Guidelines often born out of misconceptions



Snacking between meals balances out your caloric intake, says Dr. Yoni Freedhoff.


Carbs are the enemy. Don’t snack between meals. Cut out desserts entirely, and you’ll lose weight in no time.


If you’ve been trying to shed some pounds, chances are you’ve heard stuff like this before. Everywhere you look, magazines, newspapers, television shows, ads and even the government tout their “infallible” tips to trim down. These guidelines, often borne out of misconceptions, health professionals say, can put you right back at square one despite everything you’ve sacrificed and suffered to follow them.

Here are a few weight-loss “myths” debunked by those in the know.

Myth: All foods with the Heart And Stroke Foundation’s Health Check symbol are good for you.

Fact: They are in the sense that they’re a healthier alternative to downing two pounds of suicide wings, a pitcher of beer and a Montreal smoked-meat sandwich as a chaser. Some of these items are quite high in sodium, says Toronto-based dietician Liz Pearson, adding you should pay more attention to those little nutritional value labels you see on the side of every food package you buy.

Danielle Côté, media relations officer for the Heart And Stroke Foundation, says Health Check is a food information program and shouldn’t be followed as any kind of diet plan.

Carol Dombrow, a nutritional consultant for the foundation, says the Health Check program is revising its criteria in part because of the latest Canada Food Guide and that various products (such as several of Campbell’s soups) have already changed to adhere to those revisions. She adds the sodium issue is being addressed.

Myth: Fruit smoothies and shakes are a healthy snack for those looking to lose weight.

Fact: Dr. Brian Wansink, a Cornell University researcher and author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, has argued you can consume more calories through larger portions of foods that tout themselves to be healthier than regular portions of foods commonly perceived as unhealthy or fattening. This can apply to most of the shakes and smoothies you buy over the counter and in the grocery store, where sugar is often one of the first ingredients, says Pearson. Smoothies may have a higher caloric density because of its sugars, naturally occurring or otherwise, which come from fruit juices.

That’s not to say smoothies should be avoided, Pearson says. They can be a healthy snack, if you make smaller ones at home with the whole fruit instead of just the sugary juices.

Myth: You shouldn’t snack between meals.

Fact: Snacking between meals is ideal because it balances out your caloric intake over the day and curbs hunger before it hits, according to Dr. Yoni Freedhoff of the Bariatric Medical Institute in Ottawa. Have a 150-calorie snack with protein every two to three hours, and have 300-calorie meals.

Myth: If you have an event to attend at night, save your caloric intake over the course of the day.

Fact: “The human body does not crave salad when it’s hungry,” Freedhoff says, noting he’s seen diet plans go up in smoke as a result of binge eating brought on by extreme self-deprivation. Saving your calorie intake over the course of a day will only lead to bingeing and consuming of even more calories at the event. Eat small snacks over the course of the day to stave off starving yourself.

Myth: You have to be at your ideal weight.

Fact: Freedhoff says this is another mistake, because ideal weights don’t take genetic factors into account: If heaviness runs in the family, for example. Exercise can greatly reduce obesity risks, even if a dieter isn’t at their ideal weight.

Myth: Dairy products are fattening and unhealthy.

Fact: Skim milk and low-fat yogurts are great sources of nutrition. It’s cheese that gives dairy products its heavy rep, and it’s Canada’s number one source of saturated fats, says Pearson. If you’re going to cook dishes like lasagna or macaroni, for instance, keep your cheese quotient on the small side.

Myth: Limit your starch intake while trying to lose weight.

Fact: Depends on the kind of starch. Whole-grain starches and high fibres are very important parts of an effective diet, Pearson says, adding a mix of All-Bran Buds with whole grain Cheerios would be a good source for both.

Myth: You should only eat low-fat and no-fat foods.

Fact: Low-fat doesn’t mean high in nutrients, Pearson says, pointing to Pepperidge Farms’ Goldfish Crackers as a prime culprit. Once again, Canadians should pay attention to the labels on products denoting their nutritional values.

Myth: Don’t eat at night.

Fact: This one might be true. Dombrow says midnight snackers tend to avoid breakfast, a meal integral to losing weight and lowering cholesterol, according to experts.