Debunking nutrition myths is key to eating right. These myths shape our food choices and decisions about what–and how much–to eat. This ties into this year’s Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics‘ (AND) Eat Right Bite by Bite, campaign, which focuses on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. In this spirit of “informed food choices” we thought it would be good to start by disproving 5 common and stubborn nutrition myths about food.
Here are 5 common nutrition myths to forget right now
1. Carbs are bad for you
Carbohydrates (aka carbs) are the most misunderstood nutrient. Healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, dairy and even nuts, contain carbs. Carbs get a bad rap because they are also found in unhealthy foods, which can contribute to weight gain and poor health when eaten in excess. These foods include soda and refined grains such as oversize bagels and cookies. I suggest you limit ultra-processed refined carbs. Enjoy the healthy varieties including apples, spinach, lentils, and oatmeal. If you want to figure out how healthy a carb is, count net carbs. Net carbs equal the total number of carbohydrates minus fiber content.
2. Following a gluten-free diet is best for good health
A gluten-free diet is not healthier if you do not have celiac disease or a sensitivity to gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Many gluten-free products are higher in sugar and salt. In fact, many of the people following gluten-free diets don’t have to be, as our story about it last March explains. If you don’t have any digestive issues when eating gluten, enjoy a slice of whole wheat toast or whole wheat pasta. Whole grains can be a great source of fiber important for proper digestion.
3. You should cut out all starches to lose weight
As I write in my book, Finally Full, Finally Slim, you do not need to eliminate starches in order to lose weight. Healthy starches, which contain fiber helps you to feel full, which is great for weight loss. Healthy starches include sweet potatoes and whole grains such as whole wheat bread, quinoa, and brown rice. While you want to limit refined grains when trying to lose weight, portion control is key. A healthy plate is composed of half the plate non-starchy veggies, a quarter healthy protein and the other quarter healthy starch. So, I urge you to include a sweet potato or a cup of kasha at your next meal.
4. Dairy products are unhealthy
Dairy products such as yogurt and milk are healthy foods to include in the diet. Dairy foods contain protein as well as calcium and vitamin D important for bone health. The low-fat and fat-free varieties are low in saturated fat and contain fewer calories than their full-fat varieties. If you are lactose intolerant or unable to digest dairy, obtain calcium-rich foods from other sources such as dark, leafy greens and canned salmon with bones.
5. A vegetarian diet is the best plan for good health
A well-planned vegetarian food plan is linked to lower rates of obesity and chronic diseases. However, not all vegetarian foods are healthy. In fact, many “vegan” cookies could be high in sugar, salt, and fat, a topic I explore more in this Smart Lifebites story “Does Plant-Based = Healthy?” While I advocate for a diet consisting mainly of plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, eating small amounts of fish and chicken (no more than a quarter of your plate) can be part of a healthy diet.
-Lisa R. Young
Lisa R. Young, PhD, RDN, is an internationally recognized nutritionist, portion size expert, and adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University. Dr. Young is the author of Finally Full, Finally Slim: 30 Days to Permanent Weight Loss One Portion at Time and The Portion Teller Plan. Major media outlets regularly quote her as an expert voice on nutrition and health. She has been counseling clients for more than 20 years, blogs at www.drlisayoung.com, and inspires her community to make healthy food and lifestyle choices. Read her most recent Smart Lifebites story: “What Can Superfoods Do For Your Health.”