by Sharon Palmer, R.D.
Should I eliminate gluten from my diet? Which "superfoods" should I eat? Are "natural" foods any better for me? These are the questions on the minds of thousands of consumers today. Yet the information presented on the Internet and in many magazine articles is not always accurate, giving rise to many myths and urban legends about which foods you should eat to achieve optimal health. 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
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
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
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
5. Fresh Produce is Always Best
Many 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 USDA doesn't differentiate among the form eaten. "Picked at the peak of freshness, frozen and canned produce offers a comparable, and in some cases more favorable, nutrition contribution," says
6. You Must Give Up Your Favorite Foods
Some popular diets would have you think you can never enjoy a slice of cake on your birthday or a handful of chips at a backyard barbeque. However, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recently announced that it's your total diet -- what you eat day in and day out -- that really matters. "You don't have to give up your favorite foods to gain health benefits. Simply focusing on adding extra servings of fruits and vegetables offers more payoff than completely gutting your diet," suggests David Grotto, R.D., L.D.N, dietitian and author of "The Best Things You Can Eat." Creating an environment of healthy food choices every day -- focusing on lean meats, fish, whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables -- can help you afford modest servings of treats.
7. Organic is Healthier
Time and time again, surveys find that consumers rate organic foods as "healthier" than their conventional counterparts, but studies don't always support this. "Just because a food is labeled 'organic' doesn't mean it's more nutritious. Stanford researchers analyzed 240 studies and concluded that organic foods are not more nutritious than conventional foods. However, choosing organic can reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria," says Zied. Remember that organic junk foods -- cookies, snack foods, chips -- are definitely no healthier than conventional junk foods.
8. Soy is Dangerous
Urban legends abound on soy, purporting that it causes everything from feminizing effects on men (not true) to breast cancer. "At one time there was concern that compounds in soy known as phytoestrogens could promote estrogen-sensitive cancers, such as the most common form of breast cancer. Now we have more studies in people, which show that soy may reduce risk of breast cancer if consumed in youth or adolescence. Although it may not reduce risk in women who begin eating it later in life, there's no sign of an increase in risk. Moderate consumption -- one to two servings a day -- is now considered safe, even for women who had estrogen receptor positive breast cancer," says Collins.
9. Natural Means Nutritious
Food marketers have learned that "natural" on the food label really sells. It conjures up images of wholesome ingredients plucked straight from nature, but this term is deceiving. "There is not a true definition for 'natural' on food labels," says
10. Farm-raised Fish is Not Healthy or Sustainable
Misperceptions about farm-raised fish are plentiful, from the addition of artificial coloring to inferior nutritional quality. Ruhs reports, "The latest technology in aquaculture is actually a solution for sustaining fish populations into the future. And farm-raised fish provides an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids with reduced risk of mercury contamination. Modern aquaculture has reduced the use of antibiotics in farm-raised fish. There is also no added coloring, contrary to popular opinion; astaxanthin, a naturally occurring and essential antioxidant added to the diet of farm-raised fish, provides the pigmentation in salmon."