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6 Health Food Myths Debunked

healthy food, nutrition

Art Credit: Stiftelsen Elektronikkbransjen

“Oh, I don’t eat carrots,” she said to me. “They’re starchy carbohydrates, and I heard they will make me gain weight.”

I looked down at the floor and cleared my throat to hide the grin and laughter bubbling up from my stomach. It wasn’t professional to laugh at a client during a nutritional counseling session.

Was she serious? This seemingly intelligent middle-aged woman really thought eating carrots would derail her weight-loss goals?

Unfortunately, she’s not a unique case. Too many people fall victim to diet myths that lack any scientific evidence to back them up. Some of these myths become so pervasive that some enterprising person even turns them into cringe-worthy diet trends.

It’s hard to place blame on the average consumer for believing in diet myths because of the suffocating amount of misinformation on the Internet. A tiny spark of fallacy can transform into a wildfire of lies in a matter of minutes. Before you know it, “low carb” dieters are turning down nutrient-rich carrots because their friend’s blog said they’re “bad.” In an effort to help people make truly healthy choices, here are six of the myths-turned-diet trends that we dietitians hate most:

01. Juicing

We’re always being told to eat our fruits and vegetables, so what better way than through a refreshing juice drink, right? While an occasional juice is not harmful, most are high in sugar and lack fiber and protein. Some juices can have up to 40 grams of sugar per bottle—the same amount of sugar in a can of soda. Consuming that much sugar will result in a blood-sugar roller coaster, leaving you tired and hungry. Instead of using a juice machine that separates fibrous material from juice, try blending up whole fruits and vegetables to keep the filling fiber. Also, add protein powder to the blend or pair juice with a protein-rich meal (think eggs, salad with chicken, or yogurt) to make sure your body is getting the balanced nutrition it needs.

02. Gluten-Free

Gluten is often made out to be a bad guy, but in reality it’s quite nutritious as a source of protein. Unless you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, there’s little reason to cut it out of your diet. If you’re following a gluten-free diet as a means to drop pounds, you may be doing more harm than good: Many gluten-free foods are packed with hidden calories. According to a recent study, many times these products use more sugar and fat to replace the flavor and texture gluten provides.

03. Avoiding Dairy

People have begun to pass on dairy products for various reasons. Some claim that it’s unnatural to consume dairy because it was only introduced to the diet of our ancestors a few thousand years ago. But evolutionary geneticists have shown on multiple occasions that humans have evolved to digest milk sugar. When my cousin told me he was passing on dairy, it wasn’t because he experienced physical symptoms of intolerance. It was simply because he thought dairy was a “bad” food. Unless you have lactose intolerance or a milk allergy (although rare), dairy is an easy way to get high-quality protein and essential vitamins and minerals like vitamin D and calcium. There's also mounting evidence to show that eating dairy-rich foods can support weight management, blood pressure, and bone health.

04. Sugar-Free

Sugar is increasingly targeted as the scapegoat of the obesity epidemic. But while eating excess amounts of added sugars in foods like soda, candy, juices, and pastries can lead to weight gain, there’s nothing inherently wrong with sugar. In fact, our brains and nervous systems rely almost entirely on sugar for energy. No matter the source, all carbohydrates—whether from an orange or a candy bar—are all broken down into sugar in the gut to supply the body with energy. This doesn't give you a free pass to eat all the candy you want, though! Choose the orange over the candy bar for plenty of beneficial nutrients including fiber and to avoid empty calories.

05. All-Natural

While browsing grocery store aisles, you'll see "all-natural" claims on a variety of products, from crackers to cookies. The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t have requirements for using the term natural on products, so it’s left up to the producer to decide how to position it—and many times that results in misleading claims. Heavy metals such as arsenic and lead are all-natural, but would you want to eat a product with toxic amounts of these? Just because it's natural, doesn't mean it's healthy.

06. You get all the nutrients you need from your food.

It's rare for a person to eat a diet that provides sufficient amounts of all the essential micronutrients. For example, 65 percent of people fail to meet vitamin E recommendations. Even worse, 75 percent of people fail to get enough vitamin D. The reality is that even if you’re motivated to eat healthy, it’s hard to do—just to get enough potassium each day, you'd have to eat ten large bananas. A daily multivitamin is a great way to fill nutritional gaps especially on days when your diet isn’t up to par. Other supplements to talk to your doctor about include fish oil and vitamin D—nutrients most diets are lacking.

If a diet trend seems suspicious or just plain over the top, it probably is. There’s no secret to healthy eating—it just takes some work. Stick with meals that have balanced portions of lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and fresh fruits and vegetables—including carrots.