Nutritionists go into practice to educate people about how to maintain good health through food. (I know, because I’m one of them!) It brings our hearts joy to know we’ve imparted advice that helps others reach their goals for weight loss, illness management, or disease prevention. One of the most discouraging aspects of client care for dietitians, however, is seeing how easily people can become misinformed about nutrition. A Google search can yield supporting results for just about anything you want to believe, whether or not it’s actually true. A friend’s sudden weight loss or family member’s newly discovered food sensitivity might also lead you to nutrition conclusions that are, quite simply, erroneous.
It’s time to set the record straight. According to dietitians, what are some of the top nutrition myths they wish they could clarify? With years of study and professional experience, registered dietitians (RDs) are a resource to be trusted — much more so than a search engine, your hairdresser, or that neighbor who’s always trying to sell you smoothies. Here are five false beliefs professional dietitians want to clear up.
1. Carbs are the enemy. It’s true that going on a low-carb diet can help you shed pounds faster than usual — and for some people (like diabetics) there may be a time and place for cutting back on them. For the human body in general, though, carbs serve as a vital energy source not to be missed. Lauren Artise, RD of The Nutrition Professionals, weighs in: “One of the biggest myths about nutrition today is that carbohydrates are the enemy and, therefore, should be avoided.”
Artise likens eating carbs to fueling up your car, since they break down into glucose, the body’s preferred source of fuel. Just like you wouldn’t let your gas tank get empty, you shouldn’t let your carb stores get too low. All carbs are not created equal, however. Artise recommends choosing complex carbohydrates found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, rather than simple carbs in refined grains and sugary beverages.
2. Quick weight loss is a good thing. Dropping pounds in a flash sounds like a dieter’s dream. Who wouldn’t want a swimsuit model body by next week? But the reality is that quick weight loss is typically unsustainable. “If a diet or trend promising quick weight loss and instant results sounds too good to be true, it’s because it usually is,” reminds Artise. “Even if we reach our weight goal, we never learn how to eat to sustain the weight loss and, consequently, go back to our unhealthy ways and pre-diet weight, falling victim to the vicious cycle of yo-yo dieting.”
Uhling Consulting’s Aubrey Uhling, RD agrees: “It’s important to remember that the weight didn’t come on overnight.” She encourages patience with the process and advises clients not to restrict calories to an unhealthy extent. “More often than not, people underestimate their basal metabolic rate or minimum calorie requirements and will restrict calorie intake below their basic functioning demand.” For steady, sustainable weight loss, talk to a dietitian about how many calories your body needs. Strive for losing no more than one half to two pounds per week for better long-term results.
3. Cows’ milk is only for cows. In a culture that loves to vilify particular foods, many consumers have begun to fear dairy as much as they fear carbs. Unless a true allergy exists, however, there’s no reason to avoid cows’ milk. “We might not need it, but good old regular milk is a nutrient-dense beverage, and some of the products made from it — especially yogurt and kefir — have important health benefits,” encourages registered dietitian Anne Danahy.
What about plant milks, like soy, rice, almond, or pea? “Plant milks can’t replace the high-quality protein, the naturally occurring calcium, and a range of other vitamins and minerals in regular milk,” Danahy explains. “And people might be surprised to learn just how processed some plant milks are.” When choosing dairy products, Danahy recommends clients stick to local, grass-fed, organic varieties whenever possible.
4. Diet and sugar-free foods promote weight loss. If you’re on a diet, it only makes sense that you’d be drawn to foods with “diet” in their name. Unfortunately, diet and sugar-free products often do the opposite of what they promise. These foods may remove sugar, but they typically do so by adding other, less-than-healthy ingredients like artificial sweeteners. “Artificial sweeteners actually promote weight gain and worsen diabetes,” cautions HMD Nutrition’s registered dietitian Heather Wolf. “That first sip of diet soda sets off a cascade of insulin release, which promotes weight gain, sugar cravings, and unbalanced blood sugars.” When your sugar cravings need satisfying, stick with a portion-controlled serving of a sweet indulgence in its natural form.
5. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Skipping breakfast can seem like the nutrition equivalent of not brushing your teeth: inexcusable! But research around breakfast eating is conflicting, and some people simply don’t feel like eating first thing. If you’re the type who doesn’t dig breakfast, don’t get down on yourself. “The truth is, eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full,” encourages Maya Nahra, RD, of Nuuaria Habit and Behavior Change Program. “We are bombarded by external food cues. Learning when your individual body is hungry and full is hugely important to your health.”
For sound nutrition advice, never hesitate to ask a registered dietitian. Tweet us nuggets from yours @BritandCo!
(Photos via Getty)