We’ve all heard the old wives’ tales, and maybe even read a misconception or two on social media that perpetuates a myth about food or nutrition. Some make sense or even seem reasonable. But what’s the real truth? It’s time to clean out your fridge, toss the food myths into the trash and replace them with the real truths about the food we eat. Let’s set the record straight about common food myths.
Myth #1: Frozen foods are less nutritious than fresh foods.
The truth is: 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 even 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!
Myth #2: You might as well give up all of your favorite foods if you want to lose weight.
The truth is: This common practice can backfire even on those with very strong or 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 appealing. 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 here and there, 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.
Myth #3: All packaged or processed foods are bad for you.
The truth is: It’s true that many packaged foods are highly processed, high in calories, sodium and added sugars and chemicals, 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 or whole-grain 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 and chemicals.
Myth #5: All packaged foods are high in sodium.
The truth is: Processed foods tend to be high in sodium because it helps preserve foods longer and increase their 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!
Myth #6: White potatoes are ‘simple’ carbs that should be avoided.
The truth is: The low-carb fad of the late ’90s is still around 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).
Myth #7: Fat-free and reduced-calorie foods are the best options for weight loss.
The truth is: 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.
Myth #8: You need eight cups of water each day to be healthy.
The truth is: You may 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.
Myth #9: Bananas are so high in sugar that they cause weight gain.
The truth is: 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 specifics mean that bananas make great snacks, even for people with diabetes who need to follow low-carb lifestyles. 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!
Myth #10: It doesn’t matter what you eat as long as you’re not eating too many calories.
The truth is: 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 under-nourished) 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.
Myth #11: Certain foods, like celery, have ‘negative’ calories.
The truth is: 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.
Myth #12: It doesn’t matter how fast or slow you eat each meal as long as you’re not overeating.
The truth is: 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 enough—then 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.
Myth #13: When going to a restaurant, the best choice for weight loss is usually a salad.
The truth is: 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 to help you make the best choice.
Myth #14: The only way to eat healthier is to spend more time in the kitchen.
The truth is: In an (my) 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.
Bust the myths and pass on the truth! Keep your legacy in tact by not buying into the myths that can take away from your healthy lifestyle.
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