Whether people are trying to lose weight or simply want to look after themselves, there is a growing interest in what makes a diet healthy and what type and amount of activity is good for you. This interest is often accompanied by some misconceptions that experts try to debunk. We take a look at some of them.
To do so, we gather information from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and the NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDKD). However, none of this constitutes medical or nutrition advice. If you are looking to improve your diet, exercise more or lose weight, get in touch with doctors and qualified professionals. Do not follow crash diets, and always look after your mental health as well as your physical health, as they are both just as important for your general wellbeing.
Common myths about healthy eating, debunked
“A healthy diet is an expensive one”
Actually, the question is whether unhealthy foods are too cheap. No, eating healthily is not at odds with staying within budget. The British Heart Foundation lists some strategies that will prove you wrong. For instance, frozen fruit and vegetables are as healthy as fresh ones, but last longer and avoid food waste. Pulses are incredibly cheap and come with many benefits, because they are packed with protein while being very low in calories. To save money, you can also cook yourself instead of buying prepared meals, which often come at a cost. This can also make you more mindful and reestablish your relationship with food.
“Carbs will make you fat”
Not necessarily, as there is a right amount for virtually everything. Experts agree carbohydrates are important to stay healthy, because they provide energy, vitamins, minerals and fibre. It’s true that not every carbohydrate is the same, as some options are healthier than others. Since you have to include them, it’s advised to go for the options that include the most of these nutrients, like fibre.
In order to achieve this, you can make wholegrain carbs a priority, because they will make you feel fuller, or limit the amount of fat that is sometimes added to them, switching to veggie sauces for your pasta for example.
“Snacks are strictly forbidden”
Snacking is permitted in the context of a healthy and balanced diet, BHF indicates. After all, snacks don’t have to be unhealthy, as fruit or wholegrain or nuts can be appetising bite. But even if we are talking treats, you can have it occasionally. If including them from time to time motivates you to eat more healthily the rest of the time, it could actually be a good idea.
Because of this, you should be wary of those diets that seem successful because they are very strict in banning foods — even food groups, altogether— from your pantry. Crash diets, for instance, will have you eat a lot less calories than recommended.
This is unsafe, as no one should starve in order to lose weight. A healthy diet will not include hunger among its ingredients. You can always talk to your doctor if this is the case. The British Heart Foundation lists a few healthy snacks to cope with cravings, like fruit, vegetables accompanied by hummus to dip or nuts without salt.
“‘Low fat’ versions of foods are always preferred”
This doesn’t have to be true, according to the British Heart Foundation. While they may a smaller amount of fat, salt and sugar are often added, defeating the purpose of a healthier food. This is why it’s recommended to carefully check the nutrition labels. Don’t just trust the packaging.
Weight-loss pills and teas are not what they seem
There is a plethora of products and remedies that supposedly help you lose weight, but you should be extra cautious with them, the British Heart Foundation warns. Many of these products can be sold without prescription by your doctor, but they can damage your health depending on the ingredients they use.
The only safe way to lose weight on your own is to eat healthily and exercise regularly, reducing calories. Even so, if you think you should lose weight, always talk to your doctor so they can guide you. It’s important to do it in a way that’s safe for your body, but also for your mental health.
“Fat-burners” will help you lose weight faster
The evidence for these “fat-burners” — a generic term for foods like green tea, black coffee, energy drinks or chili — is very limited. They may have certain general benefits because of the nutrients they contain, but the key to lose weight is a combination of a balanced diet and physical activity.
“Only intense and prolonged exercise matters”
Not really. Experts usually say that for most people any amount of physical activity will be better than a sedentary lifestyle with absolutely no amount of it. If you take a look at the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, you’ll find that a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity can do the trick.
And that is 150 minutes a week, so you can comfortably exercise a bit each day. Something as simple and accessible as brisk walking counts as moderate-intensity activity. The NIDDKD suggests trying to integrate exercise into your daily routines with small changes, like walking instead of sitting while in a meeting, if your schedule allows it. Of course, there is also the classical “stairs rather than elevator” tip.
If you need some motivation, you can turn that time for exercising into a social activity, joining friends or family and connecting with other people as you exercise, like playing football or using a frisbee in the park. Exercise may also improve your mood and make you sleep better.
“If you want to be slimmer, avoid lifting weights”
While it’s true that muscle-strengthening activities will do exactly that, this doesn’t mean that you will end up becoming bulkier, experts say. The NIDDKD claims this is only true for people who take up very intense training and certain genes. These exercises are also beneficial to your health and burn calories, so they are useful if you want to lose weight.