Five Nutrition Myths Debunked

January 2021

If you’re trying to eat healthier, you’ve probably scoured the internet for tips. The problem is, there are so many nutrition myths out there. At best, they’ll tell you to restrict foods unnecessarily; at worst, they’ll recommend diets that are straight-up unhealthy. Here are some top nutrition myths to be wary of and what to do instead.

1. Myth: Carbs lead to weight gain.

Fact: Carbs are our body’s main source of energy, and they’re found in nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. In fact, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend getting 45% to 65% of your daily calories from carbs. But that doesn’t mean you should chow down on pretzels and candy. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating at least five half-cup servings of fruits and vegetables each day, and choosing whole grains over processed carbs.

2. Myth: We all need more protein.

Fact: The vast majority of Americans get plenty of protein. Most adults need 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day. For a 150-pound person, that’s 55 grams, about one large (seven-ounce) chicken breast. Adults 65 and older need a bit more, between 1.0 and 1.2 grams per kilogram, according to a 2018 review study published in Nutrients. For a 150-pound person, that’s 68 to 82 grams per day. Keep in mind that meat isn’t the only protein source out there. One cup of chickpeas contains 14.5 grams, one half-cup of oats contains 5 grams, and one ounce of peanuts contains 7 grams. Because protein is found in most of the foods we eat, the average American eats more than enough: 90-100 grams per day.

3. Myth: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

Fact: Breakfast doesn’t offer magic health benefits. A 2019 review study published in The BMJ found that breakfast eaters ate 260 more calories per day than breakfast skippers, and that there was no significant weight difference between the two groups. Similarly, the Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee found that people who ate three meals a day were no healthier than those who ate two meals. Bottom line? A healthy breakfast can jump-start your day, but it’s fine to skip it if you’re not hungry.

4. Myth: Gluten-free is best.

Fact: Gluten-free diets are less healthy when they’re not medically necessary. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, roughly 1.4% of the world population has celiac disease, in which eating gluten causes severe intestinal damage. For these people, a strict gluten-free diet is essential. There’s also limited evidence that 0.5% to 6% of people have gluten sensitivity, in which eating gluten causes discomfort, according to a 2012 review in BMC Medicine.

However, people without celiac disease or gluten sensitivity get no benefit from a gluten-free diet. According to Harvard Health, gluten-free diets often lack folate, a B vitamin that protects against birth defects. Gluten-free diets can also be lower in fiber, a nutrient that can reduce chronic disease risk and promote weight maintenance. Unless your doctor tells you to avoid gluten for medical reasons, it’s best not to go gluten-free.

5. Myth: High-cholesterol foods are bad.

Fact: Dietary cholesterol doesn’t lead to high cholesterol. Experts once believed that dietary cholesterol (in eggs, shellfish and high-fat meat and dairy) raised harmful low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and increased heart disease risk, but no longer. In 2015, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans removed the recommendation to limit dietary cholesterol. Instead, the guidelines recommend limiting saturated fat to less than 10% of your total calories. A 2018 review study in Nutrients found that excess saturated fat, not cholesterol, causes increased heart disease risk. Some high-cholesterol foods, such as high-fat meat, dairy and deep-fried fast food, are also high in saturated fat, so it’s a good idea to limit those. But other high-cholesterol foods, like eggs and shellfish, are relatively low in saturated fat and packed with other important nutrients, so they’re a great addition to your healthy diet.

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