Almost every week, it seems there are new stories about food and nutrition that create confusion and promote misinformation and potentially harmful diet recommendations. Often, these headlines are in response to a single study, rather than scientific evidence. Following are some foods that have been maligned in the media and the truth behind the headlines.
Flavored milk has been blamed for contributing to childhood obesity. As a result, chocolate and other flavored milks have been banned from many schools. Will this help curb obesity? Not likely. A multitude of studies have shown that drinking flavored milk does not promote weight gain compared to children who drink plain milk. When schools eliminate flavored milks, milk consumption and nutrient intake decline. Some kids just won’t drink plain milk. As a result, these kids aren’t going to get enough calcium and vitamin D. To make up these nutrients, children must eat other foods, which results in a calorie increase. A cup of fat-free chocolate milk has just 20 calories more than a cup of 1% plain milk. True, there are some added sugars. But, the sugar doesn’t offset the benefit of the calcium, riboflavin, potassium, phosphorus, protein and vitamins A and D also in the milk.
Eggs have long been vilified as the major culprit in raising blood cholesterol. Recent studies have shown time and again that the majority of us can eat an egg a day without elevating our cholesterol levels. Eggs are a wonderful source of inexpensive, high-quality protein, not to mention more than a dozen vitamins and minerals — most of which are in the yolk. Eggs are one of the few natural sources of vitamin D, which has been identified as a “nutrient for concern.”
You mention the word “potato,” and you are likely to get a negative response. Potatoes are fattening and have little nutritional value, right? Not so. Potatoes are actually an excellent source of potassium, magnesium and fiber. Potatoes even count as one of the recommended 5 to 9 servings of vegetables we are supposed to eat every day. The potato itself isn’t fattening; the problem is we like them best fried or slathered with butter, sour cream and cheese.
Many people avoid eating bread and pasta because they think the carbs they contain are too fattening. Much like the potato, it’s really the stuff we put on them that is so fattening. Plus, we tend to eat too much bread or pasta when we do eat it.
Others avoid gluten because gluten-free diets are popular now for weight loss. Some people avoid wheat because they believe that wheat causes a variety of ailments, from autoimmune disorders to Alzheimer’s and even diabetes. Some individuals don’t understand what GMOs are and choose to avoid crops that have been genetically modified.
Page 2 of 2 - Wheat contributes significant fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants and phytonutrients to our diet. These nutrients help improve gastrointestinal health, brain function, control blood pressure and help with immune functions. Enriched grains are also an important source of folic acid for pregnant women.
Beef also has received a lot of bad press throughout the years. Beef today is leaner than ever, with 29 cuts now meeting government guidelines for “lean” meat. More than 50 studies have shown that lean beef consumption does not increase cholesterol levels or cardiovascular risks. Beef eaters consume significantly more vitamins B6 and B12, iron, zinc and potassium. Beef is a major source of protein with twice the iron of chicken and 10 times more iron than in fish. Again, the problem is how much we eat. A 16 ounce ribeye steak is not a healthy choice, but a 5 or 6 ounce filet can be a part of a healthy diet.
The next time a nutrition headline grabs your attention, don’t automatically start following the author’s recommendations. Ask a dietitian or health care provider for an opinion. Or just wait a few months, and the opposite advice is likely to be the new headline.
Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the cardiac rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.