This is Healthy Right??
By: Ally, our resident nutritionist
Imagine, if you will, a world before the internet (for some of you, this may actually seem impossible). A world where no one Instagrammed their avocado toast or tweeted about ketogenic diets. A world where you couldn’t order ancient grains on Amazon or Google how to make almond milk. Way before the internet existed, eating local, seasonal, and organic wasn’t a movement. It was the only way to survive.
If you are reading this, chances are pretty good that you could go to the store and find any fruit, vegetable, meat, or grain you crave, whether it is grown in this country or halfway around the world. Because we have the luxury of eating whatever we want, whenever we want, we’ve had to start thinking about what we’re eating and how it impacts our bodies. And because of the good ol’ internet, we have way too many voices available to us at any given time, convincing us to hop on this fad diet or cut out soy because it causes cancer or add soy because it prevents cancer. In a world filled with just a few too many conflicting opinions, allow me to add my own advice to the mix and knock out a few food myths you might have heard through the grapevine (and by ‘grapevine’, I mean ‘Instagram’).
Myth: If I eat low-fat, I’ll be low fat.
I think we’ve kind of moved past this misconception, but I still encounter nutrition clients thinking they should pick the low-fat version of everything. Eating fat does not actually make you fat. Eating too many calories can make you fat. But don’t blame the fat, itself (the exception to this rule: trans fat, which is always inflammatory and should be avoided). When it comes to packaged and processed foods (which I would certainly discourage consuming), low-fat versions are generally filled with more sugar or other fillers to make them taste as good as the full-fat version. Those added sugars are empty calories that provide zero nutritional benefit. And when it comes to real foods, the fat content of things like dairy products or olive oils can help your body absorb the food’s fat-soluble vitamins. Don’t skip the fat.
Myth: I should be eating keto, paleo, Whole 30, gluten-free, etc, right?
The short answer: No. The long answer: Our bodies are all frustratingly different, so there is no “diet” that is right for everyone. And if it is a fad diet, it probably means you shouldn’t do it. Diets based on restriction and elimination of entire food groups typically don’t work. Lifestyle changes work. Learning how to eat real food, paying attention to how your body feels, drinking water, getting good sleep, managing stress, and exercising will all be far healthier than that “lifestyle shake” you saw on YouTube.
Myth: As long as I’m taking supplements, I can live on pizza and doughnuts.
At the moment, supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so you don’t necessarily know what you are getting when you buy any given pill. You may not be causing yourself any harm, but you might be wasting a lot of money. In general, getting your vitamins and minerals from real foods is your best bet. There are certainly times when supplements are necessary (chronic illness, digestive disorders, pregnancy, etc), but getting nutrition from real food means getting more than a few vitamins and minerals. Oranges contain more than just vitamin C. Kale is more than just vitamin K. Real food is a mixture of micronutrients that all work together to benefit the body. Save the supplements for nutrients you are actually lacking (iron for menstruating women, vitamin D for anyone who lives above the 45th parallel and never sees the sun). And it’s always a good idea to get your blood tested to see what you are lacking before you start taking a supplement.
Myth: But if the pizza and doughnuts are gluten-free, then I’m making a healthy choice.
First of all, I have yet to eat a gluten-free doughnut that did not make me want to cry. Secondly, gluten is probably not the root of all evil. Do you have celiac disease? Then yes, by all means, please don’t consume gluten. Do you feel bloated or funky or tired when you eat gluten? Again, feel free to avoid gluten. But purchasing “gluten-free” products because they sound healthier is definitely not the way to go. Gluten-free junk food is still junk food.
Myth: I should detox my system with a juice cleanse.
Your liver naturally detoxifies your body every day, and under normal conditions (no serious medical issues), your body is perfectly capable of ridding itself of toxins on its own. Going on a juice cleanse may briefly help you lose weight (as will anything that reduces your calorie intake so drastically), or make you feel healthier (look at all those greens!), but mostly, you’re going to feel grumpy and terrible. That being said, most of us could certainly stand to eat a few more greens, cut back on the sugar, and generally lighten the load for the liver. And we can support our body’s natural detoxification process by eating liver-supporting foods (beets, dandelion, and garlic are great options) that encourage our liver to keep fighting the good fight.
Myth: If I’m not on a juice cleanse, I should at least drink a few smoothies.
I’m really not sure how smoothies became the poster child for health. Are smoothies delicious? Yes. Are smoothies a source of a lot of nutrition? Sure. Are smoothies the way you should be getting all of your fruits and vegetables? Probably not. Smoothies are generally packed with lots of fruit, maybe some greens, some sort of milk (whether dairy or nut-based), and depending on how closely you toe the hippie food line, some sort of adaptogen or protein powder. Are these things bad? No. But think about how long it would take you to eat all of those things if they weren’t in the smoothie. It would be a large salad of sorts, with lots of chewing, and would take some real time to consume. How quickly can you drink it as a smoothie? One minute? That’s a ton of sugar slamming your body at once, causing a massive blood sugar spike. If you insist upon a smoothie, drink it slowly and actually try chewing it so that your body gets the hint that you are eating actual food. The exception to my hey-hold-back-on-the-smoothies-please rule is after a long or hard workout. There’s a 30-minute window in which you need to replenish your muscles with carbohydrates and protein, and most folks don’t want to sit down and eat a chicken breast after a true sweatfest. This is where a smoothie is convenient and actually beneficial for ensuring you get something good in your body right away.
Have any other health/food related questions? Send them our way!
*photo of woman eating pasta