8 Biggest Diet and Nutrition Myths

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Cooked versus raw, frozen or fresh? Here, we debunk some of the most popular and persistent food myths.

Hearing something over and over again – even if it’s not true – can make you believe it is. Maybe that’s why there are still so many myths about food out there.

Think carbs make you fat? Coffee dehydrates you?

Well, think again.

Here are some of the most popular and persistent food myths, according to Leslie Beck, a widely-consulted Toronto-based registered dietician and the author of 12 books on healthy eating.

1) Eating eggs raises cholesterol: “While it’s true eggs are a concentrated form of cholesterol, studies have shown that cholesterol – whether it comes from eggs, shrimp or even meat – has little or no impact on most people’s cholesterol levels,” says Beck. “If you’re looking to cut cholesterol in your blood you’re better off to reduce your intake of animal fats.”

Beck has one caveat though. “People with diabetes or heart disease should limit their cholesterol intake.”

2) You need a high-protein diet to build muscle: While Beck says it’s true that people who work out often and work out hard have higher protein requirements than more sedentary people, research shows that most active people can meet their protein needs through their diet – and diet alone.

“While people who are doing intense workouts do need extra protein to repair muscle damage that occurs during exercise, and to support muscle building, you certainly don’t need to resort to an Atkins-style diet or fill up on protein shakes or protein bars to get the extra protein you need. Increasing your protein intake beyond the recommended level won’t build bigger muscles either because there’s a limit to the rate at which protein can be synthesized into muscle.”

3) You need to drink eight glasses of water a day: Beck says women require nine cups (2.2 litres) of water a day and men need 12 cups (three litres).

But here’s the thing. “All beverages, excluding alcohol, count towards your daily water requirements, whether it’s the milk you have on your cereal, a smoothie – even coffee and tea count.”

4) Fresh vegetables are more nutritious than frozen: This one depends on the time of year, since fresh produce might not be as fresh as you think, says Beck.

“By the time it travels from the farm to the supermarket to your dinner plate, it may be a couple of weeks old, during which time nutrients are lost,” she says. “Studies have shown that many frozen vegetables rival or sometimes even outrank fresh vegetables as a source of vitamins and minerals because they’re processed and packaged almost immediately after harvest, which locks in more nutrients.”

Bottom line: At this time of year local markets are overflowing with fresh produce so it’s the best time to eat fresh, whereas winter veggies that come from afar may not be the most nutritious option.

5) Raw veggies are more nutritious than cooked: “A lot of people still think this, yet it’s a fact you get more minerals and more anti-oxidants when you eat your vegetables cooked,” says Beck. “That’s because heat breaks down cell walls in plants, releasing more minerals, like calcium, iron and magnesium, making them more available for your body to absorb.”

Beck emphasizes that steaming, sautéing or roasting are the best cooking methods since when you boil vegetables they lose water soluble nutrients like vitamin C and some of the B vitamins.

6) You should eat multiple small meals a day to speed up your metabolism: Some people still think that it’s better to eat six small meals a day, rather than three regular-sized meals and that “grazing” helps to burn more calories and fat, says Beck.

Not true. “Despite years of research there’s still no consensus on which meal pattern is best for increasing metabolism. Whether you eat six meals or three meals, what it comes down to is how many calories you consume.”

7) Coffee is dehydrating: “The truth is if you regularly drink caffeinated coffee or tea – or even caffeinated soft drinks – caffeine is no more dehydrating than plain water.”

Beck says the body develops a tolerance for caffeine after three to five days of regular consumption, which “significantly diminishes its diuretic effect.”

8) Carbs make you fat: “The truth is carbohydrates don’t make you fat unless you’re eating them in large portions. Excess calories, whether they’re from carbohydrates, protein or fat, will cause weight gain.”

But all carbs are not created equal, she emphasizes, pointing out that white, refined starches and refined sugars are not only less nutritious, they’re quickly digested which can leave you feeling hungry sooner.