- Crystal Cox/Business Insider
- Nutrition science often gets dunked on because it’s filled with conflicting, confusing, and poorly executed (or industry-funded) studies.
- But people are starting to wise up about the best ways to eat healthy for life.
- Here are 10 dead-wrong ideas about diet and nutrition that we threw out for good in 2019.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Myth: A calorie is a calorie.
- Tallie Spencer/Insider
The truth is that the quality of what we eat can have a direct effect on how much we eat, and how healthy we become.
In May, nutrition experts at the National Institutes of Health uncovered some of the first evidence that there is something inherently bad about the way our bodies take in processed, ready-to-eat, and ready-to-heat foods.
Those junky convenience foods, while they may have the same number of calories and nutrients packed inside them as fresh, home-cooked meals, can makes us eat substantially more every day (like, 500 extra calories) and get fatter over time.
Myth: Superfoods are real.
Yes, it’s true, cocoa contains beneficial flavenoid chemicals that help keep our cells healthy, and blueberries may help aging rats guard against memory loss. But let’s be clear: There is no such thing as a superfood.
As the nonprofit European Food Information Council puts it on its website, “It is unrealistic to expect a narrow range of ‘superfoods’ to significantly improve our well-being.”
Besides, the ways that scientists study how foods operate (often in mice, in labs, and in unrealistically abundant quantities) doesn’t provide a great measure for how they’ll perform mixed into our own diets, alongside other nutrients.
Myth: Fat is bad.
Also myth: Fat is good.
- Douglas Sacha / Getty Images
Fat is fat, and there are different kinds. But all fats are more energy-dense, per gram, than either carbohydrates or protein.
Most nutrition experts and doctors agree it’s best to favor fats that are liquid at room temperature and high in unsaturated fat, like olive oil or avocado oil, while sticking to limited amounts of foods high in saturated fats, like those in dairy, coconut oil, and meat.
Recently, high-fat, low-carb keto diets have soared in popularity as they allow dieters to essentially run on fat, but heart experts caution that they may not be healthy for everyone.
Myth: Taking supplements and breaking foods down into nutritional components is just as good as eating them whole.
The truth is there’s no shortcut to good eating.
Nutrients are most potent when they come straight from food and aren’t broken down into powders and capsules.
There’s another great benefit to eating foods whole, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
“They are accompanied by many nonessential but beneficial nutrients, such as hundreds of carotenoids, flavonoids, minerals, and antioxidants that aren’t in most supplements,” Clifford Lo, an associate professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, said in a recent blog post.
People who hail from the world’s Blue Zones, areas where people tend to live to about 100 years old while happy and disease-free, have known this for centuries. They eat a diet rich in beans, whole grains, and lots of fresh vegetables.
Because the supplement industry is barely regulated in the US, it’s also nearly impossible to know exactly what’s in the pills you’re taking.
Myth: The same diet advice can be applied to everyone, at every age.
- OLIINYK INNA/Shutterstock
“Just because some diet or recommendation is out there doesn’t mean that you fit it,” epidemiologist Tim Spector told Business Insider when his new research on people’s differing reactions to the same common foods was released earlier this year.
There’s also no diet that’s right for every age. Lactose intolerance, for example, becomes more common as people age and the enzymes in their guts change.
Researchers still suggest a diet rich in fiber-filled plants (including vegetables, whole grains, nuts) along with some fermented foods, is one of the best ways to foster a healthy microbiome.
“Most people in the US have non-diverse microbes and they could definitely improve their gut health,” Spector said. “We think that the more microbes you’ve got, the better your metabolism is.”
Myth: Detoxing is something your body can’t do on its own.
- Shutterstock/Ekaterina Iatcenko
Whether it’s a juice cleanse or a charcoal latte, don’t be fooled by the latest “detox” craze.
The truth is our bodies are great at detoxing all on their own.
“We each have a liver and kidneys to do that job without needing a detox diet that is, in most cases, inadequately balanced and lacking in so many important nutrients,” registered dietitian Bonnie Taub Dix recently told Insider.
While charcoal is a traditional (and effective) way to rid the body of poisons, it’ll also empty you out of nutrients like vitamins at the same time, and could make any drugs you’re taking less effective too.
“I’d say if you’re eating, like, one ice cream with activated charcoal, you’re going to be fine,” gynecologist Alyssa Dweck previously told Insider. “But if you’re taking in a big [dose], you’re going to possibly have a bigger problem.”
Myth: You have to eat three square meals a day to be healthy.
Intermittent fasting is becoming a popular way to eat, and it often forces people to restrict their eating to either morning and afternoon hours, or afternoon and evening hours, skipping one meal.
There’s evidence that a bit of fasting every once in a while may be good for our guts. It may even keep cells healthy and prevent inflammation. One small study released in December suggested that limiting eating to a 10-hour window each day may help overweight people lose belly fat.
Myth: You should snack all the time.
“When you eat real, wholesome, healthy foods, you feel full sooner,” Ocean Robbins, grandson of ice-cream magnate Irvine Robins (a Baskin-Robbins cofounder) recently told Business Insider. “Your body feels nourished. You actually have the nutrients you need and in time you can have less cravings.”
Likewise, cancer researcher Miriam Merad encouraged everyone to “revisit this snacking thing” in August when her study on the cellular-level benefits of intermittent fasting was released.
“Maybe eating two times a day would be entirely sufficient and very beneficial, in fact, in terms of health,” Merad said.
Other nutrition pros say built-in fasting we do overnight provides plenty of time for a gut to rest.
Myth: You don’t have to eat plants. Subsisting on a carnivore diet is fine.
A “carnivore diet” has been rumored to cure conditions like type-2 diabetes and arthritis, as well as helping people lose weight. But the truth is that most of us not only need the fiber in plants, but also thrive on it.
Meat can certainly play a role in a healthy eating plan, but it shouldn’t be the cornerstone, since it’s fiber-free.
“There is no body of evidence that suggests that vegetables cause illness,” Registered dietitian Heidi Bates said in a recent post from McGill University’s Office for Science and Society. “In fact, the opposite is true. There is an excess of evidence linking vegetable consumption to reductions in the risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity and certain types of cancer.”
However you choose to have them, people around the world have known for centuries that plants are the backbone to the best diets. Meat can play a role in a healthy eating plan, but it shouldn’t be the cornerstone.
- Read more:
- 23 ‘facts’ you learned about healthy eating and nutrition as a kid that are no longer true
- The man who unlocked the world’s secret to living to age 100 says you can skip the gym
- ‘Biologically younger’ people who defy their real age often have 5 things in common
- What happens to your body and brain over the holidays