Debunking Nutrition Myths

Myths regarding nutrition are about as common as new diet trends: new ones pop up every day in the media, health magazines, blogs, and from grapevine at your gym or supermarket. And like diets, false information regarding nutrition can get in the way of your health and weight loss efforts. This series takes some common – and not-so-common – myths and deconstructs them into real and usable advice so you can start eating more nutritiously for better health today.

Is gluten-free the same as low-carb?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, as well as some lesser known grains such as spelt, semolina,  farina, bulgar, and matzo meal. Although it sounds like gluten is a component of all dry carbohydrates, there are plenty left that do not contain gluten: buckwheat, millet, amaranth, quinoa, rice, and oats. These grains can all be used to make products that are normally made with wheat, including bread, pasta, cereals, and baked goods. A gluten-free diet, therefore, does not necessarily mean a low-carb diet; a person who eats gluten-free can ingest plenty of carbohydrates from gluten-free breads, pastas, cereals, and baked goods as well as vegetables, fruits, beans, and legumes (don’t forget that these “wet” carbohydrates count as carbs, to!).

Starches and carbs are fattening, and should be avoided when trying to lose weight.
Ever since the Atkins diet (which proposes a high-protein, high-fat diet with virtually zero carbs), starches and carbohydrates have been black-listed in the diet community. Starches and carbs are not inherently fattening, however: it’s when they’re covered in sugary and fatty toppings (butter, alfredo sauce, maple syrup) or eaten in huge portion sizes (the average restaurant serving is 2 to 4 times the USDA recommended serving) that they become diet-derailing. Starches and carbs are actually an important tool in weight management; they provide belly-filling fiber and complex carbohydrates to keep your engine running all day. Carbohydrates also stimulate the production of serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter that regulates mood.

Products that are labeled “reduced fat” or “fat free” are more nutritious than their original counterparts.
Foods that have been modified to become fat-free or reduced-fat might seem more nutritious than their original form. If you take out the fat, you take out some excess calories, and you get virtually the same product, right? Let’s compare one brand’s regular peanut butter to their reduced-fat version: per 2 tablespoons, the regular version has 190 calories, 16 grams of fat, and 3 grams of sugar. Their reduced-fat version has 190 calories, 12 grams of fat, and 4 grams of sugar. Essentially, the reduced-fat version has been stripped of one quarter of its healthy monounsaturated fats, and to replace that flavor, the brand has added in fillings, additives, and sugar.  And all for the same amount of calories! Picking reduced-fat products may even end up hurting your waist-line: in one study, average-weight participants ate 22% more calories if the food was labeled “low fat,” and overweight participants ate up to 50% more. Stick to the full-fat versions to retain the healthy benefits of peanuts and their monounsaturated fats: increased satiety and a decreased risk of heart disease and diabetes (and avoid those empty fillers!).

Another marketing ploy to watch out for: naturally fat-free products that are marketed as being healthier because they are “fat free.” Candy is naturally fat-free, but that doesn’t make them a health food: it’s still loaded with high-glycemic sugars.

Organic or natural foods are more nutritious.
In one study, two groups were asked to rate the nutritional value and sensory attributes of the same cookie; one groups’ cookies were labeled as organic, whereas the other groups’ cookies had no label. The participants whose cookies were labeled as organic estimated that their cookies contained 40% fewer calories, significantly more fiber, and were more appetizing than other brands. Trigger words like “organic,” “natural” and “local” promote misconceptions about the true nutritional value of a food and can give otherwise junk food a health halo. A cookie is a cookie, even if it’s made with organic grains, cage-free eggs, and local honey – and it still contains calories, fat, and sugars!

Any food you eat after 8 PM turns directly into fat.
Calories are calories, no matter when you eat them. What does it matter is what and how much of it you eat. Late-night snacking gets a bad rap because often, the foods that are consumed late at night are calorie-dense foods, such as chips, ice cream, pizza, and other junk food. In addition, the snacking you do after dinner and late into the night are excess calories to your daily caloric requirements. And because weight gain is a simple equation of eating more calories than you expend, this often leads to weight gain. Your metabolism, however, doesn’t know what time it is, so if you account for a 200 calorie after-dinner snack, you won’t see the scale creep up. Evidence even shows that regular snacking can lead to weight loss, as long as the snack contains filling protein or fiber. Avoid snacking in front of the TV so you don’t mindlessly munch away a whole bag of chips!

Keep reading for Part II…
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One response to “Debunking Nutrition Myths

  1. Good stuff, Kater- I had always wondered about ‘gluten-free’.

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