Guest blog by One Medical
As outdated marketing slogans about getting “beach body ready” ramp up this summer it’s important to stay vigilant about separating fact from fiction when it comes to nutrition.
The truth is, there’s an endless array of influencers, authors, and, yes, even medical experts out there who will try to promote quick-fix diet plans and even dangerously misguided nutrition tips. Being armed with the wisdom and tools to resist the hype and make informed, educated choices around food is key to staying physically and mentally healthy year-round.
Here are five of the biggest nutrition myths One Medical experts are keen to debunk, once and for all.
Myth #1: Trendy diets are great for everyone
Maybe your best friend can’t stop raving about how great they feel following a Paleo diet. Or maybe your co-worker has gone keto and can’t stop talking about it. Wherever the glowing reviews are coming from, you may feel tempted to follow in the footsteps of others who claim they’ve had life-changing success following one specific diet. But there’s no such thing as a “perfect” diet for every person, and what works wonders for one person — whether that means healthy weight loss, improved digestion, more energy, etc. — may not have the same effect on another.
One Medical San Francisco-based provider, Lenard Lesser, MD, MSHS, says one of the most common myths he comes across in his practice on a regular basis revolves around specific, trendy diets — namely, that focusing on “intermittent fasting,” “paleo,” or “clean” diets will make you healthy.
“These terms are trendy, but many people don’t know how to translate these terms into food choices over the long term,” Lesser says. “I’ve watched many trends come and go over the years. The terms come and go. But, the people who figure out how to maintain a diet with plenty of vegetables are the ones who succeed in the long term.”
Food Rules author Michael Pollan said it best: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” That means resisting the urge to compulsively count calories, follow a specific trendy diet or worry about specific vitamins and focus on common sense practices without getting too granular.
Myth #2: You need a book/app/Instagram influencer to tell you how to eat
“Diet books are a big business,” Lesser says. “But Americans spend more money on weight loss products than anyone in the world. Yet, we aren’t the healthiest.”
Lesser says that for many people, learning to prepare meals at home can have a much more significant impact on the overall quality of their nutrition than any weight loss-focused, how-to guide. “Instead of buying a diet book, try a cookbook that will help you enjoy prepping good meals in your kitchen,” he says.
Lesser’s advice is in line with that of many dietitians and health experts, who recommend incorporating a variety of whole, unprocessed foods into most meals. In general, that means eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and legumes and cutting back on refined sugars as much as possible. If you’re looking for cookbook recs, Lesser’s current favorites are Vegetables Unleashed: A Cookbook and Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables.
Myth #3: You need to keep close tabs on your macros and micros
One of the hottest buzzwords on health-focused social media accounts is “macros,” i.e. macronutrients. Influencers of all kinds seem to constantly refer to “tracking macros,” meaning they’re keeping a daily log of their caloric intake as it pertains to three major categories: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Many hail this system as a helpful way of ensuring adequate, well-balanced nutrition, but some critics caution that any kind of vigilant food tracking can lead to a slippery slope of obsessiveness — particularly for those vulnerable to eating disorders.
Micronutrients are the other side of the coin — these are the minerals and vitamins in food and, are trendy to track as well. Many stories in the media tend to highlight one or more of these nutrients, such as Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, or iron. This leads many people to track these and worry that they are not getting enough of a specific micronutrient.
“I’ve only ever seen a few patients with a nutritional deficiency,” Lesser says. “They were all very sick or elderly patients. It is very hard to have a nutritional deficiency while eating a Western diet. If you focus on eating healthy foods, you likely don’t need to worry about deficiencies.”
Myth #4: Occasional “unhealthy” foods have no place in a healthy diet
Perhaps one of the most insidious terms in the dieting world as of late is “clean”. Seemingly every nutrition authority (self-appointed and otherwise) sings the praises of a diet that’s free of any number of ingredients or additives, implying that processed foods are somehow morally abhorrent. And while it’s true that it can be beneficial to focus on minimally processed, nutrient-dense foods whenever possible, obsessively weeding out anything that’s not a “perfect” choice can potentially lead to a condition called orthorexia, a decidedly unhealthy obsession with food quality and purity.
While it’s true that not all food options offer the same nutritional density, foods themselves aren’t “good” or “bad.” No, a pack of M&Ms won’t provide your body with the same vitamins and minerals as a kale salad, but that doesn’t mean the former is something you need to feel guilty about eating once in a while, nor does it mean that eating the latter every single day will make you a hero. Food doesn’t have moral value — it’s fuel, but it can also serve as an important social tool that fosters culture and community, and in some cases — in moderation — may serve an emotional purpose. Occasionally eating something for pleasure versus purpose is not a crime and it won’t derail your entire health journey.
“Healthy eating is not just about nutrients or, ‘clean,’ ‘organic,’ or ‘natural,’” Lesser says. When you look at people who eat healthy around the world, the foods they eat are varied. What do they have in common? They mostly eat a lot of vegetables, they eat together, and they cook their food.”
Rather than avoiding all social situations for fear that a restaurant won’t have your preferred “clean” meal, try to focus on flexibility and remember that healthy eating isn’t just about the food choices you make, but the relationships you have — both to the people around you and to the food you’re eating.
Myth #5: That perfect, life-changing diet is just around the corner
Here’s the truth about diets: in general, they just don’t work for the long term. Statistics on this topic vary depending on the source, but some research indicates that about 80 percent of people who lose a significant amount of body fat will not maintain that weight loss for a full year, and according to one study based on the television show, The Biggest Loser, 13 out of 14 contestants regained the weight they’d lost during the competition, and four even became heavier than they’d been before the show.
Experts say dramatic weight swings can wreak havoc on your metabolism, not to mention, set the stage for potential eating disorders in those vulnerable to developing them. The bottom line is that there is no quick, one-size-fits-all fix when it comes to a “healthy” diet — every single person and every single body is unique, and no single diet will ensure overall wellness for everyone.
“No one really has the ‘truth’ in nutrition, Lesser says. “There is a lot of research and it can be hard to follow. Just ignore most of it and focus your time on exploring new foods, seeking new recipes, and connecting with others who enjoy a good home-cooked meal.”