Carbs are bad. Plant-based diets don’t offer enough protein. Juice cleanses support detoxification. Sound familiar? These common diet and nutrition adages are common, but are they true?
Lifesavvy spoke with experts, Tanya Mezher, MS, RDN, CDN, lead functional practitioner at Malla as well as Serena Poon, Celebrity Chef, certified nutritionist, Reiki master, and longevity wellness expert to debunk some of the most common nutrition myths you’ve probably heard.
Myth 1: Carbs Are Bad
Myth 2: Fewer Calories Means More Weightloss
Myth 3: Canned or Frozen Food Is Not Nutritious
Myth 4: Alcohol Calories Don't Count
Myth 5: All Fat Is Bad Fat
Myth 6: Breakfast Is the Most Important Meal of the Day
Myth 7: Intermittent Fasting Is the Best Way to Eat
Myth 8: Plant-Based Diets Don't Offer Enough Protein
Myth 9: Juice Cleanses Support Detoxification
Both of our experts were quick to share that the idea carbs are bad is completely untrue.
Mezher explained that carbohydrates serve as one of the three macronutrients in our diets, and provide a crucial source of energy to our bodies.
“When consumed, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose which is used to fuel various functions in our body. The quality and variety of carbohydrates do matter and some are better than others,” said Mezher.
Seasonal fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains are prime examples of healthy sources of carbs that will nourish your body, and give your brain what it needs to operate.
“Low-carb diets for weight loss are really popular right now, but it is a misconception that carbohydrates on their own will make you gain weight,” said Poon.
Poon and Mezher went on to explain that the most important part of including carbs in your diet in a healthy way comes down to the root of understanding where they are coming from.
Processed, high-glycemic foods such as white bread, and pastries will not have the same output for your body and brain as the low-glycemic unprocessed foods the experts shared are necessary.
While opting for a low-calorie diet might be effective in helping you lose weight quickly initially, Poon shared that it has the potential to lower your “resting metabolism” over time, which could be counterproductive to your goal of losing weight in the long run.
Your resting metabolic rate is the total number of calories your body burns while it is at complete rest. The more calories you consume, the higher your metabolic rate will be. This means that if you consume fewer calories, your metabolic rate has the chance of severely decreasing.
Therefore, if you choose to consume fewer calories or start a low-calorie diet, over time, you are slowing down your metabolism, and generally not supplying your body with the energy it needs.
“I advise being very cautious of anything that promises quick weight loss because these plans often backfire causing people to gain more weight or develop troubled thinking around food,” said Poon. “Instead, I recommend that people develop long-lasting habits that focus on eating as many vegetables and fruits as possible, moving their body once a day, and working to improve mental and spiritual health.”
A common nutrition myth is that canned food or frozen food is not as nutritious due to a loss in quality, or even potential harm from BPA content in canned foods.
While BPA (Biphesphanol A) used to be a concern for canned products, Mezher shared that most manufacturers have transitioned to distributing BPA-free products in their can linings.
Her only note of caution was to be aware of heat processing with canned products specifically, as this would cause heat-sensitive vitamins to be lost. Most commonly, studies show that thermal heating that occurs in the process of canned food distribution has resulted in a loss of vitamin A, vitamin C, thiamine, and riboflavin.
However, generally speaking, Mezher had no significant reservations about opting for canned or frozen food over fresh food every now and then.
“Not only are canned or frozen options convenient ways to add ingredients to meals, they can also remain shelf stable longer versus ingredients that may typically go bad if not consumed in a few days,” said Mezher. “So no fresh veggies or proteins on hand? A frozen bag of broccoli and can of beans or salmon can be a great addition to meals.”
While it’s easy to brush off some of your healthy habits on the weekend, the calories you consume from alcohol shouldn’t be overlooked. Poon shared that drinking one glass of wine is about 125 calories. Similarly, you consume 150 calories with one beer.
There is no nutritional value in alcohol. Oftentimes, consuming alcohol also increases your appetite, which leads to more calorie intake.
“Alcohol is also really hard on every system in your body, from the gastrointestinal system to the nervous and cardiovascular systems,” said Poon.
While enjoying a glass of wine or a beer with friends occasionally is a societal norm that you shouldn’t have to cut out from your routine, our expert emphasized how important it is to limit alcohol intake if your goal is to optimize your health overall.
The “fat-free” or “low fat” movement started in the late 1970s, and it stuck around for years. From a nutritional perspective, though, choosing foods with “low fat” or “fat-free” attributes can be detrimental to your health.
“Fat is actually necessary for the absorption of certain fat-soluble vitamins, not to mention brain and cellular function as well as hormone production amongst others., shared Mezher.
Mezher went on to explain that it is important to consume healthy, unsaturated fats, such as avocados, nuts seeds, and olive oil as opposed to saturated or trans fat. Saturated and trans fats are often found in fatty meats and processed foods.
While breakfast has the ability to set the rest of your day up for success, from a nutritional perspective, it is actually not seen as the most important meal of your day.
Mezher explained that this myth might come from having “sustained energy” at the start of your day, feeling fuller for longer, as a result of a satisfying breakfast, and how these two factors can affect your metabolism and maintaining a healthy metabolic rate.
The factors that are most important in maintaining a healthy overall life and relationship with food encompass more than the first meal of your day.
Mezher explained that lifestyle, preferences, health history, and overall goals will shape your ability to create healthy habits and a healthy relationship with food and your body, rather than “the snapshot of one meal.”
The practice of fasting during small windows of time, or Intermittent Fasting (IF), is a popular practice. Mezher noted that individuals can choose to intermittent fast due to different religious associations and spiritual practices, to support their gut health, or to lose weight.
“Although there is significant anecdotal and scientific evidence of the many benefits of intermittent fasting, it is not for everyone and certainly not the best or only way to eat,” said Mezher.
Mezher explained that women especially should be cautious before choosing to fast intermittently because of the blood sugar response, hormonal balance, and how it affects your resting metabolic rate.
For example, fasting can affect the production and balance of insulin, a hormone involved in regulating blood sugar levels. Disruptions in insulin levels can influence other hormones, such as leptin and ghrelin, which are responsible for controlling hunger and satiety. Women may be more susceptible to hormonal imbalances due to their unique hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle and the potential impact of fasting on reproductive hormones.
Studies also advise men and women who are ready to start a family to proceed with caution before deciding to fast intermittently. This is because it has been shown to decrease androgen markers in both men and women.
Generally, Mezher shared that intermittent fasting often results in curbed hunger during the fast, and poor eating choices upon breaking the fast. This can be counterintuitive to the goals of weight loss that might initially drive the reasoning for the fast.
If you’d like to reap the benefits of gut health support, Mezher recommends anyone try an overnight fast from 9 pm – 9 am.
Poon offered a new perspective on the popular thought that plant-based diets are lacking in protein. Plant-based foods such as beans, nuts, tofu, and tempeh for example, are not only a rich source of protein but also dense in fiber and other nutrients that support your overall wellbeing.
The average healthy and somewhat sedentary adult can calculate their daily protein consumption by using the formula (body weight in lbs/2.2)*.8. To break it down this would equate to .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body fat.
If you are a more active individual, or you are over the age of 50, Poon shared that your daily protein recommendation will be a bit higher and that finding this protein in plant-based products is definitely a possibility.
“To give you an idea of how much plant-based protein you can eat in one day to make up your daily requirements, a half cup of black beans contains about 7.6 grams of protein,” said Poon.
Poon explained that eating a variety of proteins throughout the day should help you to consume all of the nutrients you need in a day’s worth of activities. This is achievable in the guidelines of a plant-based diet.
You might be surprised to learn that juices actually don’t support the detoxification of your body. While they might support overall immunity, there is no scientific evidence to support that juice cleanses have a role in detoxing your body to support goals such as weight loss.
“Our bodies have their own natural detoxification system which organs such as the kidneys, liver, lungs, and skin are involved in,” said Mezher. “Ways to support this process include staying well hydrated, eating nutrient-dense foods, increasing fiber intake, exercising regularly, and reducing alcohol consumption and exposure to environmental toxins.”
Mezher believes that juice detoxification cleanses have become popular as a result of Western media and celebrity influences. Instead of spending copious amounts of money on a juice cleanse, she recommended focusing more on your holistic diet, rest, and regular exercise.
Common nutrition myths seem to be everywhere, but according to Poon and Mezher, many of them are unwarranted or based on iffy science. Ultimately, your nutrition is best navigated between you and a professional—not the rumors you hear online.