Busting nutritional myths on carbs, celebrity diets and ‘good vs. bad’ foods

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FEATURE — Whether it’s authors or experts, friends or family, it seems everyone has an opinion on food, whether it’s what food groups are better than others or which ones should be avoided altogether.

Much of the information is conflicting and often not scientifically sound. In fact, one recent study showed that up to 90% of the nutrition information shared on social media is not true.

Here are six common nutrition myths I’ve seen as a registered dietitian nutritionist:

Myth No. 1: Eating healthy is “all or nothing.” 

In nutrition, there is no such thing as perfection. Think about the last time you told yourself you couldn’t eat something you were craving. What happened? Did you end up wanting it more and eating more than you planned? When you restrict food, there is an increased risk of binge eating and feeling out of control.

Next time you are craving a food you “can’t have,” consider eating a little bit, enjoy it and move on with your day. You are human, and there is no perfect way of eating. What do you eat on a consistent basis is much more important than what you eat occasionally.

Myth No. 2: There are “good” and “bad” foods. 

The “good” or “bad” labels we give foods are often arbitrary and can change based on where we get the information from. We read or hear that something is bad for us, then take it as fact and avoid it. Most diets tell us food is either good or bad, leading us to pass judgment on ourselves over food as if eating was a moral issue.

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Think about the last time you said “I’ve been so good today” or “I’m a terrible person” based on what or how much you ate. Relating our food choices to self-worth stirs up of feelings of guilt and shame.

Letting go of this belief can help you feel better and be kinder to yourself. Drinking enough water does not make you a better person, it just helps your body function.

Myth No. 3: Carbohydrates are bad for you.

Have you heard this one or its counterpart that says sugar is bad for you? There are many fad diets right now that demonize carbohydrates and sugar. Avoiding carbohydrates is unnecessary and can be harmful. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred energy source.

There are three main components of carbohydrates: starches, sugars and fiber. Starch and fiber are essential parts of our diet. We need the vitamins and minerals found in starch. Fiber keeps our gut healthy along with lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Fiber is only found in carbohydrates from plant foods.

Sugar can be found naturally in some foods or added during the manufacturing process. The recommended daily limit of added sugar is 10% of daily calories, not including natural sugars found in fruit or dairy products.

Myth No. 4: All fat is bad for you.

Like carbohydrates, we need fat in our diet. Our bodies use dietary fat to use fat-soluble vitamins. These vitamins include A, D, E and K.

Unsaturated fat is the most beneficial to our bodies. It comes from plants and is liquid at room temperature. Avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds and fish are great sources of unsaturated fat.

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Saturated fat is solid at room temperature and is typically found in animal products. Saturated fat is nonessential, and the recommended daily intake is less than 10% of our daily calories.

Foods with trans fats are the exception and should be avoided completely. Trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils increase the risk of developing heart disease.

Myth No. 5: Fresh is always better than frozen.

Many believe that fresh fruits and vegetables are always the best option, which might be true when they’re in season. Otherwise, frozen can be a great option.

Processing of frozen vegetables and fruits actually occurs at their peak ripeness, when the fruits and vegetables have the most nutrients and taste the best. There is minimal processing for most frozen foods and vegetables. Look for bags that do not include ingredients besides the fruit or vegetable to avoid unnecessary added sugar.

Myth No. 6: Diets promoted by celebrities are good for you. 

Just because a diet is popular doesn’t mean it’s safe, proven or effective in the long term. Don’t trust your health choices to someone based solely on their celebrity status. Look at a diet critically to see if it restricts food groups or identifies foods as “good” or “bad.” If so, avoid it.

These diets are tempting because they promise a quick fix. Often they can’t deliver on their promises and can even put your health in jeopardy.

If you want to lose weight or create healthy habits, check with your doctor or a dietitian. These qualified health professionals can help you find a plan that works for you. The Southwest Utah Public Health Department offers an online class and resources on creating healthy habits. Register here.

Written by MALLORY SPENDLOVE, RDN, CD, Southwest Utah Public Health Department Project Coordinator.

This article was originally published in the Fall 2019 issue of HEALTH Magazine.

Copyright © Southwest Utah Public Health Foundation, all rights reserved.

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