4 Nutrition Myths That Need to Die

Suzie Glassman

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When it comes to nutrition, there’s a never-ending flow of information about what works and what doesn’t. And everyone is highly opinionated. Carbs are good. Carbs are the enemy. Intermittent fasting is the only way to go. No, try the keto diet.

Sensationalized headlines promise fast results and the end to your dieting woes. The truth is nowhere near as sexy as wild rumors or celebrity diets. Not many people are apt to click on something titled, “Eat a Sensible Diet and Lose Weight Slowly.”

Physiology is complicated, and we are all individual experiments of one. What works for your best friend or that social media influencer may not work for you. Always take advice that sounds too good to be true with a grain of salt.

What we know about nutrition and the body changes and evolves with time. Here are four pervasive myths that popped up in the last decade or so that need to die.

1. Eating Frequently Boosts Metabolism

I’m not sure when the theory that eating smaller meals more frequently could lead to greater weight loss than consuming only three meals per day began. All I know is it’s still pervasive within many dieting circles. Many people claim eating more often keeps the metabolic fire stoked (the body produces heat when food metabolizes, which is why we often refer to “burning” calories).

In fact, research shows a correlation between eating frequency and obesity, with the grazing approach inversely correlated with BMI (fat people seem to eat less often, thin people tend to eat more frequently). However, the correlation could have more to do with higher physical activity levels in the lean subjects.

According to Examine.com (an independent database of nutrition and supplement research),

Various individual interventions that modify meal frequency while keeping calories static find that there is no difference in metabolic rate (24 hour energy expenditure) between the two groups and that there are no changes in weight loss at the end of the trial periods. When calories are dropped significantly, metabolic rate declines slightly but overall declines based on calories and not meal frequency.

Experts will tell you the amount of calories you eat is far more important than how often you eat them. If you prefer to graze during the day, go ahead, but make sure you aren’t mindlessly eating more calories than your body needs. On the other hand, if you only eat three meals a day, make sure you’re not getting so hungry you overeat at mealtime.

2. Apple Cider Vinegar Increases Metabolism

Apple cider vinegar comes from apples that have been crushed, distilled, and fermented. In general, vinegar has a high amount of acetic acid and has been used for centuries to “cure” a host of conditions, including scurvy.

There is no evidence to show drinking or taking an apple cider vinegar supplement raises metabolism. However, there is limited evidence it might help with fat loss, but it certainly isn’t the miracle cure some Google search results claim it to be.

A small study (39 subjects) randomly assigned participants to either a restricted-calorie diet and 30ml of apple cider vinegar or to a restricted-calorie diet only for 12 weeks. Those who took the apple cider vinegar lost more weight than those who didn’t. However, the small sample size and limited duration mean more research is needed.

According to Harvard Health,

In all, the scientific evidence that vinegar consumption (whether of the apple cider variety or not) is a reliable, long-term means of losing excess weight is not compelling.

There may be little harm in taking a supplement, but know the potential for added weight loss isn’t because vinegar is speeding up your metabolism. It’s likely other factors are at play.

3. To Lose Fat, Don’t Eat Before Bed

I can’t tell you how many clients believe it’s “bad” to eat after a certain time in the evening. Many have been told to close the kitchen after dinner, and while it’s not terrible advice, the research is mixed when it comes to saying eating before bed will keep you from losing fat.

Men’s Health notes,

People who ate 30 grams of protein roughly 30 minutes before bed boosted their metabolism and were less hungry the next morning, according to a 2018 study conducted by Michael Ormsbee, Ph.D. and associate professor of nutrition, food, and exercise science at Florida State University and published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Mostly, late-night eating tends to be marked by less than optimal choices. When we’re tired, it’s much easier to opt for ice cream than yogurt. Plus, if we’re eating to stay awake, those are calories we wouldn’t have consumed if we’d gone to bed instead.

If your stomach is rumbling when you hit the pillow, you may have trouble falling asleep just as you’d have trouble sleeping if you’d consumed several slices of pizza immediately before bed. If you need a snack, go ahead and take it (guilt-free).

The overwhelming science would say that calorie intake is the only thing that matters,” Ormsbee explains to Men’s Health. However, restricting the number of hours you eat in a day may also reduce calorie consumption, he says.

4. Eat Negative Calorie Foods to Enhance Weight Loss

People refer to negative calorie foods as those with fewer calories than your body requires to digest them. However, science says these foods don’t exist.

Examine.com explains,

One small trial investigated the effects of celery — often referenced as the ultimate negative calorie food due to its low net calorie content, providing just 16 kcals per 100 g. The study took fifteen healthy female volunteers (average age ≈23) and measured their resting metabolic rate (RMR) before and after consuming 100 g of celery. Of the 16 kcal provided by the celery, only 2.24 kcal were absorbed.
So while celery isn’t a negative calorie food, its high water and fiber content can make it a desirable aid for weight loss or maintenance.

So called-negative calorie foods, like celery, tomatoes, lettuce, etc. have a high water content, so they’re quite filling. They’re helpful when you’re on a diet because you can eat a lot of them without consuming many calories. Ever tried to eat several cups of lettuce? It isn’t easy. One cup has only five calories. You may lose weight eating these foods, but it’s not because they require more calories to chew and digest.

What about some compounds found in foods that are suggested to boost metabolism — like synephrine and naringenin from grapefruit or capsaicin in chili peppers or caffeine? The small, temporary boost you get in metabolism isn’t enough to make a meaningful difference when it comes to your waistline. Grapefruit, green tea, coffee, chili peppers, and more are perfectly fine choices to include in your daily diet but don’t get caught up in thinking they’re going to significantly raise your metabolism.

Final Thoughts

I’ve likely only hit the tip of the iceberg when it comes to nutrition myths, but these four are ones I hear quite often. I wish I could say all it takes to stay lean is eating small meals throughout the day, drinking apple cider vinegar, not eating before bed, and eating “negative calorie” or metabolism-boosting foods.

There may be some aspects of all four that work for you. If so, by all means, continue. Think of yourself as an experiment of one. Know that not everything a person recommends will be the solution. Mostly, good nutrition comes down to eating protein, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Is it boring? Heck yeah. But I promise, boring works.

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I write about health and fitness with the goal to help you live a healthier, happier life.

Denver, CO
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