Nutrition myths you don’t need to worry about (much …)

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Expert Karen Geary investigates the complex facts – it’s not as simple as bad carbs and sad sweeteners

This month I thought I’d look at some of my current favourite nutrition ‘myths’. However, things are never straightforward – each one has a plot twist!

Carbs make you fat
Carbohydrates are now the villain in the same way as fat was in the 1970s. They are actually necessary for high-intensity efforts, proven to improve performance for exercise lasting longer than 45 minutes. Complex carbs are also a great source of fuel for a healthy microbiome, and a healthy gut affects our overall health.
BUT … if you have type 2 diabetes or certain chronic conditions, there is a case to keep carbs low.
For weight loss, it really isn’t necessary to follow a low-carb diet, but if you are both overweight and have type 2 diabetes, then you are likely to benefit. Low-carb diets also reduce hunger – over a few days, your blood sugar begins to regulate more naturally.
Carbs do not necessarily give you type 2 diabetes; just be sure you aren’t eating a calorie surplus or consuming a diet that is very high in carbs (especially the ones high in sugar).

Probiotics are a complete waste of money
It is true that probiotics do not take up permanent residence in your stomach. They are a bit like hair conditioner – once you stop taking them, your gut composition finds its own way, depending on the food you eat.
BUT … they are incredibly complex and powerful supplements. Adding probiotics can actually worsen gut issues. You need to identify the root cause of your gut symptoms and understand what strains are needed rather than taking them indiscriminately – that actually is a waste of money!
Used correctly, they can be extremely beneficial for certain conditions and during recovery from illness.

Aspartame gives you cancer
This one is topical, with wide media coverage following a recent study in which the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) designated the low-calorie sweetener as ‘possibly carcinogenic’.
What they actually concluded is that, from the evidence they reviewed, ‘aspartame warrants further investigation’.
The quality of some of the studies appears questionable – such as the Ramazzini Institute’s mouse studies and certain human nutritional epidemiology studies. In 2019, a meta-analysis of several studies concluded that there is no solid evidence base to suggest that aspartame poses a risk of cancer.
So, for now, the alarm seems unwarranted – there is no solid evidence base currently suggesting that aspartame poses a risk of cancer.
Indeed, diet products have been helpful to millions in achieving metabolic health and weight loss.
BUT … the plot twist here is that aspartame (and other types of sweeteners) do alter the composition of a healthy gut microbiome, so if you do use them, try not to overdo it. The dose makes the poison.

It’s not calories, but nutrients
This is one of my favourites – there are some who believe that nutrients take priority over calories for overall health. Equally, there are some who assume that it’s only calories that are important for overall health and optimal weight.
The reality is that BOTH are true.
You can certainly overeat high-quality nutrients and become or stay overweight.
However, consuming a high-quality diet (‘real’ food) makes you less likely to feel hungry and therefore more likely to stay within your own energy requirements.
What’s missing from this equation? Consistency. Consistency is the foundation of any beneficial dietary approach.

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