The Most Common Nutrition Myths (and Why They're Wrong)

There's a world of information about what to eat (and what not to eat) out there, but there's also a heap of misinformation – we're here to bust some nutrition myths for you.

Considering just how fundamental food is, you'd think we'd all have a pretty good handle on exactly how it impacts us. Since we spend so much time thinking about food, preparing food and consuming food, surely we should know precisely what nutrients we need in order to thrive, how to get them, and what happens inside our bodies when we eat them, right? Unfortunately, the reality is that any two people picked at random will probably have completely different ideas of what 'good' nutrition actually means. And odds are they're both wrong, at least in part.

Perhaps that shouldn't be surprising. Nutrition is complex and that complexity is often exploited to convince us of things that aren't true. Sometimes it's to flog us a fad diet, but often it's just because someone's misunderstood precisely how, say, amino acids are processed by the body. Like we said, nutrition is really complex and it's easy to assume things that just aren't true unless you've really taken the time to study this stuff.

Enter James Collier, a registered nutritionist, former clinical dietitian in the NHS, and  our Head of Nutrition. In other words, he's a man who has studied this stuff in depth and knows pretty much everything there is to know about the things that we consume and what happens  to us – and them – when they get inside our bodies. We got him to unpick a few nutritional myths, to explain why they don't stand up to scrutiny. 

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Myth 1: You need to cut carbs to lose fat

This one hinges on the misconception that all carbs are created equal. Yes, cutting out sugars and foods high in refined carbohydrates (think: fizzy drinks, sweets, cake) may help you lose unwanted body fat, but they're only part of the picture. Fibrous, starchy foods like quinoa and brown rice are important contributors to a wholesome diet. Consumed regularly, these foods make you feel full and so help prevent over-eating. They're also a key source of slow-release energy. Whilst it’s necessary to moderate the portion sizes of carbohydrate foods if you want to lose weight, don’t cut them out completely.

Myth 2: Skipping meals will help you lose weight quicker

Actually, the opposite may be true. Weight gain is, essentially, maths: if calories in are greater than calories out, you get bigger. It doesn't matter if you eat those calories in one meal or seven, what matters is the end number. What often happens when we skip meals is we just eat them later, because we're so hungry – and think we've earned them. But even if you don't succumb to the temptation to load up your plate, the mere act of going without actually works against you.

If you don’t eat, your body enters ‘fasting mode’; your metabolic rate may slow down to conserve energy. A slow metabolism means that you’re not burning energy as readily as you should, so you’re more likely to store energy as fat. If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s imperative to have three to four (depending on how active you are) small, regular meals a day, including protein and fibrous carbohydrates at each.

Myth 3: ‘Low-fat’ or ‘fat-free’ foods are better for you

Since the 1970s, we’ve been led to believe that fat is ‘bad’ for us. Government campaigns and diet food companies have especially tried to convince us to eat less fat, a message that's readily accepted thanks to the understandable misapprehension that the fat you eat is the same as the fat under your skin. But fat is not the bad guy. We need fats to survive, and including a sensible amount of the right types of fat at each meal is essential if you want to eat a nutritious diet. They're also a source of flavour, which is why 'low-fat' foods are often high in sugar, to make up for a lack of taste. And that's something you should try to eat less of. Read more on fats here

Myth 4: There are certain foods that will help you lose weight

The diet industry loves nothing more than a fat-burning superfood, guaranteed to "melt away belly fat in six week!". Well, they won't. But you probably didn't need us to tell you that. There are no magic ingredients that make you lose weight, but there are nutrients that make it easier to stick to a calorie deficit. Protein and fat are more satiating than carbs, as are fibre-rich foods, all of which will help keep you full so you can resist snacking more easily.

Which brings us onto celery. There's a myth that munching on foods with that much fibre contribute negative calories, that the acts of chewing and digesting burn more energy than you take in. Well, it's not true. However, if you eat a lot of celery, odds are you will lose weight, because you'll feel full and won't be as tempted to raid the biscuit tin.

Myth 5: Snacking is bad for you

Too much snacking may indeed be bad for you, but in moderation – and with the right snack choice – it can can be a useful way of getting some extra nutrition as well as keeping those unwanted hunger pangs at bay. The trick is picking the right snacks. Things like tree nuts, which are high in fat and protein, or fruit, which is full of fibre, will always be a more nutritious choice than anything sugary.

Myth 6: Cut out your favourite foods in order to lose weight

You don’t need to cut any food completely out of your diet if you’re trying to lose weight. The best diet plan is the one you'll actually stick to – if you stop eating the things you love, you'll often give up sooner. Consuming your favourite foods in moderation may help you stick to a weight loss plan. Of course, how much you include will depend on what your favourite foods are, and if they are high-calorie this will affect how much you include them in your diet. Alternatively, you can get the best of both worlds with Huel Instant Meals, and enjoy decadent favourites like Mac & Cheeze while knowing you're getting all your nutritional needs met.

Myth 7: Track your calories on a daily basis to know you’re eating the right amount

Whilst the more nutritionally enthusiastic amongst us may find it useful to know which foods are high in calories and which foods are lower, you do not need to count calories. You do not expend exactly the same amount of energy every day. Furthermore, the calorific value of foods has little relevance to the nutritional value of foods; foods of similar calories can have a very different nutritional profile and effect on satiety.

Myth 8: Eating before bed will make you fat

Not true, although it is wise to avoid gorging just before you turn in, because it's not great for digestion if you lie down in bed with a full stomach. Also, as our metabolic rate is typically faster in the morning and slower in the evening – related to the secretion of hormones involved with the metabolism, like insulin – ideally, spread food intake throughout the day.

Myth 9: Fruit is bad for you because it contains a lot of sugar

No-one ever got fat from eating fruit. Sugar is only bad for you if you consume too much. Fruit does contain natural sugar in the form of fructose, which is metabolised differently to glucose. Fruit is also rich in fibre, which will help slow down the digestion of foods, as well as a range of different vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.

Myth 10: If you exercise regularly, you need more protein in your diet

If you’re exercising hard, you may need to increase your food intake in order to fuel additional energy requirements (if you’re not looking to lose weight, of course). As you’re eating more food, you will, most likely, be consuming more protein. Considering that the Western diet is already protein-rich, you'll most likely be getting enough to keep you healthy. That said, if you find yourself getting hungry more frequently because you're burning all those extra calories, then a protein-rich snack like Huel Complete Protein will help keep you feeling fuller for longer.

Huel Complete Protein

Myth 11: A vegan diet doesn’t provide enough protein

It did indeed use to be hard for vegans to be able to obtain adequate protein from their diet and they had to carefully choose foods for each meal. However, the modern vegan has an easier life: it’s easy to obtain adequate protein as there are loads of high-protein plant-based products readily available like tofu, hummus, tempeh, soya-based desserts, vegan protein powders and Huel. Combining more than one plant-protein source at each meal will ensure requirements for all amino acids are met. Read more about protein quality here

Myth 12: Going vegan can help you lose weight

Maybe, but that will depend on your diet in the first place. If you were eating a rubbish omnivorous diet, then switching to a plant-based diet will typically mean you are more conscious of your food choices. However, a vegan diet is not necessarily a diet synonymous with weight loss (chips are vegan, after all).

Myth 13: Detox diets are beneficial for your body to reboot you

Don’t get us started on this one. What does ‘detox’ even mean? And ‘reboot’ is something you do with your PC and has no relevance to the human body! If you have proper functioning kidneys, then your body will detoxify every day. If you see an article about so-called ‘detox diets’, stop reading it!

Myth 14: Going gluten-free is healthier for you

Unless you are coeliac or have one of the other rare conditions that mean you have a genuine intolerance to gluten, then gluten is not ‘bad’ for you. Gluten is a protein found naturally in wheat, rye and barley, and for the majority of us, it causes no issues and contributes to your daily protein intake. Read more about gluten here.

Myth 15: Coffee is bad for you

Until recently, doctors seemed to think that coffee was bad for you. We're not sure where this came from. Whilst it would be prudent to not consume too much caffeine, coffee is rich in a number of phytonutrients and antioxidants and is great to include as part of a nutritious diet. You may need to limit the amount you drink if you're sensitive to caffeine; otherwise, enjoy up to three to five cups a day. Read our article Health Benefits of Coffee.

Myth 16: Salt is bad for you

Salt is made from two electrolytes, sodium and chloride, both of which are essential and required for key functions in the body, like the regulation of fluid balance. The problem is only when you have too much salt in your diet, which has been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Moderate the amount of salt you consume, but don’t cut it out completely.

Myth 17: You need to have milk and dairy products to obtain enough calcium

Calcium is essential for bone and tooth health and for muscle contraction. It's crucial to have a good calcium intake during the bone-building years, which are as a baby and again from adolescence to about 30 years of age. This is especially important in females. Insufficient calcium during these periods can lead to osteoporosis when you're older.

Dairy products are rich in calcium, but if you exclude dairy, you can get adequate calcium by including a range of the following in your diet: plant-based milks (e.g. soya, oat, almond) enriched with calcium, nuts, seeds, dark green vegetables, pulses, oily fish with edible bones, and Huel.


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