Nutrition: Fact vs fiction

There are so many myths about food and nutrition - it can be difficult to sort the fact from the fiction!

First of all, it is important to establish how nutrition information is produced. Nutrition is a science, and as a science it relies on scientific evidence and studies to make a case in favour of or against a claim.

The following are 5 popular nutrition and diet myths and the truths behind them:

Top 5 nutrition and diet myths (and the truths behind them) 

  1. FICTION: Avoiding carbs after 6pm will help you lose weight

    FACT: The fact of the matter is it is not avoiding CARBS after anytime that will help you lose weight. To lose weight you must place some kind of dietary restriction on yourself to help you lose weight. The fact is, if you eat less than you normally would (i.e. fewer calories) and these calories are fewer than what you burn off with exercise, you will lose weight. It doesn't matter whether these calories come from protein, fat or carbohydrate. The fact of the matter is if a person eats a lot after dinner then telling them to avoid anything after dinner will help them lose weight.

  2. FICTION: Organic foods are better for you nutritionally

    FACT: Studies regarding the nutritional value of organic foods are not conclusive. There have been mixed results, however a very large study comparing conventional and organic foods has shown that there is no significant difference between the two groups in terms of vitamin and mineral content of the foods. They had to conclude that any differences were so small that they could be easily attributable to natural, biological or agricultural difference.
    A good reason to eat organic foods is to avoid pesticides, which may have residual effects in humans, and that organic farming puts less pressure on the environment. However, from a nutritional point of view there is no difference between organic and conventional foods. 

  3. FICTION: Chickens are full of hormones

    FACT: Chickens haven't been fed hormones since the 1960s. This myth was generated by a documentary in the 1980s showing the use of hormones in chickens in South America, which implied that this was the case all over the world. It is true that chickens are definitely bigger, but these changes can be attributed to selective breeding and improved farming techniques to ensure that chickens are larger. Chickens are however often fed antibiotics to promote growth.

  4. FICTION: Artificial sweeteners cause cancer

    FACT: This myth was started by some studies that showed that aspartame causes cancer in rats. Since then, aspartame has become one of the most thoroughly tested ingredients used in food. Food Standards Australia & New Zealand (FSANZ) allows it to be used as a sweetener in foods like diet drinks and snacks as they have concluded that aspartame does not cause cancer. Other artificial sweeteners such as phenylaline stevia and so on have never been linked to cancer in any animal model studies. Artificially sweetened foods are lower in kilojoules and can help reduce energy intake and control blood glucose levels.

  5. FICTION: Certain supplements or foods can help you lose weight

    FACT: There are thousands of different “weight loss" supplements out there. From St John's Wort to L-Carnitine to Brindleberry, grapefruit, caffeine and Guarana. There is NO evidence to support any weight loss supplements.
    The only substances that do have limited evidence are caffeine, capsaicin (a substance found in chilli) and fibre, but these are only when they are ingested in whole food form and not as supplement pills.
    Some pharmaceutical formulations may help to increase metabolism or help you malabsorb fat, but the side-effects are fairly prohibiting. 


A healthy eating plan is one that:

  1. Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.

  2. Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts.

  3. Is low in saturated fats, trans fat, cholesterol, salt (sodium) and added sugars.

  4. Always beware of ‘fad' diets that promise a quick and easy fix by removing or adding one or more key nutrients from your diet. 

Written by Alex Porter, Consultant Dietitian

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