Haaaaaaaappy New Year! It’s 2019! I hope all of you have a happy, productive year.
Everybody knows how much I love busting nutrition myths, and there were so many that popped up in 2018 that need to just GO AWAY! Unfortunately, diet and nutrition myths are like whack-a-mole: I bust one, and three more pop up out of nowhere. It’s infuriating because I know that people are wasting their time, effort, money, and sanity on these crazy fads and beliefs and I think it’s very unfair.
I recently put out a call on my Abby Langer Nutrition Facebook page for nutrition myths that people want to see gone in 2019, and the response was fantastic! Thank you to everyone who took the time to leave me a comment (note: I’ve taken the thread down, but I’m always open to suggestions for blog post topics). It was interesting to see how many of the myths below came up multiple times on the thread; apparently I’m not the only one who is sick of detoxes!!
Here are the six biggest myths to say bye-bye to in 2019:
Your liver needs cleansing.
The liver has never been sexier than it is now with all of these newly-popular liver cleanses. And while it’s no doubt enjoying its newfound fame and attention, this workhorse organ of blood cleansing, blood cell-making, and bile production doesn’t need your help. Livers that are functioning normally – and if yours is not, trust me, you’ll know – don’t need cleansing or those expensive supplements that your naturopath swindled you into buying. There is zero validity in claims that we need to rid our livers or bodies of toxins, unless you’re legitimately poisoned. Please don’t waste your money on crap like celery juice, milk thistle, or any other things that supposedly cleanse or detox livers. All those things actually do is drain your wallet.
As an aside, cleanses and detoxes have always been bullshit, so please stop believing in them.
When someone has their MD or calls themselves a ‘doctor’, this means that they know a lot about nutrition.
Dr. Oz. Dr. Gundry. Dr. WheatBelly (whatever his name is), and hundreds more. Chiropractors, naturopaths, and random PhDs. What do these people have in common?
They can all describe themselves as doctors, and many give nutrition advice without any credible, thorough nutrition training.
Anyone can talk about nutrition and diet, but that doesn’t mean you should be listening to them. In fact, MDs have created some of the most outrageous, pseudoscientific fad diets I’ve ever seen, and yet people believe these diets are legit because of the MD credential on the book cover. No! People! No! Don’t go there. ‘But he’s a New York Times bestselling author!’ people say to me. ‘So is Tori Spelling.’ Is always my reply.
If you’re looking for credible nutrition information, it can be really hard to find amongst a forest of quacks that are dishing out advice to anyone who will listen (and buy).
Here are some red flags to watch out for:
Fear mongering – this includes describing any food as ‘toxic’, or suggesting that you have some sort of obscure ‘problem’ aka candida or adrenal fatigue – that their diet and advice can magically solve.
A line of supplements and products to sell – healthy eating should never have to involve ‘lectin blockers’ or ‘fat burners’. If someone’s website is like one huge sales pitch and/or has a ton of affiliate links, run.
A sob story that appeals to your emotions – it’s easy to get caught up in the emotion of a ‘fat to fit’ story, but remind yourself that this is one of the oldest marketing tools. A good life story can be captivating, but it doesn’t make someone qualified to counsel people on nutrition or to write nutrition books.
A long ‘do not eat’ food list – if someone – your doctor, trainer, ‘nutritionist’, whoever – is telling you to avoid a long list of otherwise healthy foods, that’s not okay. They should have concrete evidence as to why you – and I mean, you personally – need to avoid these foods. Often found together: This flag and its good friend, fear mongering.
No attention to the emotional, social, and financial aspect of dieting – I don’t care who a person is; if they ignore the emotional, social, and financial aspects of the way they’re asking you to eat, then they’re not worthy of your time. What you eat affects your whole life, not just your food. If it’s a negative in the areas I mentioned, it won’t ever be sustainable.
Twisted science or no science, only anecdotes – this is the calling card of every quack out there. I don’t care how many people it worked for, their opinions and testimonials don’t add up…TO SCIENCE.
Big claims or claims that change daily – Every time Dr. Oz is on the cover of some magazine touting some idiotic new diet or ‘superfood’, his credibility diminishes. Don’t listen to people who are just in it to promote – and cash in on – the Next Big Thing. Also under this flag: guaranteed weight loss, with or without a ‘lose X pounds’ claim. Nobody can guarantee anything except for death and taxes. Period.
On the flipside, some great sources for nutrition information (besides myself and other RDs, of course) are:
examine.com – far and away my absolute favorite source!
vox.com – Julia Belluz in particular writes the best nutrition articles I’ve literally ever read
Diet vs Disease – this guy is an RD who’s really great at breaking down difficult nutrition topics.
UVA Health System – the Gastroenterology Department here has incredible education materials for a handful of nutrition-related issues
You need a multivitamin.
Multivitamins won’t ever take the place of nourishing food, and even if your diet has some gaps, it’s highly unlikely that you need to take one.
There are some situations that call for multis, such as pregnancy and malnutrition. For most people not in those situations, a multi is probably not going to measurably improve your health or prevent disease (which is presumably why most people take them).
If you’re deficient in any vitamins and minerals, my recommendation is to take those ones individually. Multivitamins rarely contain enough of each vitamin and mineral to make up for a true deficiency, and ingredient amounts as well as quality can vary. The more common deficiencies such as iron, B12, calcium, zinc, and vitamin D can all be tested for by your doctor and ameliorated with individual dosages of their supplemental forms.
A doctor can test you for vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which is the best course of action if you believe you might not be getting what you need via your diet. Don’t just take vitamins and other supplements without knowing if you actually need them.
I strongly discourage you from testing for ‘deficiencies’ via hair tests or any other alternative methods from non doctors, for obvious reasons.
Beans and nightshades are toxic.
It appears as though lectin is the new gluten. Thanks to The dud diet The Plant Paradox, there are a lot of people who believe that beans and nightshade vegetables are toxic, and are depriving themselves of these delicious, nutrient-rich foods for absolutely no reason.
I’ve written a more comprehensive explanation here, but to make a long story short, legumes and nightshades are well-tolerated by most people. They are not toxic because of their anti-nutrients (phytates and lectins, in particular), and anyone telling you to cut these foods out of your diet, unless you have a legitimate intolerance to them, is speaking nonsense and needs to be ignored. That means you, Dave Asprey and Whole30. Quacks!
Lectins and other ‘anti-nutrients’ are mostly denatured with cooking, and the ones we do get in food? We actually have antibodies that deal with them. While some people don’t tolerate these foods, telling everyone in the world to avoid them is irresponsible and frankly, ridiculous.
Eat your chickpeas and tomatoes. Be happy.
GMOs cause cancer.
Some of you are undoubtedly going to message me and tell me that I’m wrong on this one, but I’m going to say it anyways: there is no evidence that GMOs cause cancer.
Yes, I know about the animal studies. Yes, I think Monsanto and Bayer are evil. But my job isn’t to extrapolate badly-done animal studies onto humans or to let my personal feelings about a company override the actual science on something (or lack thereof).
It would be irresponsible and unethical for me to recommend that you all drop conventionally-grown food and eat only organics to avoid GMOs. First, because there’s no science that proves that organic food is any more nutritious than conventional. Second, because there is no science that shows that GMOs are harmful to humans. Third, because many of you can’t afford an all-organic diet, and neither can I. Fourth, ethically I refuse to make people feel guilty or anxious about eating conventionally grown food without any good reason. We don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables to begin with…why give people more of a reason to eat even less of them?
My stance on GMOs and cancer is echoed by the Canadian Cancer Society and the American Cancer Society. As far as the decision by some of the EU countries to ban GMOs, this is widely seen as hastily-made and unscientific.
If you are concerned that GMOs may cause adverse health effects, you do have the choice to avoid GMOs by eating organic food. You can also eat more whole foods that are naturally non-GMO and avoid ultra-processed foods that contain GMO ingredients (corn syrup and soy are two big ones).
The current GMO crops in North America include sugar beets, Arctic brand apples, soy, canola, potatoes, papaya, squash, certain tomatoes, and corn (although most GMO corn is converted to corn syrup or used as animal feed, which begs the question – if you’re trying to avoid GMOs, will you also buy organic meats?). All others are NOT GMO, so if you’re avoiding genetically modified foods, you can eat foods that aren’t on the above list.
Also: organic foods use pesticides too…
Thin is healthier
With all the diets out there and the way they’re marketed, you’d think that being thin is the best way to ensure that you’re healthy.
Except no…it’s actually not. Body weight alone isn’t an accurate indicator of health, and someone who is slender may still be metabolically unhealthy, with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood sugars. Being overweight may be the result of an unhealthy lifestyle, but that in no way means that normal-weight people are excluded from having a crap diet and unhealthy habits.
Regardless of your weight, inactivity and poor diet still raise your risk of heart and other diseases. And the huge factor that too many people still ignore – emotional health – can suffer regardless of a person’s weight. Someone who has unhealthily dieted down to a low weight can be far less metabolically and emotionally healthy than someone who is considered ‘overweight’ and is living their life well.
My advice would be to shift your focus from the number on the scale, to your physical and emotional health.