Think you know all about nutrition and the food you eat on a daily basis? Think again and read on, some of these myths may surprise you.
The gluten-free diet, originally used to treat Celiac Disease, has morphed into a huge food fad. This has become one of my nutrition pet-peeves. People are choosing to go "gluten-free" to lose weight, and cure their digestive issues. The truth is, unless you've been formally diagnosed with Celiac Disease—an autoimmune disease that is characterized by the inablity to digest Gluten (the protein component in wheat, barley, rye and their derivatives)—OR a non-Celiac gluten sensitivity, there are no known health benefits to this diet. If someone with Celiac Disease, which is about one in one hundred people, consumes gluten, it damages their small intestine and hinders the absorption of vitamins and minerals and can lead to malnutrition.
Symptoms of Celiac Disease include cramps, bloating, diarhea, constipation, anemia, rashes, migraines, nutrient deficiencies and weight loss. Celiac Disease can be diagnosed by a blood test and confirmed with a biopsy of the small intestine. Someone who suspects they have Celiac Disease SHOULD NOT eliminate gluten from their diet prior to being tested. This will likely render a false negative test result, which isn't much help at all. AND allowing Celiac Disease to go undiagnosed for a long period of time may actually lead to more serious conditions such as Gastrointestinal Cancers, Thyroid Disease and Arthritis. Some people claim that they've achieved weight loss by cutting gluten out. This is likely due to the fact that they've stopped eating many calorie-dense, high-carbohydrate foods such as pizza, bagels, muffins, cookies etc., not necessarily the fact that they've stopped eating gluten. In fact, most processed gluten-free grain products are higher in calories, lower in fibre and not as nutritious as their gluten-containing counterparts. My advice is to talk to your doctor about getting tested for Celiac Disease or a gluten-sensitivity if you suspect you have either. If you're wanting to lose weight, try cutting back on processed, refined foods in general and focus on whole foods rather than going gluten-free.
Choosing to eat organic foods is a personal choice. What I will say though is that it is neither pointless or a waste of money. Well, most of the time. Organic foods are usually a bit pricier than their conventional counterparts, however, you may find that it's worth the splurge. Organic farming is a method of growing food without the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, hormones and antibiotics. Some fruits and veggies that are grown using conventional methods have very little pesticide residues. Some have a lot. The Dirty Dozen—the 12 most chemically-contaminated fruit and veggies are: peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, strawberries, nectarines, grapes, cucumbers, blueberries, spinach, lettuce and potatoes. If you're going to bur organic produce, choose these. The Clean 15—the least chemically-contaminated fruits and veggies are: asparagus, onions, avocado, sweet corn, pineapples, mangoes, sweet peas, kiwi fruit, cabbage, eggplant, cantaloupe, watermelon, grapefruit, sweet potatoes and mushrooms. These are the ones that you don't have to worry so much about.
When it comes to meat, poultry, dairy and eggs, it's again a personal decision whether or not you buy organic. Organically-raised animals have been fed organic feed that is free of pesticides and have not been given antibiotics or hormones. In Canada, conventionally-raised dairy cows are not given growth hormones and if antibiotics have been administered, the cows are isolated and not milked until the antibiotics are out of their system. My suggestion is to buy organic when you can and in season, but focus on the foods that you and your family consume most often. In our household, I choose to buy organic when it comes to those fruits and veggies that we eat often and most of our meat and poultry. I also buy organic soy products, and coffee. Conventional soy and coffee are both high in pesticides and/or fertilizers which can be harmful.
Some dairy products are fattening, yes. If you're consuming too much ice cream, whipping cream, cheese, and butter, it can most definitely lead to weight gain. Not to mention increase your risk of heart disease. On the other hand, if you're drinking low-fat milk (skim or 1%), eating yogurt and cottage cheese, and enjoying cheese in moderation, you're on the right track! There are several essential nutrients found in milk and other dairy products. Milk is one of the richest natural source of calcium that we have. It's also one of the only food sources of Vitamin D that we have. Both of these nutrients are essential for healthy bones. Milk, yogurt, cottage cheese and cheese are also high in protein which helps to fill you up and keep you fuller longer. This will actually help, not hinder, your weight-loss goals.
It's true that late night snacking can lead to weight gain. But it's not because of the time on the clock! What I often see in my practice is that people skip meals and/or snacks during the day to "be good," only to over-indulge on high-calorie snack foods at night, leading to an excess calorie intake overall. Late night fair tends to be high in calories and not very filling, so before you know it, you've eaten an entire bag of chips (easily close to 1000 calories) without knowing it. It also tends to be associated with being in front of a screen like the TV or computer which creates a distracted eating environment—an easy trap to mindlessly over-eat. To avoid this nightly binge-fest, don't skip your meals and snacks during the day. Fill up on nutritious foods every 3-4 hours and really tune in to your body's natural hunger and satiety cues, especially at night. If you're often really hungry at night, you may need to consume more during the day. If dinner tends to be early, you may very well need an evening snack. Stick to something on the lighter side like a small bowl of cereal or some yogurt and berries. Portion out your snack foods and pay attention to how much you're eating. Also, include a bit of protein in your evening snack to make you feel more full.
This is yet another one of my nutrition pet-peeves. Somehow, the message that "more protein = more muscle and less fat" has spread like wild-fire across our nation, convincing millions of people to purchase pricey protein supplements like protein powder and protein bars to eat in replacement of a healthy meal or snack, or in addition to their already balanced diet. Or there are the people that have been convinced to eat 20 eggs whites and 4 chicken breasts a day to enable muscle growth. Gross! Here's the truth: protein has the same amount of calories (4 calories per gram) that carbohydrates do. Yes, protein is needed to build and repair your muscles after working out, BUT, when you consume TOO much protein, above and beyond what your body needs, it will be stored as fat. Yep, fat. Not extra muscle. Also, excess protein can be hard on your kidneys. Most people who are moderately active need about 0.8-1.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. NOT per pound of body weight. However, a body builder or competitive athlete may need more. Protein powders and bars are not necessary unless your diet is extremely low in protein to begin with. Not to mention that they are over-priced and often full of fillers and preservatives. Including high quality protein, such as lean meats, poultry, fish, dairy products, and eggs as well as plant sources like soy, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds in your diet should enable you consume enough protein for an active lifestyle.
For more information on common nutrition myths, check out this great resource from the Dietitians of Canada
Sarah is known as the "Non-Diet Dietitian", because her mission is to inspire people to enjoy food in an intuitive and non-restrictive way, while respecting their health at the same time. Sarah is Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist specializing in pediatric/family nutrition and picky eating. She's also a freelance writer and appears regularly in local and national media.
She's also a mother, a wife and a lover of chocolate, red wine, coffee and pretty much all foods. She aspires to become remotely as amazing a cook as her Mom is and to one day find that "sweet spot" balance between being a great Mom/wife and running a successful part-time business (she's a dreamer too!).
She enjoys practicing yoga, jogging and spending time with her two young kids and husband.