Many myths and lies surround nutrition.
A great example is that dietary fat is inherently harmful and should be replaced by low-fat foods.
Unfortunately, many people follow these mistruths, and we can see the resulting damage all around us.
Obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease epidemics are only growing and growing.
In truth, these epidemics started in 1980 – when the government started to tell us what to eat for the very first time.
Here is an infographic summarizing the 15 nutrition lies that destroy health, followed by an extensive review of all the points.
15 Nutrition Lies That Destroy Health
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Nutrition Lie #1 – Saturated Fat Causes Heart Disease
As a result of the controversial lipid hypothesis, public health organizations have warned the public to limit saturated fat.
‘Experts’ argue that this is for the prevention of cardiovascular disease.
What Is the Truth About Saturated Fat?
Saturated fat causing heart disease is potentially one of the most damaging nutrition lies of all time.
Because in light of recommendations to avoid saturated fat, the public switched away from butter and started eating margarine, vegetable oils, and vegetable shortening.
In this case, people discarded an entirely natural food and replaced it with a chemically-processed industrial food.
The truth is that butter has minimal risk for cardiovascular disease (1).
Also, these lies about saturated fat as a nutritional demon spawned a whole industry of low-fat food products full of refined flours and sugar.
In fact, some research suggests that saturated fat may even be protective (5).
Conversely, the foods that we replaced saturated fat with cause serious problems.
Nutrition Lie #2 – Food Fortified With Vitamins is Healthy
Ultra-processed packaged foods tend to add large amounts of synthetic vitamins and minerals to their products.
Because these industrial foods have almost zero nutritional value.
We are told to eat these fortified products such as cereals and juice to ensure we get enough nutrients to be healthy.
Replace real, nutrient-dense foods with heavily processed grains mixed with vitamin powders?
Is it the healthier option?
In my view, it’s one of the biggest nutrition-related mistakes people make.
What Is the Truth About Fortified Food?
In the first place, food fortified with synthetic nutrients comes nowhere close to real food.
There are also several key points to realize:
- It is easy to get too many nutrients from fortification, especially if eating processed food several times per day. A report by the Environmental Working Group showed over-consumption of certain minerals harms children’s health (12).
- Another point to consider is that folate is one of the most common nutrients used to fortify food. However, folate can be harmful to some people, especially pregnant women, cancer patients and the elderly (13).
- A Finnish study presented data on calcium intake through fortified foods. The participants were all at risk of exceeding the “tolerable upper level” of calcium (14).
- A study coming out of the United States urged for a more careful weighing of the benefits and risks of uncontrolled fortification. This recommendation came as a result of many population groups exceeding the safe limits of particular nutrients (15).
Nutrition Lie #3 – Fruit Juice Is Good For You
Another key nutrition lie is that fruit juice is good for you.
It’s also one that many people believe.
In fact, many families view fruit juice as an essential for getting their daily vitamin C dose.
What Is the Truth About Fruit Juice?
In essence, fruit juice is just sugar water with a bit of potassium and vitamin C.
Regarding carbohydrate, the beneficial fiber has been stripped away leaving only the fructose.
And if you think orange juice is fresh, then 95% of the time you’d be very wrong.
To emphasize a little more, let’s look at what some of the studies say about drinking fruit juice:
- Whole fruit consumption has links to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, but fruit juice increases the risk (16).
- A meta-analysis of 17 prior studies shows a positive association between fruit juice and type 2 diabetes (17).
The take home point when it comes to fruit is this: eat it rather than drink it.
Nutrition Lie #4 – Meat Is Unhealthy
The idea that meat is unhealthy never really goes away.
It’s a nutrition lie that’s always rehashed by the media.
In essence, the claim is that red meat causes cancer and also raises “bad” cholesterol.
What Is the Truth About Meat?
The truth is that meat, especially beef, is one of the most nutritious foods we have access to (18).
Additionally, several studies report that red meat is one of the essential ingredients to achieve healthy nutrient intakes (19).
Another interesting study shows that in a sample size of 1320 people, meat eaters had fewer allergies, less cancer, and less mental disorders than vegetarians did (20).
Understandably, many people may worry about red meat intake.
This concern is natural because we see that red meat has links to cancer and heart disease in the media.
The truth is that not one randomized controlled trial (RCT) shows red meat as increasing the risk factors for disease.
Sure, there are several epidemiological studies showing people who eat red meat have a higher cancer risk.
But the thing is, there is no precise definition of what red meat is in these studies.
Firstly, some studies don’t differentiate between spam, hot dogs, and fresh home-cooked beef.
Red meat meal 1: Grass-fed steak with sauteed vegetables
Red meat meal 2: Hamburger, large fries, large cola
It’s clear to see that meal two will be most damaging to health.
But is it the red meat that’s causing the damage, or the sweet cola and fries covered in fried soybean oil?
Nutrition Lie #5 – A Low-Fat Diet Is the Healthiest
The public is advised to eat a low-fat diet high in “healthy whole grains,” and substitute whole milk products for low-fat versions.
But is that optimal for health?
What Is the Truth About Low-Fat Diets?
While people can live healthily on well-implemented low-fat diets, there is no reason why we have to be low-fat.
On the contrary, there’s a large body of data that supports the very opposite – a low-carb diet.
- A systemic review of 53 RCTs showed that, across 68,128 participants, low-carb weight loss interventions were more effective than low-fat (21).
- In a dietary intervention comparing low-carb and low-fat, obese adults lost (slightly) more weight on the low-carb diet over a one year period (22).
- Low-carb diets improve cardiovascular risk factors compared to low GI and low-fat (23).
To illustrate, the graph above shows how a low-carb diet better manages cardiovascular risk factors.
As we can see, there is an impressive rise in HDL and a substantial fall in triglycerides.
Nutrition Lie #6 – Vegetable Oils Are Heart Healthy
There are many different dietary fats, and some of them are heart-healthy.
However, vegetable oils are most certainly not.
Unfortunately, a common nutrition lie is that vegetable oil is healthy for us and that we should use it instead of butter or other saturated fats.
And it’s another one of the nutrition lies that many people still believe.
What Is the Truth About Vegetable Oils?
To sum up, you may have heard vegetable oils reduce cholesterol?
What you may not know, though, is that although vegetable oils “may lower serum cholesterol levels, they also increase the risk of death from coronary artery disease” (24).
I don’t know about you, but I’d much prefer higher cholesterol and to be alive!
Another big problem with vegetable oils is their omega-6 content.
As people are consuming so much omega-6 from vegetable oils, it can promote inflammation.
We ought to remember that omega-3 is anti-inflammatory and omega-6 is pro-inflammatory.
Ideally, we should have close to a 1:1 ratio of both in our body.
Nutrition Lie #7 – We Should Restrict Salt Consumption
It’s a commonly held belief that salt is unhealthy and something we should be restricting.
However, that everyone needs to limit salt is just another nutrition lie.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
What Is the Truth About Salt Consumption?
A point often overlooked is that salt is essential for a healthy body.
While it’s true that excessive amounts of salt can raise blood pressure, there is little evidence for the safety of very low salt intake (27).
Additionally, there is no clear data that a low sodium diet reduces actual cardiac events, and research shows that restricting salt may lead to a worse prognosis in cardiovascular patients (28).
Further, it may be the wrong white powders we are demonizing.
It’s true that excessive amounts of salt are not good for you, but liberally salting your meals is unlikely to be problematic.
Nutrition Lie #8 – A Balanced Diet of Everything is Healthy
Pick up almost any junk food; what does the marketing say on the label?
“Healthy as part of a balanced diet.”
Many different foods say this – from sugary cereals to trans-fat containing potato chips.
What Is the Truth About A Balanced Diet?
So sugar, trans-fat, and ultra-processed vegetable oils are healthy if we eat them with a bit of fruit and vegetables?
It doesn’t work like that.
Eating some healthy foods as well as bad foods is better than only eating junk food.
However, a donut is not “healthy” as part of a balanced diet.
Maybe some people feel they are tasty and want to have one occasionally.
And if they want to, then they can.
But rather than promoting them as “healthy in balance,” we should be honest that they are something we should be trying to limit.
Nutrition Lie #9 – Avoid Fat to Lose Weight
“Easy weight loss is possible by cutting fat from your diet,” says a recent Men’s Fitness article.
The advice in the article is predictable:
- Choose low-fat dairy
- Eat lean meat and trim fat off
- Cut down on butter, cheese, and eggs
Until now, this idea that fat makes you fat has been popular belief.
But it’s not based on reality.
What Is the Truth? Does Fat Make You Fat?
Fat does not make you fat.
At present, many studies support this idea.
Additionally, one of the most important factors behind weight gain is satiety.
Many people suffer from a kind of addiction to refined carbohydrate that’s hard to control.
All of a sudden, they may have an insatiable urge to eat some sugary food – so they do.
But then this happens the next day, and the day after, and the day after that too.
The truth is that many people aren’t fat because they are lazy or because they don’t exercise enough. It’s because they have an unhealthy relationship with food.
Generally speaking, this tends to be because they are eating the wrong kind of food.
In fact, a recent study directly compared the effects of a low-fat diet versus a low-carb diet on satiety.
The results showed that compared to the low-fat group, the low-carb group had significantly lower cravings and feelings of hunger (39).
Nutrition Lie #10 – Replace Butter With Margarine For a Healthy Heart
Butter is high in “bad saturated fats” and should be restricted. Choose a healthy vegetable spread instead.
This one has to be one of the most prominent nutrition lies around.
But it has been repeated by dietary advice guidelines and for many decades now.
What Is the Truth About Butter vs. Margarine?
For one thing, butter is a natural food that can be made by hand from cow’s milk.
On the other hand, margarine is a chemical concoction of the following:
- Vegetable oils (usually a random mix of several)
- Colorings (to make it look like butter instead of its natural gray color)
- Flavorings (to make it edible)
Additionally, the vegetable oils used in margarine are solvent-extracted.
As shown above, the production of margarine is certainly not appealing!
Regarding the studies on margarine vs. butter:
- Replacing saturated fats like butter with omega-6 fats like margarine lowers cholesterol, but does not affect the number of cardiovascular deaths (40).
- In a study of 832 men, butter intake did not predict cardiovascular disease, but the data showed margarine increases the risk (41).
Nutrition Lie #11 – Eating Soy Instead of Meat/Dairy Has Many Health Benefits
At present, soy is everywhere in our food supply.
Probably the most common soy products include:
- Soy protein
- Soy milk
- Soy flour
- Soybean oil
Rather than animal products, we are told choose soy for its cholesterol-lowering properties.
Again, this is another big nutrition lie.
The truth is that soy can be quite harmful.
Is Soy a Healthy Food To Eat?
First, soybean oil is one of the single-most unhealthy foods in the food chain today.
In fact, in recent studies, soybean oil has been called “more obesogenic than fructose” (42).
Additionally, all unfermented soybean products contain a variety of anti-nutrients.
Soy also contains phytoestrogens, which are naturally occurring plant compounds.
Regarding this, one study warns that soy-based baby formula is a significant worry (43).
Another negative point to consider is that soy is one of the most glyphosate-contaminated crops and tends to contain high residues.
Further to this, soy is genetically engineered (GE). In a review of 19 studies investigating pigs eating GE soy feed, many of the pigs developed liver and kidney damage (44).
Animal studies also show that soy can damage fertility (45).
Finally, soy has links with breast cancer development in women and may turn on the genes responsible for it.
Regarding this contrast, we should remember that the soy consumed in Japan and the Western world is very different; Japan eats traditionally fermented soy, whereas the West tends to eat industrially-processed soy flours and oils.
Nutrition Lie #12 – Avoid Foods High in Cholesterol
After decades of demonization, dietary cholesterol is “no longer a nutrient of concern” according to the dietary guidelines.
However, this doesn’t discount the decades where ‘experts’ told us eggs would clog our arteries because of their cholesterol content.
Overall, this has to one of the most damaging nutrition lies of all time.
Why? Because instead of eggs, we were urged to eat ultra-processed sugary cereals.
What Is the Truth About Foods High in Cholesterol?
In fact, dietary cholesterol has some extremely beneficial health effects.
These effects include raising HDL levels and making LDL particles bigger (smaller, dense particles are more of a heart disease risk) (50).
Because of the nutrition lie about dietary cholesterol, many families began to restrict eggs.
Even more worrying was the standard replacement for breakfast tended to be heavily processed cereals, many of which are full of sugar.
Sensing an opportunity, many cereal makers added health claims to their box art.
“May reduce heart disease risk.”
“Can help lower cholesterol.”
To sum up; because of the nutrition lies that dietary cholesterol will kill us, food manufacturers started to market almost anything low in fat as healthy.
These cereals are full of sugar and vegetable oil and “heart healthy” advertisements have no place.
Nutrition Lie #13 – Carbohydrate Is the Most Important Macronutrient
Apparently, we should eat about 60% of our food from carbohydrate for a “well-balanced diet.”
It’s hard to see precisely why this amount of carbohydrate is recommended for all because I can’t find any evidence for it.
Is Carbohydrate the Most Important Macronutrient?
That doesn’t mean it’s inherently bad though.
While we can’t live without fat and protein, we can survive without carbs.
Another point to consider is just how much carbohydrate people are eating.
Nutrition Lie #14 – Artificial Sweeteners Are a Safe Substitute For Sugar
Most people know that soda is not good for you.
However, many believe that diet soda is the healthier option.
The marketing tells us that diet soda can help us lose weight because it’s free of calories.
Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe?
Despite many soda companies (and some health professionals) pushing diet soda as a healthy option, some studies have worrying findings.
One study investigated the effects of drinking artificially sweetened drinks three times per day compared to water. The results showed that the diet soda drinkers had over double the obesity risk when compared to water drinkers (57).
A very recent study from earlier this year shows that artificial sweeteners increase food cravings due to their sweet taste, and that sweetener users have higher weight gain (58).
In a study of 66,118 women, those who drank artificially sweetened beverages had a significantly increased risk of type 2 diabetes (59).
Nutrition Lie #15 – Multi-Vitamin Supplements Give You 100% of the Nutrients You Need
However, health advice often urges a once-a-day multivitamin to make up for these deficiencies.
Are Multi-Vitamins Healthy?
The nutrients from supplements may not be the same as nutrients from real food.
This belief was pointed out by a recent aggressive study that urged readers to “stop wasting money on vitamins and minerals.”
In detail, this study analyzed dozens of vitamin and mineral trials featuring more than 400,000 participants.
To summarize, the researchers concluded that vitamin A and E supplements are harmful, while antioxidant and multi-vitamin supplements are ineffective (66).
Further, a study investigating the effects of long-term multivitamin supplementation on cognitive function in the elderly found zero benefits (67).
Also, in another preventive study, heart attack survivors using high-dose multivitamin supplementation had no difference in future cardiac events to non-users (68).
Another large-scale preventive study found limited evidence for cancer or CVD prevention (69).
The truth is that supplements do have their place, and can be useful in certain medical situations.
However, we should not view them as a substitute for our everyday diet.
All in all, we should be getting our nutrients from real food and not a little white tablet.
For more on nutrition mistakes, here are eleven surprising graphs which show where we are going wrong.