Written by Nicole Nichols, Health Educator
We've all heard food myths and old wives' tales, and maybe even read a chain email that perpetuates a misconception about food or nutrition. Some make sense. Others seem plausible. What's the real truth? It's time to clean out the fridge, toss the food myths into the trash and replace them with honest-to-goodness truths about the food we eat. Here, we'll set the record straight about 15 common food myths.
Truth: Flash frozen vegetables, including those found in many frozen meals, may actually be more nutritious than some fresh vegetables. The moment a fruit or vegetable is picked from the farm, it begins to lose nutrients. Because food travels long distances from farm to table in today's global economy, the "fresh" foods at your supermarket can be several days or weeks old. Most frozen vegetables are flash frozen so quickly after picking that they retain most of their health-enhancing nutrients. They can be more economical, too!
Truth: This common practice can backfire even on those with very high levels of willpower. It's simply unrealistic to think that you can cut out all the foods that you love without ever rebelling. By categorizing foods as good and bad, you're only setting yourself up to want what you can't have. Good-for-you foods feel like punishment and bad-for-you foods are more alluring. Instead of giving up certain foods and forcing yourself to eat others, don't make any food off-limits. With moderation and portion control, you can still eat your favorites without straying from your goals. By allowing yourself little treats, you'll still be able to eat what you love, gradually decrease the intensity of your cravings, and avoid binges that could derail your weight loss efforts.
Truth: It's true that many packaged foods are highly processed, high in calories, sodium and added sugars, and low in nutrients. Just because a food comes in a package does not mean that it is highly processed or bad for you. Brown rice, whole-wheat bread, milk, low-fat yogurt, frozen vegetables, pre-sliced fruit--all of these healthful foods come in packages. Don't write off every food that's packaged. Look at the ingredients list first to be the judge about the quality of the food and its ingredients. Choose portion-controlled items that are made from the most wholesome ingredients and are low in sodium and added sweeteners.
Truth: A poor diet supplemented with vitamins is still a poor diet. Food remains your best source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals that are necessary for good health, and there has been no evidence to date that proves people who take supplements are any healthier than those who don't. Spend a little more time and money on delicious, tasty meals and snacks to meet your nutritional needs instead of supplements. Remember that a supplement is just that--a little extra in addition to wise food choices like real fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean proteins and calcium-rich dairy (or non-dairy) products.
Truth: Processed foods tend to be high in sodium because it helps preserve foods longer and increase flavor. However, consumer demand for low-sodium foods is slowly changing the marketplace. Manufacturers are responding by voluntarily reducing the sodium in many of their products--and not just the low-sodium varieties. Be sure to read nutrition facts labels to find out how much sodium a particular food contains and choose low-, no- or reduced-sodium versions of your favorite soups, frozen meals, canned foods, and snacks. Even butter is available without added salt!
Truth: There are no "good" or "bad" foods. A healthy, active body can utilize a certain amount of virtually all kinds of nutrients, including refined sugar and saturated fat--it's simply a question of reasonable amounts. Eating within moderation means finding your own balance of pleasure, health and nutrition while managing your weight. Enjoying a serving of chips during your favorite sitcom isn't going to cause detrimental health effects, but overconsumption of chips or other foods could lead to problems. Eating too much, even when it's healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, can also be detrimental to your health and weight-management efforts. Like many things in food and in life, moderation is essential.
Truth: The low-carb fad of the late '90s still lingers today, and many people still believe that white potatoes should be avoided at all costs. White potatoes are a healthful whole food. Just because they're white doesn't mean they're bad for you. Unlike refined foods like white rice and white bread, potatoes are nutritious, whole, rich in fiber and totally unprocessed. The potato can be a great source of energy and nutrients, including vitamins C, B-6, and folate and fiber (4 grams when you eat the skin). The key is to eat the right portion size and rethink your add-ons (and cooking method).
Truth: SparkPeople recommends that adults drink eight cups of water each day, but you might be surprised to know that there is no scientific evidence that everyone needs eight cups. In fact, most experts aren't even sure exactly where that recommendation came from. One source of this "myth" may be a 1945 article from the National Research Council, which noted that a "suitable allowance" of water for adults is 2.5 liters a day. Most of the water you need each day comes from the foods you eat, but there are still many benefits to drinking this much water.
Truth: These days, nearly every full-fat food, from cookies to ice cream, has a fat-free counterpart. It's the first instinct of many people to simply eat these reduced-fat and no-fat foods to control their weight; however, this tactic could actually derail your good intentions. Why? Because most of the fat-free foods you can buy are things you shouldn't be eating anyway: empty-calorie junk food and heavily processed sweets, crackers and cookies. These items have been available for more than a decade, but people aren't getting any thinner by eating them. Remember, dietary fat isn't the sole culprit that has made us overweight; excess calories are the issue, and fat-free doesn't mean calorie-free. All the reduced-fat foods in the world will not help you lose weight if you're making poor food choices or eating too many calories in general.
Truth: Calories are important for weight management, but you should also focus on the quality of the foods your calories are coming from. There is a huge difference between eating 400 calories of chocolate for lunch and enjoying a 400-calorie salad loaded with leafy greens, beans, tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers. For one, the salad will fill you up longer and help you reach your daily quota for protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and health-enhancing phytochemicals. Chocolate, on the other hand, will leave you hungry (and undernourished) for the same number of calories. If you eat too many high-calorie, low-nutrient foods, you're more likely to overeat and less likely to meet your body's nutritional needs. This increases your risk of lifestyle diseases related to diet, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and osteoporosis.
Truth: One medium banana (approximately 7 inches long) provides 0 grams of fat, 3 grams of fiber, 105 calories, and 27 grams of carbs--it's cheaper and more nutritious than most 100-calorie snack packs. Those specs mean that bananas make great snacks, even for people with diabetes who need to follow carbohydrate-controlled diets. Why bananas are being called "fattening" or high in sugar compared with other fruits is a mystery. They do have a few more grams of carbohydrate than apples and oranges, but that does not mean they should be off limits!
Truth: There is truth in the benefit of slowing down and appreciating the world around you, food included. Focusing on every bite can help you practice mindful eating, which has been shown to cut down on calorie intake. Slowing down between bites allows you to recognize your feelings of hunger and satiety so you have a chance to realize when you’ve had enoughthen stop before you clean your plate and later regret it. Eating at a relaxed pace also means you'll chew your food more thoroughly, thus experiencing fewer digestive issues and less intestinal upset. This may take some practice. The hustle and bustle of daily life often catches up with us and sometimes it takes a conscious effort to take it easy and give your brain a chance to enjoy the food and tell you when you’re full.
Truth: Salads can run the gamut of healthiness, depending on what is in them. Although that big bowl of greens may be packed full of antioxidants and fiber, it can also be laden with fat, cholesterol, and sodium--not to mention an overabundance of calories. Some restaurant salads can even contain more calories than a cheeseburger! That means ordering salad is no guarantee that you're eating a healthy meal. Do your research before you order and use these salad tips to make the best choice.
Truth: The idea that there are negative calorie foods--foods that are so low in calories that simply digesting them burns more calories than they contain--is nothing more than wishful thinking. Certain low-calorie, water-rich foods like celery or cucumbers are often touted as negative-calorie foods. However, digesting and absorbing everything you eat each day uses just 10% of your total calorie intake each day (about 180 calories for someone who eats 1,800 calories per day). It is great to include low-calorie, high-fiber, and water-rich foods in your daily diet; these foods add nutrients, bulk, and volume to your diet and can help keep you full, but they still contain calories and should always be included in your calorie count. No food is a "free" food. Eating too much of any food can cause weight gain or inhibit weight loss.
Truth: In an ideal world, we'd grow our own food, know our farmers, make every meal from scratch and know exactly how our food was prepared. Does that take a lot of time? You bet! But is that the singular definition of healthy eating? No way. You can still eat healthier without spending hours in the kitchen, especially if you rely on quick and simple recipes, a slow cooker, and other prepared food items that save you time in the kitchen. Canned foods are pre-cooked, frozen veggies and entrees are great in a pinch, and deli-sliced meats or pre-cut fruits can help you save time while still eating healthier. There are plenty of shortcuts that will help you eat healthier without investing more time into your meal preparation.
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