As a nutritionist, I consult with clients about their diets every day. Here are just a few of the things I regularly hear: "I cut out carbs. I'm only eating one meal a day! I started this new diet called..."
It's enough to make me want to cry. I have compassion for my clients, but there are certain flawed approaches, or myths, to eating that can actually have negative affects on your health. Here are my top five:
1. You think a macronutrient is “bad” and needs to be eliminated.
On day one of dietetic school, I was taught there were no “bad” foods. Though I do believe there are some foods that are simply not that good for us, this concept never relates to entire food groups.
Many people are truly stuck on this all-or-nothing approach to food as “bad” or “good.” The two most common macronutrients swiped from the diet are often fats or carbohydrates. The rationale is that either of these nutrients might make you fat.
While there is plenty of evidence on low-carb, low-fat and high-fat diets having an impact on weight in some way, there is little to no evidence showing the same benefits for complete elimination. In fact, complete elimination of these nutrients is often not sustainable. It's difficult to remove an entire macronutrient for good. When you fall off the wagon, you could gain most, or all of the weight back.
Instead, if you want to focus on one macronutrient, work with a professional to decrease it — not get rid of it all together. We need all three (carbs, fats and proteins). Your health will depend on it.
2. You think you need more protein.
When did we all start obsessing about protein? Protein is important, don’t get me wrong, but the majority of us don’t need to nosh on it all day long to lose weight and get fit.
Getting enough is critical; protein fills you up, helps to build muscle, doesn’t rely on insulin (a fat promoter) and is usually delivered in foods we like to eat. But perhaps we are getting too much of a good thing. Individuals who may benefit from extra protein tend to be older, have certain medical conditions or are body builders.
We also need to re-evaluate our protein sources. While meat usually takes center stage in any conversation involving “quality” protein, there are plenty of other sources like fatty fish, eggs, tofu, beans and legumes that can fulfill your protein desires as well.
3. You think a diet has a beginning and an end.
A “diet” is something you start that has a clear end goal in mind. It’s time to change the conversation and start looking at food as fuel. When you think about food in this manner, it forces you to look deeper into how your food choices are impacting your health. It forces you to choose quality (nutrient-dense) over quantity (calories) and it forces you to care about your meals and snacks beyond an obscure number on the scale.
Diets don’t work. Lifestyle changes do.
4. You give up gluten or use it as a weight-loss program.
Many of my patients are surprised to see statistics that show how few people actually have sensitivity to gluten. About 70 percent of the population has a low risk. Only 10 percent of people are high risk. Yet, the gluten-free market is booming and unfortunately filled with choices that are lacking nutrients. In fact, a 2017 study by the American Heart Association found individuals who limited gluten were more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
If you want to go gluten-free, see your physician or dietitian first, get tested, and then do it right by eating real gluten-free foods, not gluten-free products. Intact grains like buckwheat, gluten-free whole oats, quinoa or amaranth are great options, while muffins, cereals and baking mixes probably aren’t. These items may lack gluten, but most of them are loaded with sugar.
5. You only eat kale.
One of my patients said something at the beginning of our session that I’ll never forget. “I know how this goes,” he said, “You’re going to make me eat kale now, right?” I asked him if he liked kale. He didn’t. I then asked why would I ask him to eat what he did not like? Food should be enjoyable, not an obligation.
Variety is what helps us fight disease, manage our weight and give us energy. I tell my 5-year-old that his goal every day is to consume six colors (from plants, not cereal boxes). This makes him work towards getting a variety of produce into his meals and snacks. Today, he had half of an apple, blueberries, strawberries, bananas and black bean pasta with pea pesto. This allowed him to achieve getting in an abundance of different nutrients from different sources.
You can do the same thing. Change up your colors every day, aim for more than the minimum recommended and, if you just can’t deny your kale-loving habits, maybe add some carrots and beets to your salad.