A Dietitian’s Take: Debunking 5 of the biggest nutrition myths online

Scrolling through gut health TikTok, watching a diet pill commercial, or reading a “health” magazine has probably put all sorts of different dieting ideas into your head. So, what’s the right thing to believe? It’s hard to really know. Especially when even fellow health professionals can sometimes spread false nutritional information.

It’s easy to feel torn on what to believe, and even I fall into that as a dietitian. However, there are some big things that have to be set straight. Here are five (of many) nutrition myths, and why they need to go away for good:

1. Eating healthy is expensive

This is a really common misconception online. In part, this is the fault of internet “health gurus” posting their spirulina smoothies, expensive protein powders, and organic-only Erewhon hauls. This can understandably skew your views of what it means to eat a healthy diet, but in reality you don’t need any of these. There are so many affordable and highly nutritious foods that are easy to incorporate into your diet and keep you full.

Try opting for frozen fruits and vegetables over fresh (they are nutritionally equivalent, and sometimes frozen is even better). Pick up some more beans, potatoes, eggs, and oatmeal. Another way to cut costs is sourcing your food from a local farmer’s market when possible. Chances are, the food will be of higher quality, more sustainably produced, and less costly for you.

shopping healthy
(Photo by Boxed Water Is Better on Unsplash)

2. Low-fat and fat-free options are better

The fat-free and low-fat trend was pretty big in the 80s and 90s, but unfortunately people are still huge fanatics today. Fat does not make you fat, contrary to what you may have heard before. In fact, fat is crucial for organ protection, cell membrane building, hormone health, and absorbing certain nutrients like vitamins A, D, E and K.

Moreover, a lot of low-fat and fat-free products will replace the fat with more sugar and/or salt in order to still make sure there’s flavor. Fat helps you feel fuller, for longer. Opting for fat-free might end up backfiring if you’re trying to lose weight because you aren’t feeling satiated. While you should always check the labels on these products and know that fat is healthy for you, this doesn’t mean you should go out and eat all the deep-fried foods you can.

3. Egg whites are healthier

Egg whites are the favorite for so called “GymTokers” (TikTok gym rats) trying to shed some fat. They have much less fat and contain fewer calories, while keeping some solid protein content. This is why some people choose them over whole eggs, in order to be able to eat more of them.

However, when you remove the yolk, you also take out so many vitamins and minerals with it. Some also argue that cholesterol in eggs is what raises blood cholesterol and drives heart disease, but this is old news and has since been very thoroughly debunked.

Sunny-side up eggs on toast for breakfast
Photo by Eiliv-Sonas Aceron on Unsplash

4. There is one ‘best’ diet

People are unique. When you start diving into “this diet is best” territory, things get dicey. Often times these claims come with no consideration for chronic diseases people have, elimination of one or more food group, and/or really definitive language.

Nutrition research isn’t always the best and often comes with lots of inconsistencies, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any sort of blueprint. This is what everyone can agree on so far:

  • Fiber is an incredibly important part of reducing chronic disease and colon cancer risk (so no long-term keto and eat your fruits and veggies)
  • Added sugar and refined carbs should be limited to avoid chronic diseases and other health complications
  • Trans fats wreak havoc on the body and should be avoided
  • Maintain adequate vitamin D levels for optimal health
  • Supplements can never and should never be used as a replacement for food

5. Salt is bad for you

This is a big one. Current guidelines suggest not exceeding 2,300 mg per day, which is largely doable if you don’t eat a diet that is heavy on the processed foods. Since an excess of sodium can lead to things like high blood pressure, salt has been made out to be a villain.

Less talked about is how salt is essential. It is crucial for fluid balance, nerve health, nutrient absorption, muscle function, and fitness performance. It’s estimated that in an hour of exercise, your body can lose anywhere from 500 to over 1,200mg of salt. This means eating more salt to replenish this becomes key. With electrolytes (potassium, sodium, magnesium), it’s important to ensure there is a proper balance rather than restricting salt as much as you can.

Salt shaker with salt poured onto table
Salt shaker (Image by Bruno /Germany from Pixabay)

Bottom Line

Take everything you see online with a grain of salt (pun intended). If you see a big nutritional claim, make sure you’re thinking twice about it and maybe even ask your doctor or dietitian about the validity of it before implementing any changes to your lifestyle.

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About the Author

Shyla Cadogan, RD

Shyla Cadogan is a DMV-Based acute care Registered Dietitian. She holds specialized interests in integrative nutrition and communicating nutrition concepts in a nuanced, approachable way.

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