With social media and clickbait news sites, sharing interesting ‘facts’, information is spreading faster than ever. While dietary myths have existed before the advent of easily shareable content, lately it is effortless for all kinds of misinformation to go around. The term ‘fake news’ may refer to viral, false news but a similar analogue exists for other types of information - diet myths included. While some of these are relatively new ideas, a lot of them have been around for a long time.
It takes only the tiniest bit of effort to verify the authenticity of dietary tips and hacks. With that in mind, let’s zoom through a bunch of popular diet myths and debunk them quickly:
Myth 1- A diet with low fat or no fat is healthy
The body requires 3 types of nutrients; proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Although the myth of avoiding fats completely is starting to fade, many people still have a fear that any kind of fat is bad and unhealthy.
A similar myth revolves around carbs. The body requires fats and carbs to support the functioning of organs and store the energy it needs. Diets with high unsaturated fat content can help you lose weight just as easily as low-fat diets. Low fat/zero fat diets have been linked to several conditions including increased diabetes risk and triglyceride levels. While you don’t need to avoid them completely, saturated fats are not as healthy as unsaturated fats, so keep that in mind. Similarly, foods with carbs are also rich in fibre, minerals and other necessary nutrients. When taken in moderate amounts, it contributes to better digestion, overall health and can indeed support weight loss. Many “low fat” and “fat free” products available in stores contain elevated amounts of sugar or salt, which isn’t healthy either.
Regular fat, when taken in moderation, is healthy for most people. Processed foods that are heavy in carbs like cakes, cookies, white bread do not come with the benefits of healthy carbohydrates. These are the only types of carbs you should consider reducing.
Conclusion: Too much or too little fat or carbohydrates in your diet is not good. Fatty foods can be exceptionally healthy and their ‘diet’ counterparts may not be as healthy as you imagine. Healthy sources of carbs can give you more nutrition, reduce obesity risk and may help stave off diabetes.
Myth 2- Skip a meal to lose weight
The myth goes like this- you need to cut down on your calorie intake, so skip one meal each day and suddenly you’ve hacked your way into weight loss. The truth is, skipping meals reduces your metabolism (which may contribute to increased weight!), leaves you fatigued and feeling extra hungry when it is time to eat. This leads to overeating and craving for high-calorie, high-fat foods. Skipping meals may also result in nutrient deficiency, another reason why this diet plan is not healthy.
Conclusion: Skipping meals may have a counterproductive effect on weight loss, avoid this type of diet. Eat smaller meals with healthy, well-rounded nutrition throughout the day.
Myth 3- Detox diets can cleanse the toxins from your body
Detox diets involve using juices, supplements and other preparations to help ‘detoxify’ the body. The fact is, there is zero evidence for any of these claims. The body doesn’t need any external help, the kidneys, liver and intestines are natural detoxifiers in your body. You can support these organs by eating healthy, fibre-rich foods that are not processed and by drinking ample amounts of water. People are fearful of the damage they may be causing their bodies due to the unhealthy foods they eat, and they search for easy fixes (a pill, a supplement, readymade juice). Also, many people believe these ‘detoxifying’ products can help them reduce weight. Detox diets fail on both counts.
Conclusion: Your body already has detox organs (liver and kidneys), so don’t waste your money and effort on bogus products. Drink plenty of water, avoid processed foods and include ample fibre in your diet to support natural detoxification.
Myth 4- Coffee is bad for health
Let’s wrap this one up quickly- No, coffee is not bad for your health. Coffee has been linked to many (temporary) improvements like improved alertness and focus. It also contains antioxidants and has been linked to a lower risk of diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. The verdict is clear, coffee is safe, healthy and can be part of most people's diets (2-3 cups a day). However, the method of preparing coffee changes its health benefits. If you add a lot of sugar, cream or high-sugar flavouring to your coffee, this may result in negative impacts on your health.
Conclusion: Keep it simple, have coffee with little to no sugar and use water or milk as the base. Coffee is healthy in this form, most other additions will come with negative effects.
Myth 5- Fruit juices, supplements etc are all healthy all the time
Fruit is healthy, so how can this one be a myth? Fruit juices, unlike the fruit itself, often contain added sugar, salt and other preservatives. They also lack the natural fibre present in the fruit. Natural, fresh fruit juices without any additives and those which contain the fruit pulp are healthy options, most other products come with downsides. Similarly, all supplements are not made equal, and neither are they always healthy. Many people (older adults, pregnant women, people with medical conditions) may require dietary supplements to ensure they get enough vitamins and minerals. But a well-rounded diet should be enough for most people to maintain their required amounts of vitamins and minerals. Popping supplements can have some serious effects. For example, excessive amounts of zinc supplements can result in a high fever, stomach pain and other issues. The same is true for any supplement, excessive amounts have severe consequences.
Conclusion: Avoid fruit juices and smoothies that have sugar in them and do not take dietary supplements unless instructed by your doctor.
With so many myths, how can you avoid falling for them in the future?
There are several myths we haven’t even touched in this article, from the likes of ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ to ‘rock salt/pink salt is healthier for you’. Over time, more myths will pop up. How can you identify and avoid these myths? First, if it sounds too good to be real, it’s probably not true.
Grand statements, easy hacks, super-quick tips and similar are usually just created to be viral and are usually exaggerations of the truth, or in most cases, they’re downright false information. Second, if you come across inflated statements and so-called ‘facts’, always ask who is saying so? Is the person creating or spreading the information biased in any way? Are they trying to sell a product? Is the information backed by scientific data? Third, understand that there is no shortcut or magic hack to weight loss and healthy eating.
It takes effort, planning and time. So be aware, and don’t let yourself get fooled over the next dietary hack you see on your social media feed!