“Gluten-free,” “low-carb,” “sugar-free” – all are touted these days for weight loss and health. But do these trends actually have health or weight loss merits? Jill Burns, a registered dietician and patient educator for Sutter Medical Foundation, shares some important facts about popular dieting myths.
Myth: A Gluten-Free Diet is Healthier
Unless your doctor has confirmed that you have a gluten sensitivity or intolerance, there is no reason to go on this highly restrictive diet, Burns says. In fact, many gluten-free products often contain higher levels of fat and sugar, which can lead to unwanted weight gain. There is no benefit in adopting a gluten-free diet if your body doesn’t really need to avoid foods that contain gluten, as confirmed through testing.
Myth: Carbs Make you Fat
Not all carbohydrates are the same, Burns notes. “A papaya is a carb. But it doesn’t have the same nutritional value as a slice of white bread.” The real key is limiting refined carbs, usually found in cookies, crackers and other packaged foods made with simple sugars and white flour. The portion of carbs you consume also matters. There is nothing harmful about rice, but in large quantities it can lead to weight gain. The more natural, healthy carbs – whole grains, fruits and vegetables – can continue to be part of a healthy diet.
Myth: Sugar-Free Foods are Better for You
A sugar-free cookie still has calories and is a processed carbohydrate due to the flour. It depends on the type of sugar-free food you choose - diet soda, sugar-free cookies, lite syrup and sugar-free ice cream may detract from the healthier food choices, like a piece of fruit. Artificial sweeteners can be a part of healthy eating in moderation, if desired. If you choose not to have them, then be sure to limit your intake of regular sugar.
Myth: A Fast or Cleanse Will Help Me Lose Weight
The body does not actually need to fast or do anything to “cleanse” itself to promote weight loss, Burns says. Some people who fast initially lose some weight, but that weight usually returns as soon as a regular diet is resumed. Any period of time with restricted nutrients may impact your energy and overall health.
Despite the persistence of myths like this, the real secret to losing weight is to avoid dieting altogether and instead make small changes you can stick with – for life, according to Burns. Limit unhealthy foods, eat more nutritious foods, manage your portion sizes and increase your exercise.