Ask NOW: Common Health Myths Busted

NOW logo

Learn More

Revisit Ask the Dietitian: How can I eat well on a tight budget? for affordable eating tips.  

Related Services

You can meet with a UHS dietitian for one-on-one meal planning help during Drop-in Nutrition Education, every Wednesday, 2:30-5pm, Social Services, and other campus locations! 

Stay Tuned

Stay tuned for more Ask the Dietitian articles in future issues of The Monthly BuzzFind out more about Toby’s services here.

November 16, 2017

The media is full of information, though not always true.

These are four common myths that we have heard our peers say and why they are not true. 

Myth 1:

Myth #1: Juice Cleanses are awesome for your body.

Juice cleanses are said to work miracles on your body: rid toxins, clean your colon, help you lose weight, clear your skin and much more. Usually these cleanses require a very strict diet for a short period, but are these rigid regimens worth all the effort? I’m going to flat out say: no. Many of these cleanses and fasts have not been tested in a research setting, so we have to base our opinions off of anecdotal evidence. The problem with this is many people promoting juice cleanses are also trying to sell you juice! Off course they’re going to say it’s magic in a bottle.

Even if there is no monetary incentive there are flaws in the claims. First off, the most common claim is that these diets will rid your body of toxins, but what toxins? There is never any mention of specifically what toxins, how they are harmful and how your body is supposed to magically get much better at expelling them. The human body is already very efficient at cleansing itself of unwanted substances through the liver and kidneys.

Drinking only juice for days means reducing calories drastically and individuals can be left feeling hungry, unsatisfied and irritable. Starving your body of what it needs doesn’t make you healthier, and will only bring short term weight loss results in the form of water weight.

Myth 3

Myth #3: Gluten-free is healthier.

The ‘gluten-free’ diet has become a popular trend on social media and a marketing angle used by many grocery stores and restaurants. You see it all the time – Instagram foodies and fitness models make claims like “I took out gluten from my diet and I have so much more energy” or “I stopped eating gluten and I feel so much healthier.” Brunch restaurants have incorporated it into their marketing schemes – “our products are all gluten-free, organic and natural.” While going gluten-free is necessary for people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivities, it is not better for those who do not need to go gluten-free. Research has found no associations between gluten-free diets and better health. In fact, a gluten-free diet may be detrimental for your health, putting you at risk for developing nutrient deficiencies, not to mention the fact that gluten-free products are generally a lot more expensive. So if you don’t have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, you really don’t need to avoid gluten!

Myth 2

Myth #2: Carbs make you fat.

Carbohydrates have been under fire for quite a while now, everywhere I turn I hear about a new low carb book or diet. Most people adopt a low or no carb diet in order to lose weight, but I strongly advise against cutting this essential macronutrient group. Even though people have lost weight in the short term, I want to emphasize this is not a healthy or sustainable method.

The keto diet (a common no carb diet) was originally used as a treatment for children with epilepsy to decrease seizure occurrence. Keto has been around for decades so thankfully we have a lot of scientific research about it.

Studies have shown that a keto diet may not even help you lose weight! One controlled feeding trial fromThe American Journal of Clinical Nutrition [1](link is external) showed that “body fat loss slowed during the KD (ketogenic diet) and coincided with increased protein utilization and loss of fat-free mass” (things like muscle and bone). In short, the keto diet slowed weight loss and ate away at muscle. The Journal of Obesity on popular diets states that low carb diets promote a loss of body water more than body fat, and water weight is regained when the diet ends. [2](link is external) Kind of backwards right?

  Not only may they be ineffective, but low carb diets have detrimental effects on the body. Documented side effects include: kidney stones, constipation, muscle cramps, weakness, nutrient deficiency, bone weakness, high fat in the blood, irritability, and increased cortisol levels.  One study even found low carb diets can increase all-cause mortality by 30%.[3](link is external)  Any diet that has a side effects list as long as a prescription drug commercial should probably be avoided.

The benefits definitely  outweigh the costs here: healthy carbohydrates (fruits, whole grains, and legumes) are packed with fiber and nutrients and have been shown to fight depression, and give you energy to fuel your body. Ultimately, eat your complex carbs-- they are more important than you might think!

Myth 4

Myth #4: ‘Natural’ Labeled Foods are better for you.

That Snapple iced tea is labelled as natural, so it must be good for you, right? Not necessarily! “All natural” does not always mean better for you. In fact, there are many natural products that are poisonous. So why does “natural” have such a positive association and what does it actually mean when a food product is labelled ‘natural?’ Neither the FDA nor the USDA  have a definition for this term so it is up to the manufacturer’s discretion if their product is ‘natural.’ Generally speaking ‘natural’ is taken to mean no added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances. This is why “natural” is generally regarded to be better than processed foods because the public consensus is a lot of ingredients in processed foods are bad for you. If the manufacturers’ products fall within the guideline of no or minimal artificial ingredients, they can generally call their products “natural” without fear of government actions or negative public reaction.

This doesn’t mean natural foods are always healthier than foods with artificial ingredients. For example, fortified foods can add important vitamins and minerals to your diet and lower your risk for nutrient deficiencies.  My advice for choosing the ‘natural’ food option is to read the label and compare it to the non-natural option. Become aware of the processed and artificial ingredients you should avoid--if in doubt, ask a dietitian or a NOW.