Published on March 18, 2019

The truth behind common nutrition myths

Woman dancing in kitchenDistinguishing fact from fiction can help you meet your goals.

Carbohydrates are the enemy; gluten-free is the way to be; fat on your plate puts fat on your hips; late-night eats will pack on the pounds.

Whether you’re looking to slim down or simply want to boost the quality of your diet, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the deluge of often-conflicting diet advice out there.

Read on to uncover the truth behind popular diet myths so you can boost your nutritional IQ and bury food-related fallacies once and for all.

Nutrition myth: Carbohydrates will sabotage your waistline.

Nutrition fact: The right kind of carbohydrates can be part of a healthy diet.

Bread, pasta, and rice are often maligned for contributing to weight gain, but there’s much more to the story than meets the bread bowl. Carbohydrates are a key component of a healthy diet because your body breaks them down into simple sugars that your cells utilize for energy. But all carbs aren’t created equal—there are two types of carbohydrates, simple and complex.

Simple and refined carbohydrates are the kind found in white rice, white flour, and sugar; they’re rapidly digested and send your blood sugar soaring and then plummeting. This roller-coaster effect causes you to crave more food, and as you reach for cookie after cookie, it sends the number on the scale climbing, too.

Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, have a much different impact on your body as well as your appetite because your body breaks them down more gradually than simple carbohydrates. As a result, you stay satiated for a longer period of time.

Minimize your intake of simple carbohydrates and fill up on complex carbohydrates such as oats, brown rice, whole wheat bread, whole-grain cereal, and pasta as well as legumes (beans, lentils, and dried peas), fruits and vegetables.

Nutrition myth: Eliminating fat from your diet will help you slim down.

Nutrition fact: Lower-fat foods often contain as many, or more, calories per serving as their full-fat counterparts.

Fat-free doesn’t mean calorie-free. When manufacturers subtract fat from a food, they often replace it with other ingredients, such as sugar, salt, flour, or starch to improve the taste or texture, which tacks on waist-widening calories. Instead of nixing an entire nutrient such as fat, a smarter stance is to pay attention to the type of fat that a food contains.

Nutrition myth: If I want to eat healthier and lose weight, I should adopt a gluten-free lifestyle.

Nutrition fact: A gluten-free diet is not a weight-loss diet.

There’s no doubt about it: Gluten-free foods are having a moment. The number of people who are steering clear of gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, has more than tripled in recent years, research shows. Here’s the catch—the number of people with celiac disease (the autoimmune condition that wreaks havoc on the small intestine when you ingest gluten)—has remained the same at about 1 percent of the population. So who’s shunning gluten?

Individuals without celiac disease eliminate this protein from their diets for a variety of reasons, such as gastrointestinal issues, sensitivity to gluten, or a wheat allergy. Others may adopt this diet because they believe that the restriction represents a healthy lifestyle. However, a food analysis discovered that when it comes to nutrition—there is no advantage to gluten-free foods. What’s more, a gluten-free diet is not intended to help you lose weight and may actually lead to an insufficient intake of certain vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Nutrition myth: It doesn’t matter what time of day you eat.

Nutrition fact: Late-night munching can contribute to a higher BMI.

Recent research shows that eating when you should be snoozing can result in weight gain. And it’s not just because you’re more likely to scarf high-calorie grub while plowing through your Netflix queue at night (although you are)—rather, it may have to do with your circadian rhythm.

According to one study, people who eat their last meal of the day closer to when the sleep hormone melatonin rises are more likely to have a higher BMI. Your body expends fewer calories digesting a meal when you eat later compared with eating the exact same meal several hours earlier.

Ideally, aim to end your daily intake with dinner, but if you tend to experience late-night cravings, try to keep good-for-you snacks on hand such as washed and sliced veggies with a healthy dip like hummus so they’re easily accessible should hunger strike after dark.