There are a lot of nutrition myths out there that just won’t go away. These myths cover carbs, fat, protein, eggs, detoxing, your metabolism, salt, supplements and a lot more. There is so much misinformation doing the rounds on the internet these days that it can be hard to know what’s true and what’s not. So, we’ve decided to debunk a few of these myths for you in a series of blog posts.
The first blog will cover some of the myths surrounding carbs, fats, and salt.
The second in the series will look at bread, fresh food vs frozen, and dietary supplements.
The third will investigate myths about eating “clean”, detoxing and eating more to boost your metabolism.
The fourth and final blog of the series will discuss not eating before bed, doing cardio on an empty stomach to lose fat, and the need for protein right after a workout.
The myths we’re going to cover in this blog are:
- Myth 1: Carbs are bad for you
- Myth 2: Fats are bad for you
- Myth 3: Salt is bad for you
Myth 1: Carbs are bad for you
We hear it and read it repeatedly – carbs are bad for you. Carbs make you fat. Don’t eat carbs if you want to be healthy. Don’t eat carbs if you want to lose weight. And so on. Carbs have become the enemy in recent times, taking over the mantle from fat.
However, such a blanket image of carbs is simply unfair. There is nothing inherently bad or harmful about carbohydrates, as long as you eat the right type of carbs and don’t overindulge.
If you’re trying to lose weight, what matters is to achieve an overall caloric deficit. Simply replacing fat with carbs or carbs with fat, or anything else, is not necessarily the answer.
So, what exactly are carbs?
Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients found in food – the others being fat and protein – and they cover a broad category. Not all carbs are the same, and it’s the type, quality and quantity of carbohydrate in our diet that is important.
There are three different types of carbohydrates found in food: sugar, starch and fibre. The ‘carbs’ usually being referred to in the common myth “carbs are bad for you” are stereotypically starchy foods such as white pasta, bread, rice and potatoes.
In a healthy, balanced diet carbohydrates will often be the body’s main source of energy, providing about 4kcal of energy (17kJ) per gram. Carbohydrate contains fewer calories gram for gram than fat, and starchy foods can be a good source of fibre, which means they can actually be a useful part of maintaining a healthy weight.
High-fibre foods add bulk to a meal, helping you feel full. Although you still need to watch portion sizes to avoid overeating.
Healthy sources of carbohydrates, such as higher fibre starchy foods, vegetables, fruits and legumes, are also an important source of nutrients, such as calcium, iron and B vitamins.
Significantly reducing carbohydrates from your diet in the long term could put you at increased risk of insufficient intakes of these nutrients, potentially leading to health problems, unless you’re able to make up for the nutritional shortfall with healthy substitutes.
Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose before being absorbed into the bloodstream. The glucose then enters the body’s cells with the help of insulin. Glucose is used by the body for energy, fuelling all activity, whether that’s working out, running, walking or simply breathing.
When the body is low on glucose it breaks down stored fat to convert it into energy. This process causes a build-up of ketones in the blood, resulting in ketosis. Ketosis as a result of a low-carbohydrate diet can be linked, at least in the short term, to headaches, weakness, nausea, dehydration, dizziness and irritability.
If you’re trying to lose weight, cutting out carbohydrates doesn’t necessarily mean you’re cutting down calories if you’re replacing the carbs with other foods containing the same number of calories.
Basically, any food can cause weight gain if you overeat. Whether your diet is high in fat or high in carbohydrates, if you frequently consume more energy than your body uses you’re likely to put on weight or be unable to lose weight.
Cutting down your carbohydrate intake (especially processed carbs) can be helpful, if it helps you eat healthier. But if cutting out carbs makes you eat less healthily or feel worse, or you can’t stick with it, you should consider other options. And, as we already pointed out, if you consume more calories than you burn from whatever source, you’ll gain weight.
If you experience weight loss as a result of a low-carbohydrate diet it may be because of a reduced intake of calories overall and not specifically as a result of eating less carbohydrates.
Also, a diet low in carbohydrates can lead to a lack of energy during exercise, early fatigue and delayed recovery. Although carbohydrates, fat and protein all provide energy, exercising muscles rely on carbohydrates as their main source of fuel.
So, in a nutshell, carbs are not bad for you if you include them as part of a healthy, balanced diet and watch your portion control!
Myth 2: Fats are bad for you
If you eat fat, you’ll gain fat, right? Actually, wrong! It is an age-old myth that eating fat will make you fat and so to lose weight you must subject yourself to a low-fat diet. Current evidence shows that with the same caloric deficit and protein intake, low-fat and low-carb diets produce similar weight losses.
But are fats actually bad for you? The answer is that eating a low fat diet is not inherently unhealthy, however avoiding all fat in your diet can actually be dangerous. Your body needs to consume at least some omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
But isn’t saturated fat the main cause of cardiovascular disease? Actually, that’s just another myth in the catalogue of fat fables. Trans fat is the only kind of fat that has been shown to be positively detrimental to health.
Trans-fats are artificially created fats used in the manufacture of foods. They increase shelf life and the flavour-stability of foods. They are often found in fast food, cakes and biscuits. Including a little trans fat in your diet won’t kill you but it is not considered to be healthy.
So, back to the question of whether eating fat makes you fat? The simple truth is that if you remain in a caloric surplus, a low-fat diet won’t make you lose weight. The only way to lose weight is to achieve a calorie deficit.
Overall, eating a small amount of fat is an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet, as it is a source of essential fatty acids, which the body cannot make itself. Fat also helps the body absorb vitamin A, vitamin D and vitamin E.
Any fat not used by your body’s cells or to create energy is converted into body fat. Likewise, unused carbohydrate and protein are also converted into body fat.
The main types of fat found in food are saturated fats and unsaturated fats. Most fats and oils contain both saturated and unsaturated fats in different proportions. As part of a healthy diet it is advisable to try to eat foods higher in unsaturated fats and lower in saturated fats.
Saturated fats are found in many foods, both sweet and savoury, but most of them come from animal sources, including meat and dairy products, and some plant foods, such as palm oil and coconut oil.
Foods high in saturated fats include fatty cuts of meat, meat products like sausages and pies, butter, ghee, cheese – especially hard cheese like cheddar – cream, ice cream, chocolate, biscuits, cakes and pastries.
Unsaturated fats are found primarily in oils from plants and fish, and can be either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated.
Monounsaturated fats help protect the heart by maintaining levels of good cholesterol while reducing levels of bad cholesterol. They are commonly found in olive oil, rapeseed oil, avocados, some nuts, such as almonds, brazils and peanuts.
There are two main types of polyunsaturated fats: omega-3 and omega-6. These fats can help lower levels of bad cholesterol. Some types of omega-3 and omega-6 fats cannot be made by the body and are therefore essential in small amounts in the diet.
Omega-6 fats are found in vegetable oils, such as rapeseed, corn, and sunflower, and some nuts. Omega-3 fats are found in oily fish such as kippers, herring, trout, sardines, salmon, and mackerel.
And don’t be fooled by food packaging labels into believing that some foods are ‘low in fat’.
For a product to be labelled lower fat, reduced fat, lite or light, it has to contain at least 30% less fat than a similar product. But if the type of food in question is high in fat in the first place, the lower fat version may also still be high in fat (17.5g or more of fat per 100g).
For example, a low fat mayonnaise is 30% lower in fat than the standard version, but is still high in fat. These foods also are not necessarily low in calories. Sometimes the fat is replaced with sugar and may end up with a similar energy content.
So, in much the same way as carbohydrates, fat is not inherently bad for you and will not make you fat, if the rights kinds are consumed in the right quantities, as part of a balanced diet.
Myth 3: Salt is bad for you
And last but not least, is the modern myth that salt is bad for you. Now, don’t get us wrong, there is a grain of truth in this myth but it needs debunking all the same, as it’s quite a bold statement.
Some studies have associated excess salt with hypertension (high blood pressure), kidney damage, and an increased risk of cognitive decline.
However, sodium (salt) is an essential mineral for the body and its consumption is critical to health. Problems arise when too much sodium and too little potassium is consumed. When this happens high blood pressure can occur.
Potassium and sodium are electrolytes necessary for the body to function and help maintain fluid and blood volume. Potassium is found in vegetables, fruit, seafood, and dairy products.
The problem is that the majority of sodium that people consume comes from processed foods.
So, salt reduction is important for people with salt-sensitive hypertension, and excess salt intake is basically bad for you but drastically lowering salt intake has not shown uniform benefit in clinical trials. Most people will benefit more from a diet of mostly unprocessed foods than they would from micromanaging their salt intake.
Next up we’ll be debunking the myths about bread, the fiction surrounding fresh food vs frozen, and the delusions about dietary supplements. Look out for our next blog, coming soon!