By Scott Baptie
The fitness and nutrition industry is rife with misinformation. Understandably, this is confusing to many peoplesetting out with the goal of improving their body composition. With a host of websites, Facebook pages, magazines, Twitter feeds and blogs all claiming to know the secret to building muscle or to losing fat, lots of trainees become disheartened with the vast array of conflicting information.
Scott Baptie, sports and physique nutrition specialist is, however, on hand to cut through the crap of the newest, most popular myths which are causing confusion to many on their quest to improve physique and performance.
1. Gluten and dairy should always be cut from the diet
Completely avoiding gluten containing foods like bread and pasta and dairy products like milk, yoghurt and cheese, is becoming popular with many when trying to improve body composition.
Although popularised by some groups in the fitness industry, the reality is that unless you are intolerant or allergic, there is no need to exclude diary and gluten from your diet.
Studies show that less than less than 2% of the population suffer from coeliac disease or are allergic to wheat . One recent study, published in August this year even suggests that non-celiac gluten sensitivity affects less than 0.5% of the population .
Dairy can also be enjoyed by the majority who are not lactose intolerant. There are multiple health benefits in doing so, from improving bone health to maintaining healthy blood pressure. Even though Arnold himself once said “milk is for babies”, there is good research that supports the beneficial impact of milk for both muscle gain and fat loss [3,4].
Focussing your attention on following a gluten or dairy-free diet if you don’t need to can be time-consuming, unnecessary and can reduce the enjoyment of eating. Alan Aragon, respected nutritionist, says the main restriction in the diet should be to avoid unnecessary restriction. This means that it is better to ensure that the majority of food you eat is high quality, fresh, enjoyable and nutrient-dense rather than sticking to unnecessarily restrictive dietary rules.
2. Soy protein decreases testosterone
Ever heard that soy protein increases oestrogen (the female sex hormone) and decreases testosterone in trained males? You wouldn’t be the first. Reassuringly, this is not supported by the majority of peer-reviewed research. Soy protein is very popular in East-Asian diets and is a helpful protein source for vegetarians. A meta-analysis conducted at St. Catherine University in Minnesota reviewed over 30 studies examining the hormonal impact of soy on testosterone and concluded that it had no impact . In addition, one extremely relevant paper in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition showed that a 12 week supplementation with soy protein did not decrease serum testosterone or inhibit lean body mass changes in subjects engaged in a resistance exercise program . Animal- derived protein is generally of higher quality than plant- sourced protein, and should be the preferred choice for those who eat meat, fish and dairy, but the occasional inclusion of soy protein probably isn’t going to be detrimental.
3. Organic food is more nutritious
Organic food is often thought to be more nourishing because it is free from chemicals, therefore some may think it will improve your physique more than “conventional” food. Researchers at Stanford University examined 17 studies in humans and 223 studies of nutrient and contaminant levels in foods. They concluded that “the published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods.” The lead researcher on the study stated that "Some believe that organic food is always healthier and more nutritious. We were a little surprised that we didn't find that. There isn't much difference between organic and conventional foods, if you're an adult and making a decision based solely on your health." 
4. Artificial sweetener makes you fat
Artificial sweetener makes you fat? This isn’t supported by science. NNS (non-nutritive sweeteners) aka ‘artificial sweeteners’ are the subject of many misunderstandings. There have been reports that aspartame (a popular sweetener) causes an insulin response yet multiple studies show this isn’t the case. [8, 9, 10, 11] There are studies which show that artificially sweetened products can actually assist with weight loss [12, 13]. Sweeteners often get a bad reputation due to the belief that they can cause cancer. Again, this isn’t demonstrated in the research  and a paper in the Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology Journal concluded that “the weight of scientific evidence confirms that, even in amounts many times what people typically consume, aspartame is safe for its intended uses as a sweetener and flavor enhancer.”  Finally, the use of aspartame is approved by governing bodies such as the FDA and European Food Standard Authority .
“So you’re recommending diet drinks?” you may ask. It depends, as with many areas in nutrition, context is important. If someone is a big soda-drinker then a move to a diet soda is a small change that could have a positive impact on their health and physique. Switching from three regular sodas to three diet sodas would cut sugar intake by around 90g. Obviously water would be a better choice but it is important to look at adherence and long-term behaviour changes when making a recommendation. People who drink fizzy beverages to excess don't usually stop drinking 2 litres of regular soda a day and drink water instead. I wish it was that easy but unfortunately, for many, it isn't.
So I don’t need to worry about these myths anymore?
The problem is that these myths often result in people becoming preoccupied with avoiding foods that CAN be enjoyed in moderation. Sure, dieting to reveal the abs for a holiday, dropping a few dress sizes or preparing for a show requires commitment, effort and certain sacrifices. It can be hard, tiring and at times you just want to throw in the towel. That is why it is essential that you get as much enjoyment from food as possible and dieting isn’t made harder than it needs to be! Regardless of the goal, you want to include the widest variety of foods you enjoy. The emphasis should be on the foods you can eat, not the ones you can’t. Not only is this beneficial in that consuming a diverse range of nutrients is healthy but it also makes dieting more sociable, pleasurable, tolerable and you’re more likely to stick with it if you’re enjoying what you’re doing and seeing results.
It is important to focus on the big picture and not to get bogged down in the detail. For a large percentage of people who are trying to alter body composition, there are some issues which should be high priority and others which are less important. Ensuring energy demands are met, protein/carbs/fat/fibre intake is sufficient, staying hydrated, getting plenty of micronutrients, ensuring that majority of food eaten is fresh, enjoyable and nutrient dense are all key elements. These issues are much more important than being side-tracked by avoiding gluten and dairy if you don’t need to, sticking to organic food or stressing about diet soda. Cheers!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Scott Baptie is a physique and sports nutrition specialist. He specialises in fat loss, muscle gain and nutrition for sports performance. He likes to challenge and encourage his clients to surpass their physical and mental boundaries by using effective, scientifically-proven nutritional strategies to help them achieve their goals. In addition to running Food For Fitness, Scott provides nutrition advice for several leading multinational companies, presents on the subject of sports nutrition and contributes to a wide range of fitness publications both as a writer and fitness model.