NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH Nutrition Myths

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Weight-loss andNutrition MythsU.S. Department of Healthand Human ServicesNATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTHHow much do you really know?WINWeight-control Information NetworkDiet Myths“Lose 30 poundsin 30 days!”Myth: Fad diets work for permanent weight loss.“Eat as much as youwant and still loseweight!”Fact: Fad diets are not the best way to lose weight and keep it off.Fad diets often promise quick weight loss or tell you to cut certainfoods out of your diet. You may lose weight at first on one of thesediets. But diets that strictly limit calories or food choices are hardto follow. Most people quickly get tired of them and regain any lostweight.Fad diets may be unhealthy because they may not provide all of thenutrients your body needs. Also, losing weight at a very rapid rate(more than 3 pounds a week after the first couple of weeks) mayincrease your risk for developing gallstones (clusters of solid materialin the gallbladder that can be painful). Diets that provide less than 800calories per day also could result in heart rhythm abnormalities, whichcan be fatal.Tip: Research suggests that losing 1/2 to 2 pounds a week by makinghealthy food choices, eating moderate portions, and building physicalactivity into your daily life is the best way to lose weight and keep itoff. By adopting healthy eating and physical activity habits, you mayalso lower your risk for developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, andhigh blood pressure.Myth: High-protein/low-carbohydrate diets are ahealthy way to lose weight.Fact: The long-term health effects of a high-protein/lowcarbohydrate diet are unknown. But getting most of your dailycalories from high-protein foods like meat, eggs, and cheese is not abalanced eating plan. You may be eating too much fat and cholesterol,which may raise heart disease risk. You may be eating too few fruits,vegetables, and whole grains, which may lead to constipation due tolack of dietary fiber. Following a high-protein/low-carbohydrate dietmay also make you feel nauseous, tired, and weak.“Try the thigh busterand lose inches fast!”And so on, and so on. Withso many products and weightloss theories out there, it iseasy to get confused.The information in this factsheet may help clear upconfusion about weightloss, nutrition, and physicalactivity. It may also helpyou make healthy changesin your eating and physicalactivity habits. If you havequestions not answeredhere, or if you want to loseweight, talk to your healthcare provider. A registereddietitian or other qualifiedhealth professional can giveyou advice on how to followa healthy eating plan, loseweight safely, and keep theweight off.

Eating fewer than 130 grams of carbohydrate a day canlead to the buildup of ketones in your blood. Ketonesare partially broken-down fats. A buildup of these inyour blood (called ketosis) can cause your body toproduce high levels of uric acid, which is a risk factorfor gout (a painful swelling of the joints) and kidneystones. Ketosis may be especially risky for pregnantwomen and people with diabetes or kidney disease.Be sure to discuss any changes in your diet with ahealth care professional, especially if you have healthconditions such as cardiovascular disease, kidneydisease, or type 2 diabetes.lFor more specific information about food groupsand nutrition values, visit http://www.healthierus.gov/dietaryguidelines.Tip: High-protein/low-carbohydrate diets are oftenlow in calories because food choices are strictlylimited, so they may cause short-term weight loss.But a reduced-calorie eating plan that includesrecommended amounts of carbohydrate, protein, andfat will also allow you to lose weight. By followinga balanced eating plan, you will not have to stopeating whole classes of foods, such as whole grains,fruits, and vegetables—and miss the key nutrientsthey contain. You may also find it easier to stick witha diet or eating plan that includes a greater varietyof foods.Myth: Certain foods, like grapefruit,celery, or cabbage soup, can burn fatand make you lose weight.Fact: No foods can burn fat. Some foods withcaffeine may speed up your metabolism (the way yourbody uses energy, or calories) for a short time, but theydo not cause weight loss.Tip: The best way to lose weight is to cut back onthe number of calories you eat and be more physicallyactive.Myth: Starches are fattening and shouldbe limited when trying to lose weight.Myth: Natural or herbal weight-lossproducts are safe and effective.Fact: Many foods high in starch, like bread, rice,pasta, cereals, beans, fruits, and some vegetables (likepotatoes and yams) are low in fat and calories. Theybecome high in fat and calories when eaten in largeportion sizes or when covered with high-fat toppingslike butter, sour cream, or mayonnaise. Foods highin starch (also called complex carbohydrates) are animportant source of energy for your body.Fact: A weight-loss product that claims to be“natural” or “herbal” is not necessarily safe. Theseproducts are not usually scientifically tested to provethat they are safe or that they work. For example,herbal products containing ephedra (now banned by theU.S. Government) have caused serious health problemsand even death. Newer products that claim to beephedra-free are not necessarily danger-free, becausethey may contain ingredients similar to ephedra.Tip: A healthy eating plan is one that:llIs low in saturated fats, trans fat, cholesterol, salt(sodium), and added sugars.Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, andfat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.Tip: Talk with your health care provider before usingany weight-loss product. Some natural or herbalweight-loss products can be harmful.Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs,and nuts.2

breast sandwich or small hamburger. Try a “fresco”taco (with salsa instead of cheese or sauce) at tacostands. Fried foods, like french fries and fried chicken,are high in fat and calories, so order them only oncein a while, order a small portion, or split an order witha friend. Also, use only small amounts of high-fat,high-calorie toppings, like regular mayonnaise, saladdressings, bacon, and cheese.Meal MythsMyth: “I can lose weight while eatingwhatever I want.”Fact: To lose weight, you need to use more caloriesthan you eat. It is possible to eat any kind of food youwant and lose weight. You need to limit the number ofcalories you eat every day and/or increase your dailyphysical activity. Portion control is the key. Try eatingsmaller amounts of food and choosing foods that arelow in calories.Myth: Skipping meals is a good way tolose weight.Fact: Studies show that people who skip breakfastand eat fewer times during the day tend to be heavierthan people who eat a healthy breakfast and eat four orfive times a day. This may be because people who skipmeals tend to feel hungrier later on, and eat more thanthey normally would. It may also be that eating manysmall meals throughout the day helps people controltheir appetites.Tip: When trying to lose weight, you can still eat yourfavorite foods—as long as you pay attention to thetotal number of calories that you eat.Myth: Low-fat or fat-free means nocalories.Fact: A low-fat or fat-free food is often lower inTip: Eat small meals throughout the day that includea variety of healthy, low-fat, low-calorie foods.For more information about healthy eating, readthe Weight-control Information Network brochureHealthy Eating and Physical Activity Across YourLifespan: Tips for Adults.calories than the same size portion of the full-fatproduct. But many processed low-fat or fat-free foodshave just as many calories as the full-fat versions ofthe same foods—or even more calories. They maycontain added sugar, flour, or starch thickeners toimprove flavor and texture after fat is removed. Theseingredients add calories.Myth: Eating after 8 p.m. causes weightgain.Tip: Read the Nutrition Facts on a food package tofind out how many calories are in a serving. Check theserving size too—it may be less than you are used toeating. For more information about reading food labels,visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration online athttp://www.cfsan.fda.gov/ dms/foodlab.html.Fact: It does not matter what time of day you eat. Itis what and how much you eat and how much physicalactivity you do during the whole day that determineswhether you gain, lose, or maintain your weight. Nomatter when you eat, your body will store extra caloriesas fat.Myth: Fast foods are always anunhealthy choice and you should not eatthem when dieting.Tip: If you want to have a snack before bedtime,think first about how many calories you have eatenthat day. And try to avoid snacking in front of the TVat night—it may be easier to overeat when you aredistracted by the television.Fact: Fast foods can be part of a healthy weight-lossprogram with a little bit of know-how.Tip: Avoid supersized combo meals, or split one witha friend. Sip on water or fat-free milk instead of soda.Choose salads and grilled foods, like a grilled chicken3

Physical Activity MythFood MythsMyth: Lifting weights is not good to do ifyou want to lose weight, because it willmake you “bulk up.”Myth: Nuts are fattening and you shouldnot eat them if you want to lose weight.Fact: Lifting weights or doing strengtheningweight-loss program. Nuts are high in calories and fat.However, most nuts contain healthy fats that do notclog arteries. Nuts are also good sources of protein,dietary fiber, and minerals such as magnesium andcopper.Fact: In small amounts, nuts can be part of a healthyactivities like push-ups and crunches on a regularbasis can actually help you maintain or lose weight.These activities can help you build muscle, and muscleburns more calories than body fat. So if you havemore muscle, you burn more calories—even sittingstill. Doing strengthening activities 2 or 3 days a weekwill not “bulk you up.” Only intense strength training,combined with a certain genetic background, can buildvery large muscles.Tip: Enjoy small portions of nuts. One-half ounce ofmixed nuts has about 84 calories.Myth: Eating red meat is bad for yourhealth and makes it harder to loseweight.Fact: Eating lean meat in small amounts can be partof a healthy weight-loss plan. Red meat, pork, chicken,and fish contain some cholesterol and saturated fat (theleast healthy kind of fat). They also contain healthynutrients like protein, iron, and zinc.Tip: Choose cuts of meat that are lower in fat andtrim all visible fat. Lower fat meats include porktenderloin and beef round steak, tenderloin, sirlointip, flank steak, and extra lean ground beef. Also,pay attention to portion size. Three ounces of meator poultry is the size of a deck of cards.Tip: In addition to doing moderate-intensity physicalactivity (like walking 2 miles in 30 minutes) on mostdays of the week, try to do strengthening activities2 to 3 days a week. You can lift weights, use largerubber bands (resistance bands), do push-ups or situps, or do household or garden tasks that make youlift or dig. Strength training helps keep your bonesstrong while building muscle, which can help burncalories.Myth: Dairy products are fattening andunhealthy.Fact: Low-fat and fat-free milk, yogurt, and cheeseare just as nutritious as whole-milk dairy products, butthey are lower in fat and calories. Dairy products havemany nutrients your body needs. They offer proteinto build muscles and help organs work properly, andcalcium to strengthen bones. Most milk and someyogurt are fortified with vitamin D to help your bodyuse calcium.For more information about the benefits of physicalactivity and suggestions on how to be more active,read the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines forAmericans, available online at http://www.health.gov/PAguidelines.4

Iron: cashews, spinach, lentils, garbanzo beans,fortified bread or cerealTip: The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americansrecommends consuming 3 cups per day of fat-free/low-fat milk or equivalent milk products. For moreinformation on these guidelines, visit um: dairy products, fortified soy-basedbeverages, tofu made with calcium sulfate, collardgreens, kale, broccoliIf you cannot digest lactose (the sugar found in dairyproducts), choose low-lactose or lactose-free dairyproducts, or other foods and beverages that offercalcium and vitamin D (listed below).Vitamin D: fortified foods and beverages includingmilk, soy-based beverages, or cerealVitamin B12: eggs, dairy products, fortified cerealor soy-based beverages, tempeh, miso (tempehand miso are foods made from soybeans)Calcium: soy-based beverage or tofu made withcalcium sulfate; canned salmon; dark leafy greenslike collards or kaleZinc: whole grains (especially the germ and branof the grain), nuts, tofu, leafy vegetables (spinach,cabbage, lettuce)Vitamin D: soy-based beverage or cereal (gettingsome sunlight on your skin also gives you a smallamount of vitamin D)Protein: eggs, dairy products, beans, peas, nuts,seeds, tofu, tempeh, soy-based burgersMyth: “Going vegetarian” means you aresure to lose weight and be healthier.If you do not know whether or not to believe aweight-loss or nutrition claim, check it out! The FederalTrade Commission has information on deceptiveweight-loss advertising claims. You can find this onlineat http://www.ftc.com or call 1–877–FTC–HELP(1–877–382–4357). Youcan also find out more aboutnutrition and weight lossby talking with a registereddietitian. To find a registereddietitian in your area, visitthe American DieteticAssociation online(http://www.eatright.org)or call 1–800–877–1600.Fact: Research shows that people who follow avegetarian eating plan, on average, eat fewer caloriesand less fat than nonvegetarians. They also tend tohave lower body weights relative to their heights thannonvegetarians. Choosing a vegetarian eating planwith a low fat content may be helpful for weight loss.But vegetarians—like nonvegetarians—can make foodchoices that contribute to weight gain, like eating largeamounts of high-fat, high-calorie foods or foods withlittle or no nutritional value.Vegetarian diets should be as carefully planned asnonvegetarian diets to make sure they are balanced.Nutrients that nonvegetarians normally get from animalproducts, but that are not always found in a vegetarianeating plan, are iron, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12,zinc, and protein.Tip: Choose a vegetarian eating plan that is low in fatand that provides all of the nutrients your body needs.Food and beverage sources of nutrients that may belacking in a vegetarian diet are listed below.5

Additional Reading From theWeight-control Information NetworkChanging Your Habits: Steps to Better Health guides readers through stepsthat can help them determine what “stage” they are in—how ready theyare—to make healthy lifestyle changes. Once that stage is determined,strategies on how to make healthy eating and physical activity changes areoffered.Choosing a Safe and Successful Weight-loss Program provides a list ofthings to look for when choosing a safe and effective weight-loss program,as well as a list of questions to ask program providers.Tips to Help You Get Active offers ideas to beat some of the environmental,personal, and health-related roadblocks to making physical activity a partof one’s regular routine.Weight Loss for Life discusses the benefits of weight loss and waysto develop healthy eating and physical activity plans. In addition, thedifferences between the two types of formal weight-loss programs—clinical and nonclinical—are discussed.Weight-controlInformationNetwork1 WIN WayBethesda, MD 20892–3665Phone: (202) 828–1025Toll-free number:1–877–946–4627FAX: (202) 828–1028Email: WIN@info.niddk.nih.govInternet: http://www.win.niddk.nih.govThe Weight-control InformationNetwork (WIN) is a nationalinformation service of the NationalInstitute of Diabetes and Digestiveand Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) of theNational Institutes of Health, which isthe Federal Government’s lead agencyresponsible for biomedical researchon nutrition and obesity. Authorizedby Congress (Public Law 103-43),WIN provides the general public,health professionals, the media, andCongress with up-to-date, sciencebased health information on weightcontrol, obesity, physical activity, andrelated nutritional issues.Publications produced by WIN arereviewed by both NIDDK scientistsand outside experts. This fact sheetwas also reviewed by Donna Ryan,M.D., F.A.C.P., Associate ExecutiveDirector for Clinical Research,Pennington Biomedical ResearchCenter.This publication is not copyrighted. WINencourages users of this fact sheet to duplicateand distribute as many copies as desired.This fact sheet is also available athttp://www.niddk.nih.gov.NIH Publication No. 04–4561March 20096

HOT TOPIC:CLAIM OF TOPIC:Glycemic IndexGlycemic Index can help control appetite, weight, diabetes andother health concerns.DISCUSSION OF TOPIC:Even though it’s been around for a number of years, the Glycemic Index has recently gainedattention as a possible tool for controlling appetite and managing weight and blood glucoselevels. The Glycemic Index has remained a controversial subject since its development over 20years ago.The Glycemic Index, or GI, ranks carbohydrate foods based on how they affect the body’s bloodglucose level. Individual foods are compared to white bread or glucose. High GI foods producea greater increase in blood glucose levels than low GI foods. Examples of high GI foods arewhite bread, crackers and corn flakes, while low GI foods include nonstarchy vegetables, mostfruits, dairy products, beans and sugars.The GI does not measure how rapidly blood glucose levels increase as is claimed by somepopular diet books. Research has found that blood glucose levels peak at about the same timeregardless of the carbohydrate source. Also, the body’s insulin response to a specific food is notdirectly related to the carbohydrate content of the food or the GI value.The major appeal of grouping food by GI is the potential for making meal planning easier,especially for people with diabetes. But, it’s not that simple. Here’s why: A food can have different GI values as a result of how ripe it is, its variety, how it iscooked and how it has been processed, and from country to country. The GI of a food varies significantly from person to person. For some individuals, it caneven vary from day to day. The GI of a food eaten alone is different than when it is eaten with another food. Forexample, if a high GI food is eaten in combination with a low GI food, the GI response ismoderate. Standard test portions of foods used for determining GI are not the usual portion sizesthat individuals consume. The GI is not a reliable guide for healthy food choices. Although many healthy foodshave a low GI, there are also foods of questionable nutritional value with low ormoderate GI values such as soft drinks, candies, sugars and high fat foods.Bottom Line: At this time, research does not support the claim that a low GI diet causessignificant weight loss or helps control appetite. For people with diabetes, monitoring total gramsof carbohydrate remains the key strategy. However, some individuals with diabetes may be ableto use the GI concept, along with blood glucose monitoring, to “fine-tune” their food choices toproduce a modest improvement in postmeal blood glucose levels.Opportunities for Dietetics Professionals: Dietetic professionals can use information on theGI to update clients, the public, and other health care professions with the pros and consregarding use of the GI.References:1.2.Raatz SK, Torkelson CJ, Redmon JB, Reck KP, Kwong CA, Swanson JE, Liu C, Thomas W, Bantle.Reduced glycemic index and glycemic load diets do not increase the effects of energy restriction on weightloss and insulin sensitivity in obese men and women. J Nutr 2005;135:2387-2391.Franz MJ. Glycemic index. Not the most effective nutrition therapy intervention. Diabetes Care 2003;26:2466-2468.Written by Marion J. Franz, MS, RD, CDE of

Weight-loss and Nutrition Myths How much do you really know? WIN Weight-control Information Network Diet Myths Myth: Fad diets work for permanent weight loss. Fact: Fad diets are not the best way to lose weight and keep it off. Fad diets often promise quick weight loss or tell you to cut certain foods out of your diet.

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