Every day, we get bombarded with large amounts of nutrition-related content - and it can be incredibly difficult to separate facts from myths!
This can be very overwhelming, especially if you’re just starting your health and fitness journey.
Do carbs make you fat? What supplements must you take to achieve results? Are all “natural” foods good for you? Today, we discuss these and other popular nutrition myths - and investigate whether there’s any truth to them!
MYTH #1: CARBOHYDRATES MAKE YOU GAIN FAT
Low-carb diets have been heavily promoted throughout the last couple of decades, leading to the misconception that carbohydrate intake has to be kept to bare minimum to avoid unwanted fat gain.
However, this couldn’t be further from the truth!
Any food, when consumed in excess, can make you gain weight - but it doesn’t boil down to a specific macronutrient. Rather, the real influence here is your overall energy balance: eat more energy than you burn though the day, and you will get heavier - and vice versa.
So long as your overall calorie intake is in check, you can - and should! - incorporate a variety of carbs into your diet.
Eating too little carbohydrates can really backfire and negatively affect both your general well-being and your exercise performance. The body needs carbs for so many important functions, such as:
- Energy. Carbohydrates are the preferred source of energy for your body. In absence of carbs, the body wouldn’t just use the fat storages - it would also start dabbing into your protein reserves, which potentially means losing lean muscle mass. In turn, this can slow down your metabolism and make you feel lethargic and sluggish - not to mention all the gains that could be lost!
- Cognitive functioning. Carbohydrates are brain’s main source of energy, and cutting them severely can lead to difficulty concentrating, “brain fog”, and in extreme cases - even more severe consequences such as impaired memory. From personal life to work, these are definitely not the side effects anyone wants to deal with!
- Fuelling the muscles. Your muscles heavily rely on carbohydrates as easily accessible fuel when you exercise. No carbs means no energy during exercise - which leads to sub-optimal performance and slow progress.
Cutting carbs is not the answer to fat loss! Instead, focus on managing your energy intake, and consume enough carbohydrates to fuel your body appropriately.
MYTH #2: FREQUENT MEALS BOOST METABOLISM
You’ve probably heard something along the lines of: “To lose weight/improve metabolism, eat small portions of food frequently”.
Does this theory hold up to science? Turns out, not really.
True, digestion does raise your metabolism a little bit. This finding has quickly led to misconception that this effect can be multiplied by spacing out tiny meals as much as possible. Here’s the catch though: digesting a larger meal requires more energy compared to a smaller one!
At the end of the day, energy-wise, it wouldn’t really matter if you consumed 10 tiny meals or 2 large ones, provided the nutritional makeup of these meals added up to similar values.
Presently, there’s no convincing evidence to suggest that meal frequency can significantly influence metabolism or aid fat loss. You can pretty much build your meal schedule around your lifestyle and personal preference, so long as you’re hitting your nutritional targets overall.
MYTH #3: FOODS LABELLED ‘NATURAL’ ARE HEALTHIER
Food marketing is truly fascinating - and just a few simple claims can make you feel like you’re purchasing a nutritionally superior product, often resulting in paying a hefty premium for something that’s not actually great.
Some examples of “natural” claims include:
- “Made with natural ingredients”
- “100% natural”
- “Made with real fruit”
- And the like
Reality is, in most cases the word “natural” slapped on packaging means next to nothing. “Natural” can refer to anything, from minimal processing, to, sadly, absolutely no meaning. If you take the time to read the labels of such foods, many will be high in sugars, fats, salts and other components that can be hard to align with your nutrition goals.
Does a pack of lollies stating that the treat was “made with natural ingredients” or “from real juice” make it more attractive to many consumers? Sure yes! Does it suddenly change the overall nutritional value of the product? Unfortunately not.
Instead of trusting the facade of packaging, invest some time in learning to read food labels - and you will never have to decode false claims again.
MYTH #4: YOUR BODY NEEDS “DETOXING” PROGRAMS
Have you ever been tempted by a product or a program promising to “detox” or “cleanse” your body?
While briefly following a regiment aimed at ridding your body of “nasties” can sound exciting, unfortunately all these approaches cleanse is your wallet.
Your body already has everything it needs to get rid of any harmful substances that you are exposed to, including vital organs such as liver and kidneys. Detoxing already happens in your body 24/7, all year round!
For example, the liver is responsible for filtering and removing various compounds and toxins from the body, once those are no longer needed or pose a threat. This includes alcohol, traces of medication, any chemicals we encounter through interacting with the environment, pathogens, and more. In turn, kidneys regulate fluid and electrolyte balance in the body, as well as help maintain normal blood pH.
Of course, if you get very sick, these organs may need help in performing their functions - however this would involve intensive medical treatment, and not supplements or programs you could purchase through social media. In fact, these very supplements can sometimes lead to very serious harm!
Avoid engaging in any “detox” programs without consulting your primary health provider first. Your body already has all it needs to fight off everyday threats and maintain healthy balance within! At best, “detoxing” can temporarily make you feel better by promoting increased consumption of foods such as fruit and veggies, while not really achieving any tangible effects beyond that. At worst, using “detox” supplements can put your health at risk and lead to irreparable damage.
MYTH #5: YOU NEED SUPPLEMENTS FOR SUCCESS
According to different estimates, around 30-50% of adults may be taking a dietary supplement of some sort. However, are those really necessary?
The truth is, while supplements certainly have their use, taking them randomly and with no direction can be useless, or even dangerous.
As far as micronutrients go, in most cases it’s entirely possible to reach your recommended daily intake by ensuring a varied, balanced diet. There are, of course, cases where supplements can be highly recommended. For example, as animal products are the main source of vitamin B12, which supports nervous system functioning and keeps blood cells healthy, a supplement is often recommended to balance this out. Another common example is routine folic acid supplementation in family planning and pregnancy.
However, before starting to take any supplement, a very important step is consulting your doctor to ensure that the product will:
- Benefit you (otherwise you’re just wasting your money)
- Not interact with any other medications you’re taking (for example, certain common supplements can reduce birth control effectiveness)
- Not cause outright harm (for example, some herbs such as comfrey and kava have been associated with liver damage)
In most cases, your doctor will prescribe any supplements you may need based on your symptoms and examinations, so doc’s office should always be your starting point.
But what about fitness supplements?
Most fitness supplements will not make any real difference to your results or performance.
There are several types of supplements that can complement your journey, depending on your goals:
- Protein powder can make reaching your protein target easier, while providing a sweet treat
- Caffeine can provide an energy and focus boost for your workouts
- Creatine has been shown to assist with muscle growth
However, none of those are necessary as supplements! Your protein goal can be achieved from your diet with enough planning (and many animal-based sources of protein also happen to be sources of creatine). Fancy pre-workouts are not needed to get that caffeine hit either - just have a cup of coffee, or if you hate the taste - a No Doz pill (be careful with dosing).
Unless explicitly prescribed by your doctor, you can safely assume that you don’t have to take any supplements - and if you want to, consult a doctor anyway. Some fitness supplements can come in handy, however if you would prefer to avoid them or your budget is limited, investing in quality training and nutrition should come first.
We hope you enjoyed learning more about some of the most popular nutrition myths of all times!
Please always remember: with any incoming information, if something is too good to be true, it probably is! Time and time again, it’s been proven that balanced nutrition and regular exercise remain simple and effective tools for achieving your goals, and there is really no reason to over-complicate these.
Liz and Team BBR