These diet beliefs are still rampant online. Let's end that now.
Myth – Carbs at night will make you fat.
Since your overall activity is low before bed, and then you go to sleep, the carbs you eat around that period will deposit themselves as fat cells and lead to fat gain.
Truth – Carbs at night can expedite fat loss.
In a study of 73 fat police officers, researchers found that shifting carb intake to the evening meal caused more fat loss compared to having carbs throughout the day. It also improved insulin sensitivity and lowered inflammation markers (1).
One of the theories behind the study was that if insulin was kept low throughout the day, and limited to a single secretion in the evening, it would lead to higher relative concentrations of leptin starting 6–8 hours later (into the next morning and throughout the day). They believed this would lead to greater satiety and dietary compliance each day.
The argument against carbs at night is a common one: People believe you're not as insulin sensitive and thus you'll be more likely to store excess carbs as fat while you're at rest. However, if insulin is kept in check for the day, and you've spent the day being active, that's not an issue. You'll be insulin sensitive at the end of the day and should store those carbs as muscle glycogen.
Front load protein, back load the carbs. If you struggle with binge eating in the evening and you're front loading all of your carbs, or simply dispersing them throughout the day, then moving all of them to your last meal could lead to better dietary compliance the following day.
If you want to use this approach, then front load most of your protein in the early part of the day, or even spread it out evenly over four to five meals, then shift all of your carbohydrate intake into the last meal of the day.
This strategy can also help with sleep for those who have trouble relaxing in the evening. The influx of carbs can also spike serotonin. A good night's sleep has also been proven to help increase fat oxidation compared to those who are sleep deprived. So it's a win-win.
Keep in mind, carb back-loading doesn't mean it's a free-for-all where you're pounding down an entire bakery of croissants. Plenty of people do that and those people are fat.
Myth – You don't have to count calories on a keto diet.
Keto fans say carbs are what make you fat, not excess calories. Their butter, bacon, and cheese-laden recommendations are often part of the idea that you've got to eat fat to burn fat, regardless of caloric intake.
Truth – Caloric intake above maintenance will still cause fat gain.
One of the most misleading statements about keto diets is that calories don't matter if you're not consuming carbs. This stems from the insulin-to-obesity theory. It goes something like this...
- Carbs cause insulin to be secreted.
- Insulin (the storage hormone) stores those carbs as fat.
- So, eliminate carbs and you'll stop storing fat regardless of calories consumed.
- Become a fat-burning machine.
It's true that getting into a state of ketosis will increase fat oxidation. After all, fat and carbs are the main fuels used in the muscles for oxidation during exercise. If you eliminate carbs, then eventually the body is left with no choice except to use fat as the primary source for fuel. Boom: increased fat oxidation.
But there's a difference in fat oxidation and a reduction in fat mass, which can only happen in an energy deficit. And if you're consuming an excess of calories from fat, then the body will do the same thing with those excess calories from fat as it does with carbs: it'll store them for later use.
The reason that a ketogenic diet works well for some people is that it can increase satiation or feeling of fullness. This higher degree of satiation can naturally cause some to eat fewer calories, which leads to fat loss despite the fact that they may not be counting calories.
The ketogenic diet will work for fat loss in the same way that every other diet works for fat loss – by creating an energy deficit. You cannot eat "as much as you want" on a keto diet and still lose fat simply because you eliminated a macronutrient source.
From the data we've seen, keto does appear to increase satiation better than most standard diets which can help with dietary compliance and naturally reducing caloric intake. However, when calories and protein are equal, it's not a significant advantage for fat loss (2). And on the flip side, the keto diet falls flat on its face when it comes to increasing muscle (3) (4).
Myth – Intermittent fasting (IF) works better than any traditional diet.
IF has become all the rage again. Heck, I've used it. I can attest to the fact that there's an upswing in mental acuity during extended fasts, and to the fact that I never experienced any muscle loss while doing it (sometimes up to 70 hours of fasting). These things are definitely advantages of fasting protocols. At least they were for me and seem to be for anyone who has done extended fasting.
The other benefit deals with fasted training and the increase in anabolism with post-workout nutrition. Namely, consuming carbs and protein following a fasted training session appears to increase the anabolic cellular response compared to fed training, and may increase muscle protein synthesis (5).
But is IF better than any standard diet that just limits caloric intake?
Truth – There's nothing advantageous about IF aside from caloric restriction.
There's no fat-loss magic happening just because you decided to not eat for 16 hours, then reduced your window of eating to an 8-hour period. During the feeding window, if you're eating above maintenance caloric intake, you'll still gain weight.
A drawback of IF is the feeling that because you've not eaten for 16 hours, it's perfectly okay to binge. In fact, some people may find that, even if they're not wanting to binge, they end up eating more on an IF protocol because of their hunger during the feeding window. But this will vary between individuals.
Many people will say that IF works because THEY lost weight. Congratulations to them. What happened was that they ended up consuming fewer calories each day because of the limited amount of time they had to eat. The key? They created an energy deficit.
The fasting protocol that appears to have the greatest degree of promise from a fat-loss perspective is where you fast for two days a week on non-consecutive days. This is also known as the 5-2 diet. On the "fasting days" you limit caloric intake to the tune of 25% of your daily maintenance intake. The other five days you eat what you want.
Limiting caloric intake two days a week like this will create large energy deficits for the week without modifying the other five days of eating. It can remove a lot of the confusion about what to eat every day to get into an energy deficit.
But again, if you adhere to a calorie deficit for seven days a week, the results will end up being the same. The benefit of the 5-2 method is that you're basically "dieting" for two days a week instead of seven.
IF can work for fat loss and even appears to have some benefits to promote anabolism when used appropriately. However, you can't simply gorge during the feeding window and expect to lose fat. Your overall daily and weekly caloric intake will ultimately determine the outcome.
Myth – Saturated fat is bad for your health.
For decades saturated fat was like the STD of fatty acids. (It still is among vegans and people who parrot the only nutrition advice they remember from the 90's.) In their minds, if you don't want to have a heart attack then you've got to eliminate saturated fat.
Truth – Saturated fat isn't what it's been made out to be.
Over the last decade, a body of evidence has emerged shedding light on the true dangers of saturated fat, and the verdict is, well, it's really not that bad. Especially if you're not shoveling your face with overly processed shit-food typical in most Western diets.
One researcher even compiled a list of the most significant systematic reviews and meta-analyses on saturated fat consumption over the last decade (14). The consensus?
"Failure to find a correlation of saturated fat intake with heart disease and mortality."
Hell, the Siri meta-analysis that looked at 21 studies finally ended up with a conclusion of,
"...there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD." (15)
Singling out saturated find while ignoring all the other variables that contribute to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity is the obvious flaw. And outside of trans fat, the reduction or elimination of naturally-occurring fatty acids, like saturated fat, doesn't appear to offer up any significant benefits.
The key, as you might expect, is to simply eat a diet made up of minimally processed foods. The amount of saturated fat that we get from mostly whole-food sources isn't doing us any harm and is a part of achieving a well-rounded and balanced diet.
Myth – Grass-fed beef is better for you than grain-fed beef.
You'd be hard pressed to find someone who'll tell you that grain-fed beef is healthier than grass-fed beef.
Truth – There are no significant benefits of grass-fed over grain-fed beef.
First off, we need to clear one issue up: the label of grass-fed itself. All that means is that the cow munched on some grass at one time. The label "American Grassfed Certified" means that the cow grew up on grass and was never raised in a pen.
With that out of the way, let's break down the actual nutrient composition of grass versus grain-fed beef. One of the arguments in favor of grass-fed is that it's higher in omega-3 fatty acids. This is true, but the difference is negligible:
- Grass-fed beef contains about 0.055 grams of omega-3's in a four-ounce serving.
- Grain-fed beef contains about 0.020 grams of omega-3's in a four-ounce serving.
Almost double, right? Right. But this is like the Ferrari owner telling you that his exotic sportscar gets double the gas mileage of the Lambo because it's 12 miles per gallon compared to 6. Technically it's true, but it's also irrelevant. No one is buying an exotic sports car for its gas mileage. And you shouldn't be buying beef to get your omega-3's.
A measly three-ounce serving of salmon provides approximately 1.1 to 1.9 grams of omega-3's. If you've never seen a fish kick a cow's ass, then you just did. At least in the omega-3 department.
In case you're not following, the recommended daily amount of omega 3's is something to the tune of 250-500 mg of combined EPA and DHA. That's a metric ass-load of grass-fed beef just to meet the minimum requirements each day. Good luck with that.
The other thing people say makes grass-fed beef superior is cholesterol. Does it make a difference? Nope. Not when the degree of fat content is similar. The 85% lean grass-fed beef has a similar amount of cholesterol as the grain-fed beef (16).
What about antioxidants? Well, grass-fed beef does appear to be higher in some antioxidants than grain-fed beef, but it's still not a ton, so just like with the omega-3's, you don't eat beef to get antioxidants.
Lastly, there's the concern about hormones in the grain-fed beef. But this is more misdirection by labeling.
All animals produce hormones. The hormones that are given to beef happen at a young age to help them gain weight without needing as much feed to reach market weight. And the fact is, there are no studies to support that this has any adverse effects on human health.
If you prefer the taste of grass-fed beef, or if you worry about the treatment of conventionally-raised cows (which are usually fed corn), or you want to support your local farmer, those are understandable reasons to choose a grass-fed option.
But if you're running around claiming that grass-fed is superior when it comes to nutritional value, then you're being incredibly disingenuous. Hell, just flat-out lying really.
I get a combination of grain and grass-fed beef. My source for grass-fed beef has a 98% lean version. But when I'm out of it, I'm fine with getting the leanest grain-fed version I can find at the supermarket, which is usually 96%.
Last but not least, everyone needs to stop proclaiming that beef is superior to white meat for strength athletes due to its creatine content. In case you didn't know, chicken, beef, turkey, and pretty much all animal protein sources contain the same amount of creatine – about 5 grams in a kilo. Same amount you'd get from a tiny scoop inside the creatine tub. True story.
Despite all the confusion that's created on the net, sorting through the misinformation isn't that difficult if you understand some basic principles. There's no magic bullet for fat loss when it comes to diet. The only way to achieve greater fat loss is through an energy deficit. The diet you can adhere to the best, while achieving an energy deficit, is going to be the one that works best for you.
There's no insulin-to-obesity paradigm. Carbs alone don't make you fat, even when you eat them at night. And making sure that your diet is composed of mostly minimally-processed foods is going to be the best way to achieve a better body composition over the long haul.
- Sigal Sofer, et al. Greater Weight Loss and Hormonal Changes After 6 Months Diet With Carbohydrates Eaten Mostly at Dinner, 06 September 2012 https://doi.org/10.1038/oby.2011.48
- Alan A. Aragon, et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: diets and body composition, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutritionvolume 14, Article number: 16 (2017)
- Vargas S, et al. Efficacy of ketogenic diet on body composition during resistance training in trained men: a randomized controlled trial, J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018 Jul 9;15(1):31. doi: 10.1186/s12970-018-0236-9.
- Wesley C. Kephart, et al. The Three-Month Effects of a Ketogenic Diet on Body Composition, Blood Parameters, and Performance Metrics in CrossFit Trainees: A Pilot Study. Sports (Basel). 2018, doi: 10.3390/sports6010001
- Deldicque L, Increased p70s6k phosphorylation during intake of a protein-carbohydrate drink following resistance exercise in the fasted state. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2010 Mar;108(4):791-800.
- Williams KV, Mullen ML, Kelley DE, Wing RR. The effect of short periods of caloric restriction on weight loss and glycemic control in type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 1998;21:2–8.
- Johnson JB, Summer W, Cutler RG, et al. Alternate day calorie restriction improves clinical findings and reduces markers of oxidative stress and inflammation in overweight adults with moderate asthma. Free Radic Biol Med. 2007;42:665–674.
- Varady KA, Bhutani S, Church EC, Klempel MC. Short-term modified alternate-day fasting: a novel dietary strategy for weight loss and cardioprotection in obese adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;90:1138–1143.
- Harvie MN, Pegington M, Mattson MP, et al. The effects of intermittent or continuous energy restriction on weight loss and metabolic disease risk markers: a randomized trial in young overweight women. Int J Obes Suppl. 2011;35:714–727.
- Bhutani S, Klempel MC, Kroeger CM, Trepanowski JF, Varady KA. Alternate day fasting and endurance exercise combine to reduce body weight and favorably alter plasma lipids in obese humans. Obesity. 2013;2:1370–1379.
- Eshghinia S, Mohammadzadeh F. The effects of modified alternate-day fasting diet on weight loss and CAD risk factors in overweight and obese women. J Diabetes Metab Disord. 2013;12:4.
- Harvie MN, Wright C, Pegington M, et al. The effect of intermittent energy and carbohydrate restriction v. daily energy restriction on weight loss and metabolic disease risk markers in overweight women. Br J Nutr. 2013;110:1534–1547.
- Varady KA, Bhutani S, Klempel MC, et al. Alternate day fasting for weight loss in normal weight and overweight subjects: a randomized controlled trial. Nutr J. 2013;12:146.
- Victoria Gershuni, Saturated Fat: Part of a Healthy Diet, August 2018, DOI: 10.1007/s13668-018-0238-x
- Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, Krauss RM, Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010, doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.27725.
- Leheska JM, et al. Effects of conventional and grass-feeding systems on the nutrient composition of beef. J Anim Sci. 2008 Dec;86(12):3575-85. doi: 10.2527/jas.2007-0565.