Top 9 myths on health, supplements & nutrition for professionals

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Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, TV and many other media are buzzing with nutrition news nowadays. On Instagram alone, 75 million+ posts are shared with #diet and 60 million+ with #nutrition. A lot of this information is untrue. 

It is essential to identify and fact-check questionable information. A lot of bloggers, athletes, doctors and even nutritionists are under pressure to be visible on social media. This forces them to pump out daily information snippets, which are often incomplete and wrong. 

Here are nine common myths about nutrition and health supplements. Let’s debunk them.   

Common myths vs facts about nutrition & diet

  • Avoid carbs for weight loss: “You should avoid eating rice to lose weight”. Unfortunately, we hear this more often than not among overweight and obese individuals. 

Our bodies need a certain amount of energy to breathe, digest food, stay warm, think, and perform a few essential functions for survival. The energy required for all these processes (Metabolic energy or Resting Metabolic Rate [RMR]) is primarily supplied through carbohydrates in the human body. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend daily consumption of 45-65% of carbohydrate calories in healthy adults. Do not avoid carbs if you are trying to lose weight. Instead, do the math or consult a nutritionist to figure out the amount of carbs required in your diet.

  • Fruit juices are healthy: There is some truth to this. After all, you are drinking fruits, right? Let’s take a step back and think about this. 

Why do you eat fruits? Because you get fibre, vitamins, minerals, natural sugars, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and other good stuff. When you put the fruit through a mixer, it starts losing some vitamins and antioxidants. When you filter the juice, you lose fibre from the pulp and peel, along with many micronutrients.

Finally, natural sugars are slowly released into your body when you eat fruit. When you sip the juice, you consume it much faster. Less fibre and quick sips can lead to an insulin surge as a response to sugar surge in your body. On top, most of the vendors add additional sugars to fruit juices. All this can lead to food cravings throughout the rest of the day. 

So the next time you crave fruit juice, opt for an actual fruit instead.

  • Cooking with olive oil is better than other oils: Olive oil is healthy, no doubt about it. But so is peanut oil or sunflower oil. The actual amount of processing determines how healthy a particular oil is. 

Olive oil is touted for its flavonoids and anti-inflammatory ingredients. However, you lose most of these goodies when cooking or deep frying at high temperatures. Using oils with high smoke points (Peanut oil, Sunflower oil, Sesame oil) is a more sensible option when cooking at high temperatures. 

In general, try to minimise oil consumption and choose natural fats. When consuming oils, choose less processed and cold-pressed options. Choose recipes that require cooking at low and medium temperatures.

  • Idli and Dosa are excellent probiotic sources: Let’s first understand what probiotics are. Probiotics (also called Gut bacteria, as most of them reside in your gut) are a group of live microorganisms beneficial to the human body. 

Generally, probiotics are found in fermented foods and drinks such as curd/yoghurt, kombucha, kefir, and kimchi. 

Now, many falsely believe that dosa and idli are excellent sources of probiotics. Many blogs and social media posts support this untrue claim. While dosa and idli batter might be rich in probiotics, all the healthy bacteria die at cooking temperatures. 

  • Nuts are great for weight loss: Nuts are high in fibre, antioxidants, omega-3 fats, vitamins and many other good things. But they are also high in calories. Nuts are calorie-dense foods and can contain 5-7 calories per gram. A handful of nuts can have 150-250 calories. 

So the next time you pop in a couple of nuts or add them to your favourite dishes, be a little mindful of the calories. All that said, when consumed in moderation, nuts are one of the healthiest sources of fat and are incredibly nourishing.     

  • Calcium Supplements are essential for bone health: There is a widespread belief that popping calcium pills is necessary to increase/maintain bone health. 

First things first, without physical exercise or movement, bones naturally lose more calcium as you age. So the foremost thing to do is get moving.

Second, many healthy foods are rich in calcium. Leafy greens like spinach, kale, kenaf (gongura), beans, nuts, and dairy products are rich in calcium. Consuming them in healthy portions has many other benefits, along with adequate calcium intake.

  • Fibre supplements are an alternative to high-fibre plant foods: Fibre supplements are definitely not an alternative to high-fibre plant foods. Here’s why. 

Plant foods don’t just have high fibre. They are high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, along with unprocessed & natural carbs, proteins, and fats. All this makes them low-glycemic, low-calorie, and highly nutritious foods overall. 

In addition, fibre consumption has to be balanced with water consumption. If not, the side effects can include bloating, gas and constipation. So unless a Certified nutritionist recommends it, do not opt for fibre supplements. Or simply adopt a plant-based diet to get adequate dietary fibre. 

  • Whey protein promotes weight loss: Whey protein is similar to any other food, just rich in protein. Consuming whey protein alone does not promote weight loss. 

If you are overweight or obese, maintaining a healthy calorie deficit and performing adequate levels of physical activity is essential. 0.8 - 1.2 g protein for every Kg of body weight is generally recommended for healthy adults. 

Consult a certified nutritionist to determine the ideal protein requirement for your weight loss. Then decide whether or not you would need a protein supplement based on your regular diet.

  • Doctors know the best diet for you: Certified doctors are undoubtedly experts in their practice. However, you wouldn’t ask an orthopedist to perform open-heart surgery. Nor would you ask a cardiologist to operate on kidneys.

While doctors get around 25 hours of nutrition education throughout their five years of med school in India, nutritionists undergo 1000+ hours of practical experience in the relevant clinical setting before getting certified. So the next time you want to talk about your diet, consult a certified nutritionist or dietician, not a general physician.

What is the importance of good nutrition/diet?

What you eat affects your physical and mental health. Your strength, stamina, mood, sleep, and overall quality of life can depend on what you eat, how much, and when. 

Food Journalist and Author Michael Pollan summarised it the best. “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

  • "Eat food" refers to eating the most natural and least processed foods.
  • "Not too much" refers to maintaining moderate appetite by just following cultural practices and mindfulness.
  • "Mostly plants" refer to consuming a plant-based diet regularly.

A note on Supplements

Supplements under professional supervision can do wonders to our health. At the same time, supplement overdose can have severe side effects and sometimes can lead to death. Be extremely cautious and always consult your doctor before taking any supplements.  

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In closing

Some takeaways to consider:

  • Do not believe in cure-all products or services. There are no magic pills. 
  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and a healthy diet. There are no shortcuts to health. 
  • Make sure your information source is legitimate. Follow institutions like NIN, WHO, FDA, and USDA for nutrition, health, and wellness guidance. Use common sense to identify false and baseless claims.  
  • If someone is trying to sell you something, ask for further details. Check for government approvals. Do your research before adopting a product or a practice.  
  • We all appreciate good health. But it doesn’t have to come at the cost of our anxiety.

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