Let's start the new year fresh and healthy, first by debunking certain nutritional myths and second by simply eating healthier wholesome meals! When it comes to hot-button topics, proper nutrition is near the top of the list. While skimming through the news or a magazine, how many times have you come across a new snack, food or beverage that claims to protect you from disease or give you another health boost, like healthier skin or stronger bones? (I’m sure, at least a couple of times). We are constantly surrounded by the Internet which is booming with fad diets, dietary supplements, diet books, food blogs and websites that claim to possess the secrets to a healthy and vibrant life. Hopefully after reading this article, I will be able to clear the common nutrition myths that I constantly hear (and debunk), and the truths I want you to know.
Myth #1: Super foods are exotic and expensive.
While there are many nutrient-packed foods available from different countries, I want people to know that local, everyday foods are superfoods too - and are far less expensive! Eating a diet that is high in processed foods, but then adding in some goji berries doesn’t mean you have a healthy diet. You can be much healthier if you focus on eating more whole foods and “everyday superfoods” like spinach, mushrooms, squash, blueberries, oranges, apples, lentils, wholegrains and nuts. These familiar foods are rich in antioxidants and fiber, and won’t blow your budget like that small bag of acai powder. When a new exotic superfood comes on the market and becomes super popular, keep in mind that it’s probably just a fad. Bottom line: There will never be one food that’s better than all the others. Remember-variety is key when it comes to eating well.
Myth #2: Greek yogurt is always better than regular yogurt.
First, a little yogurt making 101: Traditionally, Greek yogurt is made by straining the yogurt to remove the whey (the liquid remaining after the milk is curdled), and the end result is a more-solid yogurt with fewer carbohydrates, and more protein compared to regular yogurt. But, with the whey goes a lot of the calcium. So, regular yogurt has substantially more calcium than Greek yogurt does. Bottom line: Greek yogurt is not necessarily better than regular yogurt; they have different assets. Both options are good, so enjoy what you like best, or switch back and forth if you like both.
Myth #3: You should avoid all sugar — even fruit.
Sugar-free diets are all the rage right now, but there’s a difference between sugar found in whole foods such as fruit and vegetables and the refined sugar found in processed foods. Those whole foods naturally come with fiber (to help slow down your body’s absorption of their natural sugars) and are sources of important vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. The evidence on the negative impact of sugar pertains to added sugars: sugar put in food to make it sweet. Bottom line: If you want to cut back on sugar, it makes far more sense to limit added sugars instead of cutting nutrient-packed foods like fruits out of your diet.
Myth #4: Soy is full of female hormones.
The effects of soy have been a topic of debate for years. Are you worried that eating soy foods or soy protein will alter your hormone levels or increase your cancer risk? I want people to know that there is a huge difference between estrogen (the hormone in your body) and phytoestrogen (the much weaker type found in soy). Soy will not cause feminizing effects in men and does not cause or promote cancer. It is a nutritionally dense, protein-rich food source that is safe and healthy for children to consume. There is even evidence that shows that soy is good for bone health and the cardiovascular system. It’s best to choose whole soy foods like soy beans (edamame) and fermented soy such as tempeh and miso for gut health. These types of soy are the least processed and will be highest in nutrients. Bottom line: Moderate consumption of soy foods appears to be safe for both cancer survivors and the general population.
Myth #5: High-fat foods are bad for you.
Think eating fat makes you fat? Research suggests this is a myth. Ever since fat was demonized, people started eating more sugar, refined carbs and processed foods instead. As a result, this led to an increase in the prevalence of obesity worldwide. A lower calorie eating plan that includes healthy fats can help people lose more weight than a similar diet that’s low in fat. That’s because fat helps you enjoy your food more and prevents you from going hungry. Both of these are key to losing weight and keeping it off. Include some healthy fats at each meal to help you feel satisfied and stay full longer. Bottom line: Low fat diets aren’t the healthiest. Fat—especially the monounsaturated (e.g. avocados, nuts, seeds, peanut butter, olive oil…) and polyunsaturated (e.g salmon, soybeans, walnuts, tofu) kind—is part of a healthy diet.
Myth #6: Dinner makes you gain weight.
Have you ever heard that you shouldn't eat past a certain time of day or you will gain weight? Studies consistently show that nighttime eating does not actually cause weight gain if you stay within your body's daily caloric needs. It is more about what and how much you eat and how much physical activity you do during the whole day that determines whether you gain, lose, or maintain your weight. The fact is that your body will store any extra calories as fat if you take in more calories than you burn in a day, regardless of the time of day in which you consume those excess calories. Where some people do get into trouble with eating late at night, is if they binge and take in more calories than they need in a day. This often happens when people restrict their intake too much during the day. Also, another reason that people tend to eat more of their calories late at night is because they are "mindlessly eating" while sitting in front of the television or computer. Often, they start eating around dinner time and then continue snacking until they go to bed. Bottom line: Your body does not process food differently after it gets dark outside :)
Author: Linda Said, US Registered Dietitian.