People want to lose weight, fit into their skinny jeans, and eat foods that taste good, but they don’t always know how to make it happen. Unfortunately, this often means they’ll do and believe anything they hear supposed experts say in order to reach their goals, even if science doesn’t back it up. Some advice even hurts more than it helps. With that in mind, it’s time we address claims about food and nutrition that science has disproven — or has yet to prove true (and likely never will).
1. Eat more ‘natural’ foods
Sometimes, food labeling is confusing enough to trick you into thinking something is healthy when it isn’t. For example, foods with “all natural” ingredients — no artificial colors or flavors — aren’t necessarily healthier than foods without these labels. According to LiveScience, the USDA defines the term “natural” as any minimally processed food free of artificial or added ingredients. However, manufacturers can still get away with a lot under this definition due to loose FDA regulations. A natural label doesn’t tell you exactly how a food was grown, processed, or produced, so that “all natural” food isn’t as healthy as you’d like to believe.
2. Go organic — it’s better for you
Unlike natural food labels, certified organic foods refer to how farmers grow food and raise livestock. According to Mayo Clinic, organic farming prohibits the use of certain fertilizers, antibiotics, and genetic modifications. But some processed organic foods still contain non-organic ingredients. Research also suggests organic food isn’t necessarily more nutritious than conventional food — it’s just grown differently. If you’re concerned with where your food comes from, and want to eat more fresh produce, buy local. That matters more than organic labels.
3. Avoid microwaving your food as much as possible
When you zap your food in a microwave, does it also zap that food’s nutrients? According to Harvard Health Publications, heating food in your microwave is one of the most effective ways to preserve nutrients. Cooking foods for long periods of time and heating them in liquid, as with boiling, promotes nutrient loss. Microwave cooking is short, and doesn’t require liquid for heating the way boiling certain foods in water does.
4. Cleanse your body of toxins
Detox teas, smoothies, and foods with magical cleansing powers one day invaded the diet industry, and have yet to leave. Despite so many health enthusiasts and celebs claiming they work, Authority Nutrition notes the absence of credible human studies on detox diets. The idea that you can cleanse your body of harmful substances if you only eat certain foods — or nothing at all — isn’t scientifically sound. You’re likely doing your body more harm than good.
The problem is, many detoxes involving juice, tea, or smoothies just fill your body with sugar and empty calories. Besides, certain foods don’t clear your body of waste. Your liver, kidneys, and sweat glands do that. Any weight you might lose during a detox — mostly water weight — you’ll likely gain back quickly. If you want to avoid harmful chemicals in your body, cut out processed foods — a much more effective, but healthier, detox.
5. Avoid foods high in cholesterol
For decades, doctors and nutrition professionals have tried keeping you away from foods high in cholesterol. Outdated research simply assumed cholesterol and heart disease were related. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, more recent studies suggest dietary cholesterol isn’t directly related to heart disease. Basically, food doesn’t raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol or lower your HDL (good) cholesterol as much as scientists used to think. As long as you have enough HDL cholesterol to clear out excess LDL cholesterol, you’ll be perfectly healthy.
6. Overeating is fine, as long as it’s healthy food
As long as a food is healthy, you can eat as much of it as you want — right? More people believe this than you might think. While it isn’t the sole cause of the world’s obesity problem, it may definitely contribute to it. One study found people perceived healthy food as less filling than unhealthy food, and tended to eat larger portions of healthier foods as a result. It’s possible to over-consume calories and nutrients, even when you follow a mostly healthy diet. Portion control is an essential, yet often neglected, part of weight loss and management.
It often helps to choose foods high in fiber and protein when eating meals and snacks. These foods tend to fill you up faster, discouraging you from eating too much.
7. Eat more often to increase your metabolism
Food and metabolism are related, but not in the way many people still believe. Overall, research thus far fails to support a connection between metabolism and smaller, more frequent meals. One small study suggests more frequent meals has little to no effect on weight, and may actually increase hunger. Though many people who eat smaller meals more often tend to lose weight, it’s not because of an increase in metabolism. It’s more likely because eating smaller meals discourages overeating.
8. Food cravings are a sign of nutrient deficiency
Though food cravings aren’t fully understood, they’re definitely a brain problem, not a nutrient deficiency problem. Scientific American says the majority of research on this topic does not support the idea that craving a certain nutrient means you need more of it. Food cravings seem to originate in areas of the brain associated with memory and emotion. If you suspect you’re deficient in a certain food, make an appointment with your doctor before drastically changing your diet.
9. Stop eating saturated fat to keep your heart healthy
Standard nutrition advice in the late 1900s urged people to avoid saturated fat to protect their hearts. Reviews of dozens of studies, however, show there is no evidence that saturated fat causes heart disease. Some foods that contain saturated fats, like meat and dairy products, also contain protein and essential vitamins and minerals. Avoiding saturated fat altogether might actually be harmful. However, limiting your saturated fat intake leaves room for plenty of healthy fats, protein, and carbs. Limiting your intake of processed foods — usually high in sugar and sodium — is likely a better idea.
10. Eat more low-fat foods to lose weight
When food companies noticed people’s wariness of high-fat foods, they started making low-fat products. Yet you’ve probably never eaten a low-fat food that tasted like cardboard — because they’ve since fixed that problem. Manufacturers might not add as much fat to certain foods, but they usually make up for that by adding sugar and other flavorings. Dr. Robert S. Bobrow, in his Huffington Post article about low-fat diets, also noted low-fat foods tend to be less filling, prompting you to eat more. This makes total sense — processed foods are often made up mostly of empty calories, and most lack essential nutrients like fiber to keep you full.
Technically, foods labeled “low-fat” are low in fat, but it doesn’t mean they’re any better for you. Whether you’re eating low-fat Oreos or regular Oreos, they’re still Oreos. Choose fatty foods that also offer other nutritional benefits when possible.
11. Don’t eat after 7 p.m.
Diet and weight loss enthusiasts often blame night eating for your unwanted weight gain, and technically, they aren’t wrong. The dangers of eating after 6, 7, or 8 p.m. have nothing to do with metabolism or digestion, though. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the time of day you consume calories isn’t the problem. It’s the quality and quantity of the calories you’re eating that makes a difference. If you’re snacking on ice cream and cookies late at night, yes — you’re probably going to gain weight. That’s because you’re eating ice cream and cookies, though, not because you’re consuming calories after dinner.
The occasional late-night snack — as long as it’s healthy — isn’t going to hurt you. If you’re hungry, eat. Just remember that hunger after a meal could indicate you’re not eating enough during the day.
12. All carbs are evil
The rising popularity of low-carb diets over the last few decades has given carbohydrates a bad rap. According to Everyday Health, though, it’s the types of carbs you’re eating that matter. There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. We usually associate simple carbs with candy and soda, and complex carbs with whole grains and starchy vegetables. Complex carbs release sugar into your bloodstream slowly, which is why they’re called good carbs. Simple carbs enter your bloodstream quickly, which can cause blood sugar spikes and crashes.
Carbs are not the enemy — that’s just bad nutrition advice. However, do your best to limit your intake of added and processed sugars. Replace them with foods high in fiber and other vitamins and minerals for optimal health.
13. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day
Breakfast cereal companies need you to believe a bowl of Frosted Flakes every morning will change your life. Health experts, however, aren’t so sure breakfast is as important for everyone as we once believed. Dr. Aaron E. Carroll’s breakfast myth-busting column in The Upshot points to everything wrong with studies claiming the importance of a big meal first thing in the morning. Solid research tends to show little evidence that either eating or skipping breakfast has a major impact on a person’s health.
Don’t freak out — this doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy breakfast food. If you have to choose between a highly processed breakfast and no breakfast, you might be better off going without.
14. Get some of your fruit and veggie servings from juice
It’s flawed logic to think fruit and vegetable juices are healthy because they come from fruits and vegetables. Chocolate technically comes from a plant, but that doesn’t make it healthy (sorry). Still, The Washington Post warns that many people, both children and adults, think juice is healthy — even though it isn’t. Let’s face it — you’re drinking sugar water, especially when you buy brand-name juice from the store. The healthiest parts of fruits and vegetables, the skin and seeds, aren’t used to make juice. You’re missing out on most of the fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants present in whole produce.
Try limiting your fruit and vegetable juice intake to one small glass per day, if that. Choose fresh, whole produce instead to get the proper nutrients fruits and vegetables have to offer.
15. Negative-calorie foods are a weight loss miracle
There are plenty of foods that contain so few calories per serving, those calories almost don’t matter. The keyword here is “almost.” A calorie is a calorie — it supplies your body with energy. Low-calorie foods like celery or watermelon don’t boost your metabolism in the sense that you burn calories digesting them, though. According to Livestrong.com, you burn only a small percentage of the calories you get from food during digestion. It’s the nutritional value of these foods, not their calorie amounts, that make them worth eating. Devouring more celery alone won’t help you lose weight. Burning calories from exercise, and eating a variety of foods at every meal, will.