After the indulgences of the holiday season, it’s natural to feel a pull toward getting back on track with healthier eating.
As you set goals for a new year (and a new decade), your thoughts may turn to your personal nutrition. Sometimes, though, it can seem like dietary wisdom is constantly in flux.
How exactly do you set effective, informed goals for your diet this year — and leave outdated nutrition advice behind?
While it’s true that nutrition is a constantly evolving science, a number of tips that used to be commonplace are now definitely old news.
Armed with up-to-date evidence, we’ve rounded up the following five pieces of outdated nutrition advice you can leave behind in 2020.
You’ve probably heard the advice that the healthiest, freshest ingredients can be found around the perimeter of the grocery store, rather than down the aisles.
The outside edge of the supermarket is, of course, where you’ll typically find fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and meats.
However, consumers aren’t the only ones who have embraced this shopping tip.
Grocery stores took note of this advice, too, and have gotten crafty about placing high profit margin, processed items alongside healthier choices around the perimeter.
Snack foods, deli items, and sweetened beverages are now often interspersed between skinless chicken and broccoli at many stores, weakening the wisdom of “shopping the perimeter.”
While the outside edge of the grocery store may offer the freshest options, plenty of good-for-you foods can be found in the central aisles, too.
“It’s a good idea to shop the entire store, not just the perimeter,” says Kris Sollid, RD, senior director of nutrition communications for the International Food Information Council Foundation.
“Nutritious items can be found all over, including the center aisles, particularly when you consider that not every grocery store is set up the same way,” he says.
Get the most out of your store’s frozen and shelf-stable offerings by opting for:
- canned beans and fish
- whole grain cereals and pastas
- heart-healthy cooking oils, like olive or avocado
- frozen fruits and vegetables
Remember: Just because they’re not “fresh” doesn’t mean they’re not healthy.
Research in the
While the body can store certain vitamins and minerals for future use, stocking up on others is futile.
Excess amounts of vitamin C and B vitamins, for example, won’t stick around in your system because they’re water-soluble, not fat-soluble. In other words, when you take in more of these vitamins than you can use, you’ll simply pee them out.
Of course, there are situations when a multivitamin can be helpful.
“A multivitamin can help people over 50 and vegans get enough vitamin B-12,” Sollid says. “As we age, we don’t absorb as much protein-bound B-12 from food as we once did. Vegans do not eat animal foods, where B-12 is almost exclusively found naturally.”
Those who could become pregnant should also supplement with folic acid, which reduces the chance of neural tube defects in baby.
If you’re concerned about your own levels of a specific vitamin or mineral, consult your doctor. They can perform the appropriate tests to determine whether you need a supplement.
For most healthy people, though, it’s best to get micronutrients through food, not pills.
There was a time when many health professionals gave patients a simple dietary rule to follow: Don’t eat white foods.
These words may have been well intentioned. After all, foods like white sugar, white flour, and other refined grains aren’t the healthiest choices.
But, like most overly simplistic rules, this one doesn’t hold up to scientific scrutiny.
Although pigments in food are often a source of antioxidants (think brightly colored vegetables like carrots, beets, and peppers), colorful foods aren’t the only ones with health benefits.
“Many people incorrectly assume white foods aren’t as nutritious as their more colorful counterparts,” Sollid says. “I don’t recommend people avoid any color — including white.”
In fact, a number of white foods boast powerful nutrients.
Milk, yogurt, white beans, and tofu contain protein and calcium. Pale fruits and veggies like bananas, turnips, and white asparagus all come with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Even much-maligned potatoes pack potassium and fiber.
There’s no need to discriminate against food on the basis of color.
The sheer popularity (and variety) of low carb diets proves that many people believe carbohydrates make us fat.
If you’ve ever gone on a low carb eating plan like keto or Atkins, you may have watched the pounds fly off — and concluded that carbohydrates are bad news for weight loss.
It’s true that drastically reducing carbohydrates often leads to rapid weight loss. When the body is deprived of carbs, it triggers the liver to release its glycogen stores, resulting in fluid losses — the infamous “water weight” you initially lose.
But carbs aren’t the enemy of weight management.
“The problem is more what kind of carbs a person is eating and how much they are consuming at one meal,” says Carrie Gabriel, MS, RDN. “Simple carbohydrates like processed or packaged cookies, chips, white sugar, and refined flour are the kinds of carbs you want to avoid or eat less of [for weight loss].”
Complex carbs, on the other hand, which are found in foods like beans, whole grains, and leafy greens, contain tons of essential nutrients and fiber, which actually keeps hunger at bay.
“These are the carbohydrates that keep us fuller longer for less calories,” Gabriel says.
Choosing the right kind of carbohydrates can help, not harm, weight management.
But if there’s one thing nutrition professionals are coming to understand at the dawn of the new decade, it’s that dietary advice isn’t one-size-fits-all.
“Nutrition advice is best when it’s tailored to the individual,” confirms Gabriel, who says she takes into account a client’s lifestyle, health history, medications, food restrictions, and other factors before creating a nutrition plan.
This customized approach is backed by research: A 2019 study of 1,100 adults — 60 percent of whom were identical twins — revealed that even people with near-identical genetic makeup respond to foods and dietary patterns differently.
As you consider making dietary changes in the new year, just remember that they may require trial and error.
Regardless of what may have worked for someone else’s body, temperament, or lifestyle, it’s your call to find what works for you in 2020 and beyond.
Sarah Garone, NDTR, is a nutritionist, freelance health writer, and food blogger. She lives with her husband and three children in Mesa, Arizona. Find her sharing down-to-earth health and nutrition info and (mostly) healthy recipes at A Love Letter to Food.