Nutrition Myths vs. Facts
By: Registered dietitians and nutritionists at JM Nutrition. Learn more about the JM Nutrition team.
In this post:
Why are there so many nutrition myths and misconceptions
What can you do to determine what is nutrition fact and what is nutrition fiction
A close look at some common nutrition myths vs. facts, and corresponding explanations
The online world is no doubt rife with health and nutrition myths and misconceptions. As a result, it is difficult to distinguish nutrition myths vs. facts. And this greatly affects the choices we make daily. However, in order to be informed about nutrition or diet and the enormous impact it has on our bodies, both physically and mentally, it is vital to ascertain what is fact and what is fiction.
And herein lies the problem. There is just so much information out there, much of it conflicting, that things can get confusing.
For this reason, our team has decided to do our best to dispel some of the more common myths by providing the latest scientific facts.
Before we examine these nutrition myths vs. facts, let’s take a brief look at why are there so many myths and misconceptions pertaining to health and nutrition in the first place.
Why are there so many nutrition myths and misconceptions?
1. Science constantly changes
Science pertaining to health and nutrition changes constantly. In fact, it evolves so fast that, what was once a widely accepted fact, may now be fiction. For this reason it’s important to stay up-to-date on the latest nutrition news.
2. Compelling marketing
Marketing influences the way we think, what we purchase and, of course, what we eat. This is indisputable. As a result, we need to be wary of various marketing techniques that cause us disregard fact, leading us to focus on gimmicks instead.
Related: Factors That Influence Food Choices
3. The influence of powerful corporations, organizations and lobby groups
These powerful groups can influence and shape what we hear, see and read on TV, in the newspapers or online publications. For this reason the onus is on the people to do their own investigating to ensure the veracity of what they read, hear and see.
4. The ease with which information can now be shared online
Today, we are inundated with information because there exists a myriad of ways to share and receive information and data: blogs, social media, legacy media, newspapers and magazines, TV, platforms like Youtube or Rumble, and so on.
Because there are so many channels, it’s easy to disseminate information, factual and non. This makes the consumer’s job more difficult. There is no doubt.
5. Word of mouth
Peer influence is also a major factor that may result in health and nutrition-related myths and misconceptions. People simply want to believe that short-cuts and quick fixes to a variety of problems exist. Because they do, they may believe largely unsubstantiated claims they hear others proclaim. When they simply accept these as facts, they perpetuate these myths by sharing them with others.
What can you do to determine what is nutrition myths vs. fact?
1. The first course of action should be to make it a priority to keep up with the latest science-backed news. That said, this can be challenging.
You can do so easily. Simply subscribe to various scholarly email communications, article and blog posts, as well as email newsletters that end up directly in your inbox. Doing so will save you time having to conduct research on your own.
2. Then, you should refer to various reputable, non-partisan resources to ensure you are getting unbiased information.
3. Next, seek the advice of numerous health professionals to help distinguish between myth and fact.
4. Last, and perhaps most important, is to think critically.
- Challenge assumptions.
- Suspend judgement.
- Revise conclusions based on newly-acquired evidence.
- Prioritize data over beliefs.
- Consider all possibilities without necessarily accepting them.
- Look to see if anything had been missed by others.
Let’s now take a look at some of these common nutrition myths and facts.
Nutrition myths vs. facts
1. Nutrition myth: Nutritious (healthy) food is expensive.
Nutrition fact: Although It’s important to note that additive-rich, nutrient-deficient, processed food is inexpensive and convenient, there is another side to the coin.
Look at it this way:
How often do you go through the drive-through to pick up a coffee and a snack?
How many times per month do you buy take-out lunch?
Do you order pizza or use Uber Eats?
And what about the weekends–how often do you eat out?
We all know the answers to these questions, probably more than we’d like to admit.
To what does all of this add up?
Money spent. The same money that can be diverted to buying higher-quality, nutritious foods at the grocery store and making it at home.
Of course, it’s not always possible to do so on very busy days. But, generally speaking, it’s about making cooking at home to save money a habit.
Related: How To Save Money On Groceries
USDA compared prices of ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’* foods using three different price metrics:
- the price of food energy ($/calorie)
- the price of edible weight ($/100 edible grams)
- the price of an average portion ($/average portion)
Here’s what it found.
For all metrics except the price of food energy, it was discovered in the study that ‘healthy’ foods cost less than ‘less healthy’ foods.
*‘Unhealthy’ foods, according to USDA, are high in saturated fat, added sugar, and/or sodium, or that contribute little to meeting dietary recommendations.
2. Nutrition myth: Foods with such health claims are the sure-bet, go-to healthy choices.
Nutrition fact: Food label health claims may mislead by only focusing on one or two nutrition-related aspects of a food, rather than looking at its nutritional value from a more holistic perspective.
You’ve all seen food label health claims such as: All Natural, Sugar-free, Vitamin D-rich and many more. While some of these claims can be true, things are not so cut and dried much of the time.
Let’s take a look at a few of these claims.
Claim: All Natural
The phrase “All Natural” is not regulated in any way by the FDA. The word natural is appropriate if the food does not contain added colours, artificial flavours or synthetic substances.
That said, however, a food product that’s made with “all-natural” ingredients can still contain hormones and GMOs, does not have to be organically produced, and can be high in calories, fats, sodium or sugar. This is important to underscore.
Some people firmly believe that gluten-free products are always the ‘healthier’ food options.
Things aren’t so simple though. Here’s why.
Many manufacturers remove gluten, and add sugar, salt or refined starches to make up the difference in flavour and texture. This certainly negates the perceived benefit of eating a food product that does not contain gluten. To avoid this pitfall, examine the food product as a whole.
According to USDA, produce can be called organic if it’s certified to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest.
The trouble is that the average consumers don’t know what substances are prohibited and which ones are permitted.
In addition, prohibited substances include most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. The operative word being most.
Again, therein lies the problem. Which fertilizers and pesticides are actually prohibited?
In order to determine this, we have to do some thorough digging. This may be time consuming and inconvenient.
Discover more about USDA Organic.
To learn more information about specific health claims and their meanings, visit Food Packaging Claims.
3. Nutrition myth: Fat is bad.
Nutrition fact: Although fat-free and low-fat are fads of the past, some people still believe that the less fat in their diet, the better.
The fact is fat has beneficial functions.
It protects the organs, maintains cell membranes, promotes growth and development, and absorbs essential vitamins.
In addition, many products labeled low-fat or fat-free contain added sugar, sodium or other such ingredients to help make up for the loss of flavour when removing or reducing fat.
Fat also helps with satiety because it makes you feel fuller longer. Choosing a fat-free product to reduce calories can backfire as you may find yourself snacking soon after.
Last, it’s important to note that the aim is to consume as many beneficial fats as possible, while limiting the less beneficial ones.
Read: Good Fats vs. Bad Fats
4. Nutrition myth: Use unrefined sugars, such as honey, maple syrup or coconut sugar in place of white table sugar.
Nutrition fact: It’s important to keep in mind that sugar is sugar, although unrefined sugar options may contain a small number of vitamins and minerals.
The advantage, however, is minimal as these are still considered added sugar and contribute to the recommended daily limit on added sugar in the diet.
Another thing worth a mention is that sugar appears in the lists of ingredients under many different names. Here’s a list of some of the 61 names for sugar.
5. Nutrition myth: A calorie deficit or ‘Calories in, calories out’ principle is all that matters when it comes to weight loss.
Nutrition fact: The truth is there are numerous factors that may affect weight loss. This weight loss factors infographic certainly provides some food for thought.
Related: Nutritionist & dietitian for weight loss
6. Nutrition myth: Thin people are healthier.
No nutrition myths vs. facts list would be complete without addressing this significant elephant in the room.
Nutrition fact: Although excess weight may increase the risk for heart disease and diabetes, there are many people who are not thin and yet have healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
According to a Time Magazine report, a genetic analysis of more than 75,000 people found that lean people with a specific genetic variant had a greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and heart disease despite their lower body fat.
Scientists have discovered that people store their fat differently. Where the individual stores fat is largely genetic and gender-based.
Research shows that there is a genetic variant that causes some people’s bodies to be incapable of storing fat underneath the skin and therefore it is deposited elsewhere, disrupting the body’s normal function.
Furthermore, a 2010 study published in the European Heart Journal, reported by ABC News, found that as many as 30 million American are suspected of having normal weight obesity.
Normal weight obesity
Frequently, lean people may lack visible body fat under the skin because it is being stored deeper inside the body, around the organs and in the muscles.
In the aforementioned study, those with lean bodies, but detected as having this genetic variant, consistently showed higher blood cholesterol levels and trouble processing insulin, an early indicator of diabetes.
Discover more about heart-healthy, at risk and dangerous cholesterol levels.
Related: Obesity management with a dietitian
Why is being thin valued so much in Western culture?
In short, diet culture.
What is diet culture?
It’s a set of beliefs that worships thinness and equates it with health and moral virtue, and the pinnacle of success and beauty. Discover more about diet culture.
While it’s crucial to eat nutritious foods and achieve optimum health is an excellent goal to aim for, and healthy lifestyles should be promoted, it is also important to critically examine and question blind allegiance to certain ideals (e.g., unrealistic goal of thinness at the expense of health).
Furthermore, diet culture typically portrays physical exercise and joyful movement as a punishment for indulging in less or non-nutritious food. This is counter-productive.
What’s more, diet culture primarily depicts exercise and movement as a tool to prevent ‘being fat’, rather than seeing it as fun or being beneficial to the overall well-being of humans.
Find out how to resist diet culture.
Intuitive Eating: Principles, Challenges and Important Considerations
Do I Have a Healthy Relationship with Food?
7. Nutrition myth: You can easily make up for a substandard diet with supplements.
Nutrition fact: A diet consisting of processed foods, refined sugar and other foods that are not nutrient dense simply cannot be counteracted with supplements, no matter how many you take.
Nutritious food contains hundreds, if not thousands, of phytochemicals, fibres, proteins and fats that simply cannot be replicated into pill or supplement form.
What you should do instead
Eat a well-balanced diet rich with fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and high-quality proteins. This gives you the majority of the nutrients you need. High-quality supplements are good as a supplement. However, they are not designed to replace the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients you get from your diet.
Essentially, supplements can help to close a nutritional gap, but should not be used in place of a well-balanced and healthy diet. The majority of your nutrition should come from nutrient-dense, whole foods.
Important considerations regarding dietary supplementation
- It’s possible to get all your nutrients through diet alone.
- Supplements, however, can help to fill in the gaps in your diet.
- Always consult a health professional, when considering taking supplements.
- Some supplements can have side effects, when taken with other medicines or if you have certain health conditions.
What are the most popular dietary supplements?
Workout Supplements: What Supplements Should I Take?
8. Nutrition myth: Cereal is a wholesome and nutritious breakfast.
Nutrition fact: Often high in sugar, refined carbs and low in fibre, most cereals are a far cry from being nutritious, though some can be.
Related: Which cereals are high in sugar?
How to choose nutritious cereal
a) Analyze the ingredients list.
- Are there ingredients you can’t pronounce?
- Look at the order of ingredients: the ingredients are listed in the order of predominance of their weight, from most to least.
b) Examine the nutrition facts label.
- Look at low sugar and low sodium content.
- Go for high fibre cereal.
- Avoid preservatives, artificial colourings, etc.
c) Choose whole grains over refined grains.
d) Don’t forget to look at the serving size.
e) Add nutritious ingredients: fruit, nuts and seeds.
9. Nutrition myth: Drinking fruit juice is the same as eating fruit.
Nutrition fact: Fruit juice has high sugar content and lacks fibre that fruit in its natural form contains.
Although juice contains vitamins such as C, most fruit juice contains far too much sugar, often added sugar.
In addition, fruit juice does not have the same amount of fibre that fruit in its natural form does. This is an important distinction to make. Reason being, many of our clients find this surprising.
What’s more, beware of fruit cocktails and drink boxes for your kids–they are astronomically high in sugar. Water is a much better alternative. If water with a lime or lemon is not up to your liking, try juicing your own juice at home.
10. Nutrition myth: Wine is the better alcoholic beverage for the health-conscious.
Nutrition fact: Although wine is a better alternative to creamy, calorie- and sugar-laden cocktails, not all wines are created equal.
This is a myth believed by a number of our health-conscious clients whom we have encountered many times in our practice. However, this belief is mistaken.
Below we have two seemingly identical bottles of white wine: same size and colour. But appearances are deceiving as there is an enormous difference in the sugar content. For this reason it is important to pay close attention to liquor store labels and analyze accordingly.
Learn about what is a standard drink and general alcohol guidelines.
Related: Wine & Weight Loss
In the end, it’s an important step to differentiate between nutrition myths vs. facts, when trying to put ourselves in the best position to achieve optimum health. We hope this post provided some insight into the subject. Should you have any questions, feel free to contact us or book a free consultation, if you’d like to work with a practitioner on-site or conduct nutritional counselling sessions with an online dietitian and nutritionist.
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