Nutrition and weight loss: myths and truths 2022
Nutrition is the biochemical and physiological process by which an organism uses food to support its life. It includes ingestion, absorption, assimilation, biosynthesis, catabolism and excretion. The science that studies the physiological process of nutrition is called nutritional science.
On this page:
- Myths about diets and weight loss
- food myths
- Myths about physical activity
- food myths
- Do you have more questions?
- Additional Information
- Clinical Trials
“Lose 30 pounds (14 kilos) in 30 days!”
“Eat all you want and lose weight!”
“Buy the thigh toner and lose several inches in no time!”
Many diets and products are available, but you hear so much about it that it’s hard to know what to believe. The information we offer here can help you. This fact sheet talks about some myths and facts about weight loss, nutrition, and physical activity. This information can help you make healthy changes in your daily life.
If you want to lose weight or have any questions that we haven’t covered here, talk to your doctor or other health care professional. A nutritionist or dietitian can give you tips on following a healthy eating plan or losing weight and keeping it off safely.
Myths about diets and weight loss
Myth: Fad diets are an excellent way to lose weight and keep it off.
Truth: Fad diets are not the best way to lose weight permanently. This type of diet usually promises that you will lose weight quickly. They make you strictly reduce what you eat or avoid certain types of food. You may lose weight first, but it isn’t easy to continue this diet. Most people soon tire of following them and gaining back their weight.
Some fad diets are unhealthy and do not provide all the nutrients with the body needs. Also, if you lose more than 3 pounds a week for several weeks, you may increase the chance of developing gallstones (masses of solid material in the gallbladder that can be painful). If you follow a diet of fewer than 800 calories a day for a long time, you can develop serious heart problems.
Tip: Research suggests that the surest way to lose weight and keep it off is to eat a healthy diet with fewer calories than you used to consume and exercise daily. The goal is to lose 1/2 to 2 pounds (1/4 to 1 kilo) per week (after the first few weeks of weight loss). Choose healthy foods. Eat small portions. Incorporate exercise into your daily routine. Taken together, these eating and exercise habits can be a healthy way to lose weight and keep it off. These habits also lower your chance of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.
Healthy habits can help you lose weight.
- Choose healthy foods.
- It would help if you filled half your plate with fruits and vegetables.
- Eat small portions.
- Use a smaller plate or check the Nutrition Facts label to learn what serving sizes.
- Incorporate exercise into your daily routine.
- Garden, go for a walk with your family, play sports, start a dance club with your friends, swim, take the stairs, or walk to the store or work.
- Taken together, these habits can be a safe and healthy way to lose weight and keep it off.
Myth: Grain products such as bread, pasta, and rice make me fat. I should avoid them when trying to lose weight.
Truth: A grain product is any food made with wheat, rice, oats, barley, or another grain. Grains are divided into two subgroups: whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains contain the entire germ of the seed—the bran, the embryo, and the endosperm. Some examples are brown rice and whole wheat bread, cereals, and pasta.
The refined grains have been ground in a process through which the bran and the germ are removed. This is done to give the grains a more delicate texture and increase the shelf life of perishables. However, it does remove dietary fibre, iron, and many of the B vitamins.
People who eat whole grains as part of a healthy diet may lower their chances of developing chronic diseases. The government’s dietary guidelines suggest that half of the grains you eat should be whole grains. For example, choose bread with 100 percent whole wheat flour instead of white bread and brown rice instead of white rice. Helpful links to these guidelines and to the MyPlate External link website, which provides information, practical tips, and tools for healthy eating, are provided in the Additional Information section at the end of this sheet.
Tip: To lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories and increase the amount of exercise or physical activity you get each day. Establish and follow a healthy eating plan that replaces less healthy options with a mix of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein foods, and low-fat dairy:
- Eat various fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.
- Limit added sugars, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and saturated fats, also known as “solid fats,” which are the fats that come from fatty meats and high-fat dairy products like butter.
- Eat proteins that are low in fat like beans, eggs, fish, lean meats, nuts, and chicken or turkey.
Eat vegetables and fruits of all colours!
When you fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, choose foods with various rich colours. This way, you will get a variety of vitamins, minerals and fibre.
Red bell peppers, cherries, cranberries, red onions, beets, strawberries, tomatoes, watermelon
Green avocados, broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, dark lettuce, grapes, honeydew melon, kale, kiwis, spinach, green Italian zucchini (“zucchini”)
Orange and yellow apricots, plantains or bananas, melons, papaya, carrots, mangoes, oranges, peaches or peaches, pumpkins, sweet potatoes (sweet potatoes)
Blue and purple berries, blueberries, grapes, plums, purple cabbage, purple carrots, purple potatoes
Learn more! For more practical tips on healthy eating, see the Additional Information section for helpful links to the federally approved dietary guidelines and the MyPlate External link site.
Myth: Some people can eat as much as they want and still lose weight.
Truth: To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you eat and drink. Some people seem like they can eat any food they want and still lose weight. However, just like other people, they have to use more energy than they take in through food to lose weight.
Some factors can affect your weight. These include age, medications, daily living habits, and the genes you have inherited from your parents. If you want to lose weight, talk to your doctor about factors affecting your weight. Together you can create a plan to reach your weight and health goals.
Tip: Just because you’re trying to lose weight doesn’t mean you can’t eat your favourite foods. The important thing is that you have a healthy eating plan and if one day you eat something that is very fattening, that is, that has a lot of calories, try to eat less the rest of the day or the next day. For this, it is good to look at the total number of calories you eat and reduce the size of your portions. Find out how to limit calories in your favourite foods. For example, you can bake some foods instead of frying them or use low-fat milk instead of cream. Don’t forget to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables.
Myth: I shouldn’t eat fast foods when I’m on a diet because they’re an unhealthy choice.
Truth: It is true that many fast foods are not very healthy and can make you gain weight. However, if you’re at a fast-food place, select menu options carefully. Whether at home or on the go, choose small portions of healthy foods high in nutrients and low in calories.
Tip: To choose healthy, low-calorie foods, check the Nutrition Facts. Today you can often find them on restaurant menus or websites. However, don’t forget that the nutrition facts don’t always include sauces and extras. Try these tips:
- Avoid combos or specials, which despite giving you more bang for your buck, tend to have more calories than you need in a single meal.
- Choose fresh fruit or nonfat yogurt for dessert.
- Limit the use of extra ingredients high in fat and calories, such as bacon, cheese, regular mayonnaise, salad dressings, and tartar sauce.
- Choose steamed, grilled, or baked items instead of fried ones. For example, try grilled chicken breast instead of fried chicken.
- Drink water or nonfat milk instead of soda.
- As a side, have a salad or a small portion of rice and beans instead of yucca or French fries.
What is the difference between a portion and a serving?
The US FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION (FDA*) Nutrition Facts label appears on most packaged foods ( see Figure 1 On this label, you can see the number of calories and servings in that box, can, or package
The serving size varies from product to product.
A serving is the amount of food you choose to eat at one time, either a restaurant, from a package, or at home. Sometimes serving size and serving size are the same, but many times they are not.
You can use the Nutrition Facts label to:
- See how many calories and servings you consume.
- Make healthier food selections, serve smaller portions, and choose foods with less fat, salt, sugar and more fibre and vitamins.
Learn more! Go to the end of this sheet where it says ” How to Use the Nutrition Facts Label ” for more information on reading food labels.
Myth: When something says “low fat” or “fat-free,” it means it has no calories, and I can eat as much as I want.
Truth: A low-fat or fat-free food serving may be lower in calories than a full-fat serving of the same product. However, many processed foods are low-fat or fat-free but have the same or more calories than the same food with fat. These foods are sometimes flour, salt, starch, or sugar added to improve their flavour and texture after removing the fat. It adds calories to the food.
Tip: Read the Nutrition Facts label ( see Figure 1 ) on food packages to determine how many calories are in a serving. Check the serving size. The size may also be smaller than what you are used to eating.
Figure 1. The Nutrition Facts Label
It is adapted from:
Start Here (Serving Size, Servings in Container)
See how many calories you have
Limit These Nutrients (Total Fat, Saturated Fat, Trans Fat, Cholesterol, Sodium)
Get Enough of These Nutrients (Total Carbohydrates, Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, and Iron)
Myth: If I skip a meal, I can lose weight.
Truth: If you skip a meal, you may end up feeling hungrier. It may cause you to eat more than usual at the next meal. Studies show a link between skipping breakfast and obesity. People who skip breakfast tend to weigh more than people who eat a healthy breakfast.
Tip: Choose meals and snacks that include a variety of healthy foods. Try the following examples:
- Quick breakfast: Have oatmeal with low-fat milk and topped with fresh fruit, or have whole-grain toast with fruit jam.
- Healthy Lunches – Pack your lunch each night so you won’t be tempted to run out of the house in the morning without your lunch.
- Healthy snacks: Pack a small low-fat yogurt, a couple of whole-wheat crackers with peanut butter, or vegetables with hummus.
For more information on healthy eating, read our booklet “Improving Your Health: Tips for Adults.” (See the ” Additional Information ” section for links to this and other WIN brochures.)
Myth: Eating healthy food is too expensive.
Truth: Eating better doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Many people think that fresh foods are healthier than canned or frozen foods. For example, some people believe spinach is better raw than frozen or canned. However, some canned or frozen fruits and vegetables provide as many nutrients as fresh and lower costs. Choose low-salt canned vegetables and canned fruits in their juice or water. Don’t forget to rinse canned vegetables to remove excess salt. Some canned seafood, like tuna, is healthy, inexpensive, and easy to store in the pantry. Other healthy sources of protein that don’t cost much are lentils, peas, canned, frozen, or bagged beans.
- Look at the nutritional information on canned, frozen and bagged foods.
- Look for foods high in calcium, fibre, potassium, protein, and vitamin D.
- Look for foods low in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium.
- For more tips, check out ” Fruit and Vegetable Shopping Smart External link ” (PDF, 67 KB) and ” Healthy Eating on a Budget External link, “both on the MiPlato External link website (see the “Additional Information” section ).
Myths about physical activity
Myth: It’s not good to lift weights if I’m trying to lose weight because it will make me look “too muscular.”
Truth: Doing activities that help build muscle regularly can help you burn more calories. To strengthen your muscles, you can lift weights, use resistance bands or rubber bands, do push-ups or sit-ups, or do housework or yard work that requires you to raise or dig. Doing strengthening activities 2 or 3 days a week will not make you “too muscular.” Only intense training to harden muscles, combined with genetics (inherited from parents), can build huge muscles.
Tip: Government guidelines for physical activity recommend that adults do muscle-strengthening exercises at least two times a week. These guidelines also suggest that adults get 2½ to 5 hours of moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week. Aerobic exercise makes you sweat and breathe faster and includes activities like brisk walking or bicycling.
For more information on the benefits of physical activity and tips on how to be more active, check out the government’s guidelines on physical activity (see the ” Additional Information ” section for a link).
Don’t just sit there!
In the United States, people spend a lot of time sitting in front of the television, computer, and desk or using handheld devices. Break up your day by moving more and doing a regular aerobic activity that makes you sweat and breathe faster.
Get 2½ to 5 hours of moderate- or vigorous-intensity physical activity each week. Go for a run, brisk walk or hike, play tennis, soccer or basketball, or use a hula hoop. Choose what you enjoy the most!
Doing 10 minutes of physical activity all at once, several times throughout the day and week will reach your goal for the total amount of physical activity you should do.
Strengthen your muscles at least twice a week. Do push-ups, pull-ups, lift weights, do heavy gardening, or work with resistance rubber bands.
Myth: Physical activity only counts if I can do it for long periods.
Truth: You don’t have to be physically active for long periods to get your 2½ to 5 hours of activity each week. Experts advise doing aerobic exercise for 10 minutes or more at a time. You can spread these sessions throughout the week.
Tip: Plan to get at least 10 minutes of physical activity three times a day for five or more days a week. It will help you reach the 2½ hour goal. Take a few minutes from work to take a walk. Take the stairs. Get off the bus one stop before yours. Go out dancing with your friends. Whether they are short or long periods, these periods of activity can add to the total amount of physical activity you need each week.
Myth: Eating meat is bad for my health and makes it harder to lose weight.
Truth: Eating small amounts of lean (low-fat) meat can be part of a healthy weight-loss plan. While it’s true that chicken, fish, pork, and red meat contain some cholesterol and saturated fat, they also have beneficial nutrients like iron, protein, and zinc.
Tip: Select the cuts of meat that are lower in fat and trim off any fat you see. Lower-fat cuts of meat include chicken breast, pork loin, beef round steak, and extra-lean ground beef ( “extra lean ground beef”). It would help if you also looked at portion sizes. Try to eat meat or chicken in portions of 3 ounces (about 8.5 grams) or less.
Myth: Milk and milk products make me fat and are not healthy.
Truth: Fat-free or low-fat cheese, milk, and yogurt are just as nutritious as products made with whole milk but have less fat and calories.
Milk products, also known as dairy products, have protein used to increase muscle mass and help organs work well. They also have calcium that serves to strengthen bones. Most milk and some yogurts are fortified with vitamin D, which allows the body to use calcium.
Most people in the United States don’t get enough calcium and vitamin D. Milk products easily get more of these nutrients.
Tip: According to government guidelines, you should aim to consume 3 cups a day of fat-free or low-fat milk or its equivalent in milk products. It may include vitamin-enriched soy-based beverages. If you can’t digest lactose (the type of sugar found in milk products), choose milk products that are lactose-free or low in lactose. You can also select other foods and drinks that contain calcium and vitamin D, such as:
- Calcium: canned salmon, dark green leafy vegetables such as collard greens or kale, and soy-based beverages or tofu made with calcium sulphate.
- Vitamin D: cereals or soy-based drinks.
Myth: Becoming a vegetarian will help me lose weight and be healthier.
Truth: Studies show that people who follow a vegetarian diet generally consume fewer calories and fat than non-vegetarians. Some studies have also found that a vegetarian-style diet is associated with lower obesity, lower blood pressure, and a lower risk of heart disease. Vegetarians also have less body fat than non-vegetarians. However, both vegetarians and non-vegetarians can make unhealthy food choices that can affect their weight by making it go up. For example, they may eat large amounts of fat and calories and have little nutritional value.
The types of vegetarian diets in the United States can vary greatly. Some people do not eat animal products, while others consume milk and eggs and plant foods. Some eat mainly on a vegetarian plan but include small amounts of meat, seafood, chicken or turkey.
Tip: If you decide to follow a vegetarian eating plan, be sure to get the nutrients you usually get from animal products like cheese, eggs, meat, and milk. In the table below, you’ll find a list of nutrients that may be missing from a vegetarian diet, with some foods and beverages that may help fill your needs for those nutrients.
Calcium Milk and other milk products, calcium-fortified soy beverages, tofu made with calcium sulphate, collard greens, kale, broccoli
Iron Cashews, spinach, lentils, chickpeas, iron-fortified bread or cereal
Protein Eggs, milk and other milk products, beans, nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh (cake-like product made from fermented soybeans), soy patties
B12 vitamin Eggs, milk and other milk products, soy beverages or cereals fortified with vitamin B12, tempeh, miso (another food made from soy)
Vitamin D Vitamin D-fortified foods and drinks, including milk, soy beverages, and cereals
Zinc Whole grains (read the ingredient list on the food label and look for the words “whole” or “whole grain” before the name of the grain), nuts, tofu, and green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, or cabbage and lettuce.
Do you have more questions?
If you’re not sure whether or not to believe any weight loss or nutrition product or service, find out! The Federal Trade Commission External link has information on false claims in weight-loss advertising. You can also learn more about nutrition and weight loss by talking to a dietitian at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics External link. See the “Additional Information” section for the corresponding links.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK*) conducts and supports a wide range of primary and clinical research on obesity. More information on obesity research can be found at
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and other organizations of the National Institute of Health (NIH) conduct and assist in researching many diseases and medical conditions.
What are clinical trials, and would they be a good option for you?
Clinical trials are part of clinical research and are at the root of all medical advances. Clinical trials look for new ways to prevent, detect, or treat disease. Researchers also use clinical trials to study other aspects of clinical care, such as improving the quality of life for people with chronic illnesses. Find out if clinical trials are correct for you. External link.
What are clinical trials available?
For more information on available clinical trials and recruiting,
Frequently Asked Questions: Nutrition
What do you mean nutrition?
Nutrition is about eating a healthy and balanced diet. Food and drink provide the energy and nutrients you need to be healthy. Understanding these nutrition terms may make it easier for you to make better food choices.
How important is nutrition?
Most people know good nutrition and physical activity can help maintain a healthy weight. But the benefits of good nutrition go beyond weight. Good nutrition can help: Reduce the risk of some diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, stroke, some cancers, and osteoporosis.
What are the 7 elements of nutrition?
These are carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, fibre and water. It is important that everyone consumes these seven nutrients on a daily basis to help them build their bodies and maintain their health.
What are the basics of nutrition?
Nutrients can be divided into two categories: macronutrients, and micronutrients. Macronutrients are those nutrients that the body needs in large amounts. These provide the body with energy (calories). Micronutrients are those nutrients that the body needs in smaller amounts.
What are the 3 basic food nutrients?
There are three major classes of macronutrients: carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins. All three of these nutrients are needed in relatively large amounts AND they contain Calories (note the capital C which indicates kilocalories) which can be “burned” in your body to create energy for your body cells.
What are the six basic nutrients?
Nutrients are compounds in foods essential to life and health, providing us with energy, the building blocks for repair and growth and substances necessary to regulate chemical processes. There are six major nutrients: Carbohydrates (CHO), Lipids (fats), Proteins, Vitamins, Minerals, Water.
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