4 Healthy Eating “Rules” Nutritionists Never Follow

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January 1, 2019
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Ignore the conventional wisdom. Instead, do this.

Healthy Eating Rules Nutritionists Never Follow

Thanks to Google, the “answers” to your nutrition questions are never more than a few clicks away. That should be a good thing, but there are a lot of bad fish in the sea of search results—which is why so many myths about healthy eating just won’t die.

To find truly useful, science-backed information, always consider the source. Look for nutrition advice that:

  • Comes from high-quality resources like the American Heart Association, U.S. Department of Agriculture, or National Institutes of Health.
  • Is written by or sourced from registered dietitians or doctors—look for letters like R.D. or M.D. after their names.
  • Comes from a website that ends in .org, .gov, or .edu.

Still, despite your best efforts, you’re bound to encounter some big claims or trendy diet tips that don’t hold up. Here are four such examples, plus what registered dieticians recommend you do instead.

Questionable Claim #1: Eliminate All Sugar from Your Diet

Do this instead: Enjoy sugar from mostly natural sources like fruit, dairy, and whole grains.

Reducing your sugar intake is a good idea for many reasons: An uncontrollable sweet tooth not only makes you pack on pounds, but research also shows that the more sugar you eat, the higher your risk of death from heart disease. It’s also been shown to mess with your mood, impair brain function, and raise the risk of diabetes.

The research is compelling, but there’s more you should know: Not all sugar is created equal. When we talk about sugar’s negative health consequences, we’re talking about added sugars—not the naturally occurring kind found in foods like fruit, dairy, whole grains, or vegetables such as beets and corn, says Nazima Qureshi, M.P.H., R.D., a Toronto-based dietitian.

“That’s why going completely sugar-free isn’t necessary,” she says. “When someone goes totally sugar-free, they often skip out on fruits too, which deprives them of key nutrients like vitamins A and C, folic acid, fiber, and minerals that are essential for good health.”

Even completely cutting out added sugars—from sweetened foods like dessert, cereal, and other packaged food—isn’t always a good idea. It’s true these foods shouldn’t make up the majority of your diet, but they’re fine in moderation, Qureshi says.

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“Extreme restriction of any food is likely going to make you think about it all day,” she says.

Your best bet: Enjoy sugar from natural sources such as fruit most of the time, and then enjoy a once-in-a-while slice of cake without the guilt.

Questionable Claim #2: Count Your Calories

Do this instead: Count your nutrients—and aim high.

At one time or another, you’ve probably heard that losing weight comes down to the simple equation of calories in versus calories out. In other words, you have to burn more calories than you consume for the number on the scale drop.

This isn’t incorrect (keep reading for more on that), but “when someone is calorie counting, they often forget to consider the rest of the macronutrient distribution—carbohydrates, fat, and protein,” Qureshi says.

That’s bad, since the number of calories in any given food doesn’t represent how heathy it is, she says. “This often results in selecting food options that are low-cal but may not be nutrient-dense.”

Take an avocado, for example: It’s relatively high-calorie (about 322 calories in one avocado, or about 80 calories in ¼ avocado), but it packs healthy monounsaturated fats and many essential vitamins and minerals.

A fat-free muffin, on the other hand, might be low in calories, but it’s also lacking nutrients, fat, and fiber, meaning it won’t be nearly as satisfying.

For good overall health, focus on what you’re eating and on keeping portions in check, not on the exact number of calories in every single meal, Qureshi says.

Questionable Claim #3: Stay Away from the Center Aisles of the Grocery Store

Do this instead: Stock up on heathy pantry staples, and then shop the perimeter, too.

Shopping the outer perimeter of the grocery store is smart: That’s where you’ll find highly nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, and fish. But that doesn’t mean you should completely avoid the center aisles, says Stephanie McKercher, M.S., R.D.N., a Denver-based dietitian and blogger at Grateful Grazer.

The interior aisles are filled with healthy staples like beans, whole grains, spices, nuts, and canned tomatoes, which are just as important as your protein and produce.

“Even convenience foods like low-sodium canned soups, granola, and protein bars, can easily fit into an overall healthy lifestyle,” McKercher says.

Her suggestion: Look for foods made with primarily whole-food ingredients, and opt for brands that are local to your area whenever possible.

Questionable Claim #4: Low-Carb, High Fat Diets Are Best for Weight Loss

Do this instead: Learn what works for you. No one diet is best for weight loss.

This one has made headlines recently due to the trendy ketogenic diet. And while some research shows that the ketogenic diet may be helpful in managing certain conditions, including epilepsy and diabetes, it’s not necessarily better for weight loss than other diets, says Erik Bustillo, R.D., a dietician in Miami.

Successful weight loss comes from consistently eating fewer calories than you burn, not from cutting out entire food groups, Bustillo says. In other words, you can eat carbs and still lose weight. And if you love bread, you’re going to feel deprived on an extremely low-carb diet—and eventually get frustrated and fall off the wagon.

“Carbs can cause weight gain, but only if you’re consuming so many that you eat more calories than you need every day,” Bustillo says. “That’s true of any food—it’s not unique to carbs.” When you sign up for a flip50 membership, maintaining that calorie deficit through regular exercise becomes simple. Check out all the gyms available to you.

Just as there’s nothing uniquely bad about carbs, there’s nothing magic about eating primarily fats. While a low-carb, high-fat diet like the ketogenic diet can be done in a healthy way, it’s not inherently healthy, Bustillo explains.

The best diet for you depends on your specific health status, lifestyle, and preferences. That’s why it’s smart to talk to your doctor or a registered dietician before you start any new eating plan. And if you want to ask them about the ketogenic diet, read this primer first.

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