I’ve received a lot of incredible nutrition advice in my life.
I look up to certain mentors when it comes to health and fitness. Some of my favorites are Max Lugavere, Dr. Mark Hyman, Dr. Rhonda Patrick, Dr. Ellen Vora, Jordan Syatt, and so many more. All of these “influencers” (in the most real sense of the term) are easily accessible if you have access to the internet or a library and provide wonderful nutrition advice.
That being said, there is also a bunch of awful nutrition advice going around. Just for fun, I’ve decided to make this a 4-part series of “The Worst Advice I’ve Ever Received”. This blog post will be about Nutrition Advice but stay tuned for the 3 other blog posts about Beauty, Supplements, and Diets.
Today, we’re going to focus on nutrition advice I’ve heard in the health industry that make zero sense to me, mostly because they’ve been proven wrong! I will unpack why!
Nutrition Advice Myths
1. It’s important to eat foods with probiotics added to them.
Although probiotics are important for our gut and digestive health, that doesn’t mean our food has to be artificially filled with vitamins and minerals it may already have. If you don’t already know all the reasons why probiotics are great for you, take a look at this blog I wrote titled: Daily Supplements I Can’t Live Without. You don’t have to read too far into that blog post to figure out that all strains of probiotics are not necessary for everyone. To add to that, now foods are being artificially fortified to contain certain vitamins, minerals, or “good bacteria”. This is not necessarily a bad thing. However, it is not in any way necessary to eat foods that are fortified with probiotics.
If you want to stick to eating minimally processed foods, you can easily find probiotics naturally in foods such as yogurt, miso, sauerkraut, and pickles. The pickling or fermentation process to make foods like yogurt or kefir is simple, requires very few ingredients, and improves digestive health, reduces depression, and promotes heart health!
2. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
Quaker and Kellogg have been feeding us this line of “nutrition advice” for decades. They even told us that eating early in the day was necessary in order to control your weight. They made us believe that with their funded studies, having a big bowl of cereal and a glass of orange juice is the healthiest way to start your day.
For the longest time, I not only believed this message, but I simply didn’t think twice. I thought that skipping breakfast would make me really moody. I would also feel shaky from “lack of calories”. And so when I finally tried fasting, I started with 12 hours. To say this was tough was an understatement. I was addicted to food! I was always looking forward to the next meal or snack. Once that got easier, I increased it to 14 hours. To this day, I still do about 16-18 hours of fasting.
Now, getting back to breakfast: Do I need to eat this meal to be healthy? Not necessarily. Just like I don’t need to eat dinner to be healthy. If your goal is to lose weight, you simply need to reduce your calories. This means that the timing of your meals doesn’t necessarily matter because everyone is different. You may find that you can’t sleep well if you’re eating too late at night, so change it up. Obviously, timing can affect your circadian rhythm, and therefore your weight.
If you simply want to start your day off with energy, find whatever helps you create sustainable energy: You could eat a workout for breakfast. You could eat sausage and eggs. Maybe you could have a bulletproof coffee. You could sip lemon water and do a 15-minute meditation. Breakfast is simply your first meal of the day, meaning, you do not need to eat it in the morning if you don’t want to!
3. Sweeteners are healthy if they’re calorie-free.
I hate to be a party pooper, but I need to disagree with this nutrition advice. This goes for all sweeteners. And this is coming from a sugar-addict (past and present). I have a major sweet tooth. When I crave something sweet, I get the real deal, and I don’t mean fruit. Many newer sweeteners like Monk Fruit extract, erythritol, and yacon syrup have few scientific studies to back them up. Am I saying they’re unhealthy? Not necessarily. I think these low-calorie, low-carb, plant-based sweeteners are a fantastic option for those with diabetes, those who suffer from tooth decay, those with reactive hypoglycemia, or those who simply want to lose some weight. I really love using monk-fruit extract in my homemade keto granola. It’s a great low-carb option!
However, these are not to be mistaken with low-calorie sweeteners like Aspartame, Saccharin, Sucralose, Stevia (yes, even some plant-based sweeteners!), and many more. These have been the focal point in studies that saw mutations, seizures, cancers, and cognitive function in not only animals like mice, but also in children, adults, individuals with Parkinson’s disease, and those suffering from depression.
Consider that when choosing a low-calorie sweetener! Just because it has fewer calories, does not mean that whatever you’re mixing it with is going to lead to weight loss!
4. White potatoes and white rice are unhealthy.
This is another nutrition advice myth I just can’t stand! The only difference between white rice and brown rice is that white rice is milled for longer in order to remove everything but the white endosperm. Sure, it has fewer nutrients because it has been stripped of its bran and its germ. Those who choose to eat white rice are getting less fiber and protein, but are also eating fewer calories, carbs, and fat (depending on how much rice you eat). The only time I’d say it’s not the best idea is if you have higher levels of insulin and/or are diabetic. This does not make it unhealthy. It’s a great side and some studies even claim that there is no evidence that a brown rice diet is better than a white rice diet.
In fact, many of the healthiest countries in the world consume a diet high in rice, such as Japan. They have the second-highest life expectancies compared to any other country in the world! The United States comes in at number 43… Yikes! Their diets tend to be higher in grains, fish, and soybeans, but lower in fat. This seems to be the opposite direction we North Americans tend to gravitate toward. The main takeaway here is that they are following a specific macro calculation that includes a higher amount of carbs, and a lower amount of fat. However, if you decide to eat a high-fat diet, you can’t expect to lose weight if you also eat a high-carb.
In terms of potatoes, they are not unhealthy! Unlike rice, they aren’t processed, they are simply dug out from the ground. If you eat fried potatoes (fries, chips), they’re likely not healthy. If you prefer a potato that has less starch, go for waxy potatoes. These include red-skinned, blue, purple, and fingerling potatoes. They are lower in starch and high in moisture and sugar. Starch or no starch, potatoes can be a healthy part of your diet!
5. Low-fat and diet foods are healthy alternatives.
If we’re talking about low-fat, minimally processed foods, I guess you could say it is a healthy alternative. But, what are we comparing this to? For example, a chicken or turkey burger may be a healthy option for someone wanting to go to a family BBQ, but not wanting to indulge in a beef burger. Perhaps they are watching their fat intake or can’t eat red meat. However, if we are talking about a low-fat version of yogurt, or cookies, or salad dressing, we need to re-think our definition of “healthy.”
Low-fat versions of foods are not necessarily healthy. Sure, you’re getting less fat, but this comes with a trade-off: more sugar! A study was published in 2016 compared foods that were high-calorie/high-fat foods and low-calorie, non-fat alternatives. They found that the amount of sugar is higher in the low-fat and non-fat alternatives of food than the regular versions. This was especially true in the following categories: dairy products, baked goods, meats, fish and poultry, and fats, oils, and salad dressings. This is not to say there is no time and place for these items, but if you’re going to have a snack like yogurt, it’s good to know the difference between getting a fruit-flavored 0% yogurt versus an unflavored 4% Greek Yogurt. Look deeper into your nutrition advice.
This low-fat fad first became popular in the 1960s, when the low-fat diet was touted as not only ideal for high-risk heart patients but as a cure-all for the whole nation. By the 1980s, this low-fat approach became the overarching ideology promoted by physicians across North America. With that being said, there wasn’t really any evidence to prove that people were losing weight or that eating low-fat prevented heart disease.
6. High Cholesterol foods are unhealthy.
This nutrition advice would mean that eggs, “heart-healthy” fish or sardines, or delicious antioxidant-rich organ meats aren’t healthy. I’m sure some people would be fine to forego these foods. But these are actually quite healthy. Throwing all high-cholesterol foods in one bunch isn’t fair!
Cholesterol is an essential component of every cell in your body, giving cell membranes strength and flexibility. It’s naturally found in your body and in animal products like meat, eggs, and dairy. There is good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, and although this isn’t what this blog is about, I feel it is necessary to explain the two different kinds: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is the bad cholesterol because it is associated with plaque buildup in arteries. This can narrow arteries and limit blood flow, which could eventually lead to a heart attack or stroke. HDL, is known as good cholesterol, as it helps excrete excess cholesterol from your body.
Eating cholesterol does not raise your blood cholesterol levels unless you have a known cholesterol problem. In fact, when your dietary intake of cholesterol goes down, your body makes more. Yup, you can make this without eating it! When you eat greater amounts of cholesterol, your body makes less. Our bodies are very intuitive. Because of this, foods high in dietary cholesterol have very little impact on blood cholesterol levels in most people. That being said, about 40% of the population are “hyper-responders”, meaning high-cholesterol foods raise their blood cholesterol levels. This is a pretty common health concern, and there are many resources that help you find healthier, hearty-happy foods, such as Health Partners or Low_Cholesterol_Recipes.
Many studies were specifically focused on eggs and how they are a significant source of dietary cholesterol. This is part of the reason why many grocery stores now sell egg whites in cartons! One study compared the effects of whole eggs and a yolk-free egg substitute on cholesterol levels. People who ate three whole eggs per day experienced a greater increase in HDL particles and a greater decrease in LDL particles than those who consumed an equivalent amount of egg substitute. This means that eggs are still safe and healthy to consume, even if you want to eat them daily!
I’m not going to lie and say I haven’t been tricked into believing in most of these nutrition advice myths. Having worked in the health and fitness world for almost 10 years, I know many of my clients still believed and followed many of these alternatives up until very recently. The main point to take away here is that every person is different and needs to follow different dietary restrictions, depending on their bodies and goals. Some people will do better eating white rice than brown rice. Some people like low-fat cottage cheese over full-fat because they just want the protein without all the calories. Some people are happier when they start their day with an early breakfast after their morning walk.
Find what nutrition advice works for you, but do your research. Although something may feel right or good at the moment, it doesn’t mean that it is the best for you long-term. Many companies will also pay their way into advertisements that make you believe that low-fat is where it’s at, or that cholesterol is bad for you, so you should buy their “healthier” alternative. Learn more about what your body can and cannot handle and take back control of your health!
Tell us in the comments if you fell for some of this awful advice, just like I did! Have you heard any other awful nutrition advice that you want other readers to know about? I’d love to hear it!
Chelsea has been active most of her life, which led her to become a Personal Trainer and Yoga Instructor for the past 7 years. Health and Fitness are not solely dependent on movement, though, and with that understanding, she addresses her client’s other needs, such as diet, mindfulness, and stress management.
When she is not training clients or teaching Yoga, she is finding new activities that keep her mind and body active, such as rock climbing, hiking, listening to podcasts, or playing Board Games with friends. She is constantly working towards finding natural solutions to live as long as possible, creating inclusive Yoga for all body types, and aiming to find mindfulness in everything she does.