13 Myths About Nutrition & Weight Loss

Are you overwhelmed by daily decisions about what to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat? If so, don’t be discouraged because you’re not alone. With so many choices and decisions, it can be hard to know what to do and which information you can trust. 

This information may help you make changes in your daily eating habits so that you improve your well-being and reach or maintain a healthy weight. 

Myth 1. To lose weight, you must give up all your favorite foods 

You don’t have to give up all your favorite foods when you’re trying to lose weight or be healthy. Small amounts of your favorite high-calorie indulgent foods may be part of your weight-loss plan. Just remember to be mindful of how much you eat. To lose weight, you must burn more calories than you take in through food and beverages. 

Tip: Limiting highly refined foods that are low in nutrition, but high in calories, can help you lose weight.  

Myth 2. You should avoid grains when trying to lose weight 

Grains themselves aren’t unhealthy — although swapping refined grains for whole grains is a better option and can help you feel fuller. Examples of whole grains include brown rice, whole oats, buckwheat, millet, and quinoa. Whole grains provide iron, fiber, and other important nutrients. 

Tip: Try to replace refined or white bread with whole-wheat bread and refined pasta with whole-wheat pasta. Or add whole grains to mixed dishes, such as brown instead of white rice to stir fry. 

Myth 3. Choosing foods that are gluten-free will help you eat healthier 

Gluten-free foods are not inherently healthier if you don’t have celiac disease or are not sensitive to gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye grains. A health care professional is likely to prescribe a gluten-free eating plan to treat people who have celiac disease or are sensitive to gluten.  

If you don’t have these health problems but avoid gluten anyway, you may not get the vitamins, fiber, and minerals you need. A gluten-free diet is not a weight-loss diet and is not intended to help you lose weight. 

Tip: Before you decide to avoid gluten, talk with your health care professional or your Care Team if you believe you have problems after you consume foods or drinks with wheat, barley, or rye. 

Myth 4. You should avoid all fats if you’re trying to be healthy or lose weight 

You should not avoid all fats if you’re trying to improve your health or lose weight. Fat provides essential nutrients and are an important part of a healthy eating plan. But because fats have more calories per gram than protein or carbohydrates, extra calories from fat can quickly add up. 

If you are trying to lose weight, consider eating small amounts of healthy fats, such as avocados, olives, or nuts. You also could replace whole-fat cheese or milk with a lower-fat option.  

Tip: Try cutting back on solid-fat foods and be mindful of the amount of oil you use in cooking. 

Myth 5. Dairy products are unhealthy 

Dairy products have protein your body needs to build muscles and help organs work well, and calcium to strengthen bones. Most dairy products, such as milk and some yogurts, have added vitamin D to help your body use calcium since many Americans don’t get enough of these nutrients.  

Dairy products made from fat-free or low-fat milk have fewer calories than dairy products made from whole milk. 

Tip: If you can’t digest lactose, the sugar found in dairy products, choose fortified dairy alternatives, lactose-free or low-lactose dairy products, or other foods and beverages with calcium and vitamin D: 

  • Calcium: soy-based beverages or tofu made with calcium sulfate, canned salmon, or dark leafy greens such as collards or kale 
  • Vitamin D: most soy-based beverages and some milk-alternatives 

Myth 6. “Going vegetarian/vegan” will help you lose weight and be healthier 

Some research shows that a healthy vegetarian eating plan, or one made up of foods that come mostly from plants, may be linked to lower levels of obesity, lower blood pressure, and a reduced risk of heart disease.  

But going vegetarian will only lead to weight loss if you reduce the total number of calories you take in. Some vegetarians may make food choices that could lead to weight gain, such as eating a lot of junk food high in sugar, fats, and calories that happen to be vegetarian. 

Tip: If you choose to follow a vegetarian eating plan, be sure you get enough of the nutrients your body needs to be healthy. Not all vegetarians are the same. The types of vegetarian diets eaten in the United States can vary widely. 

For example, vegans do not consume any animal products, including milk and eggs. Lacto-ovo vegetarians eat milk and eggs along with plant foods. Some people have eating patterns that are mainly vegetarian but may include small amounts of meat, poultry, or seafood. 

Speak with your Care Team if you are concerned about whether your eating plan is providing all the nutrients you need. 

Myth 7. Fad diets will help me lose weight and keep it off 

Fad diets are not the best way to lose weight and keep it off. These diets often promise quick weight loss if you strictly reduce what you eat or avoid some types of foods. Some of these diets may help you lose weight at first, but these diets are hard to follow and sustain. 

Most people quickly get tired of them and regain any lost weight. Fad diets may be unhealthy and may not provide all the nutrients your body needs. Fad diets also do not teach you how to create the healthy eating habits needed to maintain any weight lost. 

Losing more than 3 pounds (1.36 kg) a week after the first few weeks may increase your chances of developing gallstones (solid matter in the gallbladder that can cause pain). Being on a diet of fewer than 800 calories a day for a long time may also lead to serious heart problems.  

Tip: Research suggests that safe weight loss involves combining a reduced-calorie diet with physical activity to lose 0.5 to 2 pounds (0.23 to 0.91 kg) a week after the first few weeks of weight loss.  

  • Make healthy food choices 
  • Eat small portions 
  • Build exercise into your daily life 

Combined, these habits may be a healthy way to lose weight and keep it off. These habits may also lower your chances of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. 

Myth 8. Carbs are unhealthy, and you must limit them when trying to lose weight 

Carbohydrates (carbs) are the body’s main source of fuel for energy. You don’t have to limit all carbs to lose weight. There are two main types of carbs: 

  • Simple carbs (sugars) 
  • Complex carbs (starches and fiber) 

Foods that are high in complex carbs — like fruits, veggies, and whole grains — provide a healthy supply of fiber, minerals, and vitamins.  

Simple carbs from white bread, white rice, cake, candy, cookies, and sugar-sweetened desserts and drinks (including alcohol) have many calories and few nutrients.  

Complex carbs from whole grains and starchy vegetables should make up about a quarter of your plate. Fruits and non-starchy vegetables should make up about half of your plate. 

Tip: Create a healthy eating plan that mixes carbs, fat, and protein: 

  • Eat a mix of dairy products, fruits, veggies, and whole grains. 
  • Limit added sugars, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added oils/fats. 
  • Eat whole-food protein sources: beans, eggs, fish, lean meats, nuts, and poultry. 

Myth 9. Some people can eat whatever they want and still lose weight 

To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you eat and drink. Some people may seem to get away with eating any kind of food they want and still lose weight. But those people, like everyone, must use more energy than they take in through food and drink to lose weight.  

Several factors such as your age, genes, medicines, and lifestyle habits may affect your weight. If you would like to lose weight, speak with your Care Team about factors that may affect your weight. Together, you may be able to create a plan to help you reach your weight and health goals. 

Tip: When trying to lose weight, you can still eat your favorite foods as part of a healthy eating plan. But you must watch the total number of calories that you eat. Reduce your portion sizes. Find ways to limit the calories in your favorite foods.  

For example, you can bake foods rather than frying them. Use low-fat milk in place of cream. Make half of your plate fruits and veggies. 

Myth 10. “Low-fat” or “fat-free” means “healthier” 

A serving of low-fat or fat-free food may be lower in calories than a serving of the full-fat product. But many processed low-fat or fat-free foods have just as many calories as the full-fat versions of the same foods — or even more calories. These foods may contain added refined flour, salt, starch, or sugar to improve flavor and texture after fat is removed. These items add calories.  

Tip: Read the Nutrition Facts on a food package to find out how many calories are in a serving. Check the serving size, too — it may be less than you are used to eating.  

Myth 11. Fast foods are always an unhealthy choice, and you should not eat them when dieting 

Many fast foods are unhealthy and may affect weight gain. However, if you do eat fast food, choose menu options with care. Both at home and away, choose healthy foods that are nutrient-rich and appropriate in portion size.  

Tip: To choose healthy options, check the Nutrition Facts. These are often offered on the menu or on restaurant websites. And know that the nutrition facts often do not include sauces and extras. Try these tips: 

  • Avoid “value” combo meals, which tend to have more calories than you need in one meal. 
  • Choose fresh fruit items or yogurt for dessert. 
  • Limit your use of toppings that are high in fat and calories, like bacon, cheese, regular mayonnaise, salad dressings, and tartar sauce. 
  • Pick steamed or baked items over fried ones. 
  • Sip on water or tea instead of soda.  

Myth 12. Eating healthy food costs too much 

Eating better does not have to cost a lot of money. Many people think that fresh foods are healthier than canned or frozen ones. For example, some people think that raw spinach is better for you than frozen or canned. However, canned, or frozen fruits and veggies provide as many nutrients as fresh ones, at a lower cost.  

Healthy options include low-salt canned veggies and fruit canned in its own juice or water-packed. Remember to rinse canned veggies to remove excess salt and canned fruits to remove excess sugar. Frozen fruits and vegetables often have no other ingredients and are ready to use.  

Also, some canned seafood, like tuna, is easy to keep on the shelf, healthy, and low-cost. And canned, dried, or frozen beans, lentils, and peas are also healthy sources of protein that are easy on the wallet. 

Tip: Check the Nutrition Facts on canned, dried, and frozen items. Look for items that are high in calcium, fiber, potassium, protein, and vitamin D. Also check for items that are low in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium.  

Myth 13. Eating meat is bad for my health and makes it harder to lose weight 

Eating lean meat in small amounts can be part of a healthy plan to lose weight. Chicken, fish, pork, and red meat contain healthy nutrients like iron, protein, and zinc. 

Tip: Mostly consume leaner cuts of meat. Meats that are lower in fat include chicken breast, pork loin and beef round steak, flank steak, and extra lean ground beef. Also, watch portion size. Try to eat meat or poultry in portions of 3 ounces or less. Three ounces is about the size of a deck of cards. 

Source: The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services