Updated 11 July 2016

5 things your dietitian wants you to stop doing

A professional dietitian highlights five mistakes you might be making in your healthy eating efforts.

1. Cutting out sugar but loading up on agave nectar, organic maple syrup and honey

You've cut out all sugar, yet you are piling on the honey, organic maple syrup or agave nectar. Many people do this, but it isn't entirely your fault considering the misinformation popping up in sugar-free recipe books and on health gurus' websites. You're simply substituting refined sugar with different versions! Excessive sugar intake is problematic and the World Health Organisation has recommended that sugar intake not exceed 5% of our total energy intake. If you want a sweet treat keep it small.

Read: Sugar-sweetened beverages

2. Chia seeds and flaxseeds as the new omega-3 essential fatty acid superfoods

Spooning chia seeds into your breakfast smoothie because it is hailed as an omega-3 powerhouse is a misconception that you could easily be fooled into believing. Chia seeds contain mainly alpha linolenic acid (ALA) and not the key end stage active metabolites DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) that provide health benefits. Only a very small percentage of ALA is converted into DHA and EPA. In addition, flaxseeds need to be chewed or ground before the fats become available for the body to absorb. You are more likely to meet your omega-3 requirements by including small pieces (about 90g) of fatty fish three times a week, or by taking a microalgae omega-3 supplement if you are vegetarian and need an alternative to non-animal sources of omega-3.

3. Late night snacking and big dinners

Eating a big dinner or snacking late at night can really scuttle your efforts to lose those extra pounds. Studies indicate that eating larger meals earlier during the day rather than later can impact weight loss. Eating big dinners or indulging in late night snacking while watching television can also potentially influence your circadian rhythms or sleep cycles. Researchers found that eating larger meals earlier in the day assisted with the synchronisation of the body’s biological clock with the suprachiasmatic nucleus (which generates the brain’s sleep cycle or day-night “switch”).

Read: A healthy way of snacking

4. Don't set your sights too high

Setting goals that are not sustainable or realistic is one of the most common errors dietitians see clients making. Dietitians want you to change your dietary habits so that they become part of your lifestyle, ensuring that you maintain your weight loss in the long term. You should aim for an 80:20 ratio that allows you to have "pleasure" foods 20% of the time, while eating nutrient-rich low energy dense foods 80% of the time. This is much more effective for achieving sustained weight loss with improved health parameters than trying to be perfect – and probably failing.

5. Ditching entire food groups

Eliminating entire food groups has become a common practice when people are seeking quick-fix weight-loss solutions. Every single nutrient has its own vital role in the body. It is concerning that common sense about healthy eating practices seems to have vanished. Part of the problem is the strong commercial drive pushing for a “magic” quick fix solution to the very complex issue of obesity. When eliminating an entire food group one increases the risk for nutritional deficiencies. Leaving out fat for example can have a negative impact on absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. While the exclusion of high-fibre grains could result in gut-related health issues such as constipation and diverticular disease. The key is to stop placing emphasis on single nutrients and rather focus on the complete nutrient composition of the diet. Make an effort to shift dietary patterns, as opposed to shifting entire food groups off your plate.

Read more:

Lick your sugar habit

Omega-3 vs. omega-6

Manage your blood sugar levels with a large breakfast and a small dinner


Garaulet, M, et al.  2013.  Timing of food intake predicts weight loss effectiveness.  International Journal of Obesity, 37 (4) 604-611.

Harris, W.S.  2014.  Achieving optimal n-3 fatty acid status: the vegetarian’s challenge.. or not.  American Society of Nutrition, 100 (supp 1) 449S-452S.

Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Interventions for the Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults.  2016. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116 (1) 129-147. 


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