Untangling the misleading myths about nutrition to find the truth about dieting

Depending on the source of information, you may notice numerous contradictions when it comes to nutrition and dieting. One article might explain why you should eat two bananas a day, while an exercise-and-health “influencer” may encourage you, instead, to ditch the yellow fruit altogether.

Fallacies about diet and nutrition abound. Some nutritional myths may be influenced by diet culture; others may be the result of poor research that has focused on the wrong variables.

Sarah Adler, MS, RDN, LDN, performance dietitian at UCLA Health Sports Performance powered by Exos, said that many falsehoods about nutrition spread because people are getting their information from unreliable sources.

“You want to make sure you’re getting information from credible nutrition research,” she said. “You want to make sure the people you’re talking to have the proper letters and certifications after their names. If you’re getting tips from an online nutrition coach, make sure they are an actual registered dietitian.”

Common myths associated with nutrition

Adler said some of the biggest nutritional fables stem from arguments about which diet is the best.

“The biggest myths I see are associated with the many types of diets that are out there,” she said. “Everyone is trying to hop on the fad-diet train: gluten-free diets, keto diets, intermittent fasting. Those are the popular ones, but no diet is one-size-fits-all.”

Many people who go on these diets develop what Adler calls “restrictive” behaviors; they eliminate certain foods without understanding that they are nutritionally beneficial. Not only can this behavior be unhealthy, Adler says, it is not sustainable for the long term.

Wait, carbs are good?

Another erroneous notion about nutrition is that carbohydrates are de facto bad. Not true, Adler said. Carbs are, in fact, essential for a balanced, healthy diet. The difference comes down to the source of the carbs. Carbs from such foods as white bread and products with refined sugar are your quick-digesting carbs that play a role prior to and during exercise. Fiber-rich carbs from whole grains, beans, and starchy vegetables are slow-digesting carbs and should make up the majority of carbohydrate intake.

“I liken carbohydrates to the fuel you put in a car,” Adler said. “While protein is essential for maintaining the integrity of the car, it’s the carbohydrates that keep us going. We have to take a step back from some of the faulty information we’re receiving from social and some mainstream media and, instead, understand the function that carbohydrates and glycogen (which is stored in the form of glucose and is the body’s main source of energy) play in the body.”

In addition to being a source of energy, carbs also play an essential role in brain function. “Once carbohydrates are broken down in the body, glucose goes to the brain as the preferred energy source to keep you focused and prevent brain fog,” Adler said.

Making sure you’re on the right diet

Individuals wishing to improve their eating habits are advised to first speak with their physician and have lab tests to ensure they have no vitamin or iron deficiencies that need to be addressed. People should also visit a registered dietitian to determine the best personalized diet to achieve their goals, rather than relying on uncertified third-party sources.

“It’s important to connect with a dietitian who can work with you and understands your nutritional needs,” Adler says. “We have the background in nutrition epidemiology to interpret the ever-changing nutrition research that is out there.”

Get an individualized assessment from our team of performance specialists and dietitians. Reach out to your primary care physician for more information on weight management.