by Michael Bannach, M.D.; Scripps Clinic, Encinitas

Five Nutrition Myths Busted

scripps_bannachDon’t let nutrition myths sabotage your health goals, whether those are losing weight, having more energy, or getting more exercise.

Don’t eat after 8 p.m.
The theory is that you burn up the food you eat earlier in the day, while calories eaten at night sit in your system and turn into fat.

In reality, calories can’t tell time, and your body uses calories the same way morning, noon, and night. If those late-night calories are not burned while you watch TV or sleep, they will be the next day once you start moving. That said, make sure you are not snacking late at night because you are tired and have mistaken fatigue for hunger. How much you eat and what you eat is far more important than when you eat it.

If I exercise, I should take a protein supplement or protein shake.
While it is true that when exercising, particularly at a high intensity, you need to make sure you eat enough protein for your muscles to grow and repair, most people, even athletes, can get all the protein they need by eating sources of lean protein, such as meat, fish, chicken, and dairy products. In some specific instances, protein powders may be useful for an ordinary athlete, such as for a teenager who is growing, when you are recovering from an injury, when you are increasing your workouts (such as training for a half-marathon) or if you are going vegan. Be careful, though, as it doesn’t take much protein to achieve these goals and overloading can be hard on your kidneys and liver.

A gluten-free diet is healthier.
Unless you have a legitimate reason to eliminate gluten from your diet, such as celiac disease, you can eat gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. While gluten itself doesn’t offer special nutritional benefits, many whole grains that contain gluten do, so before eliminating gluten, get tested if you think you may have an issue.

Sugar should not be in my diet.
All types of sugar – including fructose, sucrose, maltose, and lactose – are broken down in our bodies into glucose, which our cells use for energy. Some of these sugars, such as fructose and lactose, occur naturally in fruits, vegetables, and other foods. But many of the foods we love contain added sugars, usually to enhance flavor, and these added sugars have been cited as contributors to many health problems. The most common sources of added sugars include soft drinks, cakes, pies, fruit drinks, and chocolate. A rule of thumb is that sugar should always be accompanied by as many nutrients as possible, and added sugar should be avoided.

Vegetarian and vegan diets are healthier.
A vegetarian or vegan diet can certainly be healthy, but it depends on what foods are being eaten. Technically, eating a diet of cheese and chocolate would be vegetarian, but not healthy. Avoiding meat and dairy products eliminates the saturated fat and health issues from overeating fatty meats and high-fat dairy, but vegan and vegetarian diets are only healthier if you replace the meat and dairy with healthy alternatives. What is true of vegetarian and vegan diets is that they are generally environmentally friendly and more sustainable than a diet heavy in meat.

Michael Bannach, M.D., is a family medicine physician providing comprehensive primary care at Scripps Clinic, Encinitas. When not seeing patients, Dr. Bannach enjoys running, traveling, and scuba diving.

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