There's a world of information about what to eat (and what not to eat) out there, but there's also a heap of misinformation – we're here to bust some nutrition myths for you.
Considering just how fundamental food is, you'd think we'd all have a pretty good handle on exactly how it impacts us. Since we spend so much time thinking about food, preparing food and consuming food, surely we should know precisely what nutrients we need in order to thrive, how to get them, and what happens inside our bodies when we eat them, right? Unfortunately, the reality is that any two people picked at random will probably have completely different ideas of what 'good' nutrition actually means. And odds are they're both wrong, at least in part.
Perhaps that shouldn't be surprising. Nutrition is complex and that complexity is often exploited to convince us of things that aren't true. Sometimes it's to flog us a fad diet, but often it's just because someone's misunderstood precisely how, say, amino acids are processed by the body. Like we said, nutrition is really complex and it's easy to assume things that just aren't true unless you've really taken the time to study this stuff.
Myth 1: You need to cut carbs to lose fat
This one hinges on the misconception that all carbs are created equal. Yes, cutting out sugars and foods high in refined carbohydrates (think: fizzy drinks, sweets, cake) may help you lose unwanted body fat, but they're only part of the picture. Fibrous, starchy foods like quinoa and brown rice are important contributors to a wholesome diet. Consumed regularly, these foods make you feel full and so help prevent over-eating. They're also a key source of slow-release energy. Whilst it’s necessary to moderate the portion sizes of carbohydrate foods if you want to lose weight, don’t cut them out completely.
Myth 2: Skipping meals will help you lose weight quicker
Actually, the opposite may be true. Weight gain is, essentially, math: if calories in are greater than calories out, you get bigger. It doesn't matter if you eat those calories in one meal or seven, what matters is the end number. What often happens when we skip meals is we just eat them later, because we're so hungry – and think we've earned them. But even if you don't succumb to the temptation to load up your plate, the mere act of going without actually works against you.
If you don’t eat, your body enters ‘fasting mode’; your metabolic rate may slow down to conserve energy. A slow metabolism means that you’re not burning energy as readily as you should, so you’re more likely to store energy as fat. If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s imperative to have three to four (depending on how active you are) small, regular meals a day, including protein and fibrous carbohydrates at each.
Myth 3: ‘Low-fat’ or ‘fat-free’ foods are better for you
Since the 1970s, we’ve been led to believe that fat is ‘bad’ for us. Government campaigns and diet food companies have especially tried to convince us to eat less fat, a message that's readily accepted thanks to the understandable misapprehension that the fat you eat is the same as the fat under your skin. But fat is not the bad guy. We need fats to survive, and including a sensible amount of the right types of fat at each meal is essential if you want to eat a nutritious diet. They're also a source of flavor, which is why 'low-fat' foods are often high in sugar, to make up for a lack of taste. And that's something you should try to eat less of.
Myth 4: There are certain foods that will help you lose weight
The diet industry loves nothing more than a fat-burning superfood, guaranteed to "melt away belly fat in six week!". Well, they won't. But you probably didn't need us to tell you that. There are no magic foods that make you lose weight, but there are nutrients that make it easier to stick to a calorie deficit. Protein and fat are more satiating than carbs, as are fiber-rich foods, all of which will help keep you full so you can resist snacking more easily.
Myth 5: Snacking is bad for you
Too much snacking may indeed be bad for you, but in moderation – and with the right snack choice – it can can be a useful way of getting some extra nutrition as well as keeping those unwanted hunger pains.
Myth 6: Cut out your favorite foods in order to lose weight
You don’t need to cut any food completely out of your diet if you’re trying to lose weight. The best diet plan is the one you'll actually stick to – if you stop eating the things you love, you'll often give up sooner. Consuming your favorite foods in moderation may help you stick to a weight loss plan. Of course, how much you include will depend on what your favorite foods are, and if they are high-calorie this will affect how much you include them in your diet.
Myth 7: Track your calories on a daily basis to know you’re eating the right amount
Whilst the more nutritionally enthusiastic amongst us may find it useful to know which foods are high in calories and which foods are lower, you do not need to count calories. You do not expend exactly the same amount of energy every day. Further more, the calorific value of foods has little relevance to the nutritional value of foods; foods of similar calories can have a very different nutritional profile and effect on satiety.
Myth 8: Eating before bed will make you fat
Not true, although it is wise to avoid gorging just before you turn in, because it's not great for digestion if you lie down in bed with a full stomach. Also, as our metabolic rate is typically faster in the morning and slower in the evening – related to the secretion of hormones involved with the metabolism, like insulin – ideally, spread food intake throughout the day.
Myth 9: Fruit is bad for you because it contains a lot of sugar
No-one ever got fat from eating fruit. Sugar is only bad for you if you consume too much. Fruit does contain natural sugar in the form of fructose, which is metabolized differently to glucose. Fruit is also rich in fiber, which will help slow down the digestion of foods.
Myth 10: If you exercise regularly, you need more protein in your diet
If you’re exercising hard, you may need to increase your food intake in order to fuel additional energy requirements (if you’re not looking to lose weight, of course). As you’re eating more food, you will, most likely, be consuming more protein. Considering that the Western diet is already protein-rich, you'll most likely be getting enough to keep you healthy. That said, if you find yourself getting hungry more frequently because you're burning all those extra calories, then a protein-rich snack like Nudrate will help.