It seems we’re constantly bombarded with the mantra “exercise and eat right.” But between the old wives’ tales, junk science and just plain misinformation, how is a person supposed to know what eating right even means? To help separate fact from fiction, Registered Dietitian Tamara Giles shared her list of five of the most common myths about food and nutrition.
1. All white foods are bad.
Many people put processed carbohydrates and so-called white food into the same category, but they’re not the same thing. Common examples of processed carbohydrates include white rice, sugar, white bread and pasta, and they should be consumed in moderation. The daily recommended amount for added sugar is up to 6 teaspoons (30 grams) for adult women and up to 9 teaspoons (45 grams) for adult men. Obviously, there are many of us who consume substantially more than those quantities on a regular basis. There are natural white foods that are rich in nutrients and good sources of fiber, so they are actually good for you. Such foods include white potatoes — with the skin — onions, mushrooms, cauliflower and turnips.
2. Use sea salt to your heart’s content.
Whether it’s sea salt, table salt, kosher salt or pickling salt, what ultimately matters is your overall sodium intake, including the salt that is already in the food you eat. For the general population, the recommended amount is about 2,300 milligrams a day, which is about a single teaspoon. If you are over 51 or have hypertension or heart disease, the recommended amount is 1,500 mg daily. One advantage sea salt, as well as kosher salt, has is that its larger grains mean you are actually ingesting less sodium chloride per teaspoon than you are with smaller-grained table salt, for example. What’s also good about some salts is that they contain iodine, which is important in the prevention of hypothyroidism in those who don’t consume seafood, which is also rich in iodine. Tuna, cod, shrimp and lobster are all great sources of iodine, as are milk, baked potatoes, turkey breast, eggs and plain yogurt, in addition to many fruits and vegetables.
3. Eating eggs regularly is unhealthy.
One egg a day is perfectly fine for the average American adult or child. As with salt, what really matters is the overall amount of cholesterol you consume a day from all food sources, which, it is believed, should not exceed 300 mg a day. An average-sized egg contains about 200 mg. So, if you had an egg for breakfast, say, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch and a meat-based dinner, you’d be fine unless you were already an at-risk person. Keep in mind that cholesterol is only found in animal products.
The 2015 dietary guidelines are scheduled to be released to the public very soon, at which time the guidelines for cholesterol consumption may change.
4. Butter is better because it’s natural.
Saturated fat is saturated fat, no matter where it comes from. Although it’s true that the saturated fat in butter is less harmful than the trans fats found in some margarines, it doesn’t mean it’s okay to consume unlimited amounts of it. Saturated fats should be 10 percent or less of your daily calorie intake. At least butter is supposed to be mostly fat, but if the cracker you’re about to spread it on is too, well, that’s a problem. Products with added plant sterols are good, but it’s also okay to combine fat sources. So, feel free to use, say, a teaspoon of butter and a teaspoon or two of olive oil in a recipe rather than just one or the other.
5. We all need to be gluten-free.
The only people who need to be gluten-free for a lifetime are those who have celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disorder in which the ingestion of gluten damages the small intestine. It’s important to keep in mind that even though some people have a sensitivity to gluten, they will not suffer the long-term health risks and effects as someone with celiac disease who consumes gluten.
If you think you may have a sensitivity to gluten — or any other food, for that matter — consult a dietitian, allergist or physician. In the meantime, don’t assume that the gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea you’ve been having are the result of gluten in your diet. Also important is that an improperly planned gluten-free diet can lead to or result in certain nutrient deficiencies and weight gain, as certain gluten-free snacks and desserts are actually higher in fat and sugar than their gluten-containing counterparts. So, think before reaching for those gluten-free cookies, cakes or breads, as you’re probably not doing your body the favor you may think you are.
Editor’s note: Tamara Giles, RD, CSP, LD, is a registered and licensed dietitian specializing in pediatric nutrition at Peninsula Regional Medical Center.
PENINSULA REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER
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