6 Health & Diet Myths and the Truth Behind Them

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hhb-life-diet-mythsWhen it comes to eating right there are so many contradicting rules, it can get pretty confusing.  Add to that contradicting scientific evidence that keeps coming out left and right, and it really is hard to determine which is the right way to go.  The truth is, healthy living and proper nutrition doesn’t always have to be followed to the T.  The most important thing is that you find what works best for you, take all advice with a grain of salt and do your own research, and pay attention to your body’s cues.

Here are 6 diet rules that have been used for so long they’ve become simply myths, because in reality these will not make you skinnier or healthier.

Myth #1. Don’t eat late at night (or after 8pm)

The old belief: Calories consumed at night make you fat

The reality:  A calorie is a calorie, no matter what time you eat it.  In an average person, the metabolism only works in one way – Calories in vs. Calories out.  Consume more than you spent in a day and you will put on weight; Consume less than you spent and you will lose weight; Consume the same amount as you spent and you will stay the same weight.  If you think eating later in the day makes you gain weight, that means you’re eating too much during the day and the calories you eat at night put you over the balance you need to maintain or lose weight.  Switch your focus from the time of your last meal to paying attention to what you eat throughout the day. Eat small, evenly timed meals throughout the day, skip the calorie-packed snacks, move more, and you’ll be sure to get the balance right.

Myth #2. You must cut out sugar to lose weight

The old belief: Sugar and sugar alone makes you fat and is bad for you

The reality: Yes, sugar is the culprit of many health problems and weight gain, but some people substitute other things for sugar thinking it will be healthier, for example maple syrup, honey, or agave nectar.  The bottom line is that when digested, all those things turn out to be exactly the same as sugar, no better, no worse.  If you are serious about making improvements in your diet and taking better care of your health, you need to pay attention to all the sweet things you consume, including fruit. While fruit obviously has more nutritional benefits than table sugar, at the end of the day it is still fructose/glucose and your body doesn’t differentiate between the two, still adding up calories. If you are trying to reduce sugar and lose weight, you need to keep total amount of calories down, which means limiting your fruit consumption to 2-3 pieces per day.

Myth #3. Carbs make you fat

The old belief: Carbohydrates are the source of weight gain and need to be limited as much as possible.

The reality:  Carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy balanced diet and should not be cut out or limited.  The protein-rich (Atkins) diet craze that still persists, makes carbs out to be the bad guys, but the truth is carbs don’t make you fat, too many calories do.  Of course, when I’m talking about carbs, I mean the good kind – brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, oats, barley, yams, vegetables, fruit, beans and the like.  If you eat all the junk-carbs like white bread, white rice and pasta, processed cereals, sugary carbs and sweets, then don’t be surprised if your waistline grows a few inches.  Consuming the good carbs will ensure you get the proper nutrients your body needs and help prevent you from developing diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.  If your argument is that protein-based diets are easier to maintain, it depends on who you ask.  According to several studies, most people find it harder to stick to low-carbs diets in the long run.  And while initially, you may lose more weight on an Atkins-type diet, due to the fact that it is restrictive (cutting out food group is also cutting out calories), and the fact that most weight loss is water weight, in the long run you will not lose more than any other type of diet.  Research has shown that after a year, those who are using protein-rich diets regain more weight than those who follow a low-fat diet.

Myth #4. You must eat 5 times a day

The old belief: If you want to stay slim, you must eat at least 5 times a day or continually graze on snacks to keep metabolism running high.

The reality:  While personally, I find it most beneficial to eat 4-5 times a day, it is not convenient or practical for everyone.  Ideally you should be eating small meals, just enough to satisfy the hunger and not feel stuffed, every 3-4 hours.  But who has time for that?  If you can do it, great! But if you feel that doesn’t work for you, you should be eating only when you are hungry.  Don’t force yourself to eat 5 times a day if you don’t feel like it or if that actually makes it harder for you to maintain control of what you eat.  Bottom line here is that you should choose the pattern that suits you best.  However, if you are not hungry after 4 hours after your last meal, you may be eating too much in one sitting and might consider cutting your portion down a bit.  Try splitting your lunch into two parts. Eat one half at noon and the other half 3-4 hours later.

Myth #5. Gluten is evil and must be eliminated

The old belief: Everyone can benefit from a gluten-free diet as it causes digestive distress and other health problems.

The reality:  Unless you have a clinically diagnosed gluten intolerance or celiac disease, there’s absolutely no reason to cut it out of your diet.  People who suffer from these conditions feel gastro-intestinal distress and fatigue after consuming wheat, rye and barley – gluten-rich foods.  However, many people believe that gluten is bad for everyone as it cannot be properly digested leading to nutritional deficiencies.  This is not true for those who are non-sufferers. If you suspect you may be gluten-intolerant, don’t self-diagnose, and get a proper medical test done at your doctor’s office.  Or try to eliminate it from your diet for 30 days to see if you feel better.

Myth #6. Fasting/detoxing is good to do periodically to cleanse your system

The old belief:  You must do a fasting or juicing regiment every so often to help rid your body of built-up toxins and flush out the liver and kidneys.

The reality:  Some people treat detox as a sacred religious activity and swear it makes them feel so much better.  I always say that you should listen to your body and do what makes you feel good. However, there still doesn’t seem to be any scientific medical evidence to suggest any health benefit to this procedure.  The body has been designed brilliantly by nature to detox itself automatically and optimally via the liver, kidneys and spleen.  I don’t think our predecessors who lived in the stone age ever needed to fast in order to cleanse their kidneys so why do we need to do it?  Of course, in today’s world we have a lot more toxins and pollutants that we regularly consume, but even then, our bodies have clever and efficient mechanisms that can do the job of removing the toxins on their own.  Unless you have a substance abuse problem, alcoholism, or are coming off heavy usage of pain-killers after surgery, your kidneys can handle the workload without any extra help.  Having said that, once in a while I do a type of detox where I cut out things like processed food, meat, dairy, sugar, coffee and alcohol to give my digestive system a break.  But I wouldn’t dream of starving myself or not giving my body any nourishment for even a few days.  That sounds more like punishing your body rather than cleansing.


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