dietitians unpack common nutrition myths
  • December 9, 2022

Episode 9: Five Common Nutrition Myths (Gluten, Carbs, Fasted Exercise & More)

This episode is all about busting some common nutrition myths.     Is gluten really inflammatory? Social media has for […]

This episode is all about busting some common nutrition myths.



Is gluten really inflammatory?

Social media has for quite a while been perpetuating ideas that gluten is evil or inflammatory or going to give you diseases. BUT, unless you have don’t have Coeliac disease then it isn’t going to cause you any harm.

There is a very small percentage of the population that has non-Coeliac gluten sensitivity. This can however be a bit controversial as there are a few other components in wheat that can cause gut symptoms other such as fructans (a type of FODMAP). Gluten-containing foods are also often eaten in combination with other foods that don’t always make us feel so great afterwards. For example, a huge bowl of carbonara which contains so many components which may not sit so well other than just the gluten.

When we exclude gluten from the diet, it can actually be worse for your gut health. This is because many gluten containing foods, such as wholegrains, are really important for feeding our good gut bacteria. There is also researched to suggest that when you cut out whole food groups, such as grains, the bacteria responsible for digesting it, actually die off. This means that when you go and try to re-introduce it, you may find you no longer tolerate it as well.

If you have excluded gluten for a while unnecessarily and want to reintroduce it, we recommend:

  1. Start small – e.g. add one slice of toast at breakfast
  2. Don’t make any other drastic changes to your diet at the same time
  3. Keep a food, mood and symptom diary at the same time to assess the change

All in all – gluten is ok to have and NOT inflammatory, UNLESS you have Coeliac disease in which case it gluten should be fully excluded.

Note: if you think you have an issue with gluten but haven’t been tested for Coeliac disease then this is something we recommend discussing with your GP.


Are carbs bad for us?

Carbs unfortunately fall victim to many common nutrition myths. All in all, carbs are completely fine for you! In fact, they are actually the body’s main and preferred fuel source and the brain’s only fuel source.

Carbs are found in many foods such as bread and other grains, potatoes, fruit, yoghurt and milk. Once we eat them, the body breaks them down into glucose. The body needs to keep a baseline level of glucose in the blood to function normally. Often, when you start to feel shaky or lightheaded, this is a sign your blood glucose levels are dropping. This happens when you go too long without food. Eating carbohydrates, can then replenish these levels and make you feel much better.

The body can run off other fuel sources. For example, during the ketogenic diet when carb intake is very minimal, the body can shift to use fat as it’s primary fuel source. However, the body doesn’t prefer to do this! This is one of the reason’s why low carb diets aren’t sustainable long term.

The other issue with cutting carbs out of the diet, is that it reduces your intake of prebiotics which is the main fuel of your gut health. This means that cutting carbs can also worsen gut health which has so many negative flow-on effects.

Carbs that aren’t used immediately but the body are stored as glycogen in the muscles for future use to help fuel activity. Glycogen, when stored, is also stored with water. This is healthy, natural and a good thing. However, this is also why you might find that when you go on a low carb diet, you feel like you loose weight quite rapidly initially. This is because you are losing water weight as your body reverts to using up your glycogen stores and releases diet. This is also why when you re-introduce carbs, you may feel like you gain weight back quite quickly as you then replenish your glycogen stores.



What about fasted exercise – does it help with “fat burning”?

One of the most common nutrition myths around “fat burning” is related to fasted exercise. We need carbs and sugar in our bloodstream to give us energy. When we go into exercise under-fuelled, we won’t be able to perform our best.

If you train really early in the morning, it is common you might not have an appetite. But if you can, it is important to try an include even just a small carbohydrate rich snack. This is because while we sleep, we don’t eat, meaning that we start the day without any fuel in the tank. And if you think of the body like a car, in the same way a car needs petrol to keep going, we need food as fuel to keep us going.

If the main reason you are doing exercise fasted is to “burn more fat”. Then this doesn’t actually help – across the day your food balances out so it doesn’t matter when you eat it in relation to your exercise. Plus, if anything, if you go into your workout better fuelled, you will likely be able to actually perform better and have a harder workout.

Some good options to eat pre-exercise are foods which are quick and easy for our body to digest into glucose. They should be high in carbs but low in fibre and fat. Some options include:

  • Banana
  • Dates
  • Oat based muesli bar
  • Oatmeal or banana-based smoothie
  • Jam or honey on toast
  • Glass of juice


Should you only eat when you are hungry?

There are some basics that you need to have down before you can try only eating when you are hungry.

Firstly, you need to be eating regularly (e.g. breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner). This is because if you have routinely been skipping certain meals, you won’t feel like food during these times anymore. Therefore, we can’t actually accurately trust these signals anymore.

Secondly, there are some other things that can put our hunger signals out of whack. For example, coffee is an appetite suppressant that can still make us feel like we have enough energy. Stress, illness and exercise can also suppress appetite.

You also need to be aware of what your hunger and fullness cues actually look like – we go through this is much more detail on episode 4.

Plus, eating intuitively also include practical nutrition. Practical nutrition means that there are some instances when no, you might not actually be hungry, but it is still a good idea to eat. For example, eating when you are sick can be difficult but important for recovery.


Are the lowest calorie options the best?

The idea that the lowest calorie options are the “best” or “healthiest” is a very common mindset that we can fall into, but this isn’t the case.

Firstly, calories are energy, and our bodies need energy to get us through the day. Low calorie options therefore, are low in energy which can leave us feeling dissatisfied (physically and mentally) after our meals or low energy throughout the day.

The most important thing is to choose meals and foods that will keep you feeling satisfied between meals, and this will not always be the lowest calorie options.

Remember – our bodies know how many calories we need eat day much better than MyFitnessPal or any other calorie calculator does. However, if you are in a place where you aren’t able to trust your body yet (e.g. in ED recovery), then it is important you work on this with your dietitian first.

To summarise – be wary of common nutrition myths when readying nutrition information online!


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