Want to lose weight or overhaul your eating habits for good? Chances are your Dr Google search leaves you with more questions than answers.

Don't make losing weight harder than it needs to be. Here are the top four terrible diet tips that could be messing with your slim-down strategy.

CALORIES VS CALORIES OUT

A calorie is still a calorie, right? So, if you had a choice between a chocolate brownie or a handful of nuts, which one would you choose? Both have roughly 170 calories, but the problem is, not all calories are created equal.

Choosing a food based on how many calories (or kilojoules) it has, doesn't take into consideration how nutritious or filling it is. FYI: brownies have 14 times more sugar, three times more saturated fat and have two times less fibre than nuts. Go figure.

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Reality: Calories are important for understanding portion control, however taking a mathematical approach to weight loss is not the only factor in good nutrition and overall health.

GO GLUTEN-FREE TO LOSE WEIGHT

You're aware of the gluten-free craze, but don't really understand what gluten is. Yet many are turning their lives upside down to avoid it. The problem is not the gluten - we eat too much processed foods made with refined grains, and not enough whole grains.

"Often people who follow a gluten-free lifestyle feel better because they end up cutting out high fat desserts, cakes and take away foods and eating more fruit and vegetables. They make the mistake that it was the gluten, rather than just eating sensibly that made them lose weight" says Gastroenterologist Dr Samuel Douglas.

Reality: There's no scientific evidence that gluten (a type of protein found in some, but not all, grains) is fattening. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that people eating 3-5 serves of grain foods, mainly wholegrain (e.g. 1 slice wholegrain bread or ½ cup brown rice) are actually more likely to have a smaller waistline and less likely to be overweight than people who eat less.

While coeliac disease is a serious auto-immune disease, which requires an individual to completely eliminate gluten from their diet, self-diagnosis, on the other hand, can be dangerous since it means making unnecessary changes to the diet.

SOME SUGARS ARE BETTER THAN OTHERS

Most "sugar-free" diets advocate eliminating sucrose (the most common form of "added" sugar to processed food and drinks). However, many of us are being fooled into thinking we are "quitting sugar" when in fact we are eating products laced with other sweet alternatives (e.g. rice malt syrup), which technically is only free of fructose, yet is still a refined sugar that provides more calories, contributes to tooth decay and causes a much higher spike in blood-glucose levels.

Reality: Some sugars (e.g. honey, coconut sugar) may be "less bad" than regular sugar, but definitely not something you should eat in large amounts.

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Most "sugar-free" diets advocate eliminating sucrose. Photo / 123RF

HEALTHY EATING IS EXPENSIVE

It's easy to blame poor diets on the cost of healthy food, however new research shows Australian households spend the majority (58 per cent) of their food budget on discretionary or "junk" foods and drinks, including takeaways (14 per cent) and sugar-sweetened beverages (4 per cent).

Professor Amanda Lee, who led the research for the Sax Institute, says healthy diets are more affordable than current (unhealthy) diets - costing households 15 per cent less.

"Less than 4 per cent of Australians eat adequate quantities of healthy foods, yet more than 35 per cent of energy [kilojoule] intake comes from discretionary foods and drinks, which provide little nutrition - and this is hurting our health and our hip pocket."

Reality: Healthy eating doesn't have to be expensive. Rather than resort to a "two-for-one" meal deals or discounted soft drinks and biscuits, plan ahead and meal prep carefully and your weekly shop will stretch further, while your overall food bills (and waistline) won't.

To really help save costs, swap legumes for meat products; buy cheaper produce such as apples, oranges, carrots, and spinach; and purchase healthy wholegrains like rolled oats, rather than expensive muesli.