Just mention, in a public place, that you are trying to drop a few pounds and everyone is an expert, eager to share their sure-fire diet tactics. Much of the time, these diet tips are more like "old wives' tales" with little scientific back-up. Here are a few of the worst diet tips that well intentioned, self-described "diet gurus" may offer you.

Worst Diet Tips Ever:

  •  "Don't Eat Bananas or Carrots"   Look for "banana avoidance" in another incarnation - carrot avoidance! The diet guru may tell you that bananas (and carrots) are fattening because they are high in carbohydrates, cause too much insulin to be released, and subsequently cause weight gain. Don't buy it. Bananas are high in potassium, fiber, and they travel well - all this for only a little more than 100 calories. If you like bananas, they should be a part of your healthy eating plan.
  • "Don't Do Dairy"   Some of the first words often heard from a dieter is "I'm on a diet, no more dairy". Well, not only are low fat dairy foods and beverages not bad for dieters, several studies have shown that they can actually help people lose weight. About three servings a day of milk, cheese, and yogurt can help with weight loss - particularly around the waist where obesity can be particularly unhealthy, increasing the risk for heart disease and high blood pressure.  Choosing low-fat dairy foods such as skim milk and low fat cheese and yogurt are the best choices for dieters. Is it the calcium? Researchers really don't know. But they do know that calcium supplements did not have the same weight-loss benefits.
  • "Don't Eat After 8:00 pm" Or 7 pm or 9 pm . . . This is one diet tip that never seems to go away. The logic (or illogic) goes like this: everything you eat after 8:00 at night goes straight to fat while you sleep". The bottom line is that it just doesn't work that way. Research has shown that the total calories for the day may be most important when it comes to losing weight. The problem with nighttime eating is that the later hours are when most people tend to overeat - particularly if they've skipped meals during the day. Evening time is when most people are more relaxed, social, and perhaps, watching TV - all things that make us eat too much.
  • "Eat Negative Calorie Foods"   Some people claim that there are foods (such as celery) that actually take more calories to chew, digest, and store than there are in the food. Thus, you burn more calories when you eat the food and end up losing weight! The problem is, there are no such things as negative calorie foods. While you do burn up some calories when you eat a food in order to process that food, it is roughly equal to 10% of that food's calories. Thus, the calories burned are always less than the calories in the food.
  • "Cut Out Carbs" There are some who need to cut back on carbs but completely cutting out carbs is a bad idea. Our brains have to have carbs and our muscles prefer carbs as their source of energy. So if you have pre-diabetes, diabetes, or a large waist (see the nutrition trends website) then cutting back may help you lose weight.

What should you do when offered these, and other, well-intentioned yet ill-advised tips?  Simply smile, eat a banana, and find a real nutrition expert (a registered dietitian or "R.D") in your area by logging on to www.eatright.org.

Beth Kitchin, MS, RD
Assistant Professor
UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences