These days, anyone who can Google considers themselves a nutrition expert. There’s a world of knowledge at your fingertips, but also a whole lot of misinformation around how to eat healthily. From Instagram influencers pushing products to popular fads like keto and fasting programs based on some seriously misunderstood science, it’s difficult to sift through and find trustworthy sources. Bad nutrition advice is unhelpful at best, and can be dangerous.
Advanced Sports Dietician Lisa Middleton has seen a lot of diet fads and weird food beliefs come and go, and she wants to debunk the worst and weirdest of them.
Prohibiting types of food based on the time of day is, according to Lisa, nonsensical.
“I’ve heard people say ‘you can’t have carbs after 3 pm. ’ It’s true some people may overdo the carbs at dinner, but there is no reason why at 3.05pm you cannot have some fruit or rice cakes as an afternoon snack – particularly if you are training,” she says.
And what about the claim you should limit fruit to the pre-midday timeslot?
“I’ve heard this on and off for years - ‘Eat only fruit before noon and none thereafter, especially not with meals’ – but this has no merit whatsoever.” Fruit can make a great afternoon snack for a nutritious fiber and energy boost. As with the carbs, as long as you’re not overdoing the amounts there’s no ticking time-bomb on when you can eat an apple.
You might have heard this one around, but Lisa says there’s no need to give up on that beef noodle stir fry just yet.
“It’s often suggested that our bodies can’t digest different food groups at the one time, even though our digestive system contains all the enzymes required to break down mixed meals,” she says.
“Very few foods are made up of purely one macronutrient. Many contain a mix of carbs, fats, and protein. If we couldn’t digest these all at once, we wouldn’t be able to digest most foods.”
According to Lisa, ‘bulletproof coffee’ - adding butter to your morning brew - is a fad lacking in health benefits.
“Bulletproof coffee is brewed with grass-fed butter and Medium-Chain-Triglyceride (MCT) oil or coconut oil added,” Lisa says.
“It gained popularity with people following keto as a meal replacement - caffeine and fat for energy and fuel - and promoted for effects on weight loss. But as part of a regular diet, it will just add extra fat and calories to your coffee break, and be more likely to promote weight gain than loss.”
Unusual uses of oils and fats tend to emerge as ‘new’ health fads, including the idea of coconut oil as a superfood. Some people believe the MCTs in coconut oil help weight loss and prevent cardiovascular disease, often drawing conclusions from a number of misunderstood diet studies . “There’s lots of confusion about the fat in commercial coconut oil,” Lisa says.
“The main fat is lauric acid, which is metabolized like other long-chain fatty acids. There are also such small quantities of MCTs in coconut oil that any MCT-related health benefits would be practically non-existent.”
According to Lisa, a spoonful of coconut oil does not help the medicine go down.
“There’s nothing wrong with using a mix of different fats for taste as part of a healthy diet, but there’s no need to put away coconut oil by the tablespoon. It will just add extra saturated fat and calories.”
Speaking of saturated fats…
This should set off alarm bells in your arteries. According to Lisa, nutritional trends have moved back and forth between low-fat and high-fat over the last few decades, with some less-than-healthy results.
“The low-fat phase in the 90s brought an explosion of processed ‘diet foods’ that ended up being high in sugar. Then it swung back to pro-saturated-fat with the keto trend, where carbs are evil and bacon is king,” Lisa says.
“If you do choose a lower carb, higher fat intake, remember our bodies need a variety of healthy fats rather than just overdoing the saturated fats.”
But what about people who try to avoid fat altogether, cutting out yolks in favor of egg-white-only omelets?
“Yolks contain the valuable vitamins and minerals in the egg!” she says.
“Whites for protein, yolks for all the other nutrients, such as Vitamin A, D, and E.”
Unless you’re avoiding the eggs because of allergies or as part of a vegan diet, there’s no need for you to reject the yolk. In fact, you’ll be missing out on some important vitamins and essential fatty acids if you do.
When you hear ‘nightshade’ you might think ‘deadly belladonna’, but actually, it’s a whole family of vegetables including eggplant, tomatoes, and potatoes.
“It’s amazing how often this one pops up, with various rationales, but there’s no reason to avoid nightshades unless you have a particular food intolerance to one or more of the vegetables in this group,” Lisa says.
“Many people already eat too much sodium from processed foods, but still add ‘fancy’ salt to food at home because they think it’s lower in sodium and healthier,” Lisa says.
“Salt is salt is salt, whether it’s pink, white or from the sea!”
We get it. It is tempting to try and find quick fixes and easy answers to nutrition questions. But when it comes to our health, we’re willing to put our trust in the experts first. Especially if it means we can still eat potatoes!
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