DEAR MAYO CLINIC: As a 40-year-old woman, I have experienced a wide variety of dietary fads that come and go. One week I read that it is bad to eat carbohydrates. Next week, it’s full-fat dairy. I’ve seen articles that say I should only eat between certain times of the day. There is a lot of conflicting information. How do I distinguish between nutrition myth and fact?
ANSWER: Amid the sea of nutrition information is a sea of inaccuracies. It may seem like a challenge to know what is good for you.
Let’s debunk 10 myths so you can feel more confident about your nutrition:
1. Eating healthy is too expensive.
It may take a little planning and time in the kitchen, but it’s possible to eat healthy on a budget. Some helpful tips include planning meals and snacks around sales and creating a shopping list. Stock up on seasonal vegetables and fruits, as well as staples like brown rice, whole wheat pasta, dried beans, and lentils, especially when there’s a sale. Consider buying frozen or canned fruits and vegetables as an alternative to fresh produce. Be sure to check the ingredient list to avoid items with added sugar or salt.
2. Everyone should follow a gluten-free diet.
Unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, you don’t need to avoid gluten. Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Whole wheat products have great nutritional benefits, including essential B vitamins and fiber. Be careful when manufacturers remove gluten, as additional sugar, salt, or refined starches are often added to make up for the difference in taste and texture. If you’re on a gluten-free diet for medical reasons, check the ingredient list and Nutrition Facts label to make sure you’re choosing a healthy option.
3. Use raw sugars like honey, maple syrup, or coconut sugar instead of white table sugar.
Sugar is sugar. Although raw sugar options may contain a small amount of vitamins and minerals, the advantage is minimal. They are still considered added sugars and contribute to the recommended daily limit of added sugars in the diet.
4. Full-fat products equal weight gain.
The fat-free and low-fat diet fad is a thing of the past, the ’80s and ’90s to be exact. However, some people are still afraid of fat. This should not be the case, as fat has beneficial functions such as protecting our organs, maintaining cell membranes, promoting growth and development, and absorbing essential vitamins. However, keep in mind that fats are not the same. Choose heart-healthy unsaturated fats like olive and canola oil, nuts, nut butters and avocados instead of saturated and trans fats like fatty meats and high-fat dairy products.
5. Avoid carbohydrates if you want to lose weight.
The low-carb diet is a fad diet that has kept popping up over the years. It gives carbohydrates, including fruits and whole grains, a bad rap. People who followed this diet have had success with weight loss, but any time someone cuts out highly processed carbohydrate foods like chips, crackers, white bread, and potatoes covered in butter and gravy, they are expected to gain the same weight. results. Any diet or eating program that eliminates an entire food group is given a red flag, as vital nutrients are likely to be lost.
6. A detox diet will cleanse the body of toxins.
There is little evidence that dietary cleanses do anything of what they promise. The fact is that you do not need to buy a product to cleanse your body. Your liver, kidneys, and gastrointestinal tract do a good job of detoxifying you every day. If you’re looking to rejuvenate your body, focus on eating more whole foods, drinking water, and cutting highly processed foods from your diet.
7. You should not eat anything after 7 pm
While late-night snacking can cause weight gain or prevent weight loss, it’s not because of the time on the clock. Instead, it’s about why you’re eating. It’s common to seek food for reasons other than physical hunger at night, whether it’s out of habit, boredom, or craving. Be aware of what you eat rather than when.
8. Certain foods, like grapefruit, cayenne pepper, or vinegar, can burn fat.
Unfortunately, no food burns fat, makes you lose weight faster, or increases your metabolism enough to affect weight loss. Diets that focus on single foods, like the ones mentioned above, are restrictive and lack the nutrients the body needs. They are also unsustainable, and any weight loss that may occur is a result of calorie restriction and will likely return once you stop.
9. The best way to lower your sodium intake is to stop using the salt shaker.
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. The average American consumes 3,400 milligrams of sodium daily. However, the problem is not as easy as removing the salt shaker from the table. Much of the excess sodium Americans consume from their diet comes from added salts in ready-to-eat processed foods and restaurant meals. Limit processed foods and enjoy fresher, home-cooked meals.
10. Low-fat or fat-free products are healthier options.
Many products labeled low-fat or fat-free contain added sugar or sodium to make up for the loss of flavor by removing or reducing fat. Plus, fat helps with satiety, making you feel full longer. Choosing a fat-free item to cut calories can backfire, as you may end up having a snack soon after.
My best advice if you want to eat healthy is to always look at the Nutrition Facts label when choosing between fat-free, low-fat, and regular. Pay attention to the sugar and sodium content. Choose whole foods over processed foods, and be sure to drink enough water. If you think you need a more specific menu, ask your health care professional to refer you to a dietitian or nutritionist.
— Allyn Wergin, RDN, Clinical Nutrition Services, Mayo Clinic Health System, New Prague and Le Suer, Minnesota
Tips for healthier eating are everywhere. But what popular diet and nutrition advice is worth listening to?