As warmer weather continues to show itself, so does interest in the latest fad diets. How to lose weight fast and get in shape quick is on the minds of many. Unfortunately, our world is filled with a perpetual stream of misleading headlines and ambiguous sound bites that poses difficulties for the layperson to discover where the truth lies. Nutrition is a topic that is sensitive to all of us and the food we eat stems from multiple elements including our culture, environment, preferences and social factors. The field of nutrition is not immune from the information overload that we experience and if anything it may be one of the worst offenders for half-truths and the spread of misinformation.
Let us dive deeper into some commonly spread nutrition myths.
MYTH: Carbs are the enemy
Carbohydrates are the main fuel source used for energy and are found in a wide range of foods including grains, fruits, beans and legumes. Commonly known as “carbs,” these molecules have been villainized in the media going as far back as the 1970s. So what is the deal with these low-carb diets? Are they effective? The short answer is: probably not.
Following a low-carb diet may work well in the short term; when you limit carbohydrates you are generally reducing calories which then will lead to weight loss. Furthermore, generally when people follow a low-carb diet they also cut out ultra-processed foods (such as chips, candy, desserts) which also are a contributor to excess weight in westernized society. The downfall for many is this diet is not sustainable in the long-term due to its restrictive nature.
People who follow low-carb diets will often gain all of their weight back and then some once the diet no longer works for them. Another issue with this diet is limiting certain nutrients that are found in carbs. Fiber, a type of carbohydrate that humans cannot digest, is vital for our bowel health and overall wellbeing, and limiting carbohydrate rich foods also limits our fiber intake.
Restricting an entire macronutrient is not necessary for a healthy diet and carbs are not the enemy. Most of us will thrive on a whole foods diet that includes a wide variety of healthy carbs. Likewise, most of us would also benefit from decreasing our ultra-processed food intake.
MYTH: Intermittent fasting is the gold standard of dieting
This diet and lifestyle fad has been all the rage in the media and perpetuated by social media. Intermittent fasting is simply reducing the time frame in which you consume calories
Generally speaking, followers of this diet restrict eating within an eight- to 12-hour window and some may go as radical as a four- to six-hour window. It is important to note that most of us already fast throughout the night when we are sleeping; it is simply just extending this fast (this is why breakfast is so named: “break” the “fast”) and fasting is an integral part of our normal biology.
Proponents of this diet report decreased appetite, weight loss and improved energy levels are among the benefits. Unfortunately, preliminary studies have been inconclusive and more research needs to be done to evaluate benefits and disadvantages to this diet.
What we do know is the most important aspects of a healthy lifestyle are how much we eat, the quality of the food we eat, and how much we move our bodies.
MYTH: Supplements can correct a bad diet
Many people end up turning to supplements to improve or maintain their health. “Supplement” is an umbrella term that can include many things such as vitamins, minerals, botanicals, herbs, et cetera. Unlike pharmacology that has strict standards for development, regulation and distribution of the drugs they produce, supplement companies are not held to high standards regarding their products safety or efficacy. Consumers cannot be sure the supplements they are taking are labeled correctly, have the efficacy, or are not adulterated with things like heavy metals. Supplements can also have negative outcomes such as interacting with a prescribed medication, or side effects of contaminants that are not on the label.
By following a healthy diet with an emphasis on whole foods most people can obtain all of the nutrients they need through food alone. If a medical provider recommends a supplement, be sure to find one that is labeled “third party tested” to verify quality and safety.
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Every diet claims to help you “lose weight fast” and “keep the weight off,” but nutrition is evolving as science and medicine continue to advance. We should all work on using critical thinking skills when consuming media instead of jumping to conclusions and making radical changes to our diet and lifestyle. Our health and wellbeing depends on it.
The most effective diet and lifestyle changes are the ones that are sustainable and individualized. Questions to ask yourself are:
— What are your overall health goals?
— Do you want to look a certain way, feel a certain way, improve other factors of health, or something else entirely?
— What are the small, sustainable ways to reach your health goals?
— What has been a hurdle in the past that you can avoid this time?
— What is the first step?
If you need help answering these questions and sifting through the health and wellness noise, talk with your trusted healthcare professional. Registered dietitians in particular are experts in working one-on-one with clients to provide individualized and comprehensive nutrition education, counseling and support.
Anna O’Keefe, RD, CDN, is a clinical dietitian with Orleans Community Health. Community Health Resource is a new, monthly informational feature by healthcare providers at OCH/Medina Memorial Hospital.