Nutrition Facts and Fallacies

Food Intolerances and Allergies

Many people would assume intolerances and allergies mean the same thing, however they are in fact different. A food intolerance is an inability to eat a food without adverse effects. A food allergy is where the body actually experiences an immune response by the body to a substance, especially that of a particular food, pollen, fur or dust to which the body has become hypersensitive and produces damaging results. The most common food allergies are wheat, gluten, dairy (more specifically lactose), soya, eggs and nuts. These are often labeled on a food label (see section 3 for more information). A true food allergy must to be diagnosed with special blood tests, the most common one being the finger prick test. If someone is tested positive to having an allergy, they need to avoid that food and all foods that contain that product inside, depending on the severity of the allergy.
When a client is limiting certain foods from their diet due to an allergy or intolerance, they may be deficient in certain micronutrients that can negatively impact on their performance. For example, if they are allergic to red meat they may become anaemic, where the body is low on iron stores. This negatively affects the body’s ability to transport oxygen around the body and provide necessary oxygen to cells. A deficiency in iron would then result in low energy and possibly dizziness and fainting in extreme cases. If you are concerned about a client who restricts a lot of food, get them to speak to a Registered Dietician to assist them to create a meal plan to replace any nutrients from other sources.


Anti-nutrients are natural or synthetic compounds that interfere with the absorption of certain nutrients. Nutrition studies have found those anti-nutrients commonly found in food sources and beverages.

One commonly explained anti-nutrient is phytic acid found in fibre. It is known to bind calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc. It makes these micronutrients unavailable in the body for absorption. Phytic acid most commonly is found in the hull of nuts, seeds and grains.
In most instances, it is not advisable to avoid these foods but know rather when to eat certain foods when. The tannins in tea for instance bind calcium, iron and zinc. So, in the morning, people who are taking calcium supplements should not drink them with their morning cup of tea or coffee.

Nutrition for weight loss and weight gain

Nutrition is a powerful tool that can be used to assist a client with weight loss and with weight gain, specifically an increase in lean body mass. See the table below for the different methods used to achieve each goal.

Try cut down on energy slowly by reducing food portion sizes, limiting high energy beverages and also increasing physical activity.Limit the consumption of alcohol.Drink enough water (see section 1 for individual recommendations).Evenly distribute macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) throughout the day at smaller more frequent meals.Choose more high fibre, less refined carbohydrates as well as plenty vegetables as this will aid in controlling of hunger.The use of scales to measure food to ensure correct portion control, with the view to be able to judge correctly in the future without using any measuring cups/jugs.Making use of the fact that an insulin response stimulates protein synthesis, it is important to encourage the consumption of 4 – 6 meals per day.Keep protein intake continuous throughout the day, to ensure more protein synthesis.The importance of carbohydrates and fats cannot be forgotten in muscle building, they are also essential components of a muscle building plan.There is a post-workout window of opportunity to building more muscle that lasts up to 90 minutes. Having carbohydrate and protein in the right balance during this window allows for optimal muscle repair and building.The use of a shake/meal replacement may be a useful idea as they are quicker to absorb so the best use of this 90 minute window can be taken advantage of.

Common nutritional myths and misinformation

a) Will carbohydrate foods make me fat?

The short answer to this question is no. Carbohydrates provide the body with energy, assist in sparing muscle proteins, provide certain vitamins and minerals and are often very high in fibre that assists with controlling hunger, slowing down digestion and preventing constipation.
A carbohydrate, depending on its glycaemic index (GI) (explained more in Section 1) will have a different effect on blood sugar levels; a high GI food is more likely to cause excess fat deposition.

group of carbohydrate products isolated on white background

Carbohydrate foods that a high GI are foods like sugar, refined carbohydrates (e.g. white or brown bread), and sugary beverages. These foods cause an insulin spike, lowered energy and increase your appetite causing you to want to eat more and thereby gain weight inadvertently. Carbohydrates are needed in suitable amounts as they are responsible for replacing muscle glycogen and therefore play an integral part in training performance, conditioning and strength.
It is important to remember that any nutrient in excess, whether it be carbohydrates, proteins or fats will cause excess weight gain.

b) Should I follow a high carbohydrate but low fat diet OR a low carbohydrate and high fat diet to lose weight?

The short answer to this question is that neither are recommended. Both diet options are incorrectly manipulated macronutrient needs for an individual. Weight loss is mainly only achieved through creating an energy deficit during the day, while still preventing hunger by making use of the right kind of foods as well as doing physical activity. Limiting any one macronutrient is preventing the body from getting the nutrients it needs in order to function properly. Studies indicate that after a year, when people have either been following a low carbohydrate and high fat diet or a considered balanced diet with carbohydrates and fats in adequate amounts that the weight loss results were identical.

food pyramid pie chart

Because everyone is an individual and has different lifestyle situations as well as exercise regimes, there is no one size fits all weight loss plan that can be used by everyone. The main objective of any weight loss program should actually be to lower body fat percentage while either maintaining lean muscle mass or increasing it. This will ensure that the metabolic rate of the individual is intact and they will not experience a weight plateau and regaining of weight.

c) If I eat late at night, will that make me fat?

What causes weight gain is when a person consumes more energy than their body requires. The reason for this fallacy is because typically we are not as active in the evening so we are not able to burn off excess energy that we may take in during this time while we are often on the couch relaxing or soon to be sleeping. The body does not clock watch nor does it slow down its ability to use ingested energy, it is only an excess amount of energy that causes the body to gain weight, not the timing. Having healthy eating habits at night will just prevent someone from overeating and exceeding their energy “allowance” for the day and thereby causing unwanted weight gain.

Caught Munching

d) Should I eat only fat free products to get the best weight loss results?

If you look carefully at the label of a fat free product, you will often see that sugar has replaced fat to lower the energy content of the food and thereby make the product look more appealing. Sugar, is a high GI product and will cause that particular food to be absorbed quicker, cause an insulin spike and create hunger faster. So, by reading a food label and assessing how much sugar is in the product will help you to make a wiser choice as to whether the fat free product is indeed a healthier option.

Nutrition information

e) If I eat a lot of protein, will I gain muscle faster?

No, this is a misunderstood mechanism of how protein is used to build muscle. Carbohydrates are what make it possible for proteins that are taken in through the diet to be spared to perform their functions in the body of enzyme creation, antibody production and hormone production as well as muscle accretion. The amino acids ingested through the diet are responsible for all these functions. Performing of higher intensity resistance training will increase the needs of protein however the average person only needs around 0.8g/kg body weight of protein per day. Any excess of protein that causes an excess of energy intake for the day will cause excess weight gain.