The nutritional panel on a diet soda reads all zeros: zero calories, zero sugars, zero fat. These numbers have led many weight-conscious Americans to switch from regular soda to diet soda – it’s an easy way to cut out 12 teaspoons of excess sugar a day (per drink!). Statistics tell us that diet sodas may not be so friendly to your waistline, however: a University of Texas study found that people who drank three or more diet sodas per week have a 40% greater chance of being obese. Experts believe this oddity is due to the fact that artificial sweeteners tend to trigger your appetite – making you want more and more sugar – but without actually satisfying a desire for sweets like normal sugar does. Diet soda-drinkers end up eating tons of sugary and fatty snacks in order to satisfy their cravings. Diet sodas are also often loaded with additives, including caramel coloring. Although it sounds harmless, this caramel coloring is made by reacting sugars with ammonia and sulfites, resulting in 2-methylimidazole and 4-methylimidazole – two compounds that have been found to cause lung, liver, and thyroid cancers in mice. Gradually wean yourself off the diet soda by switching to fruit juice mixed with seltzer, and eventually switch entirely to water flavored with fresh fruit and green tea.
I’ll lose weight faster if I don’t eat before working out.
Some exercise experts advise against eating before a workout in order to burn more fat. Their reasoning is that exercise normally burns away your glycogen (carbohydrate) reserves; when you’re done burning those, you’ll start dipping into your fat stores for energy. So when you’re already running on empty, you burn fat right away. However, the problem here is that exercise takes energy, and without energy, you might feel weak and lethargic, unable to complete your workout at a high intensity. And energy, of course, comes from calories. A study from the University of Birmingham compared a group of cyclists who ate before their workout and a group who fasted. While the group who fasted did end up burning more fat, the group who ate cycled at a much higher intensity than the fasting group – thus burning more calories. A person needs fuel to run, just like a car. Find the foods that give you the energy to work out at your hardest.
Cravings point to nutritional deficiencies.
This myth is more of an excuse to wolf down cookies, cupcakes, french fries, and ice cream without feeling guilty about it. The foods we often crave – sugary, fatty, salty fare – often have no nutritional value anyway, so what nutrients would our body be craving? And it’s not that often that you see someone deficient in vitamin A crave dandelion greens and kale. Cravings are usually due to either emotional or hormonal reasons or a very restrictive diet that limits yummy treats. With practice, cravings can become easy to control (self-control can actually be exercised, and made stronger, like a muscle); try avoiding trigger foods and environments, sip a cup of mint tea with a good book, or call up a friend to chat. And remember, it is okay to indulge every once in a while and eat that piece of cake!
All saturated fats are bad and should be avoided.
For a while, nutritionists, scientists, and the population believed that all fats are unhealthy. Then researchers found that certain fats – monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and omega-3s, the fats found in nuts, seeds, fish, and oil – have cardioprotective benefits, enhance the immune system, protect against disease, and contribute to skin and hair health. These fats were in, while others – saturated and trans fats – were out. But now, researchers have begun to discover that certain saturated fats, such as lauric acid (found in coconuts), have health benefits as well. Lauric acid strengthens the immune system and stimulates health digestion. These fats are made up of medium-chain fatty acids, as opposed to long-chain fatty acids (found in meat, milk, eggs, and vegetable oils), and are digested differently. Medium-chain fatty acids are used for energy immediately, so they are never stored as fat; they have also been shown to increase metabolism and slow digestion. Even though coconuts are 90% saturated fat, you can safely add them to your diet without raising cholesterol – and with health benefits, as well!