You’ve heard it before: diets are tough. It’s tough to decide to go on a diet, it’s tough deciding which diet to try and that’s all before you actually start the diet itself. If you’ve considered trying different diets, you may have found conflicting information. Some say one thing is bad for you; others say that same thing isn’t so bad after all. It can be very confusing, particularly when you factor in the idea that some diet facts that are considered “settled science” by many actually qualify as “diet myths.”
“Behind most nutrition and diet myths, there is a small touch of truth,” said Blount Memorial registered dietitian Angie Tillman. “However, in today’s world that is often ultra-focused on nutrition and diet, I find that many people are holding on to limiting nutrition beliefs that are no longer serving their best health interests. For instance, there’s a widely held belief that saturated fat is bad. It’s true that, for many years, we were taught that saturated fat was linked to higher cardiovascular disease risk. We were taught to limit eggs, drink skim milk instead of whole, use vegetable-based margarine instead of butter and eat fish instead of beef. However, newer studies question this advice. A large analysis of 43 studies that was published in the journal ‘Lipids in Health and Disease’ this year found no increased risk of cardiovascular disease associated with a diet higher in saturated fat,” she explained. “There is still much discussion within the scientific community about these findings and it will likely continue, but the bottom line is: don’t be so scared of fat and saturated fat. Feel free to include butter, bacon, beef, eggs and whole milk in moderation if you like them. Balance those whole-food sources of saturated fats with more plant-based foods, such as vegetables and fruits. Also, limit sugar and highly-processed foods, and focus on increased physical activity and stress management to decrease your risk of heart disease,” she added.
Tillman says the old adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day may not be as true as we all once thought, as well. “This is pretty much perceived as gospel,” she said. “In fact, I promoted the importance of breakfast for everyone for years. However, there is newer research that shows perhaps not everyone needs to eat breakfast. When you look at research on the importance of breakfast for health and weight loss, the results are inconclusive. Many of the studies demonstrating that breakfast eaters are healthier and maintain a healthier weight, are in fact, funded by Kellogg’s or other breakfast cereal companies that have a financial interest in people believing that breakfast is necessary. That doesn’t necessarily debunk the results, but it does encourage critical thinking. In early 2019, the British Medical Journal published a systematic review of 13 randomized, controlled trials and concluded that there’s ‘no evidence to support the notion that breakfast consumption promotes weight loss or that skipping breakfast leads to weight gain.’ There also is some evidence that skipping breakfast may actually help certain individuals lose weight. The bottom line is: if you enjoy breakfast, are healthy overall and feel good, breakfast is likely working for you. If you are eating breakfast only because you think you should, maybe it isn’t necessary,” she explained. “Also, what you choose for breakfast matters, as typical breakfast choices like muffins, pancakes and doughnuts can contain equal sugar to a candy bar or slice of cake,” she added.
“Finally, there’s a common myth that a diet that is working for someone else is the right diet for you,” Tillman continued. “I have seen multiple diets in the past couple of decades that develop a loyal following due to the strong passion among the people who follow it. But, just because going ‘keto’ worked for your neighbor, doesn’t necessarily mean it is right for you. And just because a particular meal replacement supplement helped your friend lose weight, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have success. Plus, many people are promoting diet products that they are also profiting from. That doesn’t necessarily mean the product is bad, but be aware of the motivation when someone is selling a particular protein shake or diet plan. The bottom line here is: the basics of a healthy diet are fairly consistent: more whole foods, more vegetables and fruits, less sugar and fewer processed foods. Within that framework, there’s lots of room for individual flexibility,” she explained. “Experimenting with different diet approaches can be a great way to find what works for you, but just because you find success, don’t assume that your eating plan is perfect for everyone. And don’t hesitate to reach out to a registered dietitian for some individualized help if you need it,” she added.