Whitney English Tabaie, MS, RDN, recently listed them among common nutrition myths in a popular video online.
She titled the clip “5 Things I Would NEVER Do As a Dietitian (Again),” noting she made some of those mistakes herself.
In her previous career as an entertainment reporter in Hollywood, Tabaie said she was immersed in a culture where people were “extremely fixated” on looks, so quick fixes for weight loss were very popular. She fell prey to some of that bad health advice herself.
“After going back to school and becoming a dietitian, I learned just how inaccurate a lot of these ideas were,” Tabaie, who lives in Palo Alto, California, told TODAY.
“Basic simple balanced nutrition isn’t sexy and it doesn’t sell… but the truth is that the general things we know about nutrition are not all that shocking or difficult. It’s really simple: Eat whole foods, eat quality ingredients, listen to your body to tell you when you’ve had enough vs. following these extreme restrictive food rules.”
Here are the five things Tabaie would never do as a dietitian:
Quick take: Counting calories leads to an obsession with quantity over quality and often backfires when it comes to weight loss.
Tabaie explains: Counting calories makes sense because calories in vs. calories out determines whether you’re going to maintain your weight or experience weight loss. However, it’s not that simple. Health and weight loss are also determined by behaviors. When people start counting calories, they often become fixated on these numbers — the quantity of what they’re taking in vs. the quality.
When you consume a lot of nutrient-poor, low-satiety foods — things that are lower in fiber or protein — you may eat less immediately, but feel less satisfied.
People may eventually reach a breaking point and end up overcompensating and eating a lot more food later. It could backfire for weight loss, and it’s also just not the best option for overall health. If you’re focusing on something that’s lowest in calories vs. highest in micronutrients, you may find yourself with nutrient deficiencies.
Quick take: Aim to get protein, fat and fiber in at each meal—no need to quantify it.
Tabaie explains: counting macros has become a very popular dietary technique, both for weight loss and in body composition, but it’s not necessary to take such a micro approach to nutrition. One, because it’s not easy to simply quantify our individual differences and figure out exactly what the best macronutrient composition would be.
Also, when it comes to losing weight, research shows that isocaloric diets — meaning the exact same amount of calories — result in similar amounts of weight loss, whether they are a different proportion of fat, carbohydrates and protein. There’s no research to show one is specifically better than another if calories are held constant.
There’s a caveat to that, which is that if you’re eating a certain way — eating more fiber, for example — you actually will feel fuller with fewer calories. So it’s not exactly that macro nutrients don’t matter, but counting a specific amount of macro nutrients is unnecessary for weight loss and for overall health.
For muscle gain goals, you do want to hit a certain amount of protein. But that doesn’t need to be measured out to a T, and it isn’t as important to balance it specifically with the carbohydrates and the fat. You just want to make sure you’re hitting your bare minimum of protein needs.
Do a juice cleanse
Quick take: You’re not “detoxifying your system” or “resting your organs,” but loading your body with sugar.
Tabaie explains: Juice cleanses have that faddish quick-fix appeal. People think, “I’m going to do this miracle two-day, three-day or week-long cleanse and it’s either going to solve all of my health problems or results in weight loss.” If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
We don’t have any randomized controlled trials on juice cleanses, but what I can say anecdotally is that it doesn’t result in long-term weight loss. Juice cleanses are very restrictive. People may be able to consume a low amount of calories for a few days or even a week and see some weight loss, but then they go back to eating the way they were eating before and the weight comes back.
Juice cleanses also leave you feeling very hungry. You’re getting calories from sugar, but you have no fiber because it’s been removed from the fruit, so it takes away that satiety factor. Juice is lower in nutrients than the whole fruit. A whole apple would be a much better choice than a juice.
If you want to incorporate more fruits in your diet, make a smoothie with bananas, strawberries or blueberries, add in a handful or two of greens, plant milk or unsweetened milk, and maybe some silken tofu or a protein powder to get a balanced, nutrient-dense meal that’s not going to leave you feeling hungry shortly after.
Quick take: Carbs are our life fuel. Restricting them is ineffective and unsustainable.
Tabaie explains: The satiety factor is one reason you want to include more fiber-rich carbohydrates or complex carbohydrates. The fiber in carbohydrates is going to help people stay fuller longer and reduce overeating. In one randomized controlled trial, one group of participants ate a low carbohydrate diet and the other ate a high-fiber, high-carbohydrate diet. When both groups ate as much as they wanted, the high-fiber group ate fewer calories a day and experienced greater weight loss. They felt so satisfied that they didn’t need to eat more.
Also, carbohydrates are one of the most health promoting nutrients when we’re consuming whole foods, meaning the carbohydrates come packaged with fiber. Fiber-rich carbs include whole grains, fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds.
Glucose, which is the main sugar found in carbohydrates, is what our whole body is fueled by. It’s needed to fuel healthy red blood cells and energy in our brain. Evolutionarily, it’s our preferred energy source. Carbs are found in most typical meals around the globe. People like carbohydrates. It’s hard to avoid them and it’s not necessary to avoid them.
Eat cauliflower crust pizza
Quick take: It’s big and it’s not pizza.
Tabaie explains: This speaks to the low-carb craze where we’re seeing an increase in products that swap out cauliflower for things like pasta or pizza.
But they’re usually not as nutrient dense as the original thing if you were having a pizza crust made with whole grains with the fiber in there.
Personally, I don’t think they taste good. I know a lot of people who would much rather have a nice hearty whole food, whole grain brown rice bowl than have a cauliflower bowl. That’s not to knock cauliflower. I love cauliflower. I hope you incorporate it into your diet. It’s a very nutrient-dense vegetable. But you don’t need to replace whole grains with it.
People feel forced into some of these fad things and try to almost trick their brain into thinking that they like these frankenfoods, if you will, because they think it’s healthy, but most people would really rather have a regular pizza.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.