There’s a lot of really bad nutrition advice out there. I should know—I hear it every day, and so do my dietitian colleagues. Maybe we just notice it more, like someone who’s phobic of something will be extra-attuned to the source of their phobia. At any rate, people aren’t shy (and they shouldn’t be!) to come to us and tell us all the fun diet-related stuff their friends, parents, and other, less informed professionals and individuals recommend.
Remember that it’s okay to be skeptical about nutrition advice that you hear from random friends and people on the internet. If you want to be sure that the advice you’re hearing is legit, consider the source—then go to a credible website to check it (examine.com is my favorite).
Here are the worst pieces of nutrition advice my colleagues have heard:
1. Don’t eat anything white or brown.
This means they miss out on some fruits (bananas, dates, white peaches, and nectarines) and vegetables (cauliflower, garlic, ginger, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, potatoes, shallots, and white corn). Lots of white foods are actually nutritious—like onions, garlic, and leeks, for example. They’re prebiotics, which means they’re great for your gut!
—Angel Planells, M.S., R.D.N., media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
2. Don’t eat nightshade vegetables.
I had an athlete come to me saying he doesn’t eat tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, etc., because he heard that Tom Brady (insert eye roll) doesn’t eat them, believing they cause inflammation. I can go on and on about the benefits athletes can gain from these veggies—or all vegetables for that matter. Trust me, your inflammation is not the result of eating these foods. Inflammation may be the result of eating too much saturated and trans fats, and too much added sugars. Tomatoes? No.
—Angie Asche, M.S., R.D.
3. You don’t need a multivitamin if you’re overweight.
This one still infuriates me—a patient told me she was not taking a multivitamin because her cardiologist told her she was obese so she clearly already had all the nutrients her body needed and more! This is terrible advice because a diet can be rich in calories (energy) while lacking in overall nutrients. I see many overweight clients with nutrient deficiencies. Excess fat stores are stored energy, not stored vitamins and minerals. I always promote food first, but it can be very difficult to get every nutrient you need in the right amount every day. For that reason, I recommend a high quality multivitamin to fill in the potential gaps—no matter if you are overweight, underweight, or in between. Balance is key at any size!
—Erin Palinsky-Wade, R.D.
4. Sea salt is healthier than regular salt.
Salt is salt, so if you’re watching your sodium intake then be mindful of how much salt you’re adding, whatever type it is. Some salts, like normal sea salt or pink salt, have different minerals in them than table salt, but are all the same overall, nutrition-wise.
—Rahaf Al Bochi, R.D., L.D., of Olive Tree Nutrition
5. You should only eat fruit on an empty stomach in order for the nutrients to be absorbed and to avoid it rotting in the stomach.
Ridiculous, I know. Nothing “rots” in your stomach, let’s get that myth out of the way. Eating any food on an empty stomach hasn’t been shown to increase the absorption of nutrients, either. In fact, most vitamins and minerals are absorbed beyond the stomach, in the intestines.
6. Double up on vitamins for double the benefits.
I once had a mom tell me she wanted to give double doses of vitamins to her kids because she wanted them to be “above average,” not just “average.” Yikes. Despite popular belief, more is not better when it comes to supplements, and taking too many supplements can have really serious side effects. For example, vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat soluble, and they are stored in the liver instead of being eliminated in urine like water-soluble vitamins are. Taking too many of the fat soluble vitamins in supplement form can result in vitamin toxicity, which can make you very sick.
—Kate Lee, M.P.H., R.D.N.
7. Don’t combine foods as your body can’t digest multiple foods at once.
During digestion the body is able to process and digest multiple nutrients. The human body is efficient and works well, producing enzymes to do this. In fact, it is beneficial to combine protein with carbohydrates in order to prevent blood sugar from spiking, especially for someone who has diabetes or has trouble with blood sugar control.
—Daniella Wolf, R.D.
8. Don’t eat corn because it is what the farmers use to get cows to gain weight.
My client was told this by a personal trainer and didn’t eat corn for four or five years after that. Thankfully I was able to break the logic down for her. I reminded her that human anatomy is different than the anatomy of animals, especially cows—they have a few more stomachs than we do. I let her know that the portion is what causes the problem, not the corn itself. We finished out the conversation discussing the importance of viewing food in a positive light—no more “bad” foods. All foods can be a part of a healthful diet.
—Kristi Coughlin, R.D.
9. You have to eat your meat first, then the salad because the salad helps push down and digest your food.
It all goes to your stomach where it gets churned into chyme, which is basically a soupy mixture of food and gastric juices and enzymes. If you eat the meat first, you’re more likely to get full faster and then not eat your salad. Eat the salad first to make sure you’re eating all your greens, then eat your meat.
—Allegra Gast, R.D., L.D.
PSA: If something sounds too ridiculous to be true, it probably is.