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Diet hits 'n' myths from carbs and coconut oil to detoxing and bread

Belfast trainer and nutritionist Alan Waterman on why the diet industry just can't make up its mind.

By Alan Waterman

Nearly every week we hear new and different claims about what we should or should not be including in our diets. One week, a certain food may help prevent disease, the next, it's suggested to cause it.

We are constantly being advised as to what foods and dietary practices are supposedly good for us, and which aren't. Any wonder there's confusion? What should we believe?

Here are ten of the top dietary warnings and recommendations, and the truth behind them.

1. Low carb diets are good for you

Trying to lose weight? The low-carb trend is nothing new, with its popularity now being more prevalent than ever.

But are low-carb diets anything special? The research suggests not. In fact, in studies with two groups where calorie intake was matched, those following a low carb diet achieved no more weight loss than those following a high carb diet. #

In other words, yet again it was total calorie intake which mattered, not the source of those calories. It's important to note that a low-carb diet does work well for some of us when it comes to weight loss, but simply because some find it more sustainable- it can work well for appetite control, as well as removing a food group which many have a tendency to overeat on, both resulting in a reduced calorie intake.

2. Fats are bad for you

Fats make you fat, right? This has been a long held belief, and one which advocates for low-fat diets have jumped all over.

However, as with sugar and carbohydrates, it is not fats themselves which cause weight gain, but an overconsumption of either fats, protein or carbs. You can still gain weight on a low fat diet if your total calorie intake is excessive.

What's more prolonged low fat diets can actually be detrimemtal to our health, as fats are essential for hormone production.

As for Saturated Fats? The link between them and cardiovascular disease have long been debunked, and they encouraged as part of  balanced diet.

3. Coconut oil is good for you

Coconut Oil has seen a boost in popularity, being used in everything from cooking to as an addition to your morning cup of coffee. The special type of fat they contain (known as MCT's) had been said to be beneficial for those seeking weight loss, however studies have suggested otherwise.

The main reason? The daily addition of several hundred calories from an increased dietary fat intake.

Furthermore, newer research has actually shown that is likely to negatively affect our levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) which is a huge consideration for heart health. Can we include it in our diet? Absolutely, but we shouldn't place it on an unjustified pedestal.

4. Protein is bad for you

Worried about kidney damage? For years, high protein diets were said to have a negative effect on kidney function, which was bad news for many of us eating larger quantities in order to maintain or build muscle mass.

However, no studies have actually shown a decline in kidney function from high protein intakes in individuals with healthy kidneys, or, in fact, harmful effects on any measures of health.

Although it will be a potential consideration for those with existing kidney conditions, the majority of us shouldn't be worried about increasing our protein intake.

5. Detoxing is good for you

Want to make a whole lot of money selling a supplement? Slap the word "detox" on it and you'll make a fortune.

One of the biggest fads in the fitness industry is that of cleansing products, which allegedly help remove harmful substances from the body. However, the body itself already has its own inbuilt detoxification station, with our liver and kidneys working round the clock to "detox" us.

Many detox products available have been unable to support their claims, and although many lose weight whilst using them, that weight loss is only as a result of a decreased calorie intake, which can easily be achieved without the need to follow a "detox" style diet.

6. Bread is bad for you

It's a lament of many, "I love bread, but it makes me gain weight."

However, there's hope yet for bread lovers. When it comes to the risk of weight gain, it is not a case of good foods are bad foods, there is just "eating too much of any foods."

Those who have a love affair with bread won't gain weight from eating bread, they will gain weight by eating too much of it, and thus an excessive calorie intake. This is why some feel dropping bread out from a diet helps with weight loss- again, it's not the removal of the bread itself, it's the reduction of the intake of calories from a food they typically overeat.

Bread can be included in a diet without issue, but the overall intake of it may just need to be more closely monitored.

7. The Alkaline Diet is good for you

As a somewhat newer dietary fad, Alkaline Diets began to gain more popularity with the belief that it was possible to alter the body's acidity (pH) level to a more alkaline level in the blood, which would promote a whole host of benefits- most notably, the ability to prevent cancer.

However, the truth is that altering the blood's alkaline level through dietary means is practically impossible, as the body has numerous mechanisms in place to regulate its own pH balance (unless certain health conditions come into play.)

Yes, urine pH levels have been shown to change, but these have no bearing on blood pH.

It can help with weight loss, but only as it limits our food choices by requiring removal of high-calorie, processed foods, i.e. we consume fewer calories. Nothing new in terms of how weight loss works.

8. Egg yolks are bad for you

We've probably all at some point heard that we should limit our intake of eggs, as it poses a risk to our cholesterol levels.

Although we should absolutely pay attention to where our cholesterol levels sit, we should realize that eating high cholesterol foods does not have a considerable impact on cholesterol levels in healthy individuals, and no study has shown an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

As usual, certain health conditions (such as diabetes,) and those with a genetic risk of higher cholesterol may have to make some considerations, but a moderate intake of eggs in those with healthy dietary habits has been suggested to pose no real noticeable threat.

9. Diet drinks are bad for you

Cancer and weight-gain are two pretty severe consequences of poor dietary choices, and artificial sweeteners have been feared to cause both. Bad news if you're a fan of diet drinks.

However, these fears aren't necessarily justified. With older research into diet drinks link to cancer being dismissed due to lack of evidence, as well as a major 2006 study of over half a million older adults concluding that no increased risk of cancer from drinking diet drinks was shown, and the fact that many of the studies which show correlation lack human trials, having only been conducted on rats, we don't have enough evidence to form a strong positive link.

As for the proposed risk of weight-gain? The majority of studies suggest otherwise, and some even show that they may actually help us with losing weight!

10. Sugar is bad for you

In part due to the emergence of low carb diet trends, sugar has earned itself the unfair reputation of being largely responsible for rising levels of weight gain and declines in health.

Insulin, a hormone which is released when carbs are eaten, has been demonised and feared as being solely responsible for weight gain, but it is largely misunderstood.

Yes, hormones matter when it comes to weight loss, but not as much as calorie balance. In truth, sugar, a carbohydrate, is no more "fattening" than protein or fats. Why? Because total calorie intake is the main consideration we need to make when it comes to losing or gaining weight, not where those calories come from.

When we consider too that foods which are higher in carbs tend to be ones which are easy to overconsume ("hyperpalatable" foods,) it's the excess calories from a larger intake which causes that weight gain, not the carbs themselves.

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