When you’re talking to friends and family about healthy diets and lifestyles, it can be eyebrow-raising how many myths and half-truths are tossed into the conversations as if they were facts. Some friends might drone on about how bread should be banished from your plate forever if you want to lose weight. Others might talk about how their vegan lifestyle is healthier than your choice to include lean chicken and fish in your weekly dinner lineup. And parents might mistakenly say that the only way kids can get calcium is by drinking cow’s milk every day.
We’ve all heard these “food facts” that aren’t actually true. So why are so many of these untrue statements about food constantly recycled? A lot of it boils down to what sounds better - and what some people really want to believe about the food they're eating - or banning from their diets. And some of these misconceptions stem from ideas we got from our parents or even grandparents.
Shanthi Appelö, a registered dietitian for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, said it’s easy for someone to place all the blame for a poor diet on a single food category. For example, labeling anything with gluten as “bad for you.” Or on the flip side, claiming a certain seaweed extract is the only healthy way to start your day.
“We also love the idea of one thing that can make us healthier, like celery juice or drinking green algae or whatever it is. We want these simple solutions. It’s more attractive than hearing the good old ‘have five fruits and vegetables a day,’ right?”
But whether you’re hearing about the “diet secret your doctor doesn’t want you to know,” or a new quick-fix idea that’s being passed around at your local gym as a magic weight-loss plan, don’t buy into it. It’s good to be skeptical, check in with your doctor, and don’t be afraid to be a myth-buster.
Some common food myths include:
Myth: All carbs are bad for you.
There are three different types of carbs. All of them can have their place in a healthy diet, but a couple are better than the other, Appelö said. They include:
Sugars: These are things like fructose, lactose and sucrose. They are in foods like milk, fruit, and regular white table sugar. These simple sugars are generally not the healthiest carbs.
Starches: These are more complex carbs that sometimes get a bad rap.
Fiber: Found in vegetables and whole grains.
While low-carb diets can lead to some initial rapid weight loss because the person is losing water, there are lots of good health components to carbs. They are used as fuel for our bodies and lots of them have good nutrients.
Myth: All foods high in fat are unhealthy.
The low-fat diet fads of the 80s and 90s may have given us this myth. And while it’s true that consuming too much saturated fat increases your risk of heart disease, other types of fats are good for your body and promote heart and brain health. These include:
- Fatty fish
- Olive oil
Myth: Canned vegetables or produce is not as good for you as fresh produce.
While the canning process can destroy some water-soluble nutrients, heat can also enhance other nutrients and antioxidants, like the higher amounts of lycopene found in canned tomatoes, compared to fresh ones. The same goes for higher amounts of betacarotene in canned pumpkin and carrots.
“Whenever you’re canning goods, oftentimes those vegetables, those fruits, are picked at their peak ripeness. So they’re going to have the maximum amount of nutrients, and of course, there’s that longevity factor to it. They’re approachable, they’re easy. They’re affordable and convenient, so I think they’re great,” Appelö said. “Just watch out for that added sugar and sodium, especially if you’re consuming canned fruits. Just make sure they’re in juice or water. And then those low-sodium veggies are always a good option.”
Food fact resources
When you’re exploring food facts, it’s always best to get your information from trustworthy sources. Government-created food websites - those with .gov or .edu at the end of the web address - are usually good sources. So is your doctor, health care provider or a registered dietician.
To learn more about this topic, listen to the podcast, “Food Facts” You’ve Heard But Aren’t True, to hear the entire conversation. A Healthier Michigan Podcast is brought to you by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. To hear more episodes on your smartphone or tablet, subscribe on Apple Podcast or Spotify or your favorite podcast app.
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