Unfortunately, there is more bad information than good information available on the internet. This means that, for most us, most of the things we believe to be true regarding nutrition are actually incorrect.
Further, it is extremely difficult to discern the good info from the bad. Most of us have no idea which assumptions are correct vs. false or how to go about correcting this issue.
Where is the truth? In the scientific literature, to which most people do not have access. So all we need is access to the literature, right? Wrong. The literature must be accurately interpreted, which is the real challenge. Why? Well, even within the published literature, there is good and bad info; it takes a keen eye (and a ton of research training) to be able to tell one from the other.
What’s the problem? Not all research studies are done correctly; some are scientific, while others are crap. Trouble is, it’s extremely difficult to tell the difference between them- this is really what separates the few true experts from other self-proclaims experts who fall into the common trap of believing that the newest study in a decent journal is necessarily the definitive answer- many many times, it is not.
It takes someone with intimate knowledge of scientific method to be able to tell when studies are conducted correctly, when the data is properly interpreted and how to rectify apparently contradictory results (which there nearly always are). I recommend listening only to opinions from individuals who fall in this category and periodicals that ensure that their info is vetted by such individuals. As an example, here are 10 rumors that you’ve undoubtedly heard (or maybe even believe) but are absolutely false. At best, these are mere assumptions with no evidence to back them up and several are just flat out wrong.
Myth 1: All-natural is necessarily healthy and processed is necessarily unhealthy. When something is “natural” it (supposedly) just means that it is free of processing- it says absolutely nothing about the macronutrient profile of the food, which is the most important factor for 99% of the food we eat. Sugar, for example, is 100% natural.
Myth 2: Veganism is the answer to many diseases. Sorry veggie- fanatics, the China study has been completely debunked. There is no magic to vegan or vegetarianism and it will certainly not cure or render you immune to diseases such as cancer. In fact, the difficulty in obtaining sufficient protein intake may place some vegans at increased risk for nutrition-related complications.
Myth 4: Unrealistic weight loss goals will necessarily lead to weight regain. Another completely fabricated assumption that sounds reasonable so people, even a lot of “experts”, buy it. Again, there is absolutely no evidence that individuals with realistic weight loss goals (5-10% of initial starting weight) do any better in terms of weight loss or weight loss maintenance than do individuals who start a diet expecting to lose 100+ lbs.
Myth 3: Slow and steady wins the weight loss race. There is absolutely no evidence that suggests that weight loss achieved at a slow and steady pace is any more likely to be maintained than rapid weight loss. Of course, I’m not saying go out and starve yourself but the common conception that losing 1.5-2 lbs per week is the “optimal” rate of weight loss is simply made up.
Myth 5: There is a definitive answer with regard to whether sugar or saturated fat is worse for you. The plain and simple fact is that the jury is still way out on this so anyone who says they have the definitive answer is clearly biased towards a particular opinion or does not know how to accurately interpret scientific evidence- either way, you don’t want to listen to them.
Myth 6: Skipping breakfast leads to obesity and other problems. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? Meh, not really; in fact, there is no evidence that skipping breakfast is any better or worse for you in terms of any health marker than eating breakfast consistently.
Myth 7: We know whether artificial sweeteners pose any health risk. Of course, it’s still possible as we don’t have long-term data. However, there is absolutely no evidence proving any ill effects of artificial sweeteners. See this post that talks about aspartame and sucralose.
Myth 8: If you look hard enough, you’ll find a short-cut to proper nutrition and a healthy weight. A lot of people say that they get this but weight loss supplements are still a multi-billion dollar per year business so this assumption is apparently alive and well. Until what will be the most radical life-changing discovery since the computer, which is still decades away, there will be no device or pill or cleanse or fad diet that will improve your nutrition or body shape without consistent and healthy changes to overall nutritional habits.
Myth 9: Eating late at night is bad for you. Any differences in rate of digestion appear to be negligible so the idea that food eaten at night is going to necessarily cause you to gain more weight is entirely made up. Your body weight is primarily controlled by your total daily caloric intake- don’t skip meals due to time, skip certain foods due to the fact that they are super high-calorie and not worth it.
Myth 10: Anyone is necessarily a nutrition expert by virtue of their title. Certified dieticians probably come the closest to deserving this assumption. However, they typically know more about medical nutrition (nutrition for particular disease states) than what you and I should be eating, or how to avoid obesity. “Nutritionist” does not denote someone trained and credentialed- it is a made up term that is usually used incorrectly to mean “certified dietician”. Physicians may happen to become nutrition experts but most receive a few days worth or less of nutrition training in medical school.
Me? I was trained as a psychologist who became a nutrition expert over the last 15 years of studying it intensely and learning how to properly interpret the evidence. It’s tricky out there; please be careful and recognize that a lot of assumptions that we have about nutrition are just that. Good and accurately-interpreted science is the only entirely reliable source.
I hope this is helpful. Stay healthy and informed!