4 Nutrition Fads I’m Tired of Hearing

Tuesday Oct 8 | BY |
| Comments (33)

Diet gurus LOVE to tell you what you should eat, but more importantly, what you should NOT eat.

Almost every single diet on the planet revolves around banning a particular category of food: cooked foods, animal foods, wheat, etc.

As I noted in a previous article on the cultural differences between Americans and Europeans in regards to diet, in North America people rarely seek a balanced lifestyle. I include myself in this category, because attitudes of Canadians toward diet are very similar to those of Americans.

We want to be told “This ONE food is bad for you and if you make this ONE simple change, all of your health problems will go away.”

We want to change one thing, but not everything. Rather than adjusting every element of our lifestyle and bringing everything back into balance, we want to touch only one – often irrelevant – thing in the hope that everything else will magically change.

And among that sphere, there are a few nutrition fads that absolutely drive me crazy. I’m SO tired of hearing them that I really get irritated when those same fads get regurgitated over and over again by all those diet gurus looking to make a quick buck with an easy diet that people will be willing to try.

Top Nutrition Fads I’m Too Tired to Hear

#1 — Always eat sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes, because eating white potatoes is like eating pure sugar.

Nutrition gurus LOVE that one, because it seems like a simple change that everyone can make. Throw some sweet potatoes in the oven with olive oil and sea salt and there you go – you have a healthy snack that’s SO much better for you than white potatoes.

For some reason, the poor white potato has been the scapegoat of the entire diet industry. Someone, sometime, equated white potatoes with white flour and white sugar.

But there’s really no reason to throw white potatoes in the same category as white sugar. One medium potato contains almost 5 grams of fiber, loads of potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, and even some protein.

There have been a few documented cases of people going on all-potato diets to lose weight and overcome health problems, and it worked! One potato farmer got tired of hearing the bad press about potatoes, and decided to eat nothing but potatoes for 60 days straight. He lost weight, reduced his cholesterol, improved his blood glucose and reached perfect blood pressure on the all-potato diet. http://20potatoesaday.com

Sweet potatoes are great, don’t get me wrong. But did you know that they contain slightly more calories than white potatoes per weight? They also contain more fiber and lots of vitamin A. On the other hand, white potatoes are much richer in potassium, magnesium and vitamin C.

It’s true: white potatoes are a little high on the glycemic index. But that’s not because they “turn into sugar.” The glycemic index is not really a super-reliable way to evaluate how healthy a food is, because it’s based on an average of people.

If you’re active, you can eat some white potatoes. It’s almost impossible to get fat eating potatoes because they are so filling and satisfying. And one medium potato, without the toppings, is only 147 calories! One tablespoon of butter, which most people will add to their sweet potatoes, is almost that many calories, so really, potatoes should not be blamed.

Overall, I tend to eat more sweet potatoes because they are super nutritious and delicious, but I never shun white potatoes. Make sure to buy them organic and in season.

#2 — Everyone should go gluten-free

Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, is trying to do gluten-free these days. Almost every single popular diet is telling you to avoid all wheat products, regardless of whether you are wheat sensitive/intolerant or not.

One of the most popular diet books at the moment is called Wheat Belly by cardiologist Dr. William Davis. And the premise is simple: Lose the wheat, lose the weight.

Just by eliminating wheat from your diet, you’ll find your path to health paradise. And more importantly, you’ll drop those unwanted pounds.

It’s true that wheat produced today is not the same wheat that our ancestors ate. And it’s also true that a significant and growing percentage of the population is intolerant or sensitive to wheat gluten.

However, MOST people who follow a healthy lifestyle and eat some wheat are not experiencing the awful health problems the author blames on wheat.

In fact, people who truly have celiac disease or are gluten intolerant will actually gain weight on a wheat-free diet because their bodies are finally assimilating nutrients and calories in food.

That’s why the gluten-free community doesn’t think too highly of Dr. Davis and his book.

One person comments on a gluten-free website:

“I have to say, as someone who absolutely, positively MUST not eat gluten, I take offense at medical professionals touting a gluten-free diet as a weight-loss strategy for non-Celiac/gluten intolerant people. First, the entire weight loss/gain is certainly dubious. I am one who, once my gut began to effectively use nutrients again instead of flush everything out of my system wholesale, actually gained weight – and rapidly. (…)

But, the most disconcerting of the cavalier nature of ‘prescribing’ a GF diet for folks who do not need it at all for health reasons is that the people do NOT take the diet seriously! Look, for those that need to eat GF, we CANNOT cheat. We cannot have just a little. This makes eating out in dining establishments a true nightmare. Once, when explaining to the waitstaff at a local restaurant what it is that I cannot eat, she responded, ‘Oh yeah. I understand. My sister is gluten free and can only eat it in tiny amounts.’ (…)”

Check out the full critique of Wheat Belly by people running a gluten-free website

The truth about Wheat Belly and the whole gluten-free fad is that the vast majority of people who try a gluten-free diet and often claim to be “gluten-sensitive” should not really be using this gluten-free terminology.

Listen: there are lots of benefits to eating less wheat and replacing much of the bread and pasta you eat with healthier carbs, like root vegetables, brown rice, and beans.

Most people who make these changes and others can still have some wheat in their diets without experiencing a “wheat belly” and its dire consequences.

I personally eat some wheat, but not on a daily or even regular basis. I just tend to eat more of the other carbs that are naturally gluten-free, but I will have some bread or even pasta occasionally.

You may find that you feel better without wheat entirely, and that’s fine. But there’s no reason to pretend that just eliminating wheat from everyone’s diet is going to magically solve most health problems that people are experiencing.

#3 Calories eaten late at night will make you fat.

This is something I am so tired of hearing: “Don’t eat late at night.”

“Calories late at night turn into fat quicker!”

“Eat breakfast like a king and dinner like a pauper!”

“Don’t ever eat after 8 p.m.”

Calories are calories.

When you eat them is entirely up to you and should fit your personal schedule. What matters is the total number of calories you ingest in a 24-hour period.

A recent study showed that people who skip breakfast do not necessarily overeat during the rest of the day to make up for the calories they missed in the morning, proving that skipping breakfast can be an interesting strategy for weight loss.

You could skip dinner, and have the same results. In fact, it doesn’t matter when you eat as long as it doesn’t interfere with your sleep and that you pay attention to the total number of calories you eat.

If you eat late at night, those calories will be digested and sit around a little longer, but they’ll get used the next day. You’ll probably wake up with less hunger than if you had skipped dinner entirely, in which case you’ll probably wake up ravenous.

The wrong belief that calories eaten late at night make you fat comes from the fact that most people who are “late-night bingers” are making poor dietary choices. They tend to under-eat during the day and then catch up in the evening when they’re too hungry to choose healthy foods. So they go for chips, ice cream, and treats.

It’s probably a bad idea to eat a large meal right before you go to bed because it will disturb your digestion. However, that doesn’t mean you can never eat late at night. A healthy snack, under 200 calories, can generally be eaten close to bedtime without problems.

The truth is that everybody is different. We all have different schedules and different requirements. When I exercise more, I need to eat more food throughout the day and will often have a snack after 8 p.m. It’s no big deal. Do what works for you, eat healthy foods, and don’t pay attention to those “rules.” Ultimately, your body knows best.

#4 — You must eat every 3 hours to keep up your metabolism.

This is probably the most common “rule” we hear from dietitians and nutrition experts everywhere.

“Keep your blood sugar up — eat something every 2-3 hours.”

How is this advice working? The obesity rate in America is outrageously high, and most people in this country definitely follow this advice.

In many cultures, like France, the concept of “snacking” every 2-3 hours does not exist. You eat meals and that’s it. Only children have snacks. And throughout human history, we got by perfectly well on 2-3 meals a day without experiencing all the blood sugar woes that are supposedly going to happen if we ever miss a meal or fail to eat every 2-3 hours.

Your body gets used to a routine. Feed it every 2-3 hours, and it will EXPECT food every 2-3 hours. Like Pavlov’s dogs, you will start salivating when your snack time is approaching, because you are used to it. Instead, you could eat a little more, less often, and your body would also get used to it and perfectly regulate its blood sugar.

I believe that most people would be better off eating three square meals a day without snacks, rather than snacking every three hours, as recommended by many nutritionists. Learn to eat a little more at every meal so you can last until the next one, rather than relying on snacks to make it through the day. You’ll probably still eat less this way than you would if you snacked regularly. And people’s definitions of a healthy snack can be open to interpretation. A protein bar with an apple may sound like a healthy snack, but the bar itself is loaded with chocolate and refined sugar, and doesn’t contain much fiber.

As for the metabolism increase with this regular snacking: it’s simply a myth. Your body composition and size will affect your metabolism, not how often you eat.

There are exceptions to this rule. Children must eat more often, and active people must also eat more often. Otherwise, meals will become too big and difficult to digest. That’s why most body-builders eat every three hours, but their caloric needs are vastly superior to most people’s; therefore, they can actually justify eating more often.

Most people looking to lose weight should actually eat less often. Learn to eat balanced meals and become satisfied. If you need to eat an 1800-calorie diet and you try to spread it out throughout the day in multiple meals every 2-3 hours, you’ll always be eating those puny snacks that won’t ever satisfy you. You’re also training your body to expect food more often.

There’s another downside to eating more often: your dental health may suffer. Every time we eat, we change the PH of the mouth and feed the bacteria that cause dental decay. Eating more often is a sure way to ruin your teeth faster, unless you are super-careful about your dental hygiene.

Having said that, I did spend a large part of last year eating every 3 hours, simply because I was burning more calories through exercise. But I’ve moved to trying to eat more at each meal to be satisfied for longer. Ultimately, you must choose the method that works for you.

Question of the Day: What nutrition “fads” are you tired of hearing?

Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.

33 COMMENTS ON THIS POST

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  1. Deane Alban says:

    I’m tired of extremes about fat intake being purported as the answer. I’ve recently read 2 books by famous doctors about brain health. One prescribes a low-fat vegan diet that is less than 5% fat which is insanely low. One prescribes an extremely low-carb diet – no grains, no fruit – that is very high in fat – around 50%.
    Are these extremes really necessary? Might they even be harmful? How does the average person decide which way is right?

  2. Zyxomma says:

    I’m tired of all the fad advice, but the idea that we all *need* to eat every 2-3 hours is really awful.

  3. Eleni says:

    Thank you for the scientific and logical approach! At last!

  4. Nicky says:

    This is a great article Frederic – thank you! The last point definitely resonated with me. Much better to eat three square meals a day and I personally find this aids with weight loss more effectively than snacking in between meals.

  5. Kyle Knapp says:

    Nice thoughts. These are four things I hear constantly that I’ve beaten my head against the last few years. Some people have problems with white potatoes? They’re out for everyone! And gluten too! I like to tell people to experience with lessening wheat but by no means is an terrible thing for everyone. Those two are newer on my front while the late night eating and 5-6 small meals a day is driving me nuts. “No, I’m not a special case because I eat 2-3 times a day and big meals at night!” Is a sentence I hope to not have to say too many more times. Articles like this are a nice resource to share with people to see someone else’s perspective. Thank you.

  6. Wendy says:

    At last some common sense! I read a detailed email last week about the “dangers” of eating potatoes. The same guru – who I won’t name here – suggested a green smoothie for breakfast. Bleh! I f I had to do that I would probably be tempted to stay in bed 🙂
    Keep it up please.
    Cheers

  7. VirginiaLee says:

    I appreciated this article and agree wholeheartedly that balance is the key to health. One quick change may produce some results but for lasting effects a TOTAL and WELL-BALANCED approach to lifestyle change is what counts!
    My only caution would be on eating late at night because of the load it puts on your body as all the major organs reset themselves during our resting hours, your stomach will be working when it should also get a much needed break , especially if its owner is one of the 2-3 hour snackers! I have been eating big breakfasts, moderate lunches and light or no suppers, and zero snacks for the last 9 years and I have major success in maintaining my health and fitness even after three babies.

  8. Brynn says:

    Love it! It’s so nice to hear some common sense from a health conscious person. I have relatives in Europe for whom potatoes are a staple, and have been for generations. (Long-lived generations, I might add.) They would think we were all crazy to cut them out of our diets. Also wheat germ was one of the early superfoods and it’s funny, in light of the whole anti-wheat movement, to read the older health books from decades ago expounding wheat germ’s benefits.

  9. Claudia says:

    I agree with you Frederic, health = a balanced life. Diets are important when there is a health problem, but after that we should relax and learn to listen to our bodies, we all have different needs.

    I have the living proof on one side of my family, they get to live beyond 100 years old with no medical conditions! Who do you thing am I going to listen… the experts in nutrition? Moderation and balance is key. Eating the most nutritious food in the world, but spending 15 hours a day in front of a computer won’t make you healthy…

  10. DodieLake says:

    I agree with you about time of eating – breakfast is no more or less important than any other meal. Doesn’t matter what time you fill the petrol tank it still lasts the same distance.

    Personally I have never been a breakfast eater – even as a child I hated the thought of having to eat so soon after waking. It is not unusual for me to work till 1 or 2 pm before eating anything. I have run a 14 km race and done quite good times without eating breakfast. I had dinner the night before so was still fuelled up. I eat organic where possible, vegan and mostly raw. I never suffer with low blood sugar, have normal blood pressure and weigh 55 kgs. I run 3 days a week, weight train 2 days a week and do yoga/pilates in between.

    I don’t agree with you on the American notion of snacking. As children we played outdoors all day and at school did sports but only ever had water between meals. My children were raised the same way. We were never ill and had good teeth. My partner was a competitive body builder winning titles at home and internationally. He ate a healthy, balanced, organic mostly vegetarian diet – no snacks – just three meals a day.

    Many people who think they are gluten intolerant are actually intolerant of the many additives in the flour. Chemicals, bleach, white salt, white sugar etc. Eating organic, whole sprouted grain is probably a healthier choice.

  11. realhealth says:

    I agree that one fad I get so tired of hearing is #3 that eating before bed makes you fat. Another fad that has been around forever it seems is that orange juice is a great way to avoid getting a cold or to treat a cold. How this sugary beverage with next to no nutritional value made its way into the health section is simply beyond me.

  12. Sarah says:

    Thanks for an interesting and balanced article Frederic!

    On the subject of gluten, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind though that it is a substance that most people would benefit from by either eliminating completely or by 90% abstinence. Besides the issue of weight, large amounts of modern, unfermented gluten adversely affects the brain, the hormonal system and the digestive system. The problem these days is that there is so MUCH gluten around, which is leading people to develop these problems including allergies and ‘leaky gut’. Here in South Africa we have sourdough bread available and this is a bread that I can eat without a problem. The dough is made from a culture of yeast that ferments and develops the gluten, making it much easier to digest.

    The one other ‘fad’ which drives me nuts is when people latch on to anything extreme and declare it a ‘success’ when they’ve only used the method on themselves.

    It also drives me nuts when so-called experts say that we HAVE to eat certain things otherwise we will not be healthy, e.g. dairy, meat, grains etc. I realise these aren’t fads as such but they are actually far more dangerous.

  13. Steve says:

    An ex Raw foodie and now a Guru of sorts once said ‘we are the only species on the planet that need to be told what to eat’
    It seems not just what but when, where and how.
    I think what I find most disturbing about that is that 70% of the population of the planet don’t have access to clean water and one square meal per day.

    I hope we all get educated quickly!
    Thanks for being part of that process.

  14. Jessbee says:

    I’m also tried of articles making generalizations about what people do or do not do in France.

    Yes, people do snack here. Stomach reduction surgery is also a commonly suggested solution for type 2 diabetes and weight loss.

  15. Like you said in France the 3 meals a day is enough, eating between the meal isn’t considered very healthy.

  16. If all of us were eating right and healthy, we would not have been suffering with any of those diseases out there.

  17. Selina says:

    YES. Finally some common sense. Thank you for this article 🙂

  18. Kelli says:

    Great article! So what about all of the new information regarding eating within 3 hours of falling asleep and how this affects the hormones insulin and leptin? Eating before bed also affects the release of growth hormone, too. Are important hormones not affected by food in the digestive system while we sleep?

  19. 20 Potatoes a day! that’s crazy.

    I think it is a valid point that comparing potatoes to straight processed white sugar is a bit absurd. It’s important to keep in mind though that potatoes are one of the most pesticide-laden foods out there.

    Food from nature will beat processed food anytime though, so i’d say organic potatoes will beat white flour or white sugar (in nutritional content) every time.

  20. Cyndi says:

    I have followed you for years and you give the best information because it is researched and honest. Your product is education and that is where my interest lies. As you gain information you change some of your ideas from time past. I do the same thing and can’t stand people that hold on to information that has been proven to be wrong and is afraid to make changes. i get tired of people saying Where do you get your protein. For 25 years I have heard that and when I explain it they con’t believe it because they do not want to give up meat. And if they believe that they need animal protein that gives them the excuse to NOT give up meat and dairy.

  21. Joanie says:

    I’m so glad to hear these comments ont he Do’s and don’ts. there are so many conflicting messages. I have customized my diet for me with lots of veggies, some starch and some sea food and farm fresh eggs. With exercise four days a week, I am a very healthy 77 year old. And thanks for your web site, I visit it often.

  22. Great article! I’m currently working with a natural healer for both my daughter and myself. She advised us to avoid all grains and replace them by bananas, white potatoes, sweet potatoes etc. Apples, kiwis and lemons were not in line with our constitution as well. But what I love about this advice is that it is only for the two of us. Other people might do well on grains, apples and kiwis. We all have a unique body and spirit and there is no single diet that fits us all. You have to find out yourself what your body likes and what it doesn’t. No food guru can do that for you.

  23. Nancy says:

    I love your direct approach and honesty
    Keep up the good work

  24. These nutrition fads are developed after research into the number of people. However, and off course, they are not natural rules. There may be exceptional cases. I used to hear from my childhood that eating potato will make you fat, but I know many people who love potatoes and eat many times more potatoes then a common man eats, but still they are skinny.

  25. Shelley says:

    Moderation is important and thinking before jumping into any extreme is important. Evidence based information is also important before advising individuals. Some people need to eat more frequently than others. This cannot apply to all people. We are moving toward a time when more and more people are gluten intolerant because of the higher powers that are producing contaminated food. In a perfect world your advice would apply.

  26. Rae says:

    It would be nice if you had some clinical experience to base your irresponsible advice on. Yes, EVERY human that comes in the office does better after removing wheat. Sorry if this annoys you. It’s popular to tell people what they want to hear, but wheat is damaging to mammals.

  27. J says:

    Minor note about gluten allergies (and other food allergies) – sometimes taking it out reduces general bodily inflammation, decreasing the risk and severity of migraines, allergies, colds, etc. I show up as highly allergic to gliadin and glutenin in blood tests, but I can digest it fine, and I certainly haven’t gained weight going off it. Just felt to need to say that because people forget food allergies can harm more than just the stomach!

    Otherwise, I agree with your post! It’s easier to demonize certain foods, rather than making changes that affect ones entire diet. 😀

  28. Thank you Frederick!!! Great article. I am also tired of hearing about how bad wheat is. It is actually a very healthy grain and has more vitamins, minerals and fiber than other grains. The problem with wheat is the way it’s processed – like commercial breads, baked goods, etc. Freshly ground, whole red wheat is a completely different thing that most people are missing from their diets. Try buying whole wheat (that hasn’t been ground), soak it, and cook it like rice. It’s delicious and extremely healthy.

  29. Love this! I agree with it all! 🙂

  30. Jessie C. says:

    Finally, someone has finally said something worth hearing. Your article is a wonderful example of the level-headed rationale that most health food bloggers as lacking. It makes perfect sense to try and pin point and banish that one thing that is the culprit of America’s health issues. We’re just trying to find the answers to a major problem that is prevalent right now in history. We’re trying to be the hero who solves the world’s health problem by turning to the simple solution of just banning (insert fad here). “Of course! A-ha! Why didn’t I think of that!”, everyone will say. The irony of it is that the solution IS simple. Just like too much of one thing is bad for us, not enough of something is just as evil. On that note, eat whatever makes your body feel its best, and on occasion, eat whatever makes your mind gets satisfaction from. And if you find that something you’re eating makes you feel out of control, like you can’t stop eating it, then you’re definitely eating too much of it.
    Much Love.

  31. Henrik says:

    All potatoes are certainly not equal (as I’m sure Kevin can confirm).
    Most of the ones I find at the supermarket are terrible quality though. There’s no taste to them, and I think that’s a good indicator of the amount of nutrition they provide as well.
    I’m lucky to have a neighbor who grows the most amazing organic potatoes though.

  32. Caitlin says:

    In regards to the comment, “In fact, people who truly have celiac disease or are gluten intolerant will actually gain weight on a wheat-free diet because their bodies are finally assimilating nutrients and calories in food.” I think it is great that these individuals start to absorb nutrients once again. Doesn’t this demonstrate the effect wheat can have on affecting nutrient absorption? It is not just about the gluten, but also about the phytates in wheat that affect nutrient absorption, such as zinc.

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