Nutrition is an ever-evolving science. What once was considered bad for us now may be promoted as the new super food. It’s difficult even for dietitians to keep up with current, reliable research, and our job gets even harder with all the misinformation found online. Following are some common nutrition myths and the current truths.
Myth: Sugar is better for you than high fructose corn syrup.
Fact: Studies comparing the effects of HFCS with sugar and other sweeteners show that all sweeteners have similar effects on blood levels of insulin, glucose and triglycerides. In other words, HFCS is no worse, but also no better, than regular table sugar. Don’t worry so much about where the sugar is coming from; instead, limit your intake of all sugars.
Myth: Sea salt is healthier than regular salt.
Fact: Weight for weight, sea salt has the same amount of sodium as regular table salt. The only advantage is that sea salt usually has a bigger grain, so less would fit in a teaspoon and you may use less. Any additional minerals found in sea salt are not in a quantity to provide any additional benefit. If you used enough sea salt to get the additional minerals, you would be consuming too much sodium.
Myth: Diet soda is harmless.
Fact: The debate continues on this subject, but most obesity researchers agree that the use of artificial sweeteners can lead to hard-to-control food urges later in the day. One study found that people who drink just three diet sodas per week were 40 percent more likely to be obese. Either way, limiting your intake of all artificial ingredients just makes sense.
Myth: Low-fat foods are better for you
Fact: Low fat, fat-free or even sugar-free does not mean calorie-free. Sometimes, these products actually have more calories than the original. Remember when one component of a food, like fat, is removed, it is often replaced with more sugar or carbohydrates. Another drawback to low-fat foods is that they make us feel like we are eating healthier and we may eat more than we would of the original product.
Myth: Eggs and shellfish raise your cholesterol.
Facts: Although both eggs and shellfish contain cholesterol, studies show that dietary cholesterol in our foods doesn’t increase the amount of cholesterol in our blood or increase the risk of heart disease. Rather, it seems that trans fats and certain types of saturated fats fuel our bodies to make more cholesterol. Go ahead and enjoy eggs and shellfish in moderate amounts. What’s moderate? Three eggs a day is probably not good, but an average of an egg a day is fine.
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Myth: Oranges are the best source of vitamin C.
Fact: No doubt oranges are a great source of vitamin C, but there are lots of other ways to get this important antioxidant. Keep in mind that we don’t store vitamin C so you need to be sure to get a constant supply. These foods have just as much vitamin C as one orange: ½ cup Brussels sprouts; 7 large strawberries; ½ stalk broccoli; ½ medium red pepper.
Myth: Granola is a healthy cereal. After all, it’s oatmeal, right?
Fact: Unfortunately, the oats are coated with sweeteners then baked in oil to make them crispy. This substantially increases the calories, sugar and fat content. Add fruit and nuts and the calories go even higher. One cup of granola has more than 400 calories. If you love granola, sprinkle it over your yogurt, instead of eating it by the bowlful.
Myth: Foods labeled “trans fat-free” really are free of trans fat.
The Facts: Even foods labeled “no trans fat” can actually contain up to .5 grams of trans fat per serving. No big deal you say? Well, you should never eat more than 2 grams total of trans fat a day. If you eat multiple servings or several different foods containing trans fat, it would be easy to exceed that and not even realize it. Some manufacturers make the portion sizes ridiculously small so that they can claim no trans fat. Don’t be fooled. Read the ingredient list — if you see partially hydrogenated anything the product contains trans fat.
Myth: Sugar causes diabetes.
Fact: Although it’s true that people who have diabetes must pay attention to their sugar and carbohydrate intake to control their blood sugars, eating sugar will not cause you to develop diabetes. It’s more important to get enough physical activity and control your total calories, regardless of the source, to prevent obesity.
Myth: Microwaving zaps the nutrients from food and/or microwave radiation creates dangerous compounds in your food.
Fact: Radiation simply means “energy that travels in waves and spreads out as it goes.” Microwaves used to cook foods are many, many times weaker than an X-ray. Changes that occur in microwaved food as it cooks are caused by the heat generated inside the food, not from the microwaves themselves.
Certain heat and water sensitive nutrients can be lost during cooking. But it’s the heat and the amount of time you cook the food, rather than the cooking method, that causes nutrient loss. Because microwaves often cook foods faster than other methods, it can actually minimize nutrient loss.
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Myth: Coffee is bad for you.
Fact: Coffee does have caffeine, which can slightly raise blood pressure in the short term. But, long-term studies show coffee actually can lower the risk of many diseases, such as diabetes, liver disease and Alzheimer’s. Coffee is loaded with antioxidants and polyphenols that are beneficial. For most people, coffee is more good than bad for you. Just watch the added creams or sugars.
Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the cardiac rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.