June 1, 2021

Avoiding Nutritional Misconceptions

Setting the record straight about some of today’s popular diets
Nutritional Advice

The internet allows us to have resources at our fingertips and it has become the first place people go for nutritional guidance. With no gatekeepers determining what’s evidence-based information, scrolling through social media can lead you down a nutritional rabbit hole. It’s important to seek advice from experts in nutrition before making dietary changes.

Registered D­ietician, Kelly Anne Erdman, sets the record straight about some of today’s popular diets.

The ketogenic diet ­­

Some benefits of the ketogenic diet (KG) are management of epilepsy, IBS and carbohydrate food cravings. The KG diet is 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbohydrates. Such restricted carb intake is too low to support high intensity interval-type training. As such, the diet can work during very low intensity exercise. Low-carb diets also tend to be low in fibre. Fibre is essential for a healthy gut, which in turn is important for a strong immune system.

While people lose weight on KG, the weight they do lose tends to be muscle mass. For some,  the KG diet can help jumpstart weight loss and stop carbohydrate cravings for some people but it’s unsustainable like most other diets.

When it comes to dieting, the reality is that up to 95% of people who lose weight on a diet will regain that weight within two to five years. Rather than dieting, you should look for lifestyle changes and mindful eating strategies to change the behaviours that caused the unwanted weight gain in the first place.

Intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting (IF) wouldn’t be recommended to an athlete or anyone who is looking to build and maintain muscle mass. Eating infrequently, and skipping breakfast in particular, is often associated with higher sugar intake later in the day. One benefit with IF is that it usually stops late night “habitual” eating. While this can help with someone who tends to eat at night, it can also lead to binge eating and a lower basal metabolic rate (BMR).

IF is proposed to stop an insulin release since the eating is infrequent. On the one hand insulin causes us to store carbohydrates, but it’s also anabolic and helps to build and maintain lean body mass.

The vegetarian diet

The benefits of a vegetarian or vegan diet are related to fibre consumption, low intake of saturated fats, and high amounts of phytonutrients related to eating plant-based foods. This is particularly advantageous for specific types of cancer risk reduction, including colorectal cancer. The high fibre can also be advantageous for cardiovascular disease and lowering blood sugar for diabetics.

Just like an omnivore diet, a vegetarian can make unhealthy food choices such as opting for French fries and pastries. Vegetarians also need to be conscientious about the quality of the amino acids in their diet, to not go overboard with soy, and to watch the total calories they consume from healthy nuts, seeds, nut butters and excessive starchy carbs.

The healthiest diet
The overall “healthiest” diet may in fact be the Mediterranean diet. Many centenarians gravitate to this way of eating. This diet is high in:

  • monounsaturated fats (found in olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds)
  • polyunsaturated fats (such as omega-3 fatty fish)
  • fresh vegetables
  • whole grains
  • proteins from fish, poultry and dairy

Nutrition and immunity

There’s a lot of interest in herbal remedies (such as echinacea) to boost immunity. However, this is an industry that lacks quality controls. Studies have found that many supplements - including herbal preparations - lack the ingredients that’s listed on the label.he strongest science to support immunity includes eating whole foods and taking  supplemental vitamin C, zinc lozenges (on occasion), vitamin D and probiotic consumption.

Where can you receive reliable nutrition information and advice?

Make sure you get your information from Registered Dieticians, the experts in the field of nutrition. According to the College of Dietitians of Alberta, the title of “Nutritionist” should only be used by a Registered Dietitian in the province of Alberta.

Kelly Anne Erdman, MSc, RD, CSSD, is a sessional instructor in Kinesiology, based at the Sport Medicine Centre at the University of Calgary.