If you’ve been in the industry for a while it is likely you’ll have seen many different dieting fads and nutrition myths come and go.
However, over the decades, there have been some nutrition myths that have remained strong. Worryingly, many of these lack scientific backing and are based on short-sighted mechanisms or worse still, personal beliefs or financial profit.
This article is going to debunk some of the most common nutrition myths, exploring if there is any reliable research to support them and why they may be just downright stupid.
Nutrition Myths 1: You Must Go Gluten Free
When it comes to gluten there is a continuous debate regarding whether the removal of gluten from the diet is vital for health and fat loss. Some people strongly believe that gluten intake is linked to the development of certain chronic diseases and causes weight gain, but, what does the research say?
While gluten certainly causes some serious health issues for anyone who is gluten sensitive, gluten intolerant or suffers from coeliac disease, for everyone else it might be less of an issue than we’ve been led to believe (Coattrenec et al., 2015; El-Chammas & Danner, 2011; Gaesser & Angadi, 2012).
I agree, there is not necessarily a major need to consume gluten in the diet and the research is very mixed regarding the health issues it may cause in the general population, but in spite of what gurus will advocate, one piece of bread or gluten containing snack will not kill you.
While there are some studies that show it can cause inflammatory or cellular issues, this data is, however, far from conclusive and is often taken out of context for the general individual. As always, moderate and daily intake is key.
Eating a whole food diet with the odd bit of gluten, is not a problem. Eat gluten containing foods at every meal, well, you’ll probably have more worrying issues with your diet than just the gluten!
If you do not suffer from gluten intolerance or sensitivity, then gluten does not need to be completely eliminated from the diet. For fat loss, the gluten myth is stupid. Sure, cut out gluten based foods (i.e. carbs) then you may lose weight, because you are eliminating a bunch of foods and calories… nothing to do with the gluten itself!!
Nutrition Myths 2: Breakfast Is The Most Important Meal Of The Day
The breakfast myth is probably one of the most long lasting nutrition myths in the industry.
For several decades, the media, fitness professionals, medical practitioners, nutritionists, schools and just about everyone has preached that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
This has had such a mass effect that breakfast being the most important meal had become common knowledge across the whole population… even though it was wrong (disaster or what?).
Fast forward in time and the importance of breakfast is being heavily questioned, with plenty of research showing it’s nothing more than a myth.
To date, there is really no strong research supporting the importance of breakfast. Initially, most of the research was based on observational studies which only look at association and not causation. For example, those that skip breakfast are less likely to perform physical activity and more likely to be obese.
This is known as ‘Observational research’ and is a very weak research method, based purely on suggesting or monitoring trends which have a ton of variables. This makes it almost impossible to directly identify a cause, although most people wrongly have done (as in the breakfast case).
However, in the latest research efforts in this area, that is not actually what happened. As you can see below, the group eating breakfast did more physical activity throughout the day (Chowdhury et al., 2016).
Interestingly, the group that ate breakfast actually gained 1 kilogram over the 6 week study period, whereas the fasting group lost 0.2 kg. That does not seem like much, but over the course of 52 weeks, that can make a HUGE difference!
Another common issue with breakfast research is that a large majority was funded by the breakfast companies themselves. Therefore, it was designed to demonstrate a specific outcome ie. that breakfast is good for you. This is done partly for their financial benefit (of course) and is arguably not putting the health of the nation first.
Ironically, the overconsumption of highly processed foods, such as children’s cereal is a far bigger issue than skipping breakfast ever was or will be!
As you may now know, Intermittent Fasting is emerging as an extremely popular approach for losing fat and improving health (Barnosky et al., 2014;Longo & Mattso, 2014; Klempel et al., 2012). Many will choose to fast in the morning, therefore missing breakfast completely and it works wonders!
The real life results are backed by loads of high quality research supporting the use of IF which alone questions whether missing breakfast is really so bad after all?!
I actually recommend skipping breakfast to a lot of my fat loss clients and in the 90 Day Bikini Transformation Program. If you function well without it and prefer not to eat it, simply don’t have it!
If you’re someone who really struggles without eating breakfast and has tried for several weeks to change the habit and still feels you need breakfast then, of course, you should eat it. Eating a healthy breakfast will certainly cause you no harm but sadly, it isn’t that magical or important either.
For an athlete or someone training in the morning I recommend consuming a protein source; this could be something as simple as a whey shake or a full meal depending on your goal i.e. muscle growth and activity level.
Nutrition Myths 3: You Must Eat 100% Clean Foods To Drop Fat
In recent years, there has been a rapid rise in those following a “clean eating” diet, focusing on eating whole foods and eliminating processed products (which is great).
While I agree that that basing your diet on healthy whole foods the majority of time is very important. I do not believe that it should be restrictive 100% of the time and it is a complete myth to think that the odd treat will cause ill health or instant weight gain.
From my experience with hundreds of clients and my researching eating behaviors and food psychology, I honestly believe that a completely restrictive diet can be hugely detrimental and will not promote a long lifestyle change in some individuals.
The big issue with 100% clean eating for some is that the instant elimination of enjoyable foods can lead to unmanageable cravings and an unhealthy association with food (Steward et al., 2002). This can ultimately results in relapses, binge eating and weight gain. Being restrictive to such an extreme for many people is neither enjoyable nor sustainable.
While there are not many studies on “flexible dieting”, one study found that people who had rigid eating behaviors were more likely to be diagnosed with symptoms of an eating disorder, mood disturbances, and excessive concern with body size and shape.
I often recommend that people base 90% of their diet on clean whole foods, with a small percentage allowed for the odd treat. I strongly believe that a well balanced, enjoyable diet can help you achieve an optimal balance between health, performance, fat loss, enjoyment (because you only live once) and psychological well being.
Logically, for the general population the odd treat like a scoop of ice cream when you are out socializing is not instantly going to throw you off track or cause instant obesity. The key is that it doesn’t turn into an everyday occurrence or cause a massive binge. As always, balance and context is key.
Unless you’re an Olympian or top bodybuilder 6 weeks out, there’s really no need to be totally restrictive with your diet. Eating healthy, exercising and getting in shape should be an important part of your lifestyle but there is no need to become obsessive over it.
Learn to achieve a healthy but enjoyable balance, that’s what it’s all about!
Nutrition Myths 4: All Fats Are Bad
The nutrition myth that fats are bad has been plaguing the food and nutritional industry for close to half a century.
Fats were given a bad name about 40 years ago, causing the rise in carbohydrate intake and low fat / fat free products. They were initially identified as a risk for heart health, but political, poor research and financial motives had a big role in these “findings”.
As I’ve discussed previously, there is no one size fits all approach to dietary recommendation and research now shows that not all fat is bad.
Similarly to carbohydrates (which are not under the spotlight), the type and amount of fat you consume is crucial. For example, healthy fats from natural sources such as avocados, nuts, red meat, egg yolk, olive oil, coconut oil, and oily fish are actually beneficial for health, disease risk and many cellular and metabolic processes within the body (Vannice & Rasmussen, 2014; Lawrence, 2013).
Therefore, eliminating or drastically reducing fats from natural sources can actually do more harm than good. I normally recommend that you consume a minimum of 20% of your calorie intake from healthy fat sources for numerous reasons. As you may know, healthy fats may actually reduce heart disease, diabetes, improve weight loss, optimize your hormones, cellular health and much more.
If you’re currently following a low fat diet, believing that all fats are bad, then I highly recommend that you start introducing a moderate amount of healthy fats into your diet. The research supporting their beneficial role in health and reducing disease risk is really quite impressive.
Nutrition Myths 5: A High Protein Diet Is Bad For Your Kidneys And Health
One of my biggest bugbears is when people say that a high protein diet is bad for your health.
After spending close to a decade researching the role of protein in the diet (I’ve even written a 30, 000 word thesis on it and reviewed over 500 studies), I am confident that a higher protein diet is important for optimizing both health and muscle growth.
This is heavily supported by the majority of the sports nutrition researchers and other experts, yet the government dietary recommendations remain very low and the myth still sadly remains.
To date, a higher daily protein intake has not been associated with causing side effects or health complaints in healthy individuals (those free from liver/ kidney disease or impaired kidney function) (Krebs et al., 2010; Manninen, 2004).
The perceived dangers of consuming a higher protein diet have again been fueled by the media, making it a common misunderstanding across the population.
On the other hand, hundreds of highly controlled studies have demonstrated that a high protein diet can offer many health benefits including (Halton & Hu, 2004):
- Increased Weight Loss
- Improved Recovery
- Improved Satiety or Feeling of Fullness
- Increased Muscle Mass
- Reduced Hunger Hormones
- Improved Dietary Adherence
Increasing your daily protein intake is by far one of the best ways to aid fat loss, improve health and optimize your physique.
Nutrition Myths 6: The Anabolic Window
Another common bodybuilding myth relates to the importance of immediate timing for the anabolic window.
Your post workout nutrition is still certainly very important, however, the immediate timing (i.e. as soon as you finish your last set) may just be another myth.
For many people, including myself at one point, their belief is that you must consume your post-workout meal or shake instantly after training or else you’ll lose the magical anabolic window of opportunity and limit your gains.
However, the research is far from conclusive (Aragon & Schoenfeld, 2013). Overall, the research highlights the importance of the anabolic window but suggests you have at least 60 minutes if not up to 90 to 120 minutes for beginners to consume their post workout meal.
For the most part, this anabolic window theory was derived from the old school bodybuilding days and was retained within the community ever since, with limited and certainly mixed direct research.
As I said at the start, the anabolic window is certainly important, however, for most people there is no need to run down to the locker room and slurp your shake 60 seconds after your last set. Instead, relax a little, have a shower, get changed, head home and then you can consume your post workout protein shake or a high quality protein mix meal if you wish.
Again, if this is something you love and you’re dead set on there is no detriment from consuming your protein straight away. Equally however, if you forget your shake it is not going to prevent you from optimizing your muscle growth. Have a good session and then have it when you get home.
As always, total daily protein intake and total daily calorie intake is the only underpinning factor in how you’ll grow and adapt to lose weight, not what happens in the 30 minute window after the workout!
Nutrition Myths 7: Supplements
The nutrition myth surrounding the use of supplements is certainly a common one.
In one corner, you’ll have those taking dozens of different supplements, wasting their time and money on unsupported ingredients and doses, normally to the detriment of their diet, exercise and lifestyle.
At the other end of the scale, you’ll have those who completely avoid supplements believing every nutrient can be achieved through the diet alone, or worse still, that all supplements are unnatural or harmful.
As usual, neither extreme is optimal or correct. Although I never recommend you totally rely on supplements, there are a handful which can offer some great benefits to both fat loss and health. As the word suggests, supplements should supplement a good diet and exercise program. It is important to get the basics right first!
You can read more on some of the supplements I recommend for physique transformation HERE. I’ve also included a done for you advanced supplement guide (backed by research and safety) in my 90 Day Bikini Transformation Program, it’s worth checking out!
Nutrition Myths 8: Don’t Get Guru’d
One of the biggest mistakes everyone falls for when starting out is following and believing all these self professed online fitness models, ‘online coaches’ or other ‘gurus’.
Just because their bum or abs may look like they were genetically made in a lab, it doesn’t necessarily have any correlation to their knowledge (in fact, it’s usually the opposite, although there are exceptions of course).
As you become more knowledgeable, you will learn to listen to both sides of the argument and then take an unbiased research-supported decision. You will soon learn, a lot of these top fitness professionals or athletes simply have amazing genetics, years of training behind them and, for the most part, a bag full of steroids.
Ironically, a lot of these bodybuilders or models people follow, actually hire science guys and experts, (just like me), to do their own programming and plans (some are even my current or past clients)…
If you’re currently following people that have extremely strong beliefs and are trying to preach a “one rule fits all”-diet strategy or fitness regime then learn to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
Instead of getting guru’d into one fixed approach, work with an educated expert (one who holds more than a groupon nutrition or personal training cert) who is unbiased and can actually help you tailor your regime, based on your individual needs, personal preference, goals and the research.
Remember, ignore the myths, focus on the research proven strategies around the website that actually work!
Coattrenec, Y., Harr, T., Pichard, C., & Nendaz, M. (2015). [Benefits of gluten-free diet: myth or reality?]. Revue medicale suisse, 11(490), 1878-1880.
El-Chammas, K., & Danner, E. (2011). Gluten-free diet in nonceliac disease.Nutrition in Clinical Practice, 26(3), 294-299.
Gaesser, G. A., & Angadi, S. S. (2012). Gluten-free diet: Imprudent dietary advice for the general population?. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 112(9), 1330-1333.
Chowdhury, E. A., Richardson, J. D., Holman, G. D., Tsintzas, K., Thompson, D., & Betts, J. A. (2016). The causal role of breakfast in energy balance and health: a randomized controlled trial in obese adults. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 103(3), 747-756.
Barnosky, A. R., Hoddy, K. K., Unterman, T. G., & Varady, K. A. (2014). Intermittent fasting vs daily calorie restriction for type 2 diabetes prevention: a review of human findings. Translational Research, 164(4), 302-311.
Longo, V. D., & Mattson, M. P. (2014). Fasting: molecular mechanisms and clinical applications. Cell metabolism, 19(2), 181-192.
Klempel, M. C., Kroeger, C. M., Bhutani, S., Trepanowski, J. F., & Varady, K. A. (2012). Intermittent fasting combined with calorie restriction is effective for weight loss and cardio-protection in obese women. Nutrition journal, 11(1), 1.
Stewart, T. M., Williamson, D. A., & White, M. A. (2002). Rigid vs. flexible dieting: association with eating disorder symptoms in nonobese women.Appetite, 38(1), 39-44.
Vannice, G., & Rasmussen, H. (2014). Position of the academy of nutrition and dietetics: dietary fatty acids for healthy adults. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 114(1), 136-153.
Lawrence, G. D. (2013). Dietary fats and health: dietary recommendations in the context of scientific evidence. Advances in Nutrition: An International Review Journal, 4(3), 294-302.
Krebs, N. F., Gao, D., Gralla, J., Collins, J. S., & Johnson, S. L. (2010). Efficacy and safety of a high protein, low carbohydrate diet for weight loss in severely obese adolescents. The Journal of pediatrics, 157(2), 252-258.
Manninen, A. H. (2004). High-Protein Weight Loss Diets and Purported Adverse Effects: Where is the Evidence?. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 1(1), 1.
Halton, T. L., & Hu, F. B. (2004). The effects of high protein diets on thermogenesis, satiety and weight loss: a critical review. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 23(5), 373-385.
Aragon, A. A., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2013). Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window?. Journal of the international society of sports nutrition, 10(1), 1.