It can be hard to change long-standing beliefs about anything, and that’s definitely true when it comes to fitness and nutrition. For example, some still believe lifting weights will cause women to “bulk up” and eating fat makes you fat.
But times change, and so does the science, which helps us better understand how to exercise and eat to reach our health goals. So if you once only ate fat-free everything but now have days when you eat a little avocado at every meal, you’re in good company.
The best experts adapt their thinking as we learn more about how to improve health and wellness. Here, seven registered dietitians share the nutrition facts they no longer believe and what they now advise instead.
New thinking: Forgo the snack and save those calories for when you’re dining out or at an event.
“After so many years in private practice, I have come to the conclusion that some people, no matter what, will still grab for the bread basket and choose higher-calorie entrees even when they have a snack,” says Keri Gans, RDN, certified yoga teacher and author of “The Small Change Diet.” “Therefore, the snack that they ate prior to going out isn’t doing anything except turning into excess calories.” Unless you know you will eat less when you go out, skip the snack.
New thinking: Aim for at least 20 grams per meal.
“I believed that it didn’t really matter when you ate protein, as long as you ate enough throughout the day, but scientific research changed my mind,” says Elizabeth Ward, RD. Now, she recommends getting at least 20 grams of protein at every meal. “Protein can help you feel fuller for longer, and eating the macro at regular intervals helps build muscle,” she explains.
New thinking: Any produce is good.
Not only have studies found the nutrition of organic and conventional produce are equivalent, 90% of Americans fail to meet their recommended daily intake of vegetables and 85% fail to meet their intake of fruit, explains Toby Amidor, RD, Wall Street Journal bestselling cookbook author of “Smart Meal Prep for Beginners” and “The Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook.” “It’s more beneficial to eat any type of produce — conventional, organic, local, ugly — than to skip it completely,” she says.
New thinking: It’s OK to use sparingly.
“Contrary to many people’s beliefs, MSG is on the FDA’s GRAS list for being considered safe. The consumer fears have come from weak research studies and media sensationalism,” explains Jim White, RDN, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios. “If used sparingly with less salt in your diet, MSG can improve taste to get that umami experience at lower total sodium levels.”
New thinking: You don’t want or need artificial, processed foods.
We know processed foods lose valuable nutrients and are often loaded with extra sugar and fat. Jackie Newgent, RDN, culinary nutritionist and author of “The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook,” advises avoiding anything artificial. “I recommend removing artificial colors and dyes from your diet. No one needs glow-in-the-dark foods and beverages.” What’s more, Newgent notes “research suggests possible behavioral concerns with consumption of these colors by kids.”
New thinking: You need to look at more than calories.
Early in her career, Samantha Cassetty, RD, a nutritionist based in New York City, subscribed to the “a calorie is a calorie” and “there are no bad foods” rules. “Now I know that if you just look at the calories, you’re not getting the full picture or even the relevant information about the quality of the ingredients,” she says. “Some foods — like sweetened drinks and refined grains — have a negative impact on your health and wellness, while others have benefits, from reducing inflammation, stabilizing blood sugar, managing appetite and weight, reducing cravings and more — even if calorie levels are the same. At this point, I can’t suggest that all foods are of equivalent nutritional value, so I can’t say there are no bad foods. It just isn’t true.”
New thinking: Healthy fats can help you lose weight.
Many thought low-fat diets were the way to slimming down for years. However, “with newer research as well as clinical experience, I believe that a diet including moderate healthy fats — like avocado and nuts — can help with weight loss,” says Lisa Young, PhD, RD, author of “Finally Full, Finally Slim.” “Fat helps you feel full. But because fat still provides more calories than carbs and protein, you need to be mindful of how much you consume.” For example, a healthy portion is 1 ounce of nuts or 1/4 avocado.