Nutrition Lies No Sane Person Should Believe
Nutrition is one of the most hotly debated subjects known to man -- everyone eats, so everyone has an opinion. The problem with nutrition as we know it is that it's a relatively young field of study, so new information regularly comes to light. Plus, everyone's different. Different genes + different body chemistry = different responses to food. Case in point: some people can eat peanuts as a healthy source of protein and fat. Others eat peanuts and die.
Then you get the media involved and suddenly every new study is blown into an overly simplified, often exaggerated headline designed to get clicks and generate buzz, with no real regard to how that study fits the total body of knowledge.
It's no wonder Americans are confused. Still, there are a few areas where the available research is overwhelmingly weighted to one side of the debate, yet some people still refuse to acknowledge the facts.
Diet soda is a healthier choice than regular soda
This one at least makes some logical sense, since sugar means calories, diet soda has no sugar, and therefore you're not piling on calories or gaining weight. But ordering that diet soda with your Big Mac isn't doing you any favors.
It turns out that your body doesn't operate under that logic, since sugar alternatives don't have a significant long-term effect on obesity. What's more, diet soda consumption is associated with an increased risk for type II diabetes and metabolic syndrome, as well as an increase in belly fat.
While these studies don't prove that diet soda causes weight gain, they do point to a correlation between diet soda consumption and undesirable health outcomes. And who's to say those artificial sweeteners are better for you than regular ol' sugar? Even though five artificial sweeteners have been determined "safe" by the FDA, there really haven't been long-term studies done on the effects of these chemical sweeteners, particularly at the level of consumption seen by Americans.
As evidence on these substances rolls in, it seems more and more likely that they can alter the friendly bacteria in your gut, and influence hunger and metabolism. All of which might explain why drinking diet soda isn't the best long-term weight-loss strategy.
Eating eggs negatively affects cholesterol
The argument is simple: eggs have high levels of cholesterol, therefore, eating eggs will negatively affect your own cholesterol, which could increase cardiovascular disease risk.
The truth, like your body, is much more complex. Cholesterol levels in foods don't directly cause rises in blood cholesterol -- but foods with high amounts of saturated fat, like a juicy rib-eye, do. Hence the confusion. Eggs, when incorporated into an overall heart-healthy diet, aren't of significant concern to cardiovascular disease risk, and may, in fact, raise heart-healthy HDL cholesterol.
The one caveat is that individuals with diabetes should consume eggs with a modicum of caution -- there's some evidence that dietary cholesterol in individuals with diabetes is associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
All calories are created equal
If I hear "a calorie is a calorie" one more time, I will lose my mind. If you honestly think a calorie of broccoli is the same for your body as a calorie of candy, you are sadly mistaken. Consuming 2,000 calories of highly processed, low-quality foods is going to fundamentally screw you up more than consuming 2,000 calories of lean protein, fruits, and vegetables.
To think about it another way, when you say "a calorie is a calorie," it's like saying a pound of muscle is the same as a pound of fat. Sure, they weigh the same, but their functions in your body are completely different.
Low-quality calories -- think simple sugars from sodas, candy, highly processed carbohydrates, and the like -- provide a fast-acting form of energy that spikes blood sugar and can throw insulin levels out of whack. Highly processed foods don't offer much in the way of nutrient density, either, and if you subsist on sugar and simple carbs, you're risking heart disease, diabetes, and more.
Eating fat will make you fat
See the cholesterol argument above. Eating fat does not automatically make you fat. It's not like eating a tablespoon of butter will immediately land as a glob of yellow fat on your ass.
In fact, fat plays a critical role in the human body. It provides a form of energy, it protects internal organs, supports women's fertility, aids in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and helps with satiety and hunger control. Plus, it tastes good.
Now, you probably shouldn't immediately switch your diet to some kind of ketogenic affair, but the low-fat craze of the '90s certainly didn't do Americans' waistlines any favors, given that the average adult is 24lb heavier now than the average adult in the '60s, and global obesity has more than doubled since the 1980s.
Your best bet? Consume fat with moderation.
Eating carbs will make you fat
First of all, putting the argument about bread and baked goods aside, I want to highlight the fact that fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, and nuts are all rich in carbohydrates. When you say "carbs make you fat," you're making a blanket statement that's fundamentally untrue.
Second, all three macronutrients -- protein, fat, and carbs -- are important in their own ways. They have different roles in the body and provide different nutrients that can be used to create a vitamin-, mineral-, and energy-rich diet. None of them by itself will "make you fat."
What "makes you fat" (which is a horrible phrase, by the way) isn't a specific type of macronutrient; it's an out-of-whack energy balance and metabolism that combine to store excess nutrient intake as fat, regardless of what type of macronutrient you overconsume.
Granted, highly processed carbohydrates, such as bread, cupcakes, chips, and cereals are often consumed in excess, are quickly digested, and lead to sudden spikes in blood sugar that can wreak havoc on insulin levels and metabolism. Eating too many, too often, can lead to weight gain and health problems, but that's more about the type of carbohydrate consumed (and how much) than about eating carbs as a whole.
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Laura Williams is a fitness writer and exercise physiologist who eats eggs daily and never counts calories, fats, or carbs -- doctors still call her the picture of health. Complain at her on Twitter: @girlsgonesporty.