sugar dysregulation. What’s more, regular NNS intake is associated with overall unhealthy lifestyle patterns (16Trusted Source, 17Trusted Source).
Keep in mind that research in this area is ongoing, and future high quality studies are needed to confirm these potential links.
6. Macronutrient ratio matters more than diet quality
Although macro coaches may lead you to believe that the ratio of macronutrients in your diet is all that matters when it comes to weight loss and overall health, this narrow-minded take on nutrition is missing the bigger picture.
While tweaking macro ratios can benefit health in many ways, the most important factor in any diet is the quality of the foods you eat.
Though it may be possible to lose weight by eating nothing but highly processed foods and protein shakes, focusing solely on macronutrients discounts how eating certain foods can either increase or decrease metabolic health, disease risk, lifespan, and vitality.
7. White potatoes are unhealthy
Often labeled as “unhealthy” by those in the nutrition world, white potatoes are restricted by many people wanting to lose weight or improve their overall health.
While eating too much of any food — including white potatoes — can lead to weight gain, these starchy tubers are highly nutritious and can be included as part of a healthy diet.
White potatoes are an excellent source of many nutrients, including potassium, vitamin C, and fiber.
Plus, they’re more filling than other carb sources like rice and pasta and can help you feel more satisfied after meals. Just remember to enjoy potatoes baked or roasted, not fried.
8. Low fat and diet foods are healthy alternatives
Take a trip to your local grocery store and you’ll find a variety of products labeled “diet,” “light,” “low fat,” and “fat-free.” While these products are tempting to those wanting to shed excess body fat, they’re typically an unhealthy choice.
Research has shown that many low fat and diet items contain much more added sugar and salt than their regular-fat counterparts. It’s best to forgo these products and instead enjoy small amounts of foods like full fat yogurt, cheese, and nut butters.
9. Supplements are a waste of money
While focusing on consuming a nutrient-dense, well-rounded diet is the most essential component of health, supplements — when used correctly and in the right form — can be beneficial in many ways.
For many, especially those with health conditions like type 2 diabetes, as well as those who take common medications like statins, proton pump inhibitors, birth control, and antidiabetic medications, taking specific supplements can significantly affect their health.
For example, supplementing with magnesium and B vitamins has been shown to benefit those with type 2 diabetes by enhancing blood sugar and reducing heart disease risk factors and diabetes-related complications.
Those on restrictive diets, people with genetic mutations like methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR), people over the age of 50, and pregnant or breastfeeding women are other examples of populations that may benefit from taking specific supplements.
10. Following a very low calorie diet is the best way to lose weight
While reducing calorie intake can indeed boost weight loss, cutting calories too low can lead to metabolic adaptations and long-term health consequences.
Though going on a very low calorie diet will likely promote rapid weight loss in the short term, long-term adherence to very low calorie diets leads to a reduction in metabolic rate, increased feelings of hunger, and alterations in fullness hormones.
This makes long-term weight maintenance difficult.
This is why studies have shown that low calorie dieters rarely succeed in keeping excess weight off in the long term