Today is Dietitians’ Day in Canada! To mark it, 17 dietitians, including me, share the food and nutrition myths we most want to stop hearing.
This is just a start. Nutrition misinformation and controversies plague us, thanks to the challenges of doing food and health research and the explosion of self-styled experts on the Internet and beyond.
My simplest contribution to this list is the assertion, usually declared with great confidence, that low-fat and non-fat milk contain more sugar than whole milk. That one is easy to counter. Stop by any grocery store, check the labels, and unless you’ve picked up the chocolate milk, you’ll see that they all contain about 12 grams of natural milk sugar and 8 grams of protein. Why does this easily disprovable myth persist?
More challenging are the questions where research doesn’t give us a clear answer. Are eggs the perfect breakfast or a heart attack on a plate?
Glass of red wine for your heart, or will it give you cancer? Is butter back or still an artery clogger?
With those controversies, the answer likely lies between the extremes, so factor in your preferences and unique considerations and enjoy in moderation if you like, or not if you don’t. A reasonable amount as part of a varied and overall healthy lifestyle likely won’t make much difference either way.
Finally there are the weight-related myths, steeped in our cultural biases. The idea that your weight defines your health. Nope. The fantasy that if a person just has enough discipline, just follows the right diet or exercise routine, that they’ll magically achieve some arbitrarily determined “healthy” weight. Nope. And that weight loss results in better long-term health outcomes. Again no. (See more here.)
Read on for more myth-busting from highly-trained health professionals specializing in food and nutrition, your friendly neighbourhood dietitians…
That to be “healthy” means to punish your body with restrictive food choices. And fear of carrots and apples because they have carbs. Fear of any food for that matter.
While I prefer to use butter for our family in moderation, I hate hearing “margarine is one molecule from plastic”. No! It’s not!
And “bananas are fattening.”
Beth Jensen, RD
Not only bananas… avoiding all tropical fruits because of their sugar content.
The idea that broccoli and kale have more protein than meat. There are plenty of reasons for people to choose broccoli and kale, but the claim that they are high in protein is misleading.
The biggest myth I see is the saying “Food Before 1 is Just For Fun”.
I hear this frequently on mom Facebook groups and in workshops I lead. I’ve read moms telling other moms all their baby needs is milk until 1 year old, which is false and can be dangerous.
Terri Etchells Ney, RD, Tiny Bites Nutrition, (Facebook)
Food before one is just for fun!! Also bananas are fattening is a good one and for some reason broccoli being a good source of calcium really pisses me off.
Julia Stanislavskaia, RD (website)
ALL the fears around soybeans.
That we have to eat different food groups separately to improve digestion and nutrient absorption (ie “I have to eat my fruit BEFORE I eat meat or vegetables”).
Sarah Turner, RD
Any of the fear mongering around organic foods/GMO’s (i.e. if you eat GM foods or non-organic produce you will get sick, cancer, etc.).
Hannah Wilkie, RD
That all dietitians only eat salads (or only “healthy food”) and we NEVER have pizza or chocolate. 😂
And that dietitians only help with weight loss.
Tomatoes are inflammatory.
Humans shouldn’t drink milk.
Whey Protein after exercise.
Gluten free is healthier.
Coffee (with or without added fats or sugars) is good for you.
Cristina Sutter, RD (website)
Fear of *bread*! Breads of any kind are so precious to me 💛 They remind me of at least 4 generations’ love of food…
Salli Ar, RD
The false premise of most “non GMO” labelled foods.
Wendy Benson, RD
Infant cereal is toxic.
Cow’s milk is poison.
That babies need to be able to sit on their own for 1 minute before starting solids.
Babies can’t eat finger food unless they have teeth.
Babies get all of the nutrition they need from milk – food before 1 is just for fun.
My child is going to wake up hungry at night if he doesn’t eat dinner.
That irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is all in your head or that it’s not a real diagnosis.
The low FODMAP diet (used to treat IBS) is forever.
That your body needs to be made alkaline and you eat acidic foods to achieve that.
That doctors are a good source of nutrition information. There are exceptions but most doctors have limited nutrition education.
That you can tell how healthy someone is by the size of their body.
And that being young, thin, and pretty are qualifications for providing nutrition advice.
The belief that regulatory bodies in Canada and the U.S. really protect consumers against health claims on supplements and food. When it comes to supplements, many manufacturers don’t even need to submit any scientific evidence for many products.
For example, in the U.S. products which are supposed to do something that’s within the scope of what a human body can do, no scientific evidence is needed. Since a body can grow hair or digest gluten, supplements which claim to promote hair growth or digest gluten can simply go on the market.
As for health claims on food in Canada, all too often, an individual must file a complaint about an illegal claim before anything is done.
With all of the myths and misinformation out there, you might feel like giving up. Instead, relax and focus on the fundamentals upon which nutrition experts agree: Eat more minimally processed plant-based food like vegetables, fruit, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds. Swap whole grains for the white/refined ones. Cook more, eat out less.
Focus on other important health behaviours like moving your body, connecting with people, and guarding your sleep. Take a deep breath. Often.
And instead of getting nutrition advice from celebrities from Dr. Oz to Gwynyth, from Instagram sensations to your neighbour across the fence, reach out to a dietitian. Add us to your social media feeds for a steady diet of practical, evidence-based tips. Check out our websites and follow our blogs. If you want to sit down for individualized advice from a dietitian, ask your doctor for a referral or search for a private dietitian here.
Let’s not make eating more complicated or harder than it has to be. Relax. Enjoy. And hug a dietitian today!
(This turned into a bit of a series!
- 18 things you might not know about dietitians
- You can feed people with tubes in their nose” and other things kids learn being raised by dietitians
- The perks (and quirks) of being married to a dietitian.)
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