If you've headed over to Google or asked around lately for nutrition advice, my guess is that you've at some point found yourself wondering who to trust because everything you hear seems to be conflicting. I don't doubt that most people providing nutrition advice want to be helpful. But, without in depth formal training on the science of nutrition and how the body works, I find that many people end up providing recommendations that aren't quite on target and that leads to a lot of confusion. So, let's take a look at some of the most common nutrition myths I hear about in my office and sort out what is true and what isn't. Because this got long as I wrote it, be on the lookout for part 2 next week!
Myth 1: You shouldn't eat after 8:00p
For years, people have been saying that eating after a certain time causes weight gain. I can't say for sure where this idea came from but my guess is that it has to do with the fact that a lot of people find themselves eating large amounts in the evenings in a way that often feels out of control.
This behavior typically has less to do with the fact that it's after a certain time and more to do with what the rest of the day looked like. Many people go all day without eating or eating relatively little, whether because they're trying to "be good" or because they feel too busy to eat.
Then, what ends up happening is that you get home at the end of the day ravenous and finally have both time to eat and access to food. Not to mention that many people utilize food to relax or cope with stress or other emotions.
So, the root of the issue isn't the food, it's how we're using it. The truth is, your body doesn't shut down at night. It is constantly working: pumping and filtering blood, breathing, repairing damage, building new proteins, and more. Banning yourself from food after a certain time of night will likely just increase stress and make you feel guilty if you find yourself hungry after your cut off time.
A more helpful approach might be to try eating more consistent, balanced meals and snacks throughout the day to prevent ravenous hunger and cravings when you get home, building in time for yourself so you have another outlet for dealing with stress, and making a plan for dinner so you don't find yourself starting in on endless snacks because you're hungry and without direction.
Myth 2: Carbohydrates are bad for you
Diet fads come and go as the years pass and carbs have seemed to get the short end of the stick for the past few decades. With Atkins, South Beach, Whole30, and Keto becoming popular at various times, people now seem very cautious of carbohydrates.
I think some of this may relate to something I mentioned in the point above, which is that many people undereat during the main part of the day. Inadequate energy will lead to cravings for quick energy! I can't tell you how many people tell me they have intense carbohydrate cravings in the late afternoon or evening hours. Then, when they do eat carbs, they tend to choose something like candies, cookies, or chips and they feel out. of. control. With that kind of experience, I can see why carbohydrates seem a little scary!
But, that doesn't mean that carbohydrates are bad. Again, I think it comes down to how we relate to them. When you make a food off limits or view it as "bad", you will immediately feel guilty when you eat it, which fuels a feeling of being out of control.
Carbohydrates are our body's main fuel source so, when our energy is running low and we need fuel fast, carbohydrates (particularly quickly digesting, low fiber, simple carbohydrates) are going to be what we crave. Eating consistent, balanced meals that contain carbohydrates, proteins, fiber, and healthy fats is going to leave us with more stable blood sugar and prevent us from having the huge cravings and blood sugar crashes that come along with ravenous hunger.
Carbohydrates also don't cause weight gain. While some people lose weight very rapidly on low carb diets, this is mostly related to water loss. Because carbohydrate is your body's main fuel source, you store carbohydrate as glycogen primarily in your liver and muscle to be used for energy production. Each gram of glycogen is stored with at least 3 grams of water. As the glycogen is used for energy (which will happen fairly rapidly if you stop eating carbohydrates to replace them), the water stored with it is also released. This is also part of why weight is regained so quickly after a low carb diet - glycogen stores are being rebuilt as you start eating carbohydrate again.
Some people have diabetes, which means the system their body has for processing carbohydrates isn't working quite right. But, that doesn't change the fact that their body's main fuel source is carbohydrates. It just requires that they give their body a little help by eating consistently, incorporating protein, healthy fats, and whole grains/fiber at meals to help slow the release of glucose into their blood, not overwhelming their body with massive amounts of carbohydrate all at once, and taking insulin if appropriate.
Bottom line here: carbs are not the enemy!
Myth 3: Only shop the perimeter of the grocery store
While it is true that you can find all of the fresh items like produce, meat, and dairy around the perimeter of the grocery store, it doesn't mean that's the only place to find nutrient-packed foods.
The center aisles contain loads of items that are not only nutritious, but make it easier to throw together delicious meals at home. Here are a few examples:
- dried or canned beans
- grains like pasta, rice, quinoa, or oatmeal
- olive, canola, or avocado oil
- canned tuna or salmon
- canned or frozen fruits and vegetables
- herbs and spices
- nuts, seeds, and nut butters
- granola or energy bars
- salad dressings, sauces, or salsa
- tortilla chips or crackers
Some of my favorite ways to use the above items include:
- rice and beans for quick burrito bowls
- beans for added protein in soups
- wheat pasta with jarred pasta sauce for quick dinners
- whole wheat flour for homemade breads, pancakes, muffins, and pizza crust
- oil for healthy fats in homemade dressings or in cooking
- canned or frozen veggies in soups or other main dishes
- frozen fruit for smoothies
- herbs and spices in just about every dinner we make
- apple sauce pouches for trips or work snacks
- oatmeal for breakfast, snacks, homemade pancakes, or energy bites
- nut butter to add healthy fats and protein to toast, oatmeal, crackers, or energy bites
- crackers for snacks with cheese or nut butter
- tortilla chips for a quick lunch or dinner with beans, salsa, cheese, and avocado
- bread for sandwiches and toast
Don't get me wrong. The perimeter of the store is a great place to start for fresh, nutritious ingredients! But, don't let that make you think that venturing into the center aisles is dangerous or not worthwhile.
In addition to the above, I'm also always sure to have chocolate chips and sugar available for baking and, in the summer, plenty of ice cream. Just because a food isn't packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber doesn't mean you should avoid it at all costs. One food can't make or break your health. It's about your overall habits over time and there is plenty of room for foods that simply provide delicious taste and satisfaction.
Check out part 2 next week and, if you have any myths you want to make sure we address, let us know in the comments!