Separating The Science From The Silliness
Why some nutrition myths die and others keep bouncing back, even in the face of what seems to be incontrovertible evidence? If we examine some of the most popular and persistent myths, we can notice that they contain two elements: a small truth and a big fairy tale. Likewise, behind every successful food and nutrition myth there’s a kernel of truth and an abundance of myths and misinformation which are much more seductive than the bare truth. Preconceived ideas about healthy eating can be hard to get rid of. That won’t stop us from trying though. Here’s a cold, hard, science-based look at 15 of the most oft-repeated food and nutrition myths and what really is the truth behind them.
Myth #1. You crave certain foods because you’re deficient in one of the nutrients they provide
Nope—unless you’re a deer or moose (which can be attracted to “salt licks”—mineral deposits that supply nutrients they need). Human food cravings tend to be more about satisfying emotional needs. Cravings usually occur when our diet is restricted or boring, or when you know that you can’t have something. Forbidding things is usually a pretty safe way to ensure we want it even more.
Myth #2. Eating after 6 pm is bad for your health
A superstition as old as the hills. With the modern pace of life, having a meal after 6 pm is common sense. Most people today go to bed later than our ancestors did, and starving yourself may damage your health. What we should avoid is eating three hours before going to bed, and keep dinner light.
Myth #3. Snacks are unhealthy
Let’s face it – snacks are inevitable. If we care about our health, we should top up our energy from time to time. Nonetheless, these refills should be balanced: have some nuts or fruit, instead of sugars or processed food.
Myth #4. Fat is harmful
Fat is something we should try to get rid of, right? Not exactly. Food cannot be normally digested without it. Fat helps metabolize vitamins A and E, and without enough fat in our bodies, we’ll almost stop producing hormones. Lack of fats will make your skin age faster and it can damage your liver. That’s why you should put a limit on your consumption of fats, but not exclude them completely. It’s a good idea to add olives and extra virgin olive oil, avocados, nuts, and fatty sea fish into your diet, while lowering unhealthy fat, such as sausages, mayonnaise, cookies or cakes.
Myth #5. All organic food is healthy
Products marked as ’’organic’’ (i.e., produced with no GMO, pesticides, or additives) are sometimes no different from their common counterparts except for their high cost. What’s more, organic foods can carry organic fertilizer residues as well as dirt and bacteria (so be sure to wash carefully). They are preferable to in the long run of things, but by no means can we claim everything organically produced is healthy.
Myth #6. Calories eaten at night are more fattening than those eaten early in the day
Calories are calories are calories, and it doesn’t matter when you eat them. What does matter are the total calories you take in. – John Foreyt, Ph.D., Director of the Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine. However, to make things easier for your body, don’t eat right before going to bed, and keep dinner light.
Myth #7. Carbohydrates should be avoided
There are simple and complex carbs, and the former are the ones really due for cutting. They can be found in sugar, chocolate, honey, jam, sweet fruits and drinks, white bread, and potatoes. However, if you want to eat healthy, have more complex carbs, such as grains, beans, berries, vegetables, and greens.
Myth #8. Fruit and vegetables are useless after refrigeration
Frozen fruits and vegetables are usually flash-frozen within hours of being picked, thus locking in a majority of the nutrients. So while fresh is still preferable, modern freezing technology has allowed us to preserve most of the products’ healthy elements.
Myth #9. Separating nutrients helps you lose weight
Your digestive tract is more than capable of handling proteins, fats, and carbs all at the same time. There is no scientific evidence that separating nutrients helps in any way. People who choose this diet are usually just very thorough when picking foods; by cutting the energy consumption, they in turn lose weight.
Myth #10. Brown bread is healthier than white bread
Just because a bread is brown in color, it doesn’t mean that it necessarily has a lot of fiber. The ’’healthy’’ brown color could actually be due to caramel or artificial colors and enhancements in the dough. Furthermore, the energy contained in brown bread is almost the same as in white bread, and you could just as easily gain weight. The healthier kinds are whole-grain breads or crispy breads.
Myth #11. It’s important to fast periodically, to cleanse toxins from your body
Your body already has its own elegantly designed system for removing toxins— the liver, kidneys and spleen. There is no evidence that not eating—or consuming only juice—for any period of time makes them do this job any better. Source: Keith-Thomas Ayoob, Ed.D., R.D., of Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
Myth #12. Juices are as beneficial as the fruit themselves
Juice has next to no fiber, and the amount of vitamins and minerals is considerably lower in the juice than in the fruit itself. While juicing has its positives, it is better to eat fresh fruit whenever you can.
Myth #13. Sushi and rolls are diet food
By just eating sushi and rolls, you probably won’t gain much weight. However, white rice used to make sushi is not the healthiest of products and can add to obesity. The real culprits are soy sauce, mayonnaise, and fatty cheese — products that will make you gain weight in no time.
Myth #14. Microwaving zaps nutrients
This is misguided thinking. Whether you’re using a microwave, a grill or a stove, it’s the heat and the amount of time you’re cooking that affect nutrient losses, not the cooking method. The longer and hotter you cook a food, the more it’ll lose certain heat- and water-sensitive nutrients, especially vitamin C and thiamin. Furthermore, because microwave cooking often cooks foods more quickly, it can actually help to minimize nutrient losses. Source: Carol Byrd-Bredbenner, Ph.D., R.D., professor of nutrition at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Myth #15. Radiation from microwaves creates dangerous compounds in your food
The changes that occur in microwaved food as it cooks are from heat generated inside the food, not the microwaves themselves. Microwave cooking is really no different from any other cooking method that applies heat to food. That said, microwaving in some plastics may leach compounds into your food, so take care to always use only microwave-safe containers.