Niha Zubair, Arivale Clinical Research Scientist, PhD
There’s a landfill’s worth of nutrition and health nonsense out there. With news headlines contradicting each other daily and social media stars disagreeing on whether you should eat nothing but cabbage or anything but cabbage, how are you supposed to know what to believe?
The answer: a licensed nutritionist.
So, here’s a list of 20 things our nutritionists will never tell you (and if someone who claims to be a nutritionist does tell you these things, be very skeptical):
1. A juice cleanse is a good idea.
To be fair, juice cleanses sound good: weight loss, decreased toxins, increased energy, and even a lower risk of heart disease. But, the research doesn’t support those outcomes1, and neither will our nutritionists. Juice tends to be high in sugar, low in protein, and missing all the fiber that can support weight loss and prevent heart disease.
Check out methods for a natural detox here.
2. You should eat just 500 to 1,000 calories per day for weight loss.
Will you lose weight if you only eat 500 to 1,000 calories a day? Probably – because you’re starving your body. Is it sustainable? No. Most people can lose weight at a more reasonable calorie level. When you think about what you can maintain long term, 500 calories a day doesn’t fit into this picture.
Eating fewer than 1,200 calories per day would make it very difficult to meet your nutritional needs and support sustainable weight loss.
3. You need to work out 7 days a week.
Working out every day of the week can cause higher levels of inflammation and make it difficult for your body to recover from a workout fully2, 3. Six days a week – at most – is what our nutritionists will recommend. A day of rest is good for the body. On rest days, a light walk or yin (restorative) yoga class could be a good option.
This blog on chronic inflammation discusses overworking your body.
4. You only need 4 hours of sleep a night.
Getting enough sleep is one of the most important ways you can stay healthy. Research shows that seven to nine hours is the most appropriate for most people4 and that this amount will support heart health5, brain health6, stress management7, and even BMI8.
5. Don’t do what your doctor says.
Your doctor is usually right. In the few instances when your doctor may have said something that doesn’t match up, our nutritionists can help guide you to have a constructive conversation with your doctor to clarify their intentions.
6. Cholesterol in eggs and shrimp will raise your cholesterol.
This is a perfect example of how staying on top of the current research or having a coach who knows the current research is vital. Bring back the eggs and shrimp! Research shows dietary cholesterol, such as that found in these eggs and shrimp, is hardly absorbed by the body9. Instead, saturated fat from foods like red meat, bacon, cheese, full-fat dairy, and many take-out foods contributes the most to your cholesterol levels. In fact, eggs may even be good for your heart! Want to know more about cholesterol? Check it out here.
7. You should never eat French fries.
Are French fries every day going to part of a healthy diet? No. Every week? Probably not. But, never? That’s not really a healthy diet either. All foods in moderation can be part of a healthy diet. Saying you can never have a specific food can cause a scarcity mindset that itself be unhealthy. Savor your French fries, when you do choose to have them, eating them slowly, mindfully, and without any distractions. You may be surprised how few you eat when you focus on the act of eating them!
8. You need to sweat to have a good workout.
A good workout supports improving endurance, heart health, and muscle strength or tone. All of these can be done without sweating buckets. Super sweaty workouts often make us feel good, but that doesn’t mean you’ve done more to make yourself healthier. (That being said, sweating is definitely healthy for you, so go ahead and work up a sweat if you enjoy it!)
Curious what’s needed for heart health, exercise-wise? This blog has got you covered.
9. Guacamole is not healthy.
Actually, for many of us, it is! Guacamole has lots of heart-healthy fats and is high in fiber. Choosing guacamole without any creamy additives – no sour cream, crema, or mayonnaise – will ensure it stays in the healthy category.
So, why does guacamole have a bad rap? All the tortilla chips you eat with it. A serving size is 10 to 15 chips, and how hard is it to stop at this number? Choosing to have your guac with cucumber, carrot, or celery will help you make sure you’re getting a high-fiber snack without having to worry about the number of chips. (Of course, if you’re following a low-fat diet or are genetically sensitive to dietary fat for weight gain, even the healthy fats in the avocado may mean it should only be an occasional treat.)
10. We have the perfect diet for your blood type.
There isn’t any research to show your blood type indicates how you should eat. What the blood-type diet does get right is your diet should be personalized to you. Each individual needs to figure out which foods help them feel the best and should be part of their healthy diet and which are best to limit or choose less frequently.
11. It’s better to eat nothing than to eat something unhealthy.
Our nutritionists will never say this because it simply isn’t true. If you’re hungry or needing food, eating something unhealthy will be better than eating nothing. Food is fuel, and if you don’t fuel your body, you’re likely to become so hungry you can’t make supportive food choices (like a grain bowl or salad), which can lead to overeating or making choices that are high in calories and potentially high in fat.
Think of the last time you were so hungry you ate a cheeseburger, French fries, and a shake instead of the salad you were hoping for. Fuel your body regularly – especially when you’re hungry. This can also help improve your self-control around foods.
12. Exercising 60 minutes a day will negate the doughnut you ate.
Your body is a well-oiled machine when it comes to taking the food you’ve given it and using up or storing every last calorie. While the calories found in a doughnut (around 200 for a Krispy Kreme classic) may be equivalent to a 40 to 60-minute walk, no amount of exercise will turn the food you eat into “free” calories or make it magically disappear from your energy intake. (It also won’t necessarily outweigh the effect of the doughnut’s saturated fats, trans fats, and sugar on your body.)
13. White foods are unhealthy.
White foods have gotten a bad rap because many are simple carbohydrates and provide minimal amounts of nutritional value per serving. White bread, white pasta, white rice, and potatoes are all foods that have fallen into this “unhealthy” category.
However, there are lots of white foods that are nutritious (and delicious)! Cauliflower, cannellini beans, some mushrooms, turnips, and – believe it or not – potatoes are all healthier white foods. As long as you aren’t covering your potatoes in butter or gravy and are choosing to eat the skin, you’ll be choosing a naturally low-fat complex carbohydrate with protein and fiber.
14. Coffee is bad for you.
It depends. Despite the panic when California put coffee on its list of carcinogens (due to a possibly cancer-causing byproduct of the roasting process), countless studies indicate coffee is good for you and may be associated with a reduced risk of several types of cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes10. Read more here.
However, coffee may be bad for you if you have the genetic variants that mean regular consumption is likely to increase your blood pressure or disrupt your sleep. And, if you take your coffee with cream and sugar, you’re adding extra calories and saturated fats to your day. Choosing a plant-based creamer, such as almond or oat milk, and reducing the sugar makes it more likely your daily cup or two is contributing to your health.
15. If you eat out more than 3 times a week, you’re unhealthy.
It’s true that it can be more difficult to stay healthy if you eat out a lot because it’s difficult to know how much salt, fat, and calories are in the meals you’re ordering. But, with careful ordering and restaurant selection, it can be done!
Foods that are lower in saturated fats, high in fiber, and contain a lean protein are going to be your best choice. Maybe a grilled chicken salad or bean burrito bowl (without cream or sour cream and topped with guac), for example. If you’re eating out more than three times a week, consider what you’re ordering and choose veggies every chance you get. Check out these tips on what to look for when eating out.
16. Carbs are the devil.
No research supports that carbs are the personification of evil. “Carbs” can encompass everything from beans and fruit to whole grains and pasta. They got their villainous reputation because “carbs” also means things like sugary cereals, pastries, and candy. Sugar, which is a carb, has been pointed to as a significant contributor toward the rise of type 2 diabetes worldwide11.
Portion size is important when you’re choosing carbs. Having too large a portion gives your body a big load of fuel to take care of. Additionally, the quality of your carbs will make a difference. Choose complex carbohydrates, such as beans, whole grains, fruit, and some vegetables.
17. A glass of wine will help you sleep.
A glass of wine can relax the body, so it may help you fall asleep initially. However, alcohol can block REM sleep, cause the brain to create brain waves that usually only occur when you’re awake, and cause you to wake up too early12. All of this works against you to create a less restful and shorter sleep cycle.
18. Your weight or number on the scale shows how healthy you are.
No one is defined by a single number, and that includes the number on your scale. Being healthy is so much more than weight. The World Health Organization defines health13 as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
While the physical component of health may often be tied to a number, especially when health care is concerned, food choices, exercise, self-care, and mental wellbeing play a larger part in how healthy you are.
19. If you aren’t willing to stop going out with your friends, you’ll never lose weight.
Weight loss is challenging and often requires changes in both your behavior and your environment. This doesn’t mean you need to stop going out with your friends – social wellbeing is a huge part of health (see above). However, what you choose to do with your friends could be impacting your weight. If you’re constantly going out to bars, having too many drinks, and choosing foods that are deep fried or covered in cheese, it can make it challenging to meet your weight goals.
Working with a nutrition coach who can help you figure out the behavioral and environmental changes that fit you and your lifestyle best is one way to have the best of both worlds.
20. You must buy these supplements to be healthy.
You can be completely healthy without buying supplements. The most a supplement will ever do is possibly enhance your health (and, in some cases, can cause harm or side effects). It can’t make up for unhealthy eating, not exercising, or not getting enough sleep.
That being said, are some supplements better than others? Definitely. If you aren’t getting certain nutrients, a supplement can help enhance your diet. But, taking a supplement when you’re already hitting it out of the park with your diet and exercise won’t push you into superman status. You’re already doing that yourself every time you choose to hit the gym or pick nourishing, nutrient-rich foods. Go you!
- “Juicing 101: Nutrition Tips for Consumers.” Nutrition.gov. Sept. 25, 2018. https://www.nutrition.gov/subject/shopping-cooking-meal-planning/juicing-101
- Kreider, R. B., Fry, A.C., & O’Toole, M.L. (1998). Overtraining in Sport. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Kreher, J. B., & Schwartz, J. B. (2012). “Overtraining Syndrome: A Practical Guide.” Sports Health, 4(2), 128–138. http://doi.org/10.1177/1941738111434406
- National Sleep Foundation’s sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results Hirshkowitz, Max et al. Sleep Health: Journal of the National Sleep Foundation, Volume 1, Issue 1 , 40 – 43.
- Xiao Q, Keadle SK, Hollenbeck AR, Matthews CE. (2014). “Sleep duration and total and cause-specific mortality in a large US cohort: interrelationships with physical activity, sedentary behavior, and body mass index.” American Journal of Epidemiology, 2014 Nov 15;180(10):997-1006. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwu222.
- Lutsey PL, Misialek JR, Mosley TH, Gottesman RF, Punjabi NM, Shahar E, MacLehose R, Ogilvie RP, Knopman D, Alans A. (2018). “Sleep characteristics and risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease: The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study.” Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 18 Feb;14(2):157-166. doi: 10.1016/j.jalz.2017.06.2269.
- Goldstein, A. N., & Walker, M. P. (2014). “The Role of Sleep in Emotional Brain Function.” Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 10, 679–708. http://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-032813-153716
- Knutson, K. L., & Van Cauter, E. (2008). “Associations between sleep loss and increased risk of obesity and diabetes.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1129, 287–304. http://doi.org/10.1196/annals.1417.033
- Soliman, G. A. (2018). “Dietary Cholesterol and the Lack of Evidence in Cardiovascular Disease.” Nutrients, 10(6), 780. http://doi.org/10.3390/nu10060780
- Noonan, D. (2018). “The Healthy Addiction? Coffee Study Finds More Health Benefits.” Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-healthy-addiction-coffee-study-finds-more-health-benefits/
- Sacks, F. M. et al. (2014) “Effects of high vs low glycemic index of dietary carbohydrate on cardiovascular disease risk factors and insulin sensitivity: the OmniCarb randomized clinical trial.” JAMA 312, 2531–2541.
- Ebrahim, I. O., Shapiro, C. M., Williams, A. J., & Fenwick, P. B. (2013). “Alcohol and Sleep I: Effects on Normal Sleep.” Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research,37(4). doi:10.1111/acer.12006
- Frequently asked questions. June 9, 2017. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/suggestions/faq/en/