Which foods are best? Busting nutrition myths
Picked at the peak of freshness, frozen and canned produce is just as nutritious as fresh. (Fotolia.com / June 5, 2013)
Our nutrition experts weigh in on some of today's top nutrition myths:
1. Going Gluten-Free is the Best Way to Lose Weight
Eliminating gluten is one of today's hottest diet trends. The gluten-free food business is set to reap $7 billion this year, and more than half of these foods will be purchased by people with no clear medical reason to avoid gluten.
"While individuals with diagnosed celiac disease and gluten sensitivity must go gluten-free, scores of others are also shunning this protein found in wheat and barley. They do so with misguided hopes of getting healthier, dropping pounds, improving sports performance and more. There are healthier ways to lose weight," says Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D., C.D.E., a Virginia-based dietitian and author of "Diabetes Weight Loss: Week by Week."
Weisenberger reports that this fad diet can lead you to miss out on important nutrients found in whole grains, which have been linked with less heart disease, obesity and some types of cancer.
2. You Need to Focus on Superfoods for Health
You've seen "superfoods" touted in the media, but the message that some plant foods are better than others may not be entirely accurate.
"Often, fruits or vegetables are declared 'superfoods' on the basis of their antioxidant content," says Karen Collins, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., nutrition advisor for the American Institute for Cancer Research. However, she explains that the antioxidant levels of foods determined in a test tube may not mean much to the human body.
"When you hear about superfoods, it's easy to assume that eating 'regular' vegetables and fruits doesn't matter. Nothing could be further from the truth. Studies suggest that we get maximum health benefits from eating a wide variety (of food). Synergistic effects of the different nutrients and phytochemicals they contain seem to add up to provide more health-protective effects than any single superfood can provide," says Collins.
3. Only Salt-Sensitive People Need to Cut Sodium
The U.S. Department of Health reiterated the importance of cutting sodium in the Dietary Guidelines, suggesting that you limit it to 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day for healthy people, and even lower, to 1,500 mg if you're at high risk for hypertension. However, many people believe that this rule only applies to people who are "salt-sensitive."
"The fact is, we are all salt sensitive to some degree--and the large majority of us are vulnerable to the risks of a high-salt diet. Ninety percent of us will develop high blood pressure--a silent killer--at some point in our lives, and most cases are a reaction to the outrageous amount of salt that taints our food supply. Lowering sodium in our diet is a public health necessity, one that would benefit all of us," says Janet Bond Brill, PhD., R.D., L.D.N, heart disease expert and author of "Blood Pressure Down."
4. Sugar is Toxic
While most Americans are certainly eating more sugar than is healthful--16 percent of our total calories come from the sweet stuff--it doesn't justify the paranoia that many attach to sugar.
"Although some people vilify sugar as the cause of everything under the sun, including obesity and type 2 diabetes, there's not enough evidence from long-term studies to say that sugar is, in and of itself, toxic and causes disease and other adverse health effects," says Elisa Zied, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., dietitian and author of "Nutrition at Your Fingertips."
However, she adds that consuming too much added sugar from sugary beverages, candy, and desserts at the expense of foods that provide invaluable nutrients--fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, low fat dairy foods, fish, lean meats and poultry--is certainly not a recipe for optimal health.
5. Fresh Produce is Always Best
Many consumers don't consider preserved produce, such as canned, frozen or dried, to count as a serving of fruits or vegetables, according to surveys. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn't differentiate among the forms eaten.