Between fad diets, myths, and celebrity trends, it can be hard to tell what’s fact and what’s fiction when it comes to your diet. To help you make healthier choices, we’re debunking some of the top food myths that are still around today.
READ MORE: 6 Easy Food Swaps To Be More Heart Healthy
3 Surprising Food Myths
Myth #1: Fat Makes You Fat
Not all fats are created equal, and saturated fats (found in red meat, grease, and many packaged foods) are largely responsible for giving fat its reputation. Saturated fats can drive up overall cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels. For that reason, most nutritionists recommend limiting saturated fats to under 10% of calories per day.1,2 To limit saturated fats, you may be tempted to reach for “low fat” or “fat-free” packaged goods, but be cautious: low-fat foods tend to have a higher sugar content than regular foods, and eating a high-sugar diet can contribute to weight gain, blood sugar issues, and other chronic conditions.3,4
However, eating enough monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats is important to maintaining a healthy diet. Not only is fat a major source of energy, but it helps your body absorb some vitamins and minerals, helps build cell membranes, and makes up the exterior of your cells and nerves.2 Since fat (including saturated fats) should account for about 20%-35% of your daily calories, try to substitute processed fatty foods for some healthier alternatives, like avocados, eggs, fatty fish, nuts, olive oil, or dark chocolate.5
Myth #2: Eating Carbs Will Make You Gain Weight
When it comes to gaining weight, carbohydrates are often seen as public enemy number one. But, carbohydrates are your body’s main source of energy, and eating the right amount of carbs helps power your brain, kidneys, muscles, and heart. 6 To reap these benefits, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that 45%-60% of your daily calories come from carbohydrates.
Just like fats, however, not all carbohydrates are the same. Refined carbs, like white bread, cakes, cookies, and fruit juice, have been processed to remove most of the nutritional and fiber value that carbohydrates offer. 7 Instead, incorporate carbs into your diet by choosing whole grains (such as brown rice, oats, and whole-wheat bread and pasta) or carbohydrate-rich fruits (grapes, bananas, pears, and apples).8 Be mindful of portion sizes and try to limit carbohydrates in meals to about 1 cup, or about a quarter of your plate. By choosing nutrient-rich sources of carbohydrates and keeping track of portion sizes, carbohydrates can be part of a healthy diet, even when trying to lose weight.7
Myth #3: The More Protein, The Better
High protein diets are often used to lose weight or build muscle. The exact amount of protein one should eat depends on your activity level, muscle mass, and current health, and can range anywhere from 10%-30% of your daily caloric intake. 9,10 However, eating anything in excess (including protein) can have some negative effects.
Too much red meat in a protein-heavy diet has been linked to a variety of chronic health issues, including cancer, so be sure to incorporate lean meats like chicken or turkey.11 High-protein diets tend to be low in fiber and can contribute to constipation.12 Plus, replacing macronutrients with protein isn’t a guaranteed method of losing weight - a 2016 study showed that replacing carbs with proteins was associated with a greater risk of weight gain.13
If you’re unsure about your ratio of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, talk to your doctor or dietitian. They’ll be able to review your medical history and give you personalized dietary advice to meet your health goals.