I’ve basically dedicated my career to debunking nutrition myths. And not just the standard ‘eggs are bad’ myths, either; also in the ‘myth’ category are the diets that I review, various things I hear from clients, and crap Gwyneth Paltrow says in the media.
Here are some of the more persistent but completely nonsensical nutrition ideas that never seem to go away:
Exercise alone will help you lose weight
Exercise is essential for health, so don’t stop doing it. Maintaining lean mass as you age is definitely important for weight control, especially post-menopause. But for weight loss, you actually need to eat healthy, too. In fact, I tell my clients that weight is lost in the kitchen, and toning happens in the gym, and that you can’t exercise off a shitty diet. Some recent research suggests that exercise doesn’t even help for weight loss. I’m not sure that I agree though – I think it depends on what kind of exercise you’re doing and how much of it – too little, too much, or just right – you’re doing.
I also see too many people do one of two things (or worse, two of two things): either they reward themselves after their workout with food they think they deserve (just check Instagram for #postworkoutfood photos..YIKES), or they work out to pre-empt the calories they’re going to eat later on. Both are bad ideas.
See, people tend to overestimate their calories burned during exercise. And, they tend to underestimate (and here) the calories they eat. Hey, we’re all human, right? We all do it, even me. Just realize that you need to change your diet if you want to lose weight, and eating a pizza just because you took a spinning class is a really bad idea.
Shop the perimeter
I hate this advice. Like, really hate it. Let’s think about the perimeter of the grocery store I go to: fruits, vegetables, fish, deli meat, bread, meat and poultry, frozen pizza, ice cream. What?
I can sort of understand the rationale of this recommendation, but really, please don’t listen to it. There are healthy foods in the middle of the store, too. And not everything you buy needs to be classified as ‘healthy’ or ‘not healthy’. How about ‘food enhancing’ things like spices, and hot sauces to make your food more enjoyable and help us foster creativity in our cooking? The ethnic sections, with all their magical food surprises, are usually deep inside the store. Canned beans, tuna, hummus, steel cut oats, and Ezekiel bread? All inside the store.
How about this. Let’s get over our fear of everything ‘processed’, and instead realize that we should be avoiding most ‘ultra-processed’ foods. That means, not ‘processed’ ones. Let’s also get over the ‘healthy should be boring’ and ‘clean eating, veggies only’ thing and start exploring the supermarket, one aisle at a time. Ever want to try Hawaiian black salt? Grape leaves? Tamarind paste? Go for it! I think that the more you experiment, the more you learn. And the more options you have, the easier it will be to create beautiful, healthy-ish meals. Because food should look, taste, and feel good.
Melons, bananas, and grapes have too much sugar
I seriously do not care how much sugar each type of fruit has in it. When clients come to me and say they don’t eat bananas because they’re fattening, I want to scream.
Yes, fruit has fructose. Some fruits have more than others, but who cares? It’s FRUIT, it’s supposed to be SWEET. Why would I ever discourage someone from eating something that most people don’t get enough of, anyhow? Stop drilling your food down to the grams of sugar or whatever, eat whichever fruits you want, and keep it to 1-3 servings a day.
And hey: bananas – the most popular fruit in the world, FYI – do NOT make you fat.
Farmed fish is terrible
This one is sort of ridiculous, because the aquaculture in different places is, well, different. I wouldn’t buy farmed shrimp from Southeast Asia, because it has a terrible reputation for high levels of antibiotics and contaminants. I would, however, buy a fish that the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch deems to be responsibly farmed.
By the same token, don’t assume that wild fish is always the best choice. Wild yellowfin tuna, for example, is on the ‘don’t’ list, because of the way it’s caught. If you’re going to avoid something, make sure you do your research first – and not just on your friends’ Facebook pages.
Smoothies are healthy
Okay, let’s put it this way. Some smoothies are healthy, and many of them are not.
First of all, I’d really prefer that instead of pulverizing your vegetables, you’d actually chew them. That way, the fiber is more of a challenge for your body to break down (keeping you fuller for longer) and the volume of vegetables – especially greens, like the 10 pounds of kale you’re throwing into your blender – remains high, taking up valuable stomach real estate and helping your satiety level.
Another issue I have with most smoothies (especially the pre-made ones) is that they tend to be sugar bombs. Fruit is healthy (see above), but putting six servings of fruit into one drink is not. Limit the fruit in your smoothie to 1/2 – 3/4 cup, because yes, you can have too much of a good thing. And don’t forget to put a source of protein in there too – like Greek yogurt, a scoop of protein powder, or even silken tofu.
You should watch your salt intake closely
Listen. The recommendations of Health Canada and the AHA are that we should be eating between 1000-1500mg of sodium a day, and I feel that these numbers are completely ridiculous.
Even with a controlled diet, it’s extremely difficult to maintain such a low sodium intake.
If you have high blood pressure, I am not talking about you in this section: You do need to lower your salt intake as much as you can and to as close to the recommendations as possible. But recent studies (and here) show that if you’re not hypertensive, you really don’t have to worry all that much about sodium. At least, you don’t have to go so low. Consider this: 75+% of the sodium that people eat comes from processed (I’m assuming they mean ultra-processed) and restaurant food. Why are you eating those things so often anyhow? And this brings us to my recommendations I so often give to (non-hypertensive) clients: don’t drill sodium down to three decimal places. Just eat more fresh food, cut out ultra-processed crap, and limit your restaurant (and take out) food. Period.
You need to cut all sugar out of your diet
You really don’t need to cut all the sugar or all of the anything out of your diet. Such extremes rarely work because they’re not sustainable! Don’t be crazy. Do you really want to go without ice cream and birthday cake forever? Here are four reasons why you shouldn’t cut sugar out completely.