Did you know March is North American Nutrition Month? Now is the perfect chance to take a step back and examine our perceptions about food and determine the nutritional facts from fiction a bit better.
Here are 10 common myths about nutrition and health. How many have you heard lately?
- Sea salt is more nutritious than table salt, and the best way to limit sodium is by ditching the salt shaker. The names of these salts only reference the source from which they were made. Table salt is mined from dried-up salt lakes, while sea salt is created by evaporating seawater and collecting the salt left behind. Each contains the same amount of sodium. However, 75% of the sodium in the American diet actually originates in the pre-packaged and “ready-to-eat” foods, as well as restaurant meals. If you're looking to decrease the amount of sodium in your diet, skip these “convenience” foods, reduce the amount you eat out at restaurants, and use other herbs like basil, cilantro, parsley, garlic, and oregano for flavoring.
- Drinking energy drinks will give me energy. Energy drinks give you a short burst of energy, but it doesn't last. Each energy drink contains as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, and up to 1/3 cup of sugar. Do you need more energy? Try eating a well-balanced diet, exercising, staying well hydrated, and sleeping for 8 – 9 hours each night.
- “Superfoods” will keep me super healthy. No food has superpowers to keep you healthy on its own. Even if a food is bursting with a beneficial nutrient, your body needs more than that to be healthy. There also isn't a single “superfood” definition, and the term is often used to promote trendy, expensive, and exotic foods that may not necessarily add up to their touted benefits. Basic foods that aren't called “super,” such an an apple, are equally nutritious as a goji berry...and cost a fraction of the price.
- Certain foods help you lose weight quickly. There is no single food that burns fat or makes you lose weight quickly. Weight-loss diets focusing on single food items, like grapefruit, cabbage soup, celery, and/or the elimination of carbohydrates or gluten, are restrictive and lack the variety of nutrients required for long-term good health. Unless your doctor recommends otherwise, you're better off choosing a well-balanced diet that promotes healthy habits you can stick with throughout your lifetime.
- Multi-Grain and Whole Grain are the same. Multi-grain isn't always a whole grain; it just means that the product contains more than one grain. To make sure a food is made with whole grains, look on the ingredient label for the words “whole grain” in front of each grain name. (Example: whole grain oats, whole grain barley, whole grain rye, whole grain wheat)
- Frozen fruits and veggies aren't as nutritious as fresh. Though nothing beats the taste of fresh produce in season (think sweet corn on the cob), frozen fruits and vegetables are just as healthy as their in-season counterparts. This is because frozen food is picked and packed at its peak of ripeness. Frozen fruits and vegetables in pre-made sauces or with added flavorings, however, can be a source of unwanted sugars or sodium; if you want flavored frozen foods, it's best to add seasonings yourself.
- Low-Fat and Fat-Free mean healthy. Just because a food is low-fat or no-fat doesn't mean it's healthy. Many “low fat” foods like candy, soda, and cookies are high in calories and sugars while being low in usable nutrients. There are many high-fat foods that are actually very healthy: fish, avocados, nuts, seeds, and nut butters.
- Eating lots of protein gives me muscle. Protein alone does not build muscle mass. A strength-training program, when combined with proper recovery time, sleep, and a well-balanced diet will help you build muscle mass and prevent bone density loss.
- Honey and agave syrup are better for you than white sugar. Sugar is sugar. Your body can't tell the difference between white sugar, brown sugar, molasses, honey, maple syrup, corn syrup, fruit juice, or agave syrup; each one is a concentrated source of calories containing very few usable nutrients. Your best option is to limit these products if you're desiring to lower your sugar intake.
- When you're pregnant, you're eating for two. In reality, women only require an average of 285 more daily calories throughout pregnancy to maintain a healthy weight gain (85 calories in the first trimester; 475 calories in the third trimester). This is equivalent to 1 – 2 extra glasses of milk each day. Check with your doctor to determine your exact dietary needs and recommended weight gain if you are pregnant.