No fat, no sugar, no breakfast? Nutritionists bust common diet myths

·Features and Health Editor
·6-min read

Between no sugar, low fat, no carb, keto, juice cleanses and the like, the lengths many people often think they need to go to in order to 'be healthy' are becoming more and more bizarre. 

New research commissioned by Uncle Tobys recently found 2 in 5 Aussies have tried a 'fad' diet to get healthy, with one in ten of us admitting to trying three or more. Though more often than not, we’ll commit ourselves to the most obscure eating plans before eventually plateauing and landing back at square one.

Close Up Of Woman Adding Pumpkin Seeds To Healthy Vegan Meal In Bowl
2 in 5 Aussies have tried a 'fad' diet to get healthy. Photo: Getty

In the interest of clearing some of the noise around 'diets' and what things you should and shouldn't consider when embarking on a healthy lifestyle change, we spoke to a few experts on International No Diet Day to help bust the most common diet myths around.

Nutritionist and founder of The Right Balance Kathleen Alleaume hopes to demystify a few things around breakfast and fat in particular.

MYTH: Skipping breakfast aids weight loss

"Breakfast, as the name suggests, breaks the overnight fasting period. This is important to refuel your body (and brain) and replenish energy stores," Kathleen tells Yahoo Lifestyle. "Many people find that eating breakfast sets them on the right eating path for the rest of the day. 

"Eating a well-balanced breakfast can also help stabilise blood sugar and insulin levels – both of which are critical in appetite regulation."

Research shows that people who consumed whole grain cereals like oats and whole grain bread, fruit and veg had healthier diets overall.

Woman eating oatmeal porridge with banana, strawberries and nuts. Healthy breakfast
Don't skip breakfast. Photo: Getty

MYTH: Some sugars are better than others

Most 'sugar-free' diets advocate eliminating sucrose (the most common form of ‘added’ sugar to processed food and drinks).

However Kathleen says many of us are being fooled into thinking we are “quitting sugar” when in fact we are eating products laced with other sweet alternatives (e.g. rice malt syrup).

"Which technically is free of fructose, yet is still a refined sugar that provides more calories, contributes to tooth decay and causes a much higher spike in blood-glucose levels," she says.

"Some sugars (e.g. honey, coconut sugar) may be perceived to be 'less bad' than regular sugar, but definitely not something you should eat in large amounts."

MYTH: Eating 6 smaller meals is better than 3 large meals

How often you eat comes down to personal preference. 

"Some people do well with the structured three meals a day, while others prefer five or more smaller meals," Kathleen says.

"Find what works best for you, and make sure you stick with it. Regular, planned meals are more likely to include necessary nutrients, whereas eating on a whim is often full of 'just whatever is quick or available'. 

"And, missing a meal altogether not only means you’ll run out of steam, but you will likely indulge in larger portions and snack mindlessly later in the day."

MYTH: Eating fat will make you fat

Kathleen stresses that we all need fat in our diet for various body functions, like nutrient absorption, nerve transmission, and maintaining body cell integrity. 

"Compared to carbohydrates and protein, fats contain more kilojoules per gram, which can lead to weight gain. But not all fats are created equal," she says.

"Opt for unsaturated fats such as oily fish, unsalted nuts and seeds, olives and avocado as these can promote good health unlike saturated or trans fats which includes biscuits, pastries, cured meats and full-cream milk."

Molecular nutritionist Dr Emma Beckett agrees, telling Yahoo Lifestyle when it comes to diets, the majority of people will automatically start cutting out high fat foods from their daily consumption. 

"Whilst it’s true that eating too many high fat foods can lead to weight gain, dietary fat is actually essential for optimal health," she adds.

"Fat can also help you feel fuller longer. In fact, many high fat foods like avocados are extremely nutritious and can help you in maintaining a healthy weight. It all comes down to having a balanced diet and not restricting yourself."

molecular nutritionist Dr Emma Beckett
Molecular nutritionist Dr Emma Beckett says you need fat in your diet. Photo: Supplied

MYTH: Supplements are good substitutes

Looking at fibre as an example, it is so important for our bodies, as it feeds and supports the good bacteria living in the gut, which promotes better digestive balance, supports gut health, and can also help to support immune health, Emma explains. 

"Many people struggle to meet their daily fibre intake, so they turn to supplement options instead. But the best and strongest evidence says that fibre from foods is the best option," she adds.

"Getting your daily fibre dose is actually really simple as there’s many high fibre options you’re probably already eating, like fibre-rich cereals such as All-Bran, fruits, vegetables, and nuts."

Kathleen agrees, adding people need to consider that supplements can't save a poor diet.

"Supplements can have a role, but they can't fully compensate for a poor eating habit. If you are a person who follows a well-balanced eating plan, you do not need any supplements," Kathleen says.

"However, there are a certain groups of people who need supplements. These include pregnant and lactating women, some vegetarians, the elderly, and people with a diagnosed deficiency like anaemia and lactose intolerance."

Sporty woman drinking protein shake after workout, muscle gain nutrition, health
Actual food is always better than a supplement, but they can help. Photo: Getty

MYTH: All additives are bad

Emma says people are often of the opinion that we should avoid foods with additives and preservatives, however, there’s a big difference between naturally occurring additives and consuming a diet high in processed foods. 

"When it comes to additives, they can actually be really useful - enhancing the consumer experience and often prolonging shelf life," Emma explains. "It’s also important to note that Australian food companies must abide by the approved levels of additives and preservatives added to their products, as outlined by food regulators."

MYTH: Gluten-free is better for you

Gluten-free diets have been gaining popularity in recent times, with people swapping out gluten without an actual medical diagnosis. 

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, and for people with Coeliac disease, eating it prompts the immune system to attack the small intestine. 

"Some studies have suggested avoiding gluten can be detrimental to your health as avoiding gluten often leads to a deficiency in grains that are important sources of micronutrients, fibre and pre-biotics," Emma warns. "It can be difficult to find high fibre gluten-free foods, so brands are increasingly innovating their product offerings with gluten-free products that are high in fibre, such as Sultana Bran Gluten-Free."

MYTH: To lose weight, don’t eat late at night or before bed

An old wives tale that seems to have stuck around is to not eat before bed in order to lose weight. 

"Eating late won’t make you gain weight unless you’re someone who likes to snack right before you sleep," Emma says.

"If you do find yourself looking for a snack right before bed, try opt for a light and healthy option like fruit. 

"When we are eating is not likely to be the deal breaker for our diet quality or weight management, focus on choosing nourishing choices instead of restricting time slots."

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