When it comes to food and nutrition, there is a ton of information out there. How do we know which advice to follow and which to ignore? My general rule is to use my head and think critically about it. Some questions to ask yourself are:
- Does this make sense to me?
- How does this fit in with other things I know?
- Where is the advice coming from?
- Does the person at least have some education in the field?
- Can they back up the advice if necessary?
- At their sources legitimate?
These things are all super important. If you’re listening to someone who’s making it all up as they go, then that could be trouble. I rely on peer-reviewed articles from reputable journals and Biochemistry and Nutrition texts. These sources are great because we know there was an exhaustive process of quality assurance needed before they were even accepted.
I like that. I like that other experts read the studies and said, “This looks good. It all makes sense – let’s publish this!” I know what you’re going to say: there’s bias and issues with many studies. True. But just because something was sponsored by dairy farmers makes the results no less legitimate. THAT, my friends is why you need to read critically. Chances are, if the study was designed well, the statistics measure what you need them to measure, and the conclusion is reasonable, it’s a good study. Yes, they may be invested in a certain outcome, but anyone who commissions a study probably at least hopes to get a certain result. If you’re unsure, try to find other sources that agree and some that don’t. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.
Over and over again I read articles that promise the moon if you follow one simple rule. Sometimes, there may be a kernel of truth, but often not. Here are some of my biggest pet peeve myths that I see in my internet searches.
1. Strict cut off times.
No eating after 8 pm. Eat no later than 30 minutes after waking. What time do you need to wake every morning to make the 8 pm rule be true? Or is it more to do with when to go to sleep? Why all the rules? Yes, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but there are meds taken in the morning that require you wait at least 30 minutes before eating. Will this derail your health goals? I’d say not.
At the end of the day (no pun intended) it’s mostly about energy balance for the whole day, not when you start or stop eating. Let’s say something came up and you didn’t have dinner. Crisis is over, but it’s 9:30…do you go to bed hungry? I wouldn’t! I would make sure to have something light, but I would not say “Well it’s after 8 so I guess too bad for me!”
2. Eating at certain times/intervals.
On the surface, this is OK. Once again, energy balance is important, so if your snacks or meals are too big, you may eat way more than you need. Whatever happened to eating when you’re hungry? Or if you have set lunch times, just eating when you’re NOT full?
If you have a good breakfast that keeps you feeling full until lunch, why would you “need”a snack? Your body is telling you it’s feeling good – why question it?
Doning that can easily put you over on how much you should eat in a day. A better thing to do would be to listen to your body. If you’re not used to this, give it a try. And since thirst can disguise itself as hunger, make sure to get enough water in order to improve those signals!
3. Frozen food is bad for you!
Um, not always! Yes, ice cream and desserts can be an issue, but not everything frozen is bad. If you’re strapped for cash and can only afford frozen fruits and vegetables rather than fresh, but them. In some cases, they even have a better nutritional profile since they are flash frozen right after harvest. With”fresh”produce, unless you’re buying local all the time (and I’m pretty sure avocados don’t grow in Canada very easily), there is a good chance that some nutrients have been lost over the course of shipping.
Now, if we’re talking frozen stir fry or pre-packaged meals, then yes. Frozen can definitely be the less healthy choice.
4. Don’t eat anything white.
Why? Why are we excepting this colour arbitrarily? What is wrong with mushrooms, cauliflower, onions, and others? This is very simplistic.
Can we just instead say to avoid processed food as much as possible? Say what we mean, and mean what we say!
5. Have a cheat day every week!
Please, don’t. On the one hand, for restrictive diets, it may make you feel like you’re less deprived, but a whole day? With no guidelines or need to be mindful of goals? Disaster. If you’re trying to lose weight, you can EASILY derail everything that week during a no-holds-barred nosh fest.
Especially when paired with alcohol. I mean, if you’re going to go out to a big brunch and mimosas or Caesars with friends, then have burgers, fries, pop, wine/beer with potato chips, you could be in trouble. And I left out condiments and dips. Think about it for a second. You’re at easily a 3000 calorie day minimum. No problem.
A better way to go about adopting a healthy lifestyle is to make better choices all the time. An extension of that is to STOP THINKING ABOUT IF YOU WERE “GOOD OR BAD” THAT DAY! Quit the guilt! It’s causing you unnecessary stress. Stop it.
That means you might have that burger but with a salad one day. You might have a smaller but satisfying brunch another day. And with a few meals a week you might have a glass of wine/beer. By thinking mindfully about your goals and letting some foods that are normally “no-nos” on restrictive diets in, you’ll end up eating better, more nutritious meals overall, and not hating the idea of joining a friend for lunch!
6. Cut carbs, increase protein, or lose the fat.
No man is an island, and neither is a macronutrient. All 3 are present in every whole food. There is no escaping them, so don’t try to cut it any completely – it’ll only drive you nuts!
Focus instead on the ratio of what you’re getting. Weight loss as a goal has many factors, so determining which food to increase and decrease will be “easy” to a point. We all know that we should eat more veggies and fish and eat less fast food.
For needs further than those, you may need a little help, and that makes sense! There’s a lot of information out there. Finding what is best for you may be slightly difficult. Diabetics will want to limit carbohydrates, but they will never remove them. There are many reasons that your friend’s diet wouldn’t work as well for you. Don’t be afraid to ask for some help if needed.
7. Only eat Organic ever.
Not really. For a long time, agriculture did just fine with some pesticides that kept yield higher and reduced the amount of the plant’s natural toxins that were produced to ward off the bugs.
Now, there are not just health concerns, but ethical concerns as well that make us think we need to buy organic. I, personally, would go there every time – if I could afford it. They are much more expensive (though that is getting better) than traditional crops.
If you can’t go organic all the time, focus on buying the dirty dozen in organics, which is what I do. It’s not a huge deal, and buying generic when you need to us still better than going out for a burger, fries, and a shake!
I think the biggest thing to remember is balance.