15 popular nutrition claims (some are false!)
There are so many conflicting nutrition claims out there that it is nothing short of confusing!
- Multivitamins improve your health/do nothing/increase your risks
- Coffee is healthy/dehydrates you/causes cancer
- Protein is good/bad for your bones
Which of these are true (and is the answer really that “black-and-white”)?
Are these nutrition claims true or false?
There are no nutrient deficiencies in North America now
- Short answer: Maybe not “deficiencies” per se, but yes, many people have inadequate intakes and insufficient levels of several nutrients.
- Long answer: Many Canadians tend to be low in Vitamins A, B12, and D, as well as magnesium and calcium.
Multivitamins are simply “expensive pee” producers and have no health benefits whatsoever
- Short answer: They have a few health benefits for a few people, but these aren’t as impressive as we’ve been led to believe.
- Long answer: Multivitamins are safe (hence the “expensive pee” claims) and can help fill small nutrition gaps. People who take multivitamins tend to have a lower risk of age-related cataracts, and in some cases, enhanced “free recall memory” and cognitive performance (ability to think). Men who take multivitamins tend to have a small (8 percent) reduction in risk of cancers.
Turmeric is a miracle medicinal plant
- Short answer: Most of the health benefits of turmeric are exaggerated because they’re actually benefits of higher-dose curcumin supplements.
- Long answer: Turmeric is delicious, but only about 5-7 percent of turmeric is the “active ingredient” curcumin. This means you need a whole helluva lot of turmeric to come close to what’s in a curcumin supplement.
Melatonin supplements are safe and effective
- Short answer: Sort of (but they’re not for everyone).
- Long answer: Melatonin supplements have a lot of contraindications and work better at low doses than higher doses. But, there are other things you can do to increase your ability to produce melatonin naturally in your brain.
- Short answer: Yep!
- Long answer: Research on the microbiome-gut-brain-axis has exploded in recent years. The mind affects the gut and vice versa. And new clinical studies show that what you eat affects your gut, your brain, and your moods.
We are 10x more microbe than human (i.e., for every ten microbial cells in our gut we have just one human cell in the rest of our body)
- Short answer: Nope!
- Long answer: Back in 1977, the first estimate of how many microbes lived in our guts was published, but there was some skepticism. In 2016 a much more accurate measurement was made and the best information we have now is that we’re about one-half microbe (not one-tenth).
Probiotics reduce gut issues from antibiotics
- Short answer: Most supplement companies have not spent the time or money to test this nutrition claim on their products . . . except for one.
- Long answer: Stick with those supplements who have the evidence, like Bio-K+ (and no, I’m not an affiliate – they just really stand head and shoulders above all other probiotic companies as far as evidence is concerned). Here’s their approved label claim (that I’ve happily shared with pharmacists online).
We should all drink eight glasses of water each day (plus an extra for each cup of coffee)
- Short answer: Nope (and nope)!
- Long answer about how much water to drink: If you’re healthy, your body can self-regulate its hydration and you only need to drink to thirst. Note that this doesn’t apply to children, older adults, athletes, or people prone to kidney stones or urinary tract infections—if this is you, you probably need to drink more than just to thirst.
- Long answer about coffee: Coffee can count toward your fluid intake for most people. As long as you don’t have more than about 4 cups per day and you’re used to drinking that amount (because you drink it regularly), those 1-4 cups are considered to be hydrating.
Coffee increases your risk of cancer
- Short answer: Nope!
- Long answer: About 3-4 cups of coffee per day is healthy in most people. People who drink more coffee tend to have lower risks for or improvements in: heart disease, diabetes, depression, obesity, neurodegenerative diseases, and liver diseases including liver cancer. Coffee isn’t without its risks, though. Look out for high blood pressure, palpitations/arrhythmia, insomnia, and headaches. Plus, for women, coffee may increase your risks of fracture and, during pregnancy, low birth weight and preterm labour. When it comes to cancer risks, huge amounts of one substance found in many roasted foods/drinks (including coffee) can cause cancer in rodents.
Alcohol increases your risk of cancer
- Short answer: Yep!
- Long answer: There is pretty convincing evidence that people who drink more alcohol tend to get more cancers of the: mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, stomach, liver, colorectal, and breast. But, they do have lower risks of kidney cancer.
Beer is a good source of B-vitamins
- Short answer: Nope!
- Long answer: Beer has tiny amounts of some B-vitamins, but unlike eating the whole grains (beer ingredient) themselves, beer is a pretty bad source of any vitamins. Plus, it contains alcohol which is very strongly linked to some cancers (see nutrition claim above).
Plant-based diets are better for your health
- Short answer: Yep! (But you don’t have to go 100 percent vegan, just focus on having about 80-90 percent of what you eat from plants—not vegetarian junk food.)
- Long answer: Eating mostly plants is highly recommended based on the majority of nutrition studies worldwide. This is also exemplified in Canada’s new industry-free science-based food guide.
High-protein diets leach calcium from your bones
- Short answer: Nope!
- Long answer: We originally thought this—and for good reason—but new research has proven a different mechanism is at work. We’ve known for decades that after eating a high-protein meal there’s more calcium in the urine. The hypothesis (best guess) at the time was that the protein we just ate somehow “leached” calcium from our bones, hence we urinate it out. But, this never made much sense because people who eat more protein tend to have stronger bones. So more studies were done to find out where this extra urinary calcium comes from. In 2004 we learned that it comes from the meal itself—not your bones! This makes a ton of sense because when we absorb a lot more calcium from our food this not only can make our bones stronger, but also allows us to absorb a bit more than we need, so we excrete the excess in the urine.
Canada has huge CAFO dairy farms and allows growth hormones
- Short answer: Nope!
- Long answer: Here is some info on dairy farms in Ontario, from a dairy farmer I met and references that I found that verified what he said.
Hold off on getting multiple x-rays for potential broken bones
- Short answer: Not if the benefits outweigh the risks.
- Long answer: Exposure to lots of x-rays at a young age can increase the risk of some cancers, but it depends on a lot of factors. Plus, there are reasonable steps you can take to reduce overexposure, including insisting on ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) and tracking your exposures.
Why are there so many contradictory nutrition claims?
For one thing, hype sells. Having clickbaity headlines about novel studies that stoke fear, disgust, and surprise spread very, very easily online. Same thing goes when trying to sell courses, books, and documentaries. It’s a simple psychology trick that gets all of us at one time or another because we’ve evolved to survive and warn others about threats to our survival. It’s an innate gut reaction.
It’s also easy (and dare I say, lazy) to read a study or two (or a book/blog post/documentary or two) and present it to the world as though it’s the truth that explains everything. We know that the body is infinitely complex, so that’s why we often hold off until there are many, many studies looking at the same thing in different ways before we can be confident how it’s going to help (or hurt) our physiology and biochemistry.
There are elements of truth almost everywhere. There are studies that support almost every position. The key thing is that without looking at the “big picture” (i.e., many studies done over time) on one topic and understanding the strength of each type of study, it’s so frustratingly confusing.
For me, I’m not “married” to any particular diet or lifestyle. I understand that the truth is slowly unravelling as we do more and more research to understand how our bodies work. I’m more interested in WHAT is right, not WHO is right.
I’ll never say that I’m 100 percent objective, even though that’s what I strive for (everyone is human!). My university education in Biomedical Toxicology and Nutritional Science taught me how to be objective and understand study design and results. And THIS IS EXACTLY WHY I am very careful to cite several high-quality resources in every single pre-written done-for-you health articles and blog posts that you can purchase for your blog or program.
We can all update our knowledge with better, more recent or applicable studies (they’re published daily!) and reliable resources. I’ve changed my position before, based on new evidence, and that’s a great thing!
There are so many popular nutrition claims that are correct and so many that are false. And more, better studies continue to help us get closer to really understanding the complexity of the human body.
Signing off and toasting: To finding out which nutrition claims are true!
Over to you
Are you curious if other popular nutrition claims are BS? What kinds of claims motivate you to look them up yourself? How do you go about finding the credibility of these nutrition claims?
I’d love to know (in the comments below)!
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I'm Leesa Klich, MSc., R.H.N.
Health writer – Blogging expert – Research nerd.
I help health and wellness professionals build their authority with scientific health content. They want to stand out in the crowded, often unqualified, market of entrepreneurs. I help them establish trust with their audiences, add credibility to their services, and save them a ton of time so they don’t have to do the research or writing themselves. To work with me, click here.