Busting those nutrition myths! 8 so called facts you should never fall for



Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
@EmmaThornton
Ask Emma


13 July 2018

1 – All calories are created equal

If you’re trying to lose weight you may have the mentality that calories are the enemy and the fewer you consume, the better. It can be difficult to shake this headspace and you might find yourself becoming obsessed with labels, gravitating towards low calorie alternatives that promise you a healthier body. 

However, this attitude is frankly unhealthy. We’re all told that we need around 2000-2500 calories a day but this figure isn’t a true reflection of YOUR individual needs. How many calories you need will vary depending on factors such as how active you are, your body composition, and even what you eat. 

Also calorie counting can cause you to increase your intake of processed foods – after all, if it has 364 calories on the packet, then it can’t be that bad for you, right? Well, that ready meal may have a lower calorie count but do know what it also has…a much lower content of nutrients! 

Nutrients should be your main focus when it comes to food – an avocado might have the same calorie content as a chocolate bar but they couldn’t be further from each other when it comes to meeting your daily nutrient requirements!

If you want to read more about my thoughts on calorie counting please check out my blog, ‘6 reasons why calorie counting is a bad idea.’

2 – Everyone should be going gluten free

It’s estimated that approximately 1% of the UK population suffers from what is known as Celiac disease. This condition means that sufferers will struggle to break down gluten and can become hypersensitive to it, to the point where they have to eradicate it completely from their diets. 

There’s no arguing that gluten sensitivity is a very real problem but many of the 8.5 million gluten-free observers in the UK don’t suffer from any form of gluten sensitivity at all. Instead, they are drawn to the diet by the promise that going gluten-free will help them to lose weight or make them innately healthier as a result. 

The truth is that this simply isn’t always the case. It’s true that gluten is often found in unhealthy foods such as cakes, white bread and other forms of processed carbs but the gluten-free alternatives aren’t always much better and certainly aren’t innately healthier. In fact, there’s usually little nutritional difference between the two and sometimes the gluten-free varieties even contain higher amounts of sugar and salt!1  

3 – Egg yolks increase your cholesterol 

This particular myth has been around for a while so it’s became quite entrenched into our psyche. Egg yolks, unlike egg whites, are perceived to be the unhealthiest part of the egg due to their high cholesterol levels, which many worry in turn, will increase our own blood cholesterol levels. 

Now this fear isn’t entirely unjustified. High cholesterol levels are a major contributor to cardiovascular disease, a very real and problematic issue in Western countries like the UK and the USA. However, just because a food product contains high levels of cholesterol, doesn’t always mean that it can raise your blood cholesterol levels. 

Your liver is responsible for producing cholesterol and, when you eat high cholesterol foods such as eggs yolks, very often it lowers your production of cholesterol.2  Also, cholesterol isn’t the only thing that egg yolks have to offer – they’re also quite high in vitamin B12, an important nutrient for vegetarians! 

Arguably, the most important thing to remember when it comes to egg yolks, rather than completely avoiding them entirely, is moderation. If you eat egg yolks every single day, then yes, eventually your blood cholesterol levels may be impacted but tucking into a couple of poached eggs every week or so is unlikely to have a long lasting effect. 

4 – Dark chocolate is good for you

I talked about this issue quite recently in my blog ‘Is dark chocolate really better for you?’ While quite a few studies have touted the benefits of dark chocolate (namely its high content of flavonoids and minerals like magnesium!) they’ve often ignored that these benefits are largely attributed to cocoa, a component of dark chocolate, and ignore how dark chocolate still undergoes many of the same processes that milk chocolate does, often stripping it of its nutritional content. 

The good news though, is that there is an alternative for all you chocoholics! Instead of opting for dark chocolate, you could try choosing raw cacao-based chocolate. Cacao is processed at significantly lower temperatures that conventional chocolate so it still retains much of its nutritional content. You could try mixing raw cacao powder into your smoothies or experiment with cacao chocolate bars – there’s much variety out there these days that you’re pretty much spoilt for choice!

5 – Snacking is bad

You’ve probably been told umpteenth times that snacking between meals is bad for you and can lead to spikes in your blood sugar levels as well as fluctuations with your waistline. Well, I’m not here to knock this idea entirely – if you’re reaching in your desk to pull out a Kit-Kat bar at 11am or munching on a bag of crisps in the afternoon then yes, in this instance, snacking is probably not doing you much good.

However, not all snacks are created equal and sometimes we all need something to keep us going when our energy levels start to slump. So no, I wouldn’t say that you should stop snacking, but rather you should reconsider what you are snacking on. Crisps, cake, chocolate and biscuits – they all add up eventually so why not exchange these snacks for some healthier options?

Homemade energy balls, flapjacks and fruit are good alternatives and the recipe section on this website is brimming with great, healthy options! Below I’ve listed just a few of my personal favourite snacks to give you all some ideas.

Cinnamon & Chia Seed Energy Balls

Healthy Banana Oat Cookies

Cherry & Almond Snack Bars

6 – Low fat options are good

If you’re attempting to improve your diet then fat is probably your biggest concern. As with many entrants on this list, this fear of fat isn’t entirely unwarranted as there’s a considerable amount of evidence backing up the idea that trans-fats are often linked to increased levels of LDL cholesterol and inflammation, however, this is just one type of fat.

If you take the route of jettisoning fat from your diet entirely then you are going to run into a lot of problems. Your body needs fat to survive – believe it or not, your brain is mostly composed of fat and the right types of fat can boost your production of healthy cholesterol. Essential fatty acids are needed for a wide variety of functions and these can only be obtained through your diet – omega 3, for example, is just one essential fatty acid I’m sure you’ve heard of. 

Also, if you’re trying to lower your intake of fat, the chances are you’re opting for ‘low fat’ alternatives, which can present a number of challenges. Many of the low fat foods you see on supermarket shelves still contain hidden dangers, such as sugar and refined carbohydrates, so they’re not really that much healthier than the full fat varieties!

 7 – Natural sugar is better

Your body, to an extent, is programmed to crave sugar. This instinct is leftover from our caveman days, when sugar was an essential source of energy garnered from fruit. These days, our raging consumption of sugar is turning into an epidemic, with many of us eating well over the recommended 6 teaspoons a day of added sugar. 

As a nation, most of us are aware of this problem though and are now starting to look for healthier alternatives. In order to meet this new demand, many of us are turning to more ‘natural’ sources of sugar, such as agave syrup, honey and maple syrup. Are these alternatives really that much better for us though? Unfortunately, it seems not. 

These products, despite being obtained from natural sources, still boast a high sugar content that will inevitably have a similar effect on your body. The sugar found in fruit, on the other hand, is slightly different as I discuss in my blog ‘Is there such a thing as too much fruit?

8 – Vegan diets are intrinsically healthier

Veganism is definitely on the up and up, with some estimating that there are now 3.5 million vegans in the UK, a 360% rise compared to numbers from 10 years ago.3 While many have been drawn to this lifestyle for moral and ethical reasons, there is also the general consciousness that vegans are essentially healthier than meat eaters, which definitely isn’t always true.

Yes, vegans are more likely to eat fruit and veg and less likely to fall foul of processed meats, but there are still plenty of junk food options available to vegans. Sugar, for example, is completely vegan-friendly so this is still something that vegans will need to keep an eye on. Not to mention, the restrictions that come with veganism can lead to health problems if you decide to become vegan without doing the research first.

It’s very easy to become deficient in certain vitamins and minerals, such as iron, on a vegan diet so you have to be constantly on top of your nutritional needs and make sure that your diet is providing. For new vegans, making sure they’re getting these nutrients can be challenging, which is why I’d never recommend going vegan overnight. Try to make it a gradual process – not only will this give you more time to balance your new diet, it also means that, in the long run, your new diet is more sustainable. 

1http://www.bmj.com/company/newsroom/gluten-free-diet-not-recommended-for-people-without-celiac-disease/

2https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22037012

3https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/vegans-uk-rise-popularity-plant-based-diets-veganism-figures-survey-compare-the-market-a8286471.html

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