9 Nutrition Myths That Persist
Many nutrition and food myths continue on but have been widely debunked.
Let's face it: We've all been guilty of letting bad information guide our decisions from time to time. And nowhere in our lives is this more common than when it comes to food.
Should we eat this? Should we avoid that? How much of one food is too much, and how much is too little? The fact is, we don't always know the answers to these questions, and the fact that 'experts' are constantly coming out with new studies or information that seemingly contradict what we know—or what we think we know—about nutrition doesn't help.
⇒ Read more on why there's so much confusion.
With that in mind, we've taken it upon ourselves to clear up some of the confusion behind a few of the biggest nutrition-related myths.
NINE NOM NOM NON-TRUTHS
Myth: You should drink eight glasses of water a day.
Yes, drinking water is good for you, but you should generally drink it when you're thirsty, not because you're trying to meet some quota. Studies have shown the human body is very adept at giving signals. Also, other items like flavored waters, juice, milk, soft drinks, and even cooked pasta or rice can contribute to your daily water intake. And while caffeinated beverages like coffee and tea do carry with them certain dehydrating effects, the water content in them outweighs those negative effects. The only time you should drink water with a strategy in mind during and after exercise, when you are at risk for dehydration.
⇒ Is this really a myth? Read an alternate take "How Much Do You Know About H20?"
Myth: All fats are bad for you.
Fat, in and of itself, is not bad for you. In fact, your body needs it. The trick is making sure you strike a healthy balance between good and bad fat. While consuming too much saturated and trans fat is linked to weight gain, heart disease, and some cancers, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are important for nutrient absorption, nerve transmissions, and maintaining cell membranes. In fact, an overly low-fat diet may actually be harmful.
Myth: Carbs cause you to pack on the pounds.
Calories, and not carbohydrates, cause you to gain weight. If you pay attention closely, you'll notice that most low-carb diets calling for fewer calories, as well. While you may see some quick, modest weight loss while on a low-carb diet, what you are seeing not actual weight loss, but a shift caused your body's burning of stored carbs. Not all carbs are created equal, however. Processed carbs, such as baked goods, candy, and regular sodas, are not processed well by the body.
Myth: You can lose weight by skipping meals.
When you skip a meal, your body slows down your metabolism to compensate for the lack of food. Chances are, since you skipped a meal, you'll be hungrier the next time mealtime rolls around, and likely to eat more than you should. Instead of a cycle of skipping and feasting, you'd be better off eating smaller, regularly scheduled meals throughout the day. Not only will keep your blood sugar in check, but your hunger, as well. With this drop in blood sugar and without a regular supply of vitamins & minerals, your mood and mental performance will also take a hit.
Myth: Sugar causes diabetes.
There is simply no truth to this. While sugar contributes to the amount of calories you're getting, the main risk factors for type 2 diabetes are a diet high in all kinds of calories, being overweight, and having an inactive lifestyle—not your sugar intake.
⇒ Read more on sugar and other diabetes myths.
Myth: It's too expensive to eat healthy foods.
You don't have to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars at your local health food store to eat healthy. While fresh foods are great, canned ones can provide the same amount of nutritional value at a fraction of the cost. And canned food lasts longer than items from the produce aisle or meat counter. Opt for low-salt veggies and fruits in their own juice or packed in water. Look for items that are high in calcium, potassium, protein and vitamin D, and low in sodium, sugar, and saturated fat. And be sure to rinse your canned veggies to get rid of any added salt.
Myth: Cholesterol-free foods are heart-healthy foods.
While foods high in cholesterol—whole milk, liver, egg yolks, etc.—should be eaten in moderation, foods high in saturated and trans fats are even more detrimental to your blood-cholesterol levels. Sometimes, foods marketed as low in cholesterol are packed with these unhealthy fats. Always read nutrition labels. Focus on heart-healthy foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Cut back on (or avoid completely) foods high in saturated and trans fats.
Myth: Red meat is bad for your health.
Red meat is not bad for your health, per se, but you should always opt for leaner cuts of beef—or any other kind of meat and eat it in moderation. When you hit the grocery store, stock up on top round roast, top sirloin, and flank steak. It is important to make a distinction between types of meats, however, and studies have found processed meats (hot dogs, deli meats, etc.) to increase the risk of several diseases.
Unprocessed meat has been linked to cancer in some media, but studies find very weak links for men and none for women (see study 1, study 2). Overcooked meat, however, has been linked to cancer in test animals. Better cooking methods and cutting away burned or charred pieces are key to helping avoid this risk.
Myth: Food cravings are your body telling you that you need those foods.
People crave foods for all kinds of reasons, including environmental stimulation, emotional response, advertising, hormones, and plain old hunger. And, more often than not, we crave unhealthy foods. If we craved foods our body needs, we would be craving fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other healthy things. If you typically eat a well-balanced diet, occasionally succumbing to an unhealthy craving isn't a big deal.
If someone gives you some nutrition advice that leaves a bad taste in your mouth, do some research. Or, better yet, consult your doctor.