The most dubious diet advice
You know you can’t believe everything you read. And still, you haven’t eaten an egg yolk since the 90s, and you can’t touch a French fry without being saddled with guilt. Oh, and don’t even get us started on the whole don’t-eat-after-8-PM-or-else mentality. Let’s set the record straight once and for all by calling out these 25 worst diet tips—and offering up smart food rules to follow instead.
Fat makes you fat.
It depends on the type of fats you’re eating, says Tricia Psota, RD, a nutritionist based in Washington D.C. “Fats in chips, cookies, and greasy foods can increase cholesterol and your risk for certain diseases. But good fats, like nuts, avocados, and salmon, protect your heart and support your overall health.” And when paired with a healthy diet, the right fats can help keep you from being, well, fat, adds Sharon Palmer, RD, author of The Plant-Powered Diet.
Stop snacking to lose weight.
Eating in small, frequent amounts is a great way to curb hunger, control portion sizes, and make better nutritional choices, says Mike Clancy, CDN, a personal trainer at David Barton’s Gym in New York City. “Smarter snacks like nuts, fruits, and yogurt will keep your energy levels high throughout the day.”
A calorie is a calorie—and you should count them.
“Not all calories are the same,” says Clancy. “The type of calories, the timing of the calories, and the quality of the calories can significantly alter the effect of the calories on the body,” he says. “Food creates reactions within our bodies and the type of food you eat is an important component in diets.”
For example, 50 calories of an apple will cause a different internal reaction than 50 calories of cheesecake, says Clancy. “The quality of the calories is also important because the chemicals, hormones, and general byproducts that are found within processed food effects the absorption of real nutrients.” Quality calories are nutrient dense, like spinach. Calories that don’t contain any nutrients—also known as “empty” calories—are like the ones found in French fries.
Bottom line: Calories are important for understanding portion control, but they’re not the only factor in good nutrition, says Clancy.
Cut out carbs.
The research on carbohydrate intake is often misinterpreted, says Chrissy Carroll, MPH, RD, founder of Inspired Wellness Solutions, LLC. “Yes, it is true that excessive intakes of refined carbohydrates, like white bread or white rice, may lead to weight gain or increased cardiovascular risk. But there is no research suggesting that healthy carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, or legumes, can negatively impact health or weight. On the contrary, many studies suggest a diet high in these plant-based foods is associated with better overall health.”
Case in point: A 2002 American College of Nutrition study that found replacing refined grains with whole-grain and minimally processed grain products, along with increasing the intake of fruits and veggies, can help lower dietary glycemic load and insulin demand. This, in turn, can ultimately reduce the risk of both type 2 diabetes and heart disease, says Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, manager of wellness nutrition services for the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.
So, keep the carbs! And aim for those that come from 100% whole grains or fruits, adds Kirkpatrick.
Load up on protein.
Sorry, caveman lovers: eating lots of protein is not the key to healthy weight loss. Why? The body needs three macronutrients: Protein, carbohydrates, and fat, says Rania Batayneh, MPH, a nutritionist and author of the forthcoming The One One One Diet (published by Rodale, which also publishes Prevention), and focusing exclusively on protein for weight loss makes no sense. “You not only deprive your body of fiber and other antioxidants found in healthy carbohydrates—whole grains, fruits, and veggies—but you also run the risk of eating too much fat in your diet which can lead to high cholesterol and triglycerides.”
Go gluten-free to lose weight.
There’s no scientific evidence that gluten is a particularly fattening ingredient, says Palmer. “The problem is that we eat too many refined grains—foods made of white flour or other refined grains,” she says.
And cutting gluten without checking with your doctor first can lead to deficiencies in important nutrients, such as fiber, iron, vitamin B12, and magnesium, says MaryAnne Metzak, CDN, a nutritionist in Southampton, NY.
In the meantime, focus on getting healthy whole grains in moderate portions. These recipes for Baked Apple Oatmeal and Skillet Chicken and Rice fit the bill.
You burn more calories working out on an empty stomach.
Working out with or without food in your stomach doesn’t affect calorie burn—but skipping meals before sweat sessions may result in muscle loss, finds a study published in the Strength and Conditioning Journal. And before you settle for a sports drink, know this: While a quick sip of sugar energizes your muscles, the drink’s other artificial additives can be harmful to your health, says Sanda Moldovan, DDS, MS, CNS, a diplomat of the American Academy of Periodontology.
Instead, go for naturally sweet fruit, like bananas, peaches, and mangos before your sweat session. Or try an ounce of dark chocolate for the same caffeine fix you get from a half cup of coffee. “Chocolate also contains feel-good substances, called neurotransmitters, which are the same release during a ‘runner’s high,’ ” says Moldovan.