6 Nutrition Myths You Need To Know
Updated: Jan 19
If you’ve picked up a magazine recently, glanced at your computer between emails, or looked at your phone, the chances are you will have seen some form of advertising for diets and weight loss by a online personal trainer.
Nutrition, losing weight, and getting in shape are big business, but unfortunately, fiction sells better than fact.
Nutrition and fitness can seem complicated because there are so many conflicting theories and ideas out there on the internet or in the media, but if you look closely, the same themes come up time and time again, and often these themes are nothing but myths.
Nutrition myths start either out of a need to sell a special product or program, or by word of mouth and confusion about what the science behind these topics actually says.
To navigate the fake nutrition news, hearsay, and marketing ploys, here is a breakdown of the six biggest nutrition myths you need to know.
Protein is bad for your kidneys:
Protein makes you feel full, helps you recover from training, build and maintain muscle, and is important for a whole host of bodily functions. But isn’t too much of it bad for your kidneys?
This myth stems from the fact that people with existing kidney issues need to be careful with their protein intake. But while this might be true for people unlucky enough to have a kidney issue, it absolutely isn’t the case for the rest of us.
Research points to even ridiculously high-protein intakes as having zero negative effect on health for those of us with no kidney problems (1), so don’t worry about having that protein shake or adding an extra chicken breast to your meal any time soon.
Eating little and often boosts your metabolism:
It’s long been said that eating smaller meals, more regularly, will result in a faster
metabolism, better controlled blood sugar, and improved fat loss. However, when these claims are checked against the scientific literature; it turns out that none of them are true.
A review on the science behind meal frequency and metabolism stated that “nibbling” versus “gorging made no difference to metabolism (2), although for appetite control, eating only one or two meals may leave you feeling hungrier than three or more (3), despite having no effect on how many calories you burn.
Eating one big meal or eight small ones won’t make any difference to how many calories
you burn, so feel free to eat the number of meals that fits with your lifestyle and goals, with three to six meals being a good amount for most people.
Low carb diets are the best way to lose weight:
Ever been told that you have to eat certain foods to lose weight while ignoring others? Or maybe that you need to keep your blood alkaline, detox, or drink celery juice to shed a couple of pounds? This is because blaming one bad guy on everything is easier than solving a more complex problem. More
often then not, the sole wrongdoer getting the blame is carbohydrate.
The truth about weight loss is that to lose fat, you must consume fewer calories than you burn for a period of time (4). But if that’s true, and we can do that while eating whatever foods we like, why does dropping carbs seem to work so well for some people?
• What we often think of as “high carb” foods are often, not only high in carbs, but high in carbs, fat, and overall calories.
• Foods like pizza, chips, cake, and pastries all have the heady mix of carbs, fat, sugar, and tastiness that make them our favourites.
• When we go on a low sugar diet, these foods are no longer an option, and we end up not just leaving out carbs, but a whole load of calories too.
Low carb diets do what any other successful diet does, by helping us reduce the number of calories we take in. If you can stick to a low carb diet, and prefer to restrict carbs, then there is no good reason not to do it, just know that you can still eat some of your favourite foods each day and make just as good progress.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day:
Many of us fear skipping the all-important morning meal. Whether it’s because our mum told us that we wouldn’t be able to concentrate at school if we didn’t eat our cereal, or because we think we need energy to keep our blood sugar stable, it’s often hard to ignore everything we’ve heard about the so called “most important meal of the day”. The research paints another picture, though.
• Your metabolism doesn’t slow if you don’t eat first thing. It’s the number of calories you consume by the end of the day that matters, not when you consume them (4).
• While people often complain of low blood sugar if they miss a meal, when the same people are made to fast for 24 hours and their blood is drawn at four hourly intervals, their blood sugar stays perfectly stable (5).
• If you think your brain doesn’t work unless you eat something, it’s worth knowing that there’s no difference in peoples’ ability to perform cognitive tasks after either having breakfast, or skipping it (6).
If you aren’t hungry in the morning, or just feel like leaving your first meal until lunch, you are good to go.
Organic food is healthier than non-organic:
We’ve probably all heard that eating “clean” is the best thing for us, despite the vague notion of a “clean” diet having no clear definition. One thing often said is that organic food, being “cleaner”, is healthier than non-organic, but the facts around this don’t add up (7).
• Studies looking at the effect of organic foods on clinical health markers showed no difference between organic or non-organic.
• Health markers in blood or breast milk are no different in people who eat organic foods and those that don’t.
If you eat your fruit and vegetables, you are already winning. The choice is yours, but you don’t have to eat organic to improve your health.
Artificial sweeteners are worse than sugar:
We know where we are with sugar. Sure, we can probably all agree that eating too much of the stuff is not a great idea, but we grow up with it, understand what it is, and get along just fine. Where sweeteners made from chemicals we haven’t heard of are added in place of sugar though, we often aren’t so sure. We know we have to reduce sugar sometimes, but aren’t sweeteners worse?
Aspartame, which is found in most diet drinks, has been in the news for its apparent negative health effects since the 1970s. Despite being studied more than 1,000 times, and being cleared by every food committee or regulation existing, it still gets regularly linked to causing diseases in the media and online.
The problem is that these claims come from some very early animal studies. But it’s possible to dose mice up with aspartame to ludicrous levels that could never be consumed by humans, and when tests are done on people, none of the same results are found (8).
In fact, the acceptable daily intake for aspartame, set by the FDA, is 50 mg per kg of body weight. That is roughly 18 to 19 cans of diet soda, but even when 100 mg, 150 mg, and 200 mg per kilogram of bodyweight is consumed, studies still show no ill effect.
If you want to drink diet drinks to keep calorie intake lower, you don’t need to worry about the dangers of sweeteners.
Eating healthily can be a confusing business, especially when so much written about nutrition is a myth. Unfortunately, in some circles, selling diet books or programs with iffy advice is a big business. To steer clear of any dodgy claims, keep this article handy, keep thinking critically, and you’ll make great progress.
1. Devries MC, Sithamparapillai A, Brimble KS, Banfield L, Morton RW, Phillips SM. Changes in Kidney Function Do Not Differ between Healthy Adults Consuming Higher- Compared with Lower- or Normal-Protein Diets: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of Nutrition [Internet]. 2018 Nov 1 [cited 2020 Aug 18];148(11):1760–75. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30383278/
2. Bellisle F, McDevitt R, Prentice AM. Meal frequency and energy balance. British Journal of Nutrition[Internet]. 1997 Apr [cited 2020 Aug 25];77(S1):S57–70. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9155494/
3. la Bounty PM, Campbell BI, Wilson J, Galvan E, Berardi J, Kleiner SM, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Meal frequency [Internet]. Vol. 8, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. BioMed Central; 2011 [cited 2020 Aug 26]. p. 4. Available from: https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-8-4
4. Hall KD, Guo J. Obesity Energetics: Body Weight Regulation and the Effects of Diet Composition. Gastroenterology [Internet]. 2017 May 1 [cited 2020 Aug 19];152(7):1718-1727.e3. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5568065/
5. Alkén J, Petriczko E, Marcus C. Effect of fasting on young adults who have symptoms of hypoglycemia in the absence of frequent meals. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition [Internet]. 2008 Jun 16 [cited 2020 Aug 25];62(6):721–6. Available from: www.nature.com/ejcn
6. Adolphus K, Lawton CL, Dye L. The Relationship between Habitual Breakfast Consumption Frequency and Academic Performance in British Adolescents. Frontiers in Public Health [Internet]. 2015 May 6 [cited 2020 Aug 25];3. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4421928/?report=abstract
7. Smith-Spangler C, Brandeau ML, Hunter GE, Clay Bavinger J, Pearson M, Eschbach PJ, et al. Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives?: A systematic review [Internet]. Vol. 157, Annals of Internal Medicine. American College of Physicians; 2012 [cited 2020 Aug 25]. p. 348–66. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22944875/
8. Stegink LD, Brummet MC, McMartin K, Martin-Amat G, Filer LJ, Baker GL, et al. Blood methanol concentrations in normal adult subjects administered abuse doses of aspartame. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health [Internet]. 1981 [cited 2020 Aug 25];7(2):281–90. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov