Know how you sometimes snatch dropped food off the floor and joke that it's still good because of the "five-second rule?" Hate to break it to you, but that's just one of the many old roommates' tales out there, according to American Dietetic Association spokesperson Melinda Johnson, MS, RDN. It really takes less than a second to contaminate food with whatever it touches on the ground — yes, even if you blow off the dirt.
In the interest of your health and shirt size, we asked nutrition experts around the country to help debunk some other myths and morsels of misinformation that are often ingested to the detriment of weight-loss efforts.
Myth: Skipping breakfast helps you lose weight.
Reality check: Missing your meal in the morning — or at the crack of noon, if that's when you arise — may be counterproductive to shedding pounds. That's true even if you believe eating early makes you hungrier. Fact is, breakfast eaters "tend to eat fewer calories the rest of the day," says Dallas-based ADA spokesperson Lona Sandon, PhD, RDN.
Digging into something hearty and healthy in the a.m. has a bonus: "Eating breakfast helps to fight off hunger so you don't overeat later," says Joann Sparks, a Utah-based corporate wellness coordinator.
So, skip the sugary pastries, but don't skip breakfast.
Myth: Eating late at night makes you fatter.
Reality check: “What you eat, not when, makes the difference," says registered dietitian Jim White, a certified American College of Sports Medicine health fitness instructor in Virginia. "Calories have the same effect on the body no matter when they are consumed."
The exception? Yep, in the morning. "Evidence does suggest eating regular meals, especially breakfast, helps promote weight loss by reducing fat intake and minimizing impulsive snacking," says White, who's also an ADA spokesperson.
The danger of nighttime noshing is that people often engage in "the mindless type of eating" in front of the TV, says Johnson. "That is a problem."
Myth: Drinking water flushes the pounds away.
Reality check: Not to discredit the role water can play in improving health, but it just isn't the liquid magic bullet some claim it to be for weight loss.
"There is no science at all that backs up that drinking more water makes you lose weight," Sandon says.
Drinking a glass of water before eating a meal can be a useful mind trick, Sandon admits. Pay attention to drinking more, and you'll likely watch what you eat, too. Eating foods that are loaded with water, such as fruits, vegetables, and broths, is most beneficial. They help you feel fuller longer and are calorie-friendly. Substituting water for sugar-packed sodas and alcoholic drinks will definitely help.
Myth: Eating (fill-in-the-blank food) will vaporize fat.
Reality check: Sorry, grapefruit fanatics. Your favourite food isn't quite what it's cracked up to be by some misguided souls (or fad diet salesmen). Ditto for lovers of celery or cabbage soup. Good foods? You betcha. Weight-loss wonders? Not so fast.
Unless, of course, that's all you eat — something dietitians vehemently don't recommend.
"There's still the myth out there that if you eat a particular food, it will help you lose weight," Sandon says. "Celery has no magic power. There's nothing magical about grapefruit that burns fat from the body."
But replacing chips or chocolate with those nutrient-packed-but-miracle-lacking foods will definitely reduce calorie intake.
Myth: Frozen or canned fruits and veggies aren't as healthy as fresh produce. Neither is iceberg lettuce.
Reality check: Au contraire. ADA-backed research shows that frozen and canned Vs can pack as much nutrition as fresh produce. Canned tomatoes "are sometimes better nutrition choices" because the body absorbs lycopene more easily after the plump red fruit has been processed, White says.
White also tells people to "give iceberg lettuce a break." Darker-coloured greens are more nutrient-dense, sure. But iceberg isn't exactly a nutrition weakling: It's low-cal, fat-free, and has potassium, folate, beta carotene, calcium, and vitamins C and K.
Myth: Carbohydrates will plump you up.
Reality check: The blame for expanding love handles, Johnson insists, belongs to calories, not carbs. "One of the biggest myths people have is that you gain weight because of too many carbs," she says.
Our bodies need oft-maligned carbs — remember, they include whole grains, fruits and vegetables — to function properly. "Carbohydrates are our body's main source of energy and they provide fuel for the brain," Sparks says. "If you want to be smart, feed your brain what it needs."