March 2024


    Nowadays, it seems most people have strong opinions about how to eat, which diet is best or when it comes to food and nutrition what is considered healthy. The reality is that nutrition is a nuanced topic. What might work for some does not work for others. That said, experts agree there are several food myths and misconceptions that persist.

    To clear up any confusion for those who are trying to eat healthier, dietitians list the pervasive nutrition myths they would like to eliminate for good. Here’s what they said.

    Myth #1: Only shop the perimeter of the grocery store.

    The perimeter of a grocery store is often praised for offering fresh produce, meat, seafood, dairy and fortified non-dairy products, while some suggest avoiding the middle aisles because of processed and prepackaged foods found on those shelves.  But the center aisles contain a treasure trove of nutrient-dense and cultural foods including frozen fruit, veggies and seafood, canned beans, fruit and vegetables, as well as dried beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds and spices.

    This can be a troubling myth because it removes delicious, affordable and easy sources of essential nutrients from people’s shopping carts. Only 1 in 10 Americans consumes the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables, and 95% do not meet the recommended daily amount of fiber. To better meet your needs and have a well-balanced diet, shop all areas of the supermarket that stock high-quality whole foods in any form.

    Myth #2: Low calorie and low fat mean healthier.

    Opting for the lowest calorie options possible will usually leave you feeling hungry and unsatisfied, causing you to eventually overeat.  In addition, not eating enough calories can backfire in the long run because it can lower your metabolic rate.

    It’s also important to note that high-calorie foods such as nuts, avocados and some plant oils are nutrient-dense and healthful. As with calories, low fat isn’t better than full fat. Fat helps promote satiety, enhances absorption of essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins and provides us with flavor. 

    Many low-fat and fat-free products like yogurt or salad dressing will often contain added sugar and sodium to try to make up for the flavor that’s lost from reducing or removing the fat content.

    Instead of focusing on low-calorie and low-fat foods, experts urge eating enough calories and fat to support health and stay satisfied. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 20 to 35% of daily calories come from fat, with less than 10% from saturated fat.

    Myth #3: Natural sugars are healthier than table sugar.

    While both honey and maple syrup have antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, they do not offer much nutrition and aren’t necessarily healthier than table sugar. This also applies to other natural sweeteners such as date sugar and brown rice syrup.

    At the end of the day, your body digests and views all of these foods as sugar. What matters is that too many concentrated carbohydrates of any kind can lead to increased risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, metabolic disorders, depression and cognitive impairment.

    Rather than stressing about which type of sugar a person chooses, select whichever one you prefer and enjoy it in moderation. The American Heart Association advises keeping added sugar to a daily maximum of 6 teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men.

    Myth #4: Sea salt is healthier than table salt.

    Like sugars, sea salt and Himalayan salt are ultimately salt, and contain about 40% sodium, similar to table salt. Sea salt is minimally processed and may contain trace amounts of minerals like magnesium, calcium and potassium, while table salt is processed to remove impurities and is typically fortified with iodine for thyroid health. With a well-balanced diet, there’s no need to seek out minerals from sea salt.

    Americans already consume over 150% of the maximum guidelines for sodium. “Excessive sodium consumption is linked to high blood pressure and other health issues, so regardless of the type of salt used it’s important to limit overall sodium intake.

    To help maintain a healthy diet, use any salt product sparingly. The DGA recommends capping salt intake at no more than 2,200 mg/day.

    Myth #5: Eggs are bad for you and raise your cholesterol.

    For years, people avoided eggs because of their high dietary cholesterol. However, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines eliminated the daily upper limit of 300 mg of dietary cholesterol per day as research started showing that saturated fat and concentrated sweeteners and not dietary cholesterol may increase the risk of heart disease. Consuming 6-12 eggs a week within a heart healthy eating plan is generally considered safe and is recommended by The American Heart Association.

    Eggs are an affordable high-quality protein and are packed with B vitamins, vitamin D3 and choline.  They can be part of a healthy diet and can support muscle maintenance, overall well-being, help meet your daily protein needs and are a versatile protein source that can be a component of many different meals.

    Myth #6: Don’t eat after 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. (or when the sun has set).

    Your body doesn’t have an internal clock that tells your cells, “It’s 6 p.m., time to store this food for weight gain!” Energy is energy no matter when it is consumed.

    For those who exercise late, a post-workout snack is still key for muscle repair and growth. And people who work at night need to eat while they’re awake.  It’s not necessarily eating late that leads to weight gain, but rather eating larger amounts of food in the evening after restricting intake throughout the day. Eating smaller portions more often earlier in the day will help manage hunger later.

    Take a closer look at your overall food habits, and work on those instead of creating an arbitrary cut-off time. Have a meal or snack when you’re hungry, and not bored or emotionally eating. And it all comes down to the types of foods you choose.  Opt for fresh fruits, vegetables or whole grains instead of cookies, candies and sweets.

    If eating close to bedtime affects digestion, reflux or sleep, consider having that last meal or snack two to three hours before retiring for the evening.

    Myth #7: Coffee is a meal.

    Many people can’t start the day without a cup of coffee. But it is by no means a replacement for breakfast or any meal. A cup of brewed black coffee may be antioxidant-rich, but it only has about 5 calories and no protein, fat or carbohydrates.

    While [some] coffee includes protein and fats from milk, it will not leave you full and energized the same way a conventional breakfast does. In addition to coffee or tea, include quick options like natural peanut butter on whole grain frozen waffles, whole milk Greek yogurt with fruit and nuts or hard-boiled eggs on avocado toast.

    Maxine Yeung, RD