updated 07/24/2013 AT 7:40 PM ET
•originally published 07/24/2013 AT 8:00 PM ET
I start most of my days with a walk to my favorite local cafe (2400 steps for the round trip), order a coffee, grab a seat and people watch. Even more entertaining than watching the many “interesting” Los Angelenos is listening to them.
I would estimate (based on my very unscientific cafe observations) that at least two-thirds of every conversation in LA revolves around diet. What makes this figure even more alarming is the rampant misinformation people possess and proliferate when it comes to healthy eating. These conversations inspired me to come up with a list of the top five most widespread myths about nutrition.
MYTH #1: A calorie is a calorie
“Losing weight is simple math! If you eat 1500 calories a day, and do 1500 calories a day of exercise, you’ll never gain weight.” WRONG!
Different foods have different effects on our body beyond their calorie count. Our metabolism, hunger, blood sugar and hormones respond differently to different types of foods. That means that 100 calories of broccoli, is not the same as 100 calories of licorice, just as 3 oz. of salmon is not the same as 3 oz. of cupcakes.
Foods with protein or fiber or healthy fats (or all three) will rev up your metabolism and keep you feeling fuller longer than simple sugars or starches, which will not only leave you still hungry but also will cause your blood sugar (and energy) to spike and then crash.
Let s look at an example. One piece of white bread has the same calories as three egg whites scrambled with peppers and onion. Which option do you think is better for you? If all calories were created equal, these two options would have to be nutritionally equivalent.
MYTH #2: Going gluten-free will help you lose weight
“OMG! My spiritual homeopath did a saliva test on me and discovered I was overweight because I’m allergic to gluten” WRONG!
These days everyone seems to be going gluten-free. From entire gluten-free grocery aisles to gluten-free pizza crust at your local pizza place, it seems everyone is scared of the G-word. Gluten-free product sales reached more than $2.6 billion by the end of 2010 and are now expected to exceed more than $5 billion by 2015.
So how is it possible that an entire nation (somehow only Americans) has been simultaneously affected by gluten sensitivity? The truth is that we haven’t. Gluten sensitivity, which is defined as a gastrointestinal reaction to ingesting gluten (a simple protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye), has notoriously vague symptoms that can range from fatigue and “foggy mind to diarrhea, depression and joint pain.
Now before you shout, That’s me! – only six percent of the population has gluten sensitivity and even fewer (one percent of the population) have a true allergy to gluten, or celiac disease. Celiac disease is an immune response in the small intestine triggered by gluten, which produces inflammation that damages the small intestine’s lining and prevents absorption of some nutrients (malabsorption). Interestingly, one of the major symptoms of celiac disease is actually weight loss due to malabsorption.
If you think you really are having a reaction to gluten, I encourage you to see your doctor who can perform tests and rule out other culprits of similar symptoms (irritable bowel syndrome, for example.)
Where people “succeed” by eliminating gluten from their diet lies in the fact that many of the foods that we overeat (breads, pasta, pastries, crackers) are wheat-based. Wheat contains gluten, so by eliminating gluten, you coincidentally eliminate the foods you were overeating.