In the age of information abundance (overload may be more accurate), it is hard to believe at face value everything that is floating around on the Internet as factual and truthful. Then, take it a step further and see which industries and markets have it worse, and a top the chart multiple nutritional myths exist, as they are powerful as ever before in 2020.
Given the advancements of instantaneous social media platforms and dependence of a select few mainstream networks, all it takes is a single tweet or post for inaccurate nutrition information to start circulating and get shared with millions of people online as there is no absolute central authority on health. And, what many truths most miss when spreading their health insights and analysis, is that not one size fits all and people require different environments and have varying needs. This can have dangerous side effects, spiraling out of control quick where one message gets construed into another and before you know it the original story isn't verbatim let alone similar to the basic principle that was shared first. This ripple effect is especially prevalent in the middle of a meme culture who loves to illustrate public's pain points in a variety of humorous, often dark ways of conveying a stereotype or ‘hidden' truth.
One problematic study can discredit years of research. It is not even all that uncommon in 2020 for a single health ‘guru' having a bigger online audience and trusting followers than someone with a master’s degree in nutrition. This is the wellness world we live in today and needs to be addressed properly in 2020 and beyond if we are going to make lemonade out of lemons together or be at odds about potentially life-changing, body-enhancing information.
That’s why it’s more important than ever to bust the top 2020 nutrition myths first. As the saying goes, appropriately debunking today's dietary illusions can begin the cleansing process of ‘out with the old, in with the new' so we can all get on the same page and start aging gracefully, naturally.
Today, we’re highlighting some of the worst nutrition myths moving into 2020 and what the most recent research has to say about each of these fictional wellness fantasies.
- 1 Myth 1: Carbs Are Public Enemy #1
- 2 Myth 2: Fats Make You Fat and Are Bad for You
- 3 Myth 3: Eggs, Eggs and More Eggs – You Shouldn’t Eat Too Many Eggs
- 4 Myth 4: You Need to Take Dietary Supplements to Stay Healthy
- 5 Myth 5: Nutrients Aren’t Always Better in Food Form
- 6 Myth 6: Fresh Foods Have More Nutrients
- 7 Myth 7: Natural and Organic Foods Are Always Healthier
- 8 Myth 8: Always Eat Clean
- 9 Myth 9: Your Body Needs to Regularly Detox
- 10 Myth 10: You Need to Juice Cleanse
- 11 Myth 11: You Need to Eat Many Small Meals Throughout the Day to Boost Metabolism
- 12 Myth 12: Breakfast is the Most Important Meal of the Day
- 13 Myth 13: Eating Before Bed Makes You Fat
- 14 Myth 14: Fasted Cardio is Best for Weight Loss
- 15 Myth 15: Creatine Increases Testosterone
- 16 Myth 16: Creatine Leads to Hair Loss and Kidney Damage
- 17 Myth 17: Reducing Salt Intake Lowers the Risk of Heart Attacks and Strokes
- 18 Myth 18: Whole Wheat is Crucial for a Balanced Diet
- 19 Myth 19: Coffee is Bad for You and Should Be Avoided
- 20 Myth 20: Always Take Protein Immediately After a Workout
- 21 Why Do Nutrition Myths Persist?
Myth 1: Carbs Are Public Enemy #1
Carbs have been demonized for years. Originally, fat was the enemy for diet gurus. Now, carbs are the enemy.
Today, you’ll find plenty of people online arguing that the glycemic index and insulin index rank foods by their unhealthiness. However, available research shows that low-glycemic diets and high-glycemic diets have limited correlation with metabolic syndrome factors even in diabetics. A low-glycemic diet doesn’t always lead to better glycemic control than other diet patterns. Don’t be afraid to eat more carbs – your body needs them.
Fact: Your body needs carbs, and high-glycemic food diets have limited correlation with metabolic syndrome.
Myth 2: Fats Make You Fat and Are Bad for You
This myth has become increasingly dated in recent years. However, many of us still automatically think that fats in food = fat on our bodies. In reality, shunning all fat from your diet is actually dangerous. Your body needs to consume at least some amount of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
You may have heard that saturated fat is bad for your health, or that saturated fat leads to cardiovascular disease. A recent study, however, showed that saturated fat is not the main driver of cardiovascular disease. It’s just another myth. Trans fats, however, have been repeatedly shown to be bad for your health.
Above all, a high-fat or low-fat diet may not lead to the weight loss you expect. Research shows that a low-fat diet won’t make you lose weight if you stay in a caloric surplus, and that a low-fat diet will be bad for you if you don’t have enough omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids. At the same time, high-fat diets (like certain keto diets) can negatively impact cardiovascular health.
Fact: Fats aren’t always bad for you and shunning all fat from your diet is dangerous.
Myth 3: Eggs, Eggs and More Eggs – You Shouldn’t Eat Too Many Eggs
Eggs have been vilified for decades. It’s no secret that egg yolks are high in cholesterol. But does that really mean you should limit cholesterol intake?
Yes, foods high in cholesterol can increase LDL cholesterol in most people, but the effect is relatively small. Moreover, certain bioactive compounds in egg yolks can interfere with cholesterol absorption. That’s one possible reason why multiple studies have failed to find a correlation between egg consumption and high cholesterol.
Meanwhile, clinical trials have found no association between eggs and cardiovascular disease except for those who “hyper respond” to dietary cholesterol.
Ultimately, eggs are an excellent source of protein, fats, and other nutrients. You shouldn’t eat too much of anything – including eggs – although the link between eggs and cardiovascular disease has been significantly overblown.
Fact: Research suggests that there’s limited connection between normal daily egg intake and cholesterol problems or heart disease.
Myth 4: You Need to Take Dietary Supplements to Stay Healthy
Spend a few minutes looking at nutritional supplement labels and you’ll discover how many supplements make enormous promises. Supplements claim to cure just about every problem. Want to lose weight? Take a diet pill. Want to supercharge testosterone levels? Take a test booster.
However, most nutritional supplements are supported by limited evidence. One third of Americans, for example, take a multivitamin or mineral supplement, and yet there’s no evidence that taking a multivitamin increases your life expectancy.
Yes, nutritional supplements may support your health in some ways, but they’re not an instant cure-all. Some supplements contain unlisted ingredients. Others contain the right ingredients – but not in a form your body can easily absorb.
Supplements can certainly be beneficial. In fact, some doctors recommend supplements to target certain health goals. However, it’s important to rely on science-based, clinically-researched nutritional supplements and not junk science supplements.
Fact: Many supplements are backed by junk science and have little evidence supporting their benefits.
Myth 5: Nutrients Aren’t Always Better in Food Form
We’ve established that certain supplements aren’t always good. But does that mean you should be getting your nutrients from whole foods? Well, not necessarily.
Yes, whole foods can be healthy for you. However, there’s limited science showing that our body absorbs the ingredients in whole foods better than we absorb the ingredients in supplements.
In fact, some nutrients are absorbed much better in supplement form. The curcumin in turmeric, for example, is best absorbed by your body when taken in liposomal form or supplemented with piperine. On its own, your body cannot absorb the curcumin in turmeric very well.
Vitamin K1 is also more bioavailable in supplement form. In its natural form, vitamin K1 is tightly bound to the membranes in plants. Similarly, folic acid (the supplement form of vitamin B9) is more bioavailable than naturally-occurring folate (the vitamin B9 found in foods).
Fact: Foods are not always a superior source of vitamins than supplements.
Myth 6: Fresh Foods Have More Nutrients
So many food companies emphasize the word “fresh”. Today, many people assume “fresh” and “healthy” are the same thing. It just sounds better than words like “canned’ or “frozen”.
However, just because food is fresh does not mean it’s more nutritious. In fact, fresh produce may not even be what you think it is. Fresh produce is defined by anything that is “postharvest ripened” (ripened during transport) or “vine ripened” (picked and sold ripe).
Frozen produce, meanwhile, is generally vine ripened before undergoing minimal processing prior to freezing. Food manufacturers might blanch the produce in hot water to inactive enzymes that would cause unfavorable changes in color, flavor, and smell, for example. Aside from this minimal processing, frozen produce tends to be virtually identical to fresh produce in terms of nutritional content.
Canned produce, on the other hand, is usually vine ripened (like frozen produce), although it can undergo a lot more processing. The processing for canned produce can break down essential nutrients like nitrates, changing the nutritional value of the produce significantly. Salt and sugar may also be added as preservatives. However, for many fruits and vegetables, canned produce is perfectly fine.
Fact: Fresh and frozen produce are very similar (nutritionally speaking). Canned produce may have slightly different nutritional content, but it’s still an efficient way to add whole fruits and vegetables to your diet.
Myth 7: Natural and Organic Foods Are Always Healthier
The move towards organic and natural foods has been enormous in recent years. Despite what labels want you to think, foods labeled “natural”, “all natural”, or “100% natural” are not always healthier. In fact, many of these labels don’t mean what you think they mean.
With meat, for example, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) must approve each label claim – including labels for “natural”, “no hormones” and “no antibiotics”. However, manufacturers can use the word “natural” with fewer requirements: a meat is labeled “natural” if it’s minimally processed and contains no artificial ingredients, for example, including chemical preservatives and artificial flavoring or color.
Speaking of antibiotics and hormones, meat can still be labeled “no hormones” and “no antibiotics” by the USDA even if it received hormones and antibiotics. These USDA labels only certify the meat as being antibiotic and hormone-free after it became a food product (i.e. once it becomes milk or meat). The USDA does not concern itself with hormones and antibiotics given before it became a food product.
Other food labels are governed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA, however, does not currently have a strict definition for the word “natural” on food products. Today, the FDA considers any food “natural” if nothing artificial or synthetic would be added to it that would not normally be expected to be there or in that food.”
Essentially, this means that any foods with artificial flavors or dyes cannot be labeled as natural. However, this definition does not consider food processing or manufacturing methods. “Less natural” food production methods, like the use of genetic engineering, genetic modification, pesticides, or specific animal husbandry practices, are not considered for this label.
Fact: Neither the USDAS nor the FDA has a strict definition for “natural”, and food labels like “all natural” do not necessarily mean the food is healthier for you.
Myth 8: Always Eat Clean
Check any diet advice website and you’ll see people enthuse about the importance of eating clean. The first problem with eating clean is that there isn’t really a strict definition for what eating clean means.
For some people, eating clean means only eating fresh, raw, natural, organic foods. For others, it means eating fruits and vegetables that are free of pesticides. For others, it’s following a vegan diet or shunning certain animal food sources.
Many people consider plant-based food diets (i.e. veganism) to be “clean” diets. Research supports the idea that vegans and vegetarians tend to be healthier than other eaters (although vegans and vegetarians also tend to exercise more and neither drink nor smoke excessively, which can skew these results). Vegans also tend to get suboptimal amounts of crucial nutrients, including L-carnitine and vitamin B12. Smart vegans take these nutrients in supplement form. Overall, some vegans seem to be healthier than non-vegans but not others.
Others consider raw food diets to be “clean” diets. Diet gurus will tell you that cooking food “denatures” the ingredients within the food. However, this isn’t really true. Raw milk, for example, can contain harmful bacteria, and raw eggs contain a protein called avidin that can lead to biotin deficiency. It’s true that cooking a vegetable can reduce its nitrate content (which is bad), although cooking also increases a vegetable’s oxalate content (which is good). Ultimately, there’s no overall rule stating that raw food diets are cleaner or healthier than cooked food diets.
Some people say organic food diets are the cleanest diets. However, multiple studies have failed to connect good health with organic food diets. Furthermore, many organic foods just trade one bad ingredient for another: they lack chemicals, for example, but contain dangerous levels of heavy metals. This 2018 test of organic and non-organic protein powders, for example, found that the organic powders had about half the amount of BPA (an industrial chemical) but twice the amount of heavy metals.
Finally, others argue that clean eating involves eating pesticide-free fruits and vegetables. That sounds good in theory – until you realize that pesticide on produce is a virtually non-existent issue. The Pesticide Data Program launched by the USDA, for example, has found that the vast majority of food on the market contains either no detectable residues of pesticides. The foods that did contain pesticides contained residues below the tolerable limits set by the EPA. Even in these low amounts, the pesticides can still have problematic physiological effects, however, so pesticide-free is always the way to go – although it may not be the issue you think it is.
Fact: There’s no specific definition for “clean eating”, and various “clean eating” diets – like pesticide-free or vegan diets – are far from perfect.
Myth 9: Your Body Needs to Regularly Detox
Health gurus on Instagram love to tell you about the importance of a detox. But few studies support the use of detox diets for general health.
A typical detox diet could involve a juice cleanse. In recent years, there has been a surge of detox teas and detox supplements. These supplements claim to cleanse your body of all harmful toxins, leaving you feeling clean and healthy.
But what toxins do detox supplements actually eliminate? This 2009 investigation of ten detox supplement companies found that companies couldn’t name a single toxin eliminated by any of their fifteen cleansing products. These companies toss around words like “toxins” without actually being able to define what they mean.
If your body was overloaded with toxins, then it would be a medical emergency. Your body is naturally designed to handle toxins. Your liver, kidney, lungs, and other organs work literally 24/7 to remove harmful substances from your body.
Furthermore, your body’s natural detoxification processes are hindered by low-calorie diets – like a juice cleanse. Your body works best when it’s well-fed. Your body and all its organs are weakened by calorie-deficient diets. You might try to cleanse your body, only to end up sick because your body cannot fight off a basic infection.
Making things worse for detox supplements is that many of them actually harm your body. Studies have shown that green smoothies can lead to kidney damage, for example, or that detox teas can lead to liver failure.
Part of the problem is that detox diets trick people into thinking they worked. If you deprive your body of calories for a day or more, then you’ll probably lose a few pounds. The sudden loss of weight can trick you into thinking your body has removed its toxins. It’s a placebo effect.
Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with detoxifying from synthetic foods, processed foods, alcohol, and other harmful ingredients. However, it’s easy to go overboard with a detox diet and do more harm than good.
Fact: Detox diets aren’t necessary and could be dangerous, although a well-planned detox diet with optimal caloric intake could have some benefits.
Myth 10: You Need to Juice Cleanse
Juice can be very good for you. It’s packed with nutrients. By condensing dozens of fruits and vegetables into an easily-consumable form, you’re getting a substantial amount of crucial vitamins, minerals, and more.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean juice cleanses are always healthy. The study linked above, for example, showed that the popular “green smoothie cleanse” can cause “acute oxalate nephropathy”, which is a fancy word for kidney disease.
Juices are also rich with certain nutrients but not others. By only extracting the juice of fruits and vegetables, for example, you’re not getting the high fiber content of those fruits and vegetables. Fiber is crucial for a healthy diet.
Plus, not everyone has access to a juice press. Some people drink grocery store orange juice or fruit juice for their juice cleanse. These juices are often packed with sugars that can do more harm than good.
Fact: Good juice can be packed with phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals, although relying exclusively on juice for your nutrients may not be a good idea.
Myth 11: You Need to Eat Many Small Meals Throughout the Day to Boost Metabolism
This myth has been persistent for years. Some health gurus recommend eating 6+ smaller meals throughout the day to “keep your metabolism buzzing”. As with many myths here, there’s some truth – but also a lot of falsehood.
Digestion does raise your metabolism a little bit. However, the size of the meal plays a crucial role. People who eat three large meals per day, for example, have fewer spikes in metabolism but those spikes are larger. People who eat six smaller meals per day have more spikes in metabolism but the spikes are smaller.
Studies show that eating six smaller meals per day makes it constantly harder to feel full, leading to increased food intake. Meanwhile, this study showed that if you’re eating the same number of calories, then it doesn’t matter how many meals per day you eat in terms of weight loss.
Fact: Eating six smaller meals per day is no different than eating three large meals per day, and meal frequency has little to no impact on weight (assuming total caloric intake is the same).
Myth 12: Breakfast is the Most Important Meal of the Day
We’ve heard about the importance of breakfast for years. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. You should never skip breakfast. Today, the breakfast debate continues to be a huge point of contention without the health community.
Some studies show that people who skip breakfast have a higher BMI, for example, and that people who skip breakfast ultimately eat more calories later in the day.
Other studies, however, show that some people just shouldn’t eat breakfast. In this study published in Appetite in 2017, for example, 49 women who were non-habitual breakfast eaters were randomly told to either eat breakfast or not eat breakfast. The women who were forced to eat breakfast gained nearly two pounds over the four week period.
Some people also claim that skipping breakfast can cause metabolism to plummet. However, skipping breakfast does not appear to inherently slow your resting metabolic rate (RMR) as seen in this study.
Fact: Ultimately, the verdict remains undecided on skipping breakfast. However, it appears that the importance of breakfast has been overhyped, to say the least.
Myth 13: Eating Before Bed Makes You Fat
Diet gurus love to tell you not to eat before bed. As with other myths on this list, there’s some truth to this rule but also some misinformation.
This study, for example, showed that early eaters tend to have a slight advantage over late eaters in terms of weight loss, although it wasn’t a huge difference.
The real problem with eating before bed is in the increased caloric intake. If you’re tired at night, then you might have a snack to stay awake. You keep your body awake, and you end up eating more than you otherwise would have.
Fact: Increasing caloric intake will make you fat but eating late at night does not have a significant impact on weight loss when calories are equal.
Myth 14: Fasted Cardio is Best for Weight Loss
Fasted cardio has been trendy in the weight loss space in recent years. The idea goes that if you do cardio on an empty stomach, you’ll lose more weight.
The truth is that it varies between forms of cardio. If you are doing HIIT, sprints, or heavy lifting, for example, then you should eat one or two hours before exercise or else you’ll underperform. Meanwhile, if you’re engaging in moderate cardio (like jogging or cycling), then energy expenditure is about the same whether you’re fasting or fed.
Here’s another fact: when exercising in a fasted state, your body will burn more body fat. Your body needs to get energy from somewhere, and it will use its existing fat stores. However, that doesn’t mean it’s easier for you to use body fat as fuel during the rest of the day (when you’re fed). Plus, your body also burns muscle in this state (although you may grow it back faster afterward). Ultimately, the effects seem to balance out over the course of the whole day.
Fact: There’s very little difference between cardio in a fed or fasted state in terms of fat loss and daily caloric intake, and it’s up to you to find your personal preference. Some people feel energized when doing fasted cardio, while others feel light-headed and sluggish.
Myth 15: Creatine Increases Testosterone
Creatine is one of the world’s most popular athletic supplements. Countless studies have shown that creatine can enhance muscle growth and build strength. However, there are some unusual prevailing myths about creatine and how it works.
First, let’s talk about the real way creatine works. Creatine helps you exercise harder by making it easier for your cells to regenerate adenosine triphosphate (ADP), which is a source of energy.
But does creatine really increase testosterone? This myth is traced back to three studies involving a total of 60 male participants. In these studies – including this one published in 2009 – men experienced a small but statistically significant increase in testosterone after taking doses of 5g to 25g of creatine. However, in dozens of other studies, creatine has had no significant impact on male testosterone levels.
Fact: Creatine has increased testosterone in three small studies, although most studies show limited connection between creatine supplementation and testosterone levels.
Myth 16: Creatine Leads to Hair Loss and Kidney Damage
There’s another unusual myth about creatine: that taking too much creatine can lead to hair loss. This myth appears to be linked to this study involving 20 healthy male rugby players taking creatine. The rugby players experienced a small but significant increase in DHT after taking a creatine supplement for 21 days. DHT is linked to hair loss.
To date, this single study (again, involving 20 men) is the only study that measured creatine’s effect on DHT. Dozens of other studies, however, have shown that creatine has no impact on testosterone.
Ultimately, more research needs to be done to confirm the effects of creatine, testosterone, and DHT. It’s possible that creatine could not significantly increase testosterone yet significantly increase DHT, which could link it to hair loss. Since only one specific study has been performed to date, we have no further evidence.
As for the kidney damage myth, there have been dozens of studies showing no connection between creatine and kidney damage. In fact, researchers have even performed studies on people with suboptimal kidney function. People in this study, for example, were asked to take up to 5g of creatine per day and experienced no major side effects.
Blood levels of creatinine (not creatine) are used to indicate kidney function. Creatinine is a by-product of energy production. However, higher levels of creatinine (as caused by supplemental creatine) are not a sign that your kidneys will underperform.
Short and long-term studies have been done on people taking up to 10g of creatine per day with no adverse side effects. However, true long-term studies on large human populations are rare, so it’s still possible that creatine could damage kidneys.
Fact: Creatine is extensively researched and most studies show creatine has no impact on hair loss or kidney function.
Myth 17: Reducing Salt Intake Lowers the Risk of Heart Attacks and Strokes
Many people were surprised to see this myth debunked. You may have heard that sodium-rich foods and high salt diets reduce cardiovascular health, increasing your blood pressure and raising the risk of heart attacks and strokes. There’s some truth and falsehood to this myth.
First, lowering salt can reduce blood pressure by 1-5 mm/Hg on average. That’s good. Reducing your blood pressure can lower your risk of cardiovascular events.
However, lowering salt does not seem to have any impact on heart attacks, strokes, or death.
Certain people – including those with salt-sensitive hypertension – are an exception to this rule. However, the idea that everyone should cut out all salt intake immediately to save their cardiovascular health is a myth.
Fact: There’s surprisingly limited evidence connecting salt with cardiovascular health, and new studies indicate that salt does not reduce heart attacks and strokes.
Myth 18: Whole Wheat is Crucial for a Balanced Diet
Whole wheat is generally thought to be healthier for you. This myth is more interesting than many people realize because it seemed to be true for decades until they changed the genetic makeup of wheat.
Starting in the 1960s, food manufacturers started tampering with the genetics of wheat. Decades later, this has led to wheat that is significantly less nutritious than older varieties of wheat.
Today’s wheat isn’t just less nutritious: it could also be dangerous. Studies have shown that modern wheat can increase cholesterol levels and inflammatory markers, for example. Other studies have connected wheat with pain, bloating, tiredness, and other issues.
Some older varieties of wheat – including einkorn and kamut varieties – continue to provide the benefits of ‘old’ wheat. New varieties of wheat, however, do not seem to be healthy even when following the “whole wheat” label.
Fact: The wheat most people are eating today is unhealthy and could increase cholesterol and inflammation.
Myth 19: Coffee is Bad for You and Should Be Avoided
Health gurus might tell you that coffee is bad for you because of its high caffeine content. However, studies have shown that coffee has powerful health benefits.
First, coffee is the biggest source of antioxidants for most western diets. The average person following a western diet gets more antioxidants from coffee than from fruits and vegetables combined.
Studies also show that coffee can reduce the risk of depression, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other conditions. Some studies have shown that coffee drinkers live longer than non-coffee drinkers.
Fact: Coffee is linked to various powerful health benefits. Despite being perceived as unhealthy, coffee is loaded with antioxidants, and certain studies have shown that coffee drinkers live longer than non-coffee-drinkers.
Myth 20: Always Take Protein Immediately After a Workout
Your body uses protein to repair its muscles. During a workout, you damage your muscles. Protein builds these muscles back, making them bigger and stronger. Therefore, it seems natural you would want to take protein after a workout.
Health gurus will also talk about something called the “anabolic window”, which is the window of opportunity after a workout during which your muscles are more sensitive to the anabolic (i.e. building) effects of protein.
The idea of an “anabolic window” and post-workout protein shake is more controversial than many people realize. Your total daily protein intake seems far more important than specific post-workout protein intake.
What is true is that if you were exercising on an empty stomach, your body is in a negative protein balance, which means you’ll want to take your dose of protein as soon as possible. If you ate before your workout, however, then you should be able to take your protein within the next couple hours – not immediately after the workout.
Fact: You need protein after a workout but taking it within two hours of working out should be fine (assuming you weren’t fasting before your workout). Your total daily protein consumption is just as important as specific protein intake.
Why Do Nutrition Myths Persist?
It’s 2020. We have more information at our fingertips than any point in human history. Why do these myths prevail? Why do so many health gurus continue to shout nonsense from every platform?
Part of the problem is that nutrition science isn’t perfect. Many of the studies linked above had just 20 to 40 participants.
The myth connecting creatine to hair loss, for example, stems from a study involving 20 male rugby players. To date, it’s the only study connecting creatine to DHT, which is a key biomarker for hair loss. Dozens of other studies have shown no connection between creatine and hair loss, yet this study – again, involving 20 men – continues to build myths today.
Another problem is social media. Few people want to take the time to comb through dozens of nutrition journals and compare the results of different studies. Instead, they want to look at an image that sums up all of this research in a few simple sentences.
Whatever the problem may be, it’s clear that nutrition myths will continue to persist into 2020 and beyond.