Thanks to the Internet, there’s a ton of nutrition information available. Unfortunately, some of it comes from unqualified people writing about their own theories or companies pushing their products. It’s no surprise, then, that misinformation is repeated as often as it is—and that it often comes to be taken as truth.Keri Gans, MS, RD, a highly regarded registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, to help set the facts straight once and for all.
1. Myth: White foods offer little nutritional value.
Truth: Many white foods are nutrient-dense. White potatoes, white asparagus, cauliflower, white cranberries, white beans, and white onions are just a few of the foods that offer a variety of powerful health-promoting nutrients. For instance, raw cauliflower beats raw tomatoes for antioxidant content. But Gans suggests that if foods become “white” due to processing—for example, when whole grains are stripped of their naturally nutritious, fiber-containing bran and germ in order to become “white” grain foods—their overall health value decreases. So stick to plant foods that are naturally white.
2. Myth: Celery has negative calories.
Truth: No food has negative calories. The theory of negative calories is that you expend more calories chewing very low-calorie foods, like celery, than the food actually has. Gans cautions, “‘Negative’ calories is a myth and does not actually exist.” However, celery can aid in weight loss. One large stalk, for instance, provides only ten calories. Additionally, it provides fiber and has a very high water content (95 percent of total weight). That can boost a feeling of fullness, which can then play a role in weight loss. But the actual activity of chewing most foods may burn only about five calories in an hour. Any way you slice it, though, the positive news is that munching celery or any other raw veggie can help you get to, and keep, a healthy weight.
3. Myth: Drinking diet soda will help you lose weight.
Truth: Don’t we all wish it was that easy? However, Gans does give us a little hope. She says, “Drinking diet soda will only help you lose weight if you are drinking it in place of regular soda and don’t at the same time increase your calories.” As for the research, it’s been a mixed bag of good and bad news related to diet sodas, artificial sweeteners that contain chemicals, and weight. But a convincing study recently published in the International Journal of Obesity finds that drinking sugar-free beverages sweetened with low-calorie sweeteners may increase dietary restraint. Luckily there are diet and reduced-calorie sodas, soon to be available, that are made with natural low-calorie sweeteners like Truvia so you can try this advice … naturally.
4. Myth: Diet cleanses are important to detoxify your body.
Truth: “Your body does not need to detoxify,” says Gans. Unfortunately, far too many women haven’t heard this sound news. The fact is that products marketed as “diet cleanses” can be potentially dangerous and a waste of money. They’re basically another version of a fad diet with promises based on pseudo-science. Most likely, any weight loss that results from following a “cleansing” approach is short-term. And following some of the strictest regimens may result in fatigue, dizziness, diarrhea, or even lean muscle loss; these side effects can be especially severe for pregnant women or people that aren’t 100 percent healthy. Instead, try a natural “cleanse” by simply making your eating plan healthier. Gans says, “Eating plenty of fruits, veggies, and whole grains provides your body with a natural detox all on its own.”
5. Myth: Acai berries boost weight loss efforts.
Truth: There is no miracle weight loss food. “Acai berries are rich in antioxidants but there is no scientific research to support their ability to boost weight loss,” says Gans. As with all whole berries, acai berries are exceptionally nutrient-rich. And all whole fruits can be an important part of an overall healthful eating strategy for weight loss. So go ahead and enjoy acai berries. But don’t expect taking an acai pill or supplement or drinking an acai smoothie or juice to shrink your stomach or peel off any pounds. And do beware of some companies that market acai products with free, no-risk trials through Web sites; some have been costly scams.
6. Myth: Carbs are bad for you.
Truth: Foods aren’t innately “bad.” Carbs are a good example of this. Says Gans, “Carbs that are rich in fiber, such as fruits, veggies, legumes, and whole grains, are very healthy.” In fact, a moderate amount of carbohydrates is absolutely essential to your diet, because it’s needed for energy production. Cutting too many carbohydrate-rich foods from your diet can also mean you’re cutting important nutrients. On the other hand, Gans suggests that if the carbs are mainly from sugar, such as calorie-rich cookies, cake, candy, and soda, they’ll provide little to no nutritional benefit and should be limited. Sugar isn’t evil. A thin slice of cake on special occasions is fine. But if it’s consumed in large quantities or in place of healthy foods, then it becomes an issue.
7. Myth: Calories you eat after 8 p.m. will cause weight gain.
Truth: “You will not gain weight if you eat after 8 p.m. and consume only the calories you need to maintain a healthy body weight,” says Gans. When most people claim they’re gaining weight due to late-night eating, Gans has found, they’re usually eating too many calories. A study published in the journal Obesity Research finds that daytime and nighttime calories have the same effect on weight. Though do stay tuned. Findings from a recent Northwestern University study published in the journal Obesity suggests that eating at times when you might normally be sleeping (i.e. the insomniac’s 2 a.m. snack attack) may cause weight gain because the timing of your eating is out of sync with your body’s natural rhythms. And new research at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies suggests that when you do and don’t eat might be important for a different reason: well-defined periods of eating and “fasting” (i.e. not eating) may help increase the level of metabolic, or calorie-burning, activity in the liver. In other words, no matter what time you eat your meals, avoid excessive snacking in between meals. More studies are needed to determine the significance of these recent findings.
In the meantime, remember this timeless dieting fact: If you eat more than your body needs, you will gain weight!