As a dietitian, I have the responsibility to disseminate accurate and reliable information to the public regarding food and nutrition. During my seven years in the field, I have come across misinformation and contradictions circulating in magazines and online in relation to my field of expertise. I thought I would take some time to dispel a few of the most common nutrition myths in a series of three articles. Hopefully this helps clear some of the murky waters surrounding nutrition and health in the media.
Carbohydrates Will Make You Fat
Carbohydrates have been stigmatized by the media’s claims that they promote fat storage by enhancing insulin resistance. Health and fitness expert claims that low-carb diets are the key to weight loss are untrue. Carbohydrates do not cause weight gain. Excessive calorie intake of any kind will pack on the pounds. In fact, a study published by the American Dietetic Association found that a low carbohydrate diet was linked to increased risk of overweight or obesity. Those at the lowest risk of obesity consumed around half of their calories from carbohydrates. This supports the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommends around 45–65% of daily calories come from carbohydrates.
It is important to note that not all carbohydrates are equal. Refined carbohydrates such as pasta, white bread, baked goods, and candy should be eaten sparingly. These types of carbohydrates supply quick energy to the body in the form of glucose, which can lead to energy crashes. It’s best to eat complex carbohydrates that are found in minimally processed foods such as dairy products, fruits, and whole grains. These foods provide carbohydrates, essential vitamins and minerals, and fiber. Fiber is essential to proper bowel function in addition serving other beneficial roles in the body.
Key Message: Carbohydrates are an excellent source of energy for the body. They will not cause weight gain as long as you choose them wisely and do not eat to excess!
Eggs Are Bad for Your Cholesterol
There are many misconceptions surrounding eggs and whether or not they can be part of a healthy diet. This stems from the fact that eggs are high in cholesterol. Though this is true, dietary cholesterol does not have very much to do with raising blood cholesterol levels in the blood. Only a small amount of cholesterol found in food actually passes into the blood. Saturated and trans fats have a much greater effect on cholesterol levels and eggs are surprisingly low in saturated fat!
Eggs are a great source of protein, omega-3s, vitamins, and minerals. One large egg is only 60 calories and contains a whopping 6 grams of protein. If you think that tossing the yolks is a healthy choice you’re wrong. The yolks contain about half the protein of the entire egg and are packed with B-vitamins, minerals, and healthy Omega-3 fats. The American Heart Association says that a whole egg per day can be a part of a healthy diet.
Key Message: Don’t sacrifice your morning eggs on behalf of health! They are a wonderful source of nutrition and play a role in a healthy diet when eaten in moderation.
Organic Produce is More Nutritious than Conventional
Organic food is all the rage with natural grocery stores popping up on every street corner. It is defined by the USDA under the 1990 Farm Bill as that which is produced by farmers who practice sustainable agriculture, environmental conservation and avoid use of conventional pesticides, antibiotics or growth hormones. Despite the perception that organic foods are healthier than conventional there is little evidence to support this. Research by Stanford’s Center for Health Policy and published in the journal, Annals of Internal Medicine, found that there is very little difference between organic and conventional foods in relation to health.
While there is no significant difference in the nutritional value of organic vs. conventional, it’s important to choose your produce wisely. What makes the biggest difference in nutrients is the length of time produce sits on the shelf and whether or not it is in season. For example, spinach loses about half of its folate within a week on the shelf. Choose produce that has been grown locally and in season. It will be fresher and at its nutritional peak as opposed to produce that has been grown in unnatural conditions and flown across the country to reach its final destination.
Key Message: Organic does not mean healthier. Most times it’s just more money out of your pocket. Be mindful of where your food comes from. Buy locally and eat with the seasons.
Looking Ahead: The next article in this series will take a look at fried foods, calorie restriction, and gluten-free diets. Stay tuned!
Eileen O'Meara is a registered dietician from the great state of Wisconsin. She loves her cheese - in moderation!