No sugar, low fat, no carb, keto, celery juice… the thought of eating healthy 24/7 just seems impossible. And if you’re anything like us, more often than not you’ll reach for quick fixes and end up going through these weird stages where it’s all or nothing, before plateauing and just going back to square one.
But the fact is – we’re the ones making it impossible.
There’s just so much fluff, so much conflicting information and false statements floating around, that we all have absolutely no idea what’s classified as ‘healthy’ anymore. Every day seems to bring a new diet trend, so it can be hard to know what’s actually safe.
So, forget the fancy juice cleanses, the shakes, potions and restricted eating – we asked registered nurse and naturopath Madeline Calfas, who is the founder of The Wellness Group and co-founder of GMC Cosmedical, to tell us about the most common diet myths.
Because while eating healthy is not always going to be easy, it doesn’t have to be so complicated.
1. Fat is bad for you.
When it comes to food, there seems to be a hell of a lot of confusion as to whether fat is good or bad for you. After all, with the word ‘fat’ hasn’t exactly been developed as a positive connotation, so why would anyone think it can be good?
The truth is, though – fats are much more complex than you might think.
“The biggest diet myth is that fat is bad for you. This one came about in the 80s/90s, and launched a ‘low-fat/no-fat movement’,” said Calfas. “Foods started having their fat content removed, and, this is where part of the problem lies – they had to come up with an alternative to maintain taste.”
What did they replace the fat with, then?
“So, after removing the fat, they added sugar to keep the foods tasty. They remove the fat, which is actually a nutrient (assuming it’s a healthy fat) and replace it with sugar, which is quite inflammatory and actually worse for your health.”
“The other big issue with low fat/no fat is that our bodies actually require fat to help absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin E and vitamin A. Fat is also required to help regulate cholesterol levels. What matters more is the type of fat – mono and polyunsaturated fats (olive oil, fatty fish, nuts, avocados etc) are all what we consider to be good fats, whereas trans and saturated fats (margarines etc) are not so good for you.”
Just to reiterate: Not ALL types of fat are bad for you.
2. You need to drink eight glasses of water per day.
If you’re going to the bathroom to pee every two seconds because you’re trying to down a thousand litres of water every day, just because it’s supposed to be ‘healthy’ – hold up.
“This somehow has become a magic number that everyone has strives to achieve. Who knows where this came from, but it doesn’t take into account the fact that everyone is different and will have different need when it comes to hydration,” said Calfas.
“A better way to gauge how much water you need is to look in the toilet. Literally. By the end of the day (never first thing in the morning), your urine should be a pale straw colour or clear. This shows that your body is hydrated enough and your kidneys are able to flush toxins properly. For those who like to put a number on it, aim for 35mls per kilo of body weight.”
So, yeah. Go check your pee!
3. You need to eat dairy food to get calcium.
Did anyone else think milk, yoghurt and cheese were, like, the only ways to get your calcium? Just us? Calfas said that while there is some calcium in dairy, there are also plenty of non-dairy sources of calcium that should be incorporated into you diet.
Welp. This is embarrassing.
“Dark green leafy veggies, such as spinach and kale, are fantastic sources of calcium, as are fish such as pilchards, sardines and anchovies as you tend to eat the bones. The added bonus of these non-dairy sources is that if you are lactose intolerant, you can still get more than enough calcium.”
4. Salt is bad for you.
Turns out some messages about salt need to be taken with a grain of, well, salt.
“This is a common one especially for those who are concerned about heart health. However, sodium is an electrolyte, and plays a vital role to our health,” said Calfas. “Sodium is essential in fluid regulation and plays a key role in muscle and nerve health.”
So, while a bit of salt in your diet is necessary, it’s important to keep the amount in check.
“The important thing to note here is how much salt we are having. Just as it is no good to have too much, likewise it is no good to have not enough. Look to add sea salt, ideally iodised, so that you are also getting about half of your RDI of iodine.”
5. Juice cleanses are good for you.
If there’s one thing celebrities love endorsing, it’s a good ol’ cleanse. And recently, there’s been a lot of talk around juice cleanses. While many of us might be hitting up a cold-pressed veggie juice to our morning routine, juice-only cleanses lasting several days have become increasingly popular, too.
But what’s the go? Are they actually good for you?
While Calfas said there is a benefit to some degree of doing a juice or a detox cleanse (in that it can give your digestive system a chance to rest, especially if you have a tendency to follow a high sugar/high inflammatory diet), the general consensus is that this wellness trend is a total fad.
“It also depends on what juices you are consuming. Having three days of fruit juice is going to do the complete opposite of what you would like it to do,” said Calfas. “The amount of sugar you consume in one glass of apple juice is about four times the recommended daily intake of sugar. Yes, the DAILY recommended intake. In one glass.”
“You are much better to have juices with veggies such as celery, kale, beetroot and carrot instead of fruits, as the sugar content will be much lower.”
“Following a diet that is nothing but lemon juice for three to five days is a total fad, and is way too much acidity, both for your gut and for your teeth.
“A detox is something that should be done on occasion. It should not become something that is done on a weekly or monthly basis, and you should pay close attention to what it is that you are consuming during that detox.”
6. The lighter you are on the scale, the healthier you must be.
Um, no. This is not true. Like, it’s very not true.
“The scales do not equate to health,” said Calfas. “Simply reaching a set number on the scales does not necessarily make you healthy.”
In fact, the scale doesn’t really tell you a whole lot about your health or what risks you might face, so don’t let the number dictate your self-esteem. Take note of other measures, like how your mind and body feels.
Now, read that last sentence again.
7. Skipping meals will save calories.
While intermittent fasting may benefit some people, skipping meals purely to reduce calorie intake doesn’t work for everyone, said Calfas.
“Usually the people who will benefit most will be those who calorie consumption on a daily basis drastically exceeds their requirements.
Ultimately, they will benefit as they will reduce their calorie intake to a level that is more inline with what they need.”
“Those people who are already at a calorie deficit on a daily basis will find that prolonged periods of calorie restriction will start to slow their metabolism down.”
Not only will this make you feel tired and hungry, but skipping meals will mean you’ll be more likely to reach for high-fat, high-calorie snacks, or compensate with bigger meals when you do eat.
8. There’s a magic cure that’ll make you fit.
Spoiler: There isn’t. No matter what that pill, potion or powder tries to tell you, there is no such thing as a quick fix when it comes to your health.
“There are no magic cures to getting fit and healthy. It takes you time to become overweight, and it takes time to lose that weight,” said Calfas.
“Balance and moderation is key. Live by the 80/20 rule. 80 percent of the time you follow your nutritional program, and 20 percent of the time enjoy yourself and live a little. Life is too short to deny yourself some gelato Messina now and then!”