By Shannon Liard
Not all nutrition advice is created equally. In fact, some of the nutrition advice that litters Internet searches, magazine pages, and social media posts is just that – created. Not scientifically founded, not medically based, just… created. More often than not some self-proclaimed expert crafted up some dietary tactic that worked some time for someone and slapped a sensationalistic headline on it and we’ve got the next trending dietary approach. Maybe it was pulled out of thin air, maybe it was nutrition advice someone gave us; maybe it is the truth, and maybe it is an untruth. When it comes down to the nitty gritty, it is regular exercise, consistently sleeping enough, and a balanced diet that are the three keys unlocking even the most far off health and fitness goals. Yet, still there are myths and misinformation in abundance when it comes to nutrition. Why? For most people excitement does not exist in regular exercise, sleeping enough, and eating a balanced diet.
When I was younger I learned the saying, “behind most lies is a sliver of truth.” Now, as an adult, I know that clearly there are many applications to that little nugget of wisdom. As a Dietitian Nutritionist, I know that nutrition advice and dietary approach are no exception.
So, Gorgo Girls, let’s take a hard look at the cold reality of the top 5 food myths I hear most often and debunk them once and for all.
1. Counting calories is good enough.
This is a myth that was started early in the century that has lingered around ever since. While counting calories can curb excessive eating or alert you of under eating (yes, that is a thing), it is certainly not the be-all and end-all of dietary intake. Not all calories are created equal; dietary fats and alcohol have a higher caloric energy load than carbohydrates and proteins. As important as caloric intake and calorie counting is, the split of macronutrients - carbs, protein, and fat - consumed is just as important.
Bottom line: Watch your macro split and your calorie intake for effective dietary control.
2. Eat less to lose weight.
This myth applies to long term, sustainable weight loss. Science has proven that burning off more calories than you consume leads to weight loss. However, the problem comes in that this only yields short-term results. The truth is that often times when we “eat less” we’re under cutting the amount of calories that our body needs to function in life + fitness, so over time we’re putting ourselves into cellular starvation mode without even knowing it. This then causes our body to start holding onto anything ingested, slowly increasing our body weight and changing our body composition to a higher body fat over time. To lose weight long-term we’ve got to build lean muscle, propelling our metabolism; to build muscle we’ve got to eat more than the bare minimum.
Bottom line: Don’t short yourself to an extreme on calories trying to lose weight and keep it off.
3. Alcohol stores as fat.
The large truth debunking this myth is in the science of the human body having no ability to store alcohol calories like it does food calories. However, drinking alcohol does put a hold on your body’s digestion of any consumed food calories, taking priority in digestion until it is all excreted out of your system. Remember learning the “1 drink, 1 hour” rule? That’s roughly how long it takes you to metabolize one standard alcoholic beverage and it’s also roughly how long your metabolism is on hold per drink that you consume. Drink a six-pack in a day at the beach? That’s six hours on metabolic hold from properly digesting food and using it as energy. While the alcohol calories themselves may not be stored as fat, the food calories that you ate while you were drinking may be, simply because they are not being metabolized for energy while there’s still booze in your body.
Bottom line: Limit your consumption to 1-2 drinks no more than 4 times a week for women, and 2-3 drinks no more than 4 times a week for men if you want to hit your goals.
4. Carbs are bad and I shouldn’t have ______________.
I’ll let you fill in the blank. Carbs are bad and I shouldn’t have: bread. pasta. rice. potatoes. fruit. The list of foods I’ve heard filling the blank on this myth could easily be a mile or more long. Let me debunk this myth for you now, at long last. Carbohydrates are the number one fuel source in your body. They are a critical part of cellular energy, muscular function, brainpower, and a well balanced diet. Without adequate carbohydrates in our diet we can quickly feel slugglish, hangry, fatigued, headaches, brain fog, irritability, leg cramps, constipation, heart palpitations, and drastically reduced physical and mental performance. This myth got started years ago when the belief arose that carbohydrates make people gain weight. The truth is that any macronutrient in excess can make people gain weight.
Bottom line: Choose healthy carbs that are fibrous like whole grains, fruits, and starchy vegetables as well as reduced fat dairy as a part of a balanced diet.
5. Consume 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.
In recent years many diet approaches have left people over consuming protein in hopes of building or maintaining muscle. Eating excessive protein in amounts greater than the body needs can have negative effects including weight gain, extra body fat storage, extreme stress on your kidneys including excessive urine output, dehydration, and leaching of critical bone minerals. On average, Americans are consuming three to five times more protein than their body needs and can actually use. The truth? The body needs 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for an average adult and up to 1.5-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for those that are performing strenuous exercise most days of the week. To accurately calculate how much protein your body needs, take your bodyweight and multiply it by 0.454 to get your kilograms of body weight. Then multiply that by 0.8 to get your grams of protein needed if you’re not regularly exercising, and multiply your kilograms of bodyweight by 1.5-2.0 if you are regularly exercising to get your protein macro goals.
Bottom line: 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight is only acceptable for very short amounts of time to not strain your body and have negative effects. Your regular daily intake should be between 0.8 – 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, dependent on your physical activity level.