Fact or Fiction: 8 Common Nutrition Myths
Let’s face it, myths and misinformation are much more seductive than the truth. A balanced diet, enough sleep and regular exercise are usually the best course for fighting diseases and staying healthy. For most people, that just isn’t that interesting.
In reality, the most persistent nutrition myths are those that contain at least a kernel of truth and some “myths” help us get to real dietary wisdom that actually might help our health. Here’s a cold, hard, science-based look at some of the most oft-repeated food myths and what really is the truth behind them.
1. “Eggs are bad for your heart.”
Eggs do contain a substantial amount of cholesterol in their yolks at about 211 milligrams (mg) per large egg. And yes, cholesterol is the fatty stuff in our blood that contributes to clogged arteries and heart attacks. But labeling eggs as “bad for your heart” is connecting the wrong dots.
How? For most of us the cholesterol we eat, in eggs or any other food, doesn’t have a huge impact on raising our blood cholesterol; the body simply compensates by manufacturing less cholesterol itself. The chief heart-disease culprits are saturated and trans fats, which have much greater impact on raising blood cholesterol. Seen through that lens, eggs look more benign: a large egg contains 2 grams of saturated fat (only 10 percent of the Daily Value) and no trans fats.
High-fructose corn syrup was created to mimic sucrose (table sugar), so its composition is almost identical to sucrose’s (55 percent fructose, 45 percent glucose; with sucrose the ratio is 50:50). Calorie-wise, it’s a dead ringer for sucrose. And in studies that compare the effects of HFCS with other sweeteners, HFCS and sucrose have very similar effects on blood levels of insulin, glucose, triglycerides and satiety hormones. In short, it seems to be no worse, but also no better than sucrose or table sugar.
Contrary to the theories of the low-carb/no carb manifesto, Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution, first published in 1972 (and the similar books that followed), there’s nothing inherently fattening about carbohydrates. But low-carb eating can help many people manage their weight especially if you’re “one of those people who has a hard time staying in control when you eat carbohydrate-rich foods.” No matter how you slice it, the best diet is one you can stick to.
Calories are calories are calories, and it doesn’t matter what time you eat them. Calories are calories are calories, and it doesn’t matter what time you eat them. What matters are the total calories consumed and total calories burned each day.
This is misguided thinking. Whether you’re using a microwave, a charcoal grill or a solar-heated stove, it’s the heat and the amount of time you’re cooking that affect nutrient losses, not the cooking method. The longer and hotter you cook a food, the more you’ll lose certain heat- and water-sensitive nutrients. Microwave cooking often cooks foods more quickly. It can actually help to minimize nutrient losses.
6. “You crave certain foods because you’re deficient in one of the nutrients they provide.”
Not true, unless you’re a deer or moose. (In the spring, those animals are attracted to “salt licks” mineral deposits that supply nutrients they need.) Human food cravings tend to be more about satisfying emotional needs. There is only one nutrient deficiency that’s clearly associated with cravings in humans: iron. But instead of longing for iron-rich liver or steak, people severely deficient in iron tend to crave things like ice cubes, clay or even cement. Researchers don’t know what causes this strange, rare condition, called “pica,” but some suspect that a lack of iron might somehow affect the body’s appetite mechanisms.
7. “Grazing on mini meals throughout the day keeps your metabolism stoked and helps you control your weight better than eating fewer, larger meals.”
Our metabolisms rev up slightly each time we eat, as our bodies process what we’ve consumed. So by having several mini meals instead of fewer, larger ones, we shift our metabolism into a higher gear more often and burn a few more calories. But the calorie difference is so small it doesn’t add up to anything substantial. With that being said, snacking between meals may help some dieters by keeping them from getting overly hungry and eating too many calories when they finally sit down to dinner.
8. “You Can Lose 10 Pounds in 2 Weeks.”
You probably can lose 10 pounds in two weeks if you crash-diet, but that pace is rarely sustainable and most of the weight will return once you start eating normally. To truly lose 1 pound, you need to “eliminate” 3,500 calories, the amount stored in a pound of fat, by eating less and moving more. If you cut 500 calories (or cut 300 and burn 200 through exercise) every single day of the week, you’ll lose about a pound a week.