Mythbusters: Nutrition Edition
By Avance Care Registered Dietitian Grace Burton, MS, RD, LDN
Just like that, it’s 2019! It’s the beginning of a new year and many people are setting New Year’s resolutions, ranging from personal to financial to physical and mental health. Often times, after an indulgent holiday season full of sweets and treats, people are tempted to make drastic resolutions such as eliminating sugar, following a low-carb diet, or eating “clean”, hoping that it will kick-start their goals and lead to better health. With diet culture being such a prominent subject in the media, it’s hard to avoid claims regarding health and nutrition. It’s even harder to try and determine which advice to follow to improve our diet. I’m here to bust a few common nutrition myths that still exist in hopes to clear the air and help guide you towards setting more realistic goals and expectations for yourself in the New Year.
Myth: Avoid carbs because they cause weight gain.
Truth: Eating too many carbs can cause weight gain, as with all other foods. High quality carbohydrates provide important nutrients and can actually promote weight control. They play a very necessary role in our diet, meaning they should be consumed regularly.
Let’s back up and have a brief lesson on carbohydrates. They break down into sugar (glucose), which is our body’s primary source of energy. Carbohydrates provide necessary fuel for the brain and cells so that our bodies can function properly. Carbs are found in:
- Grains & starchy foods – bread, pasta, rice, crackers, potatoes, beans, corn, etc.
- Fruits & vegetables
- Milk and yogurt
- Sweet foods and beverages – desserts, candy, soda, fruit juice, etc.
Looking at this list, wouldn’t you agree that many of these foods are good components of a healthy diet? Carbs will not cause weight gain unless eaten in excess, as with all foods. Rather than making carbs the enemy, focus instead on the quality of the carbohydrate and eat reasonable portion sizes to help control weight. Higher quality carbohydrates contain more fiber, vitamins, and minerals and include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans. If you were to avoid these carbs, you’d be missing out on key nutrients that help to control cholesterol, blood sugar, digestion, and weight. Not to mention, they help to prevent chronic disease and cancer! Lower quality carbohydrates have less of the beneficial nutrients and are in foods such as white and refined grains, desserts, and sugary beverages. Consume more of the higher quality carbs and less of the lower quality carbs and you will be well on your way to improved health in 2019.
Myth: Don’t eat after 6PM – it causes weight gain.
Truth: Eating after 6PM won’t cause weight gain unless it involves eating more than what your body needs in a day.
Now, don’t get me wrong – eating later at night can have its downfalls. It can be dangerous when it involves mindless snacking on higher calorie foods, like chips or desserts, while watching TV or relaxing after a long day of work. However, if your normal dinner time happens to be 7PM or if you tend to eat early and then usually have a healthy snack before bedtime, weight gain shouldn’t be a concern as long as you’re making nutritious choices and consuming appropriate portion sizes.
Myth: Avoid fruit because it’s high in sugar.
Truth: Fruit does have natural sugar, but it is also a great source of fiber, which helps to control blood sugar spikes. Fruit also has plenty of vitamins and minerals, which means that the benefits of fruit far outweigh the fact that it has natural sugar!
Due to the fiber content, eating a piece of fruit versus a food with added sugar and low fiber, such as a brownie, is a healthier choice. Fruit has a better effect on blood sugar and contains many more nutrients than most foods with added sugar. Don’t be afraid to reach for that piece of fruit – in fact, aiming for at least 2 servings per day can help contribute to a healthy diet.
Myth: I ate too much junk during the holidays, so I need to do a detox diet or a juice cleanse to help rid my body of toxins and hit the restart button.
Truth: Our bodies are great at detoxing on their own, thanks to our kidneys and our liver. A strict juice diet over several days isn’t going to improve this process.
Juice cleanses tend to be very restrictive and lacking in actual food intake, which often will backfire and cause people to overeat because they’re hungry and depriving themselves. Detox diets may lead to short term weight loss because of a severe reduction in caloric intake, but the weight will likely be gained back following reintroduction of foods. Focus more on a healthy, balanced diet and exercise to get you back on track. Think fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, whole grains, and increased water intake.
Myth: To be healthy, you have to eat “clean”.
Truth: A healthy diet does involve eating “clean” foods, while also balancing that with some processed and packaged foods for cost, convenience, and sanity!
While eating “clean” can mean different things for people, it usually refers to consuming foods that are in their whole, natural state, without having been processed. Foods like jarred pasta sauce, hummus, and steamed vegetables would not make the cut, all of which are part of a healthy diet. Eating more “clean” and less processed foods is definitely a good goal to have but trying to eat 100% “clean” can be unnecessarily restrictive, time consuming, and stressful. It can place “good” versus “bad” labels on foods, which can then lead to guilt centered around consuming certain foods, and that is the opposite of what we want. Realistically, a healthy diet makes room for all foods, whether they are “clean” or not.
To sum everything up, diet culture has led many people to believe that we have to drastically change our diets and deprive ourselves in order to lead healthier lives. Instead, let’s change the focus from the strict diet mindset to a more sustainable balanced diet and as you’ve heard before, “everything in moderation”! Realizing that a healthy diet should be inclusive rather than exclusive can really help us to be more successful in the long run. Think about it – “I’m going to replace more of my sweets with fruit” sounds more positive and achievable than “I’m going to cut out sweets altogether.” Reevaluate those New Year’s resolutions and make sure that they’re promoting long-term behavior change!
If you need help with establishing realistic New Year’s resolutions or if you’re looking to improve your health in 2019, reach out to schedule an appointment with an Avance Care Registered Dietitian by calling (919) 237-1337, option 4.
Grace is a registered dietitian working at the Wake Forest and Northeast Raleigh locations. She enjoys running, and especially likes doing races in other cities because it gives her an excuse to visit new places. She also loves trying new restaurants, spending time with family and friends, and cheering on the NC State Wolfpack at football and basketball games.