As part of our ongoing battle to keep ourselves healthy, we learn about the latest nutritional information and hope to glean insight so we can make appropriate adjustments to our diet. However, the rate at which conflicting advice triggered by research floods the Internet, magazines, television, radio and newspapers creates as much confusion as clarity. Today’s food fact is tomorrow’s food fiction.
Here are 18 popular food Myths that have been debunked. Use the list to update your knowledge and stay current on the latest in nutritional advice:
Myth #1: High-fructose corn syrup is worse than table sugar.
Sugar is sugar. Your body can’t tell the difference between the cheap high-fructose corn syrup and more expensive forms of sugar. Cutting out all unnecessary sugar is a smart move.
Myth #2: Sea salt is a healthier version of regular salt.
Sea salt and table salt, contrary to what you may have heard, cannot boast any substantial differences. Both contain roughly 2,300 milligrams of sodium per teaspoon. The best course of action is to reduce sodium intake, whatever the variety.
Myth #3: Energy drinks are less harmful than soda.
While energy drinks may claim to be healthier than soda, research has shown that the reverse is true. Energy drinks actually contain more sugar than soda does and are 11 percent more corrosive to your teeth than soda is. If you need an energy boost, try regular coffee instead.
Myth #4: Diet soda is harmless.
Researchers have discovered a link between obesity and artificial sweeteners used in diet soda. A study conducted at Purdue University found that rats fed artificial sweeteners before mealtime tended to eat more than rats fed sugar sweeteners, and another study found that people who consumed three diet sodas per week were 40 percent more likely to be obese than people who did not consume diet sodas.
Myth #5: Low-fat foods are better for you than a normal diet is.
Low-fat foods often replace fat with other ingredients that are just as unhealthy or unhealthier. For instance, the fat in low-fat peanut butter is sometimes replaced by maltodextrin, a fast-digesting carbohydrate. Some fats, such as those found in avocados, nuts, fish and olive and other oils, are healthy for the body in balanced amounts.
Myth #6: “Trans-fat free” foods are indeed trans-fat free.
The link between trans-fats and heart disease has been firmly established by the World Health Organization. So we can all feel good about eating foods that claim to have no trans-fats, right? Wrong. By law, food companies are allowed to list zero grams of trans-fat on food labels, even if the food in question contains trace amounts. The best strategy is to avoid eating foods with partially hydrogenated oil.
Myth #7: Foods labeled natural are healthier than other foods.
Many foods labeled natural or made with natural ingredients are common junk foods dressed up as healthy fare. Always read ingredients, independent of the food claims on the packaging.
Myth #8: Egg yolks raise your cholesterol.
Eggs have been demonized because of the belief that they raise cholesterol. While eggs raise dietary cholesterol, this form of cholesterol (in contrast with serum cholesterol) has not been linked with heart disease. Eggs are a good source of protein and make a great breakfast food.
Myth #9: Eating junk food helps battle stress.
When you’re stressed out, reaching for that pint of ice cream or bag of potato chips may initially make you feel better. But studies have shown that people who consumed overly processed foods were over 50 percent more likely to be depressed than those who ate a diet low in unprocessed foods. Choose healthy snacks and find other ways of relieving stress—such as a long soak in the bathtub or a walk.
Myth # 10: Eating (milk) chocolate is good for you.
Recent research has shown that dark chocolate promotes health. Cocoa contains flavonoids and a (healthy) saturated fat that increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels. However, the same cannot be said for milk chocolate, which contains more fat and sugar than dark chocolate does. If you’re going to indulge, stick to dark chocolate.
Myth #11: Granola is good for you.
Granola starts off healthy enough—the cereal is loaded with oats. But because the oats are coated in sugar and baked in oil, they lose many of their health benefits. Try oatmeal instead or make your own granola.
Myth #12: Bananas are the best source of potassium.
While bananas are often touted as an excellent source of potassium, there are other foods that contain similar amounts of potassium but fewer calories. Potatoes, broccoli, cantaloupe, apricots and sun-dried tomatoes are all excellent sources of potassium. To see a more complete list of fruits and vegetables that contain potassium, go here.
Myth #13: Oranges are the best source of vitamin C.
Vitamin C has many health benefits. In addition to oranges, other foods that contain this essential nutrient include bell peppers, broccoli, papaya, brussels sprouts and strawberries. For a more complete list, go here.
Myth #14: Organic is always better than nonorganic.
Generally speaking, the difference between organic and nonorganic produce is the use of pesticides. While foods with permeable skins—such as celery and strawberries—are better to purchase organic, foods with impermeable skins—such as onions—are safe to buy commercially since very few pesticides are used. To see a complete list compiled by the Environmental Working Group, go here.
Myth #15: Meat is bad for you.
Despite its bad reputation, meat is a primary source of protein and provides all of the essential B vitamins. Processed meats (that is, meat that is cured, smoked or chemically preserved) are the unhealthiest. Unprocessed meats are the healthiest.
Myth #16: Avoid nuts if you want to lose weight because they are fattening.
Nuts are high in both calories and fat, but this fat is healthy fat and does not clog arteries. Nuts are an excellent source of protein and fiber that can be beneficial to weight loss if consumed in small portions.
Myth #17: Food eaten after 8:00 p.m. is more likely to be stored as fat than food eaten earlier in the day.
The time of day food is consumed does not affect weight. What does affect weight are the kinds and amount of food consumed combined with the level and amount of physical activity. Bodies store excess calories as fat independent of the hands on the clock.
Myth #18: Red wine is the only alcohol good for your heart.
The ingredient that protects the heart is found in any alcoholic beverage. The key ingredient, ethanol, raises the levels of good cholesterol (HDL), which protects the arteries from plaque buildup. Consequently, any alcoholic beverage consumed in moderation provides the same health benefits and reduces the risk of heart disease.
Nutritional advice, like a river flowing to the sea, seems to be in a constant state of flux. Researchers eagerly publish the results of their latest findings, and healthcare and fitness journalists (like me) assess what’s worth noting and pass the nuggets of advice on to our readers.
Before you jump on the next food wagon, though (whether the new superfood is tangerines or acai berries), do your homework. Whatever the latest food trend, product or supplement, keep an open mind and a tight grip on your wallet.
Photo courtesy of James Farmer