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11 nutrition myths busted by registered dietitians

A woman in her kitchen reading about 10 nutrition myths

When it comes to nutrition, most of us know the basics: eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and focus on lean proteins and whole grains. But with new diet trends and nutrition research coming out all the time, it can be tough to separate fact from fad. 

Registered dietitians have years of experience working with individuals to develop effective eating plans. They also stay on top of the latest health and nutrition research to make sure their advice is accurate.

 We sat down with registered dietitians from TELUS Health MyCare to set the record straight on some common nutrition myths. Here are their top 11 myths they want to bust.

1) Myth: gluten is bad for you 

For most people, consuming gluten carries no adverse health effects. Gluten is a protein that occurs naturally in wheat and a few other grains. It’s what gives bread and other baked goods their “stretchy” texture. 

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that causes the body to overreact to gluten. For individuals with this specific condition, gluten triggers an immune response in the small intestine, which can cause digestive distress in the short term, and damage to the digestive tract in the long term. 

Some individuals without Celiac still experience digestive distress and other symptoms when they eat gluten. These individuals may have a condition known as non-Celiac gluten sensitivity. Gluten sensitivity does not cause the same intestinal damage as Celiac, however individuals with this condition may feel better avoiding gluten. 

For those without Celiac or a sensitivity, gluten is safe to eat and is a good source of plant-based protein. 

2) Myth: everyone should drink at least 8 glasses of water a day

Most people need somewhere between about 2.5 to 3 litres of fluids per day, but that fluid doesn’t have to be exclusively water. 

Drinks like coffee, tea, and milk count toward your daily fluid intake – as do water-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and soups. If you’re not sure whether you’re getting enough fluid, a good reference point is the colour of your urine. Your urine should be pale yellow or clear.

3)Myth: high fat foods like nuts are unhealthy

It’s true that fat contains more calories per gram than protein or carbohydrates. But calories alone don’t tell us much about the nutritional value of a food. 

Higher fat foods are not inherently bad or unhealthy. Your body needs some dietary fat in order to produce fatty acids, and absorb fat-soluble nutrients like vitamin A and vitamin D. The key is to emphasize unsaturated fats over saturated fats as much as possible.

High-fat plant-based foods like nuts, avocado, and olives are rich sources of unsaturated fats, as well as other key nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fibre. 

4) Myth: potatoes are unhealthy

Potatoes get a bad rap, perhaps because they’re usually associated with “unhealthy” foods like french fries and potato chips. But in fact, they’re more nutrient-dense than they're given credit for. 

Potatoes are rich in nutrients like vitamin C, potassium, and even fibre. However, the majority of the vitamins and fibre in potatoes are contained in or just under the skin – for best results, look for preparations that leave the potato skin intact. 

Roasting whole or quartered potatoes with a bit of olive oil is a great way to enjoy the spuds while retaining all the nutrition found in the skin. Remember, when it comes to vegetables, variety is key.

5) Myth: everyone can benefit from taking a probiotic supplement

Your gut contains trillions of bacteria and microbes, all of which play an important role in your overall health. Illness, certain medications, or a lack of variety in your diet can wipe out some strains of bacteria and cause an imbalance in your gut microbiome. This can in turn cause digestive troubles like constipation, diarrhea, or bloating. 

Evidence suggests that probiotics can be helpful for treating specific gut issues by reintroducing strains of bacteria into the gut. Just choosing any probiotic supplement off a grocery store shelf won’t necessarily help – it should be one that has been lab-tested, and contains the specific strain of bacteria required, as recommended by a doctor or dietitian.

If you’re healthy and not experiencing digestive issues, you probably won't reap much benefit from taking a daily probiotic supplement. Instead, maintain your gut microbiome by choosing fermented foods like kimchi, tempeh, miso, kefir, and yogurt.

6) Myth: almond milk is high in protein

Almond milk is actually quite low in protein, containing around 1 gram per 250 milliliter serving. The same amount of 2 percent cow’s milk contains around 8 grams of protein.

Almond milk is mostly water, so it is usually lower in calories than cow’s milk – though it also contains fewer nutrients, unless it has been fortified. If you’re vegan or lactose intolerant, a plant-based milk such as almond milk may be a good substitute for cow’s milk, but there’s no reason to choose almond milk over cow’s milk for nutrition alone. 

7) Myth: juice is a good way to increase your fruit intake

Fruit juice doesn’t contain any of the fibre that a whole piece of fruit does. It’s mainly just a concentrated source of simple sugars. 

While it’s fine to enjoy a glass of fruit juice once and a while, it doesn’t provide any of the nutrients or satiety you’d get from eating a piece of fruit, and shouldn’t be counted toward your daily intake of fruits and vegetables. 

8) Myth: it's impossible to get enough protein with a vegan or vegetarian diet

Though protein needs can vary depending on age, sex, and activity levels, the daily protein requirement for most people is about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. An individual who weighs 70 kilograms (about 150 pounds) needs around 56 grams of protein each day at minimum.

A well-planned vegan diet can certainly provide enough protein to cover your daily needs. Many plant-based foods such as nuts, beans, and legumes are excellent sources of protein – for example, cooked lentils contain around 18 grams of protein in a 1-cup serving.  

If you’re vegetarian, milk, cheese, yogurt, and eggs are all great sources of protein as well. 

9) Myth: avoiding fruits is wise as they are loaded with sugar

Fruits do contain sugar – however, they’re also packed with fibre, vitamins, and minerals. Eating whole fruits as part of a balanced diet is a great way to ensure you get adequate amounts of dietary fibre and nutrients. 

Some of our favorites are strawberries, oranges and blackberries. All these foods are high in fibre and contain many great nutrients. 

10) Myth: soy is bad for you

The idea that soy is bad or unhealthy likely stems from misinformation around phytoestrogens. It’s true that some individuals – such as those with or at risk for an estrogen-dependent cancer such as breast cancer – may need to watch their intake. But for the vast majority of people, consuming soy as part of a balanced diet has negligible to no impact on hormone levels. 

Whole soy-based foods like tofu, tempeh, and edamame are highly nutritious and beneficial for your overall health.

11) Myth: honey and maple syrup are better for you than sugar

Honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, and any number of other “natural” sweeteners are really no different than sugar when it comes to how our body metabolizes them. 

While some of these sweeteners contain trace amounts of minerals and other nutrients that are not as present in white sugar, they are still simple carbohydrates, and like any other kind of sugar should be consumed in moderation. 

Enjoy a small amount of whatever sweetener you prefer, whether that's honey, brown sugar or white sugar.

Support is available 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the nutrition information out there, or want personalized nutrition advice, speaking with a registered dietitian from TELUS Health MyCare is a great way to cut through the noise and get to the bottom of common nutrition myths.

Additionally, TELUS Health Virtual Care allows you to connect directly with nurse practitioners who can help you evaluate next steps when it comes to healthy eating, and may be available through your employer.

Download the TELUS Health MyCare App

Counselling appointments are available in Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. 

Dietitian appointments are available in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia in English only.