At the end of a long day, after my kids are in bed, lunches are packed and the kitchen is as clean as it's going to get, I like to eat ice cream. Often, this ritual happens at 10 p.m. You might be thinking: "What kind of nutrition expert promotes late-night emotional eating?" I say: one with expertise in weight management. Looking forward to my ice cream (measured into a half-cup container) keeps me from reaching for sweets earlier in the day. And the whole "eating after 6 p.m. makes you fat" thing just isn't true. EatingWell Contributing Editor Joyce Hendley tackles this myth and others in a story in the September/October issue of EatingWell Magazine. Here are the details on the 6 p.m. food myth, plus highlights of other myths you should ignore.
Myth 1: "Calories eaten at night are more fattening than those eaten early in the day."
The truth: According to Dr. John Foreyt, director of the Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston: "Calories are calories are calories, and it doesn't matter what time you eat them. What matters are the total calories you take in."
Myth 2: Limit carbs. They make you fat.
The truth: There's nothing inherently fattening about carbohydrates, says Jean Harvey-Berino, Ph.D., R.D., chair of the department of nutrition and food sciences at the University of Vermont and co-author of The EatingWell Diet (Countryman, 2007). "It's eating too many calories, period, that makes you fat." There's no question that foods full of refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, pasta and doughnuts, can raise your risk of developing health problems like heart disease and diabetes. But if you cut out so-called "good-carb" foods, such as whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables, you're missing out on your body's main source of fuel as well as vital nutrients, such as fiber. What's more, for many people, a low-carb diet may be harder to stick with in the long run.
Myth 3: Eating foods like wheat or dairy that your body can't process causes you to pack on pounds.
The truth: This theory is, in fact, "illogical," says Marc Riedl, M.D., assistant professor of clinical immunology and allergy at UCLA. The inability to "process" foods, he notes, "would mean the foods are not metabolized and calories would not be absorbed." Of course, cutting out whole categories of foods will probably help you lose weight, simply because it takes so many choices off the table-but it also might cause you to underconsume important nutrients like calcium.
Myth 4: Eating many mini meals helps you control your weight better than eating fewer, larger meals.
The truth: Our metabolisms rev up slightly each time we eat, as our bodies process what we've consumed. So by having many mini meals instead of fewer, larger ones, we shift our metabolism into a higher gear more often-and burn a few more calories. But "the calorie difference is so small it doesn't add up to a hill of beans," says Foreyt. That said, snacking between meals may help some dieters by keeping them from getting overly hungry and eating too many calories when they finally sit down to dinner.
Myth 5: You crave certain foods because you're deficient in one of the nutrients they provide.
The truth: Human food cravings tend to be more about satisfying emotional needs, says Marcia Pelchat, Ph.D., a researcher at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. "Cravings tend to occur when your diet is restricted or boring, or when you know that you can't have something," says Pelchat. "If it's forbidden, you usually want it more." Not surprisingly, the most commonly craved foods tend to be fatty, high-calorie fare-that's why you might crave a cheeseburger. It's not because you're deficient in iron or protein.
Myth 6: It's important to fast periodically, to cleanse toxins from your body.
The truth: Your body has its own elegantly designed system for removing toxins-namely, the liver, kidneys and spleen. There isn't any evidence that not eating-or consuming only juice-for any period of time makes them do this job any better, says Keith-Thomas Ayoob, Ed.D., R.D., of Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
What diet myth do you think is misleading and needs to be "busted"?
By Nicci Micco
Nicci Micco is deputy editor of features and nutrition at EatingWell and co-author of EatingWell 500-Calorie Dinners. She has a master's degree in nutrition and food sciences, with a focus in weight management.
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