As a dietitian and nutrition consultant I often get asked by friends and family members what I think about the latest fad diet or the most recent nutrition news they heard. All too often, the information they hear is not true. Sometimes it’s based on one finding of a study that may have just happened by chance, other times the information source is not a credentialed health professional. Unfortunately, some of these nutrition and food-related myths spread like wildfire. It’s important for people to get the facts and learn the truth about what they’re eating and its effect on their health.
Myth #1: Egg yolk is filled with cholesterol and isn’t good for you.
Fact: The cholesterol found in eggs – dietary cholesterol, is different from the cholesterol found in the body – blood cholesterol. Confused? Let me explain. Some foods (mostly animal products) contain dietary cholesterol, but this type of cholesterol does not greatly affect the amount of cholesterol that is circulating in your blood. What does affect your blood cholesterol are certain saturated and trans fats like full-fat dairy and pastries made with shortening or partially hydrogenated oils. While a large egg does have about 1.5 grams of saturated fat, most of the fat in eggs is unsaturated and eggs are full of other good-for-you nutrients like vitamin D, choline, selenium, and lutein. So don’t be shy about having an omelet, hard-boiled egg, or a slice of your favorite frittata.
Myth #2: Organic milk is better for you than regular milk.
Fact: The National Dairy Council has been saying it for years and the American Academy of Pediatrics recently reported that organic and conventional milk are actually just as nutritious and wholesome. The difference: on-farm practices. All milk produced in the US must meet the same federal standards for quality, purity, and sanitation. “USDA Organic” milk must come from dairy farms that meet the following criteria:
- Cows are exclusively given food grown without the use of pesticides or commercial fertilizers.
- Cows are given periodic access to pasture.
- Cows are not treated with supplemental hormones.
- Cows have not been given certain medications.
The organic certification process is costly; therefore, there are some small farmers who meet the criteria above but don’t get certified.
Myth #3: Agave nectar is healthier for you than high-fructose corn syrup, sugar, and other sweeteners.
Fact: A few years ago agave became very popular, showing up in health food stores and as the only sweetener available at some restaurants that tout the use of all-natural products. At the same time, other sweeteners like HFCS have been receiving the brunt of the blame for our ever-increasing obesity epidemic. Many conclusions have been made about HFCS as a result of studies that looked at extreme levels of fructose compared to glucose. It’s a great misconception that HFCS is “high” in fructose, when in fact in it’s most commonly used form, HFCS is nearly identical to sucrose (table sugar). Agave nectar on the other hand can have a much higher composition of fructose. Over the past few years consensus has been reached by many, including the American Medical Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, that all sugars are metabolized the same way, provide the same nutritional value, and can all be consumed in moderation as part of a healthy diet.
Myth #4: Beef is the primary source of fat and cholesterol in the diet.
Fact: Beef contributes less than 10% of saturated fat and total fat in the diet and is considered one of the top sources of monounsaturated fat, the heart-healthy fat found in olive oil. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, the major sources of saturated fat in the American diet include full-fat cheese, grain-based desserts, dairy-based desserts, and sausage, franks, bacon, and ribs. Beef and mixed beef dishes only account for about four percent of the saturated fat in American diets. Newer research is also finding that some saturated fats may be good for us. For example, stearic acid, a type of saturated fat found in meats, does not raise harmful LDL cholesterol and it may actually boost beneficial HDL cholesterol.
Myth #5: Nighttime calories are no more fattening than daytime calories.
Fact: This myth comes up all the time. Jo-Ann Heslin, a registered dietitian and co-author of The Calorie Counter, put it simply: “time of day doesn’t matter; the calorie count does.” If you have eaten all the calories you need for the day by 7 pm then you will potentially gain weight if you continue to eat after that time (assuming you didn’t do any calorie expending activity during the day). But if you need 1600 calories, for example, and you have only eaten 1300 by the evening, you won’t put on the pounds as long as you don’t eat more than 300 calories for the rest of the night. Before you sit down on the couch and chow down, Heslin makes a good point – “The warning against late night eating does have value if the calories eaten watching TV or coping with stress are on top of the calories you’ve already eaten during the day.” And, if you haven’t been eating regularly spaced meals throughout the day, you’re more likely to overeat in the evening, which can also lead to weight gain.
What are some food myths you’ve heard?
Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the founder of Nutritioulicious, a nutrition counseling and consulting practice in New York. Jessica has extensive experience as a nutrition writer, editor, and speaker. She is the co-author of We Can Cook:Introduce Your Child to the Joy of Cooking with 75 Simple Recipes and Activities (Barron’s 2011). Jessica also consults for food and beverage companies including The Coca-Cola Company, Frito-Lay, the Corn Refiner’s Association, and Avocados from Mexico. Additional services she provides including recipe analysis and recipe development and makeovers. Connect with Jessica via Twitter @JLevinsonRD and on Facebook.