Whether you’re looking to drop some pounds or simply have more energy for the last rep or final mile, it may be time to give your diet a checkup. While you like to stay up-to-date on the latest food trends, new research suggests that some long-accepted rules of eating may not be as ironclad as we once thought. Here’s what to embrace and what to expel when it comes to maximizing your nutrition—and your performance.
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1. Pasta Is The Devil For Dieters
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Reality:You don’t need to say arrivederci to spaghetti to maintain your healthy eating goals. Researchers who analyzed data from more than 23,000 people found that eating a modest amount of pasta every day—yes, even the refined white kind—was actually associated with lower BMIs.
The upshot: You can have your pasta and eat it, too—just make sure you’re not overdoing it. Stick to a Euro-style serving of about three ounces or less (the average in the study was a scant two ounces), and fill out the rest of your plate with Mediterranean diet– friendly veggies, fruit, fish, and olive oil. While it’s worth noting that spaghetti maker Barilla underwrote the study, the findings are a good reminder that variety and moderation are likely better rules to follow than banning any particular food.
2. Breakfast Is The Most Important Meal Of The Day
Reality: There’s nothing magical about the morning meal. In fact, several studies have found that those who regularly chose to skip breakfast lost about the same amount of weight as those who ate it. And if you’ve been avoiding breakfast with the hope of burning more fat during your cardio, think again. Research from Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., an assistant professor of exercise science at Lehman College in Bronx, NY, found that after four weeks, women who fasted before doing a.m. cardio three times a week lost no more weight than those who worked out after drinking a prescribed shake.
The upshot:If the thought of eating in the morning makes you nauseous, there’s no need to force the issue. But if you’re working out on empty just to help your body burn more fat, you’ll likely be disappointed. In fact, hitting a workout when you’re hungry can lead to subpar performance.
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3. Shun Saturated Fats
Reality:Don’t be so quick to always reach for the fat-free milk or other fat-free dairy. While they contain fewer calories per serving than full-fat varieties, recent studies say the skim version isn’t always the better option. A 2016 study of 15,000 adults found that consuming more full-fat dairy was actually associated with lower rates of metabolic syndrome,while a 2013 review of 25 different studies found that sticking to skim milk didn’t make people any healthier. The problem is that focusing just on calories and fat grams misses the more intangible effects of food, like the profile of nutrients they provide and how satisfied we feel after eating them.
The upshot: “Fatis important for hormone production and regulation,cell signaling, and many other body processes,” says NYC-based dietitian Jessica Cording, R.D., C.D.N. That doesn’t mean just having monounsaturated fat sources like avocado and olive oil. Eggs, full-fat dairy, and even grass-fed meat (in moderation) pair fat with important nutrients. Plus, fat slows digestion, so you’ll feel fuller longer.
Reality: You’ve probably heard this excuse among friends or family who think there’s no way they can get into shape like you. Just remind them: While genes may predispose some people to carry extraweight, your destiny isn’t predetermined. Consider this study from the University of California, San Francisco, where researchers calculated the genetic obesity risk for nearly 8,800 adults born between 1900 and 1958 and compared it with their BMIs. Their conclusion: While obesity-linked genes haven’t becomeany more prevalent over time, obesity has, which suggests that genes only account for about 1% of a person’s chances of becoming obese. The bigger factor: environment. Most of us who have grown up in a world where we move a lot less are more likely to be obese than those with the same risk factorsbut who move more and eat less.
The upshot:While you can’t change your genes, you have some control over your environment—and how you interact with it. Which means that eating a balanced diet with an eye on portions and regularly working out are the most effective ways to meet your best-body goals.
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5. Natural Sugars Are Healthier
Reality: Agave syrup, made from the same plant that brought us tequila, has taken off in popularity. It’s 50% sweeter than table sugar and contains less glucose, so it ranks lower on the GI index. But not only is the agave syrup you buy at the store just as highly processed as sugar, it’s even higher in fructose than high-fructose corn syrup. Fructose can only be broken down by the liver, and some evidence suggests it is more likely tobe stored as triglycerides, a type of blood fat that raises the risk of heart disease.
The upshot:Sugar is sugar, whether it’s white, brown, or comes from processed beets, sugarcane, or corn. “Honey may have antimicrobial properties, and maple syrup has antioxidants,” says Cording, “but the message that is lost is that these natural sweeteners still contain calories, and you’re still getting that hit of carbohydrate into your bloodstream.”If you love these sugars, fine; just use a little bit for flavor, she adds.