As dietitians we talk and think about food all the time. We have heard all the myths about food several times over online and in our consultations. There are so many food myths around, a lot of them stemming from unqualified sources or old wives’ tales. In this post we take a look at some of the common nutrition myths that we often hear and set the record straight!
1) Carbs make you gain weight.
No, not necessarily. Too much of any food will make you gain weight. Carbohydrates should form around 50% of the energy in our diet if we are to maintain a healthy weight (general population advice) (1). Carbohydrates provide energy in the form of glucose for our bodies. Eating too much carbohydrates can lead to weight gain. So, if you are watching your weight then you can reduce your portions of carbohydrate and substitute with vegetables. This will reduce your overall calorie intake and could help with weight loss. Choose wholemeal versions for extra fibre and better satiety.
2) I'm using honey as that's better than sugar.
This is a myth. Honey contains glucose and fructose which are sugars. Natural free sugars are not any healthier than refined white sugar. The term free sugars includes honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, coconut sugar, brown sugar. The UK government recommend that we should all be cutting down the amount of free sugar in our diet to help prevent obesity and tooth decay (1). We should be eating no more than 5% of our total energy per day as sugar. This equates to only around 7 sugar cubes per day!
3) I use olive oil instead of butter, as it will help me lose weight.
Myth. Oil and butter in equal quantities have exactly the same number of calories - 9 per gram. We should be cutting down on the amount of butter we eat due to its saturated fat content (2) and replacing it with unsaturated fats e.g. olive, rapeseed oils. To reduced overall calories then the total amount of fat should be reduced. So, pouring lots of olive oil all over your salad will turn the salad into a high calorie meal and prevent weight loss.
4) I can't have red meat as it is bad for me.
No, not necessarily. There has been lots in the press in the past few years that red meat gives you cancer. In 2015 the International Agency for Research on Cancer released a statement saying there was a link between too much red and processed meat and cancer. This statement was based on limited evidence and the consumption of red meat was classified as "probably carcinogenic to humans" and processed meat as "carcinogenic to humans" (3). The report suggested that we should cut down on our red meat consumption, especially processed red meat. But red meat is also an excellent source of protein, iron and other micronutrient such as zinc. If you eat a lot of red meat you may wish to consider cutting down, choosing lean unprocessed meat on just a few nights per week and replacing the red meat on other days with plant-based protein.
5) Sea salt is much better than normal salt.
Myth. Sea salt is still salt even if its name sounds more natural and healthier. This is the same for other types of salt such as Himalayan pink salt! Too much salt is linked to high blood pressure which is a major cause of strokes and heart attacks. Adults should be having no more than 6g of salt a day. Try using more herbs and spices for flavour instead of adding any type of salt.
6) I don't drink fizzy drinks but smoothies and juices are much better instead.
Not necessarily. Despite smoothies and juices containing 1 or more of your 5 a day, they are very concentrated in sugar and calories. Juices lack the fibre content of the whole fruit. Although they contain natural fruit sugars, when they are blended the natural sugar is released from within the cell walls of the fruit and become free sugars. 100mls of fruit juice or smoothie contains the same amount of sugar as coke! Fruit juice and smoothies do contain a good source of vitamin C so if choosing a juice or smoothie then watch your portion size, go for unsweetened and no more than 150mls per day.
7) You shouldn't eat fat, low fat products are much better.
Partly myth. Eating too much fat in our diets could lead to weight gain and some lower fat foods do have a place; skimmed milk is a better choice than full fat in weight loss programmes, but we all need fat in our diet. Our body cannot make essential fatty acids which are needed for brain and cell function. It keeps us fuller for longer and fat containing foods come with essential vitamins including A and D. Low fat foods are often high in sugar and sweeteners and are not as filling. Small amounts of normal foods, such a normal cheese, are fine and nuts, seeds, olive oil, rapeseed oil and avocados are fantastic sources of essential fats.
8) I avoid dairy as it isn't good for me.
Unless you have a confirmed allergy/intolerance by a qualified medical professional then you do not have to avoid dairy. Most of us have the enzymes to break down lactose in milk to digest it. Dairy products are an excellent source of calcium and protein, phosphorus, potassium, iodine, riboflavin and pantothenic acid and vitamin B12. If you are avoiding milk, ensure your diet contains sufficient calcium from non-dairy sources.
9) I shouldn't eat much fruit as it contains sugar.
Myth. Fruit does contain natural sugar but you shouldn't avoid it. The sugar in fruit is contained within the cellular structure of foods so is not classed as free sugars which need to be reduced (1). In fact eating fruit and vegetables is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer (4). Fruit is a great source of vitamins, phytochemicals and fibre. Try to eat a rainbow of different colours of fruit and veg as they will contain different combinations of vitamins, minerals and fibre and aim for 5 portions of fruit and vegetable a day. If you have diabetes, take advice from your dietitian.
10) I should take extra vitamin supplements to help boost my immune system.
Taking extra vitamin and mineral supplements will not boost your immune system. You are able to get all the nutrients involved in keeping your immune system healthy by eating a healthy balanced diet.
There has been some speculation that Vitamin D could prevent or improve the course of covid-19 (5), but there has been no studies examining the effect of vitamin D to prevent or treat covid 19 infections. As vitamin D is mainly made from the action of sunlight on our skin, then we do run the risk of becoming vitamin D deficient during the winter months, if we are staying indoors or covering up / putting on sun cream. Therefore, it is recommended that in the UK we should be taking a 10ug vitamin D supplement daily to prevent deficiency (6).
Have you heard these myths about food before? Are there any that you want clarifying? Then let us know.
Remember to always get your trusted nutritional information from qualified sources e.g. Dietitians and Registered Nutritionists. There are lots of people who based their nutritional advice on their experience only and this is not right for everyone. Dietitian’s will provide you with individual advice based on your needs and situation.
Disclaimer – this advice is for general information only, please speak to a dietitian for tailored individual advice. This post was first published in March 2015 on Dietitian’s Life by Sarah Howe and has been updated for 2020 by Louise Robertson. Please read our disclaimer for more information.