By Cara Rosenbloom, RD
Have you ever read something online and changed your eating habits because of it? Nutrition advice used to be the domain of dietitians and physicians, but is now believed with equal faith when coming from “Jane on Facebook.” That’s worrisome because it often leads people to believe false information that can do more harm than good.
It’s always important to check the credentials of someone who is providing you with nutrition advice. And it’s smart to look at their references too. Is the advisor giving you an opinion, or is it a scientific fact backed by clinical studies? There’s a big difference in trustworthiness between those two things. As US senator Daniel Moynihan has famously said, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.”
From fad diets to superfoods, here are some prominent nutrition myths to stop believing.
Myth: The healthiest diet for me is [fill in the blank]
Truth: The “blank” in question changes based on the latest fad diet book, which promises to cure everything from acne to arthritis to allergies. But there’s not one best diet that’s the same for everyone. We are all different, and it would be impossible to choose one universal plan. That’s why diet books recommending the same diet to everyone are usually rubbish. The best plan for you is one that meets your medical and nutritional needs, while also being affordable, accessible, enjoyable, and allows you to stick with it for the long term. Not sure what that is? Find a dietitian or call one for free at Telehealth Ontario 1-866-797-0000.
Myth: Fruit has too much sugar, so you should avoid it.
Truth: Filled with fibre, vitamins and antioxidants, most people would benefit from eating MORE fruit. Studies show that people who eat fruit have a lower risk of developing heart disease and cancer. In the average North American diet, 47 per cent of the sugar we consume comes from sweet beverages such as soda pop. Very little sugar comes from fruit. You may see social media advice to avoid certain “high sugar” fruits such as watermelon or bananas. Instead, focus on cutting back on soda and candy, and choose fruit instead.
Myth: I can improve my diet by eating more of [insert fad food here]
Truth: Like fad diets, the latest “fad foods” always change. Whether it’s kale, celery juice, acai berries, quinoa, chia or coconut, any of these ingredients can be part of an overall nutritious diet. But there’s no single food that will prevent chronic disease, reverse aging or improve your whole diet, despite what Facebook says. It’s your eating pattern day in and day out that matters more than any one food. And these fancy-sounding ingredients are no healthier than basic Canadian diet staples, such as oats, lentils, flax, barley, chickpeas, carrots and berries.
Myth: My body is filled with toxins and needs to be cleansed
Truth: Our miraculous bodies are made with a built-in detox system, which is made up of our kidneys, liver and skin. When we breathe, sweat, urinate and defecate, we expel anything our bodies don’t need. That’s why there’s no need to buy into expensive juice cleanses and supplements that say they can help you eliminate toxins. In truth, these diet hoaxes rarely identify the specific toxins they aim to remove, nor how they actually work. To date, there is little to no scientific evidence that detox diets are beneficial.
The bottom line: if products are over-hyped with miraculous promises that sound too good to be true, they likely are.
The simplest nutrition advice is to choose fewer ultra-processed foods (fast food, snacks, sweets, soda), and eat whole foods (vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans, fish, chicken, etc.) most often.
Dietitian Cara Rosenbloom is the founder of Words to Eat By, a nutrition communications company based in Toronto. She is a freelance writer with the Washington Post, author of the books Nourish (Whitecap 2017) and Food to Grow On (Random House 2020) and a leader of the Nourish program at Wellspring Cancer Support Foundation.