There is always a new diet on the horizon, claiming to help people ‘lose weight fast’ or make them ‘healthier’. New fad diets that have been popular recently include the ketogenic diet, the paleo diet and ‘clean’ eating. The media takes an idea and runs with it, creating a flurry of excitement around a new diet or eating rule. This encourages everyone to hop on the bandwagon and start trying out the new way of eating. Below are some popular diets or food myths and evidence-based facts to debunk them:
MYTH: Organic foods are always healthier than conventionally grown foods.
- FACT: Organic is defined by a growing method that does not use conventional sprays for pest and weed control. The nutrient profile of conventional and organic foods are very similar. Research has shown higher phosphorus and omega-3 content in organic foods; however, no other nutrient profiles presented differently. If you do choose organic, focus on the “dirty dozen” items. Remember, an organic cookie is STILL a cookie!
MYTH: Food and/or products containing GMOs increase your rick of certain illnesses and should be avoided.
- FACT: GMO research identifies the food as safe and GMO foods are regulated by the FDA. Remember, DNA changes do occur naturally in nature. The process of genetically modifying crops makes those changes occur faster through science, but they are usually to help the plant be more resistant to disease, increase their yield, etc. And some GMOs are actually beneficial in that they have an increase in certain nutrients due to these genetic changes.
MYTH: Humans should eat like our ancestors did – focusing on fish, meat, vegetables, and cutting out bread, fruits, legumes, and dairy.
- FACT: Any diet that cuts out entire food groups should be avoided. This diet tends to be too high in fat and protein, and too low in complex carbs. It lacks vital nutrients that we know help to prevent disease and promote a healthy gut microbiome – fruits, probiotic-rich dairy, legumes, and whole grains, so no need to cut these healthful foods out!
MYTH: Gluten free diets are healthier and cutting out gluten will result in weight loss, increased energy, and better digestion.
- FACT: Gluten free diets are only necessary for those with Celiac Disease (an autoimmune condition in which the body the body reacts to ingestion of gluten), or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Cutting out gluten can cause weight gain if you replace with processed gluten-free foods, and oftentimes any weight loss is simply tied to better eating habits such as limiting fast food, desserts, refined carbs, and eating more whole foods. Whole grains are rich in fiber, B vitamins, and other nutrients, so don’t cut them out if you don’t need to!
MYTH: A ketogenic diet (high in fat, low in carbs) helps your body burn more fat by putting it into “ketosis”.
- FACT: This diet is extremely high in fat (65-75% of your diet is fat), very low in carbohydrate (<5% of your diet) and moderate in protein (15-20% of your diet), making it very difficult to follow. Not to mention, the weight loss will likely be water weight due to cutting carbs out, and any time you cheat you go right back to square one, not in ketosis. Biggest concerns? Lack of long-term research, possible increased risk of heart disease related to saturated fat intake, and the lack of healthful foods such as fruits, veggies, dairy, whole grains, and legumes that are research-backed for their health benefits. Also, some studies show an increase in the stress hormone ‘cortisol’ in those following a Keto diet, which is linked to weight gain.
MYTH: Clean Eating is a way of promoting fat loss by eating all whole foods with little to no processed foods.
- FACT: Most every food available has been processed in some way or another (even bagged kale), which can lead to a very limited diet that is not sustainable for most people. Yes, whole foods that have not been processed are a wonderful part of a healthy eating pattern, but it’s not plausible to consist on them alone. Who has the time to cook and prep all foods, sauces, etc. from scratch on a daily basis? Dietitians advise on eating a variety of different foods for health. ‘Clean Eating’ also has no real definition or guidelines, and can often simply be touted as a re-branding of “good” vs “bad” foods, an unhealthy way to view food.
MYTH: Detoxes or juice ‘cleanses’ allow the body to “jumpstart” weight loss.
- FACT: Detoxes and juice cleanses are simply a marketing ploy for companies to make money. Juice cleanses are completely devoid of fiber and protein – both linked to weight maintenance – and simply spike your blood sugar (especially if fruit-based). Any weight lost is due to cutting carbs and calories, therefore it’s usually water weight and will be gained right back when you resume your normal eating habits. Our livers naturally detox our bodies on a daily basis – no supplements are necessary and could be potentially harmful as many supplements are not regulated.
MYTH: Intermittent fasting leads to weight loss, decreased risk of chronic disease, and longevity.
- FACT: Intermittent fasting has shown some promise through research – but mainly on animals and in small sample sizes. A lot of studies have also been conflicting, showing no beneficial effects at all. Simply put, there is no conclusive evidence. Fasting during the day has been linked to poor concentration, poor athletic performance, low blood sugar, dizziness, and nausea. We naturally fast overnight, which is a type of intermittent fasting – so aim to keep 12 hours between dinner and breakfast and avoid fasting during the day.
MYTH: Skipping Meals is an easy way to cut calories to lose weight.
- FACT: Skipping meals leads to low blood sugar, causing your body to crave high-sugar foods to quickly raise it back up to normal. This roller coaster of blood sugars can lead to weight gain, due to the increase in insulin secretion, as well as from cutting calories too low (“starvation mode”). Skipping meals also oftentimes leads to overeating later in the day. Aim for a balance of 3 meals and 1-2 small snacks to keep your metabolism fired up and prevent overeating.
MYTH: Eating a lot of fat causes you to “be fat” or gain weight.
- FACT: Our bodies NEED fat! Eating healthy fats such as unsaturated fats (think nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, fatty fish) is actually linked to weight LOSS when consumed in moderation. This is because fats cause satiety, making it less likely you’ll reach for seconds to be satisfied. Excess saturated and trans fats tend to be found in generally unhealthy foods devoid of fiber and nutrients – such as desserts, fried foods, processed meats, etc. Weight gain with those foods is more commonly due to their lack of fiber, high calorie, and high sugar content.
MYTH: All sugar and carbs turn to fat, and they should be cut from the diet to lose weight.
- FACT: There are two types of carbs- refined carbs and complex carbs. Complex carbs are the type we want to increase in our diet, found in beneficial fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Refined carbs (such as cookies, crackers, white bread) tend to cause our blood sugar to spike and are usually devoid of fiber, therefore these are the types we want to limit. Carbs hold onto more water than fat or protein, so cutting carbs can lead to quick weight loss due to loss of water weight, but it isn’t sustainable or healthy to cut all carbs out and leads to more weight gain when you go back to normal eating. Not to mention, glucose (carbs) are our brain’s preferred fuel source!
MYTH: Eating soy causes an increased risk for breast cancer or can cause breast cancer.
- FACT: Research shows there is no significant effect on human health when soy is consumed. As a matter of fact, eating 2-3 servings of whole soy foods a day can have a protective effect. It’s important to choose whole food and fermented sources of soy such as tempeh, edamame and miso instead of more processed soy (i.e. soy lecithin, often found in packaged foods, protein bars, and snacks).
As you can see, when you look at the evidence, these diets are often based on nothing but a myth. Consider looking in the research or meeting with a dietitian before trying out the latest fad diet.