Diet fads come and go. One day you’re following the grapefruit diet, the next you’re cutting out fruit altogether for your zero-carb miracle plan. There’s so much information in the media about what is healthy and what isn’t – what to believe? To make matters worse, nutrition is a young and evolving science with new research coming out every week if not every day. As health professionals we are always trying to put this research into context and correct old misconceptions. Here are a few of the common food myths that we see frequently, myths that we wish would just go away (along with those commercial prepackaged strawberry-flavored diet shakes!).
1. Low fat is best
Are you still picking up every box and bag at the grocery store with a “fat free” or “low fat” label? Well, put them right back down because the low-fat trend of the 90’s is finally (and thankfully) over. Diets moderate to higher in fat were once blamed for heart disease and obesity, but now we know that monounsaturated and omega-3 fats prevent heart disease and extend your life. Just because gram-for-gram fat has twice the amount of calories as protein or carbs doesn’t mean it will make you gain weight. Meals and snacks with fat help with satiety, allowing you to eat just what your body needs and can help prevent overeating. Focus on sources of heart-healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil and fatty fish.
2. Carbs are bad for you
Carbohydrates are fuel for the brain, muscles and every cell in your body. Ultra low-carb diets may work to shed pounds in the short-term, but in the long term they aren’t necessarily healthy or realistic. Instead of “low carb” why not focus on “slow carb”. Instead of eating refined foods that spike blood sugar which create the crave and crash cycle, focus on low-glycemic foods with their nutrients intact. Legumes, root veggies, fruits, and whole grains are great daily sources of “slow carb” which are high in fiber and antioxidants and help you feel satisfied.
3. Fiber is boring
We associate fiber with, um, bathroom habits. But did you know that there’s more to fiber than just keeping things moving? Fiber slows stomach emptying which helps satiety and slows glucose absorption into the bloodstream (preventing blood sugar spikes). Fiber also feeds our gut bacteria which then go on to nourish the cells in our digestive tract with their by-products. Healthy gut bacteria also means healthy digestion and a healthy immune system. The bacteria in your colon help modulate the immune response, preventing an overactive immune system and thus controlling inflammation.
4. Eggs raise cholesterol
The cholesterol you eat doesn’t turn directly into cholesterol in your bloodstream. Eggs have been a victim in the “low cholesterol“ myth as they are high in cholesterol, coming in at around 200mg per egg. Studies have shown that eating eggs daily does not raise your risk for heart disease (read more here). Studies have also shown that what has a greater impact on your blood cholesterol levels is the type and amount of fat that you eat. Saturated fat raises LDL cholesterol while diets high in monounsaturated fats and omega-3’s will help lower your LDL. Those products labeled “cholesterol-free”? Not so much.
5. Lose weight by cutting out snacks
Provided you’re snacking on healthy foods, snacking between meals is a great way to even out blood sugar and prevent overeating at the next meal. Now, if your issue is that you’re eating unhealthy, unbalanced snacks that are high in calories, this could actually contribute to weight gain. I like to recommend small, frequent meals that are balanced in protein, fat and “slow” carbohydrate.
Christine Weiss MS, RD, CDE is a dietitian and Bastyr University graduate who counsels people dealing with food allergies, diabetes and digestive issues. She enjoys working with Zing Bars to raise awareness about healthy living through online media.