Dietitians Tackle Food Myths for National Nutrition Month

Written by Melissa Romero

Top 13 Myths About Food and Nutrition

National Nutrition Month 2012Do carbs make you fat? Will eating tons of protein help you get Ahnold’s muscles? Health experts give us the cold, hard facts.

Happy Nutrition Month! To start it off the right way, we rounded up 13 of the most common and persistent myths about food and asked local dietitians and nutritionists to debunk them. Read on to find out the real deal—some of the answers may surprise you.

1. If you have diabetes, stay away from sugar and you’ll be fine

The truth: “All foods have different effects on blood sugar levels,” says nutritionist Robyn Webb. “While sugar is nutritionally devoid, it’s the total number of carbohydrates that may play a role in blood sugar management. So it’s important to monitor blood sugar even after eating whole foods such as fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.”

2. Fat makes you fat

The truth: Fat gets such a bad rap that we often forget there are such things as healthy fats, such as those found in nuts, olive oil, salmon, and avocados, says Nicole Ferring Holovach. Yes, fat grams do contain more calories than carbs or proteins, but fat is still an essential component of our diet. Adds Elise Museles: They “keep you satiated by slowing down the digestion process so you stay full for a longer period of time.”

3. Eating more protein will lead to bigger muscles

The truth: “A myth perpetuated in gyms!” Webb says. “While eating protein is important, eating more than you need is unnecessary. Resistance training and exercises in which you use your body weight as resistance, such as yoga, can lead to a more defined look. But eating a ton a protein is not going to lead to large muscular development.”

4. Muscle weighs more than fat

The truth: “Unless the laws of physics have changed, one pound is one pound is one pound,” says Elana Natker. “The difference is that muscle is denser than fat, so one pound of muscle takes up less space than a pound of fat.”

5. Egg yolks are bad for you

The truth: Don’t waste those yolks anymore—they’re a “goldmine of nutrition,” says Holovach. One yolk contains half of your day’s requirement of choline, which is an essential nutrient for the brain. Eggs for breakfast will fill you up with protein and fat and will keep you from overeating the rest of the day.

6. Eight glasses of water a day is the magic number

The truth: Just like with nutrients and calories, basic hydration needs varies for each individual, says Heather Calcote. How much water you need to drink daily depends on your exercise and activity level, and even the temperature of where you live. A person needs to learn to recognize thirst and drink water both with meals and in between meal times as needed. “Remember that things like tea, coffee, soup, and most fruits also contribute to water intake, but be mindful of added sugars, caffeine, and sodium.”

7. To lose weight, avoid indulging

The truth: “Healthy eating and healthy living is all about balance,” says Stephanie Mull, so there’s always room for most foods in one’s diet. “People who restrict too much create psychological connections to those forbidden foods, causing them to overeat when they do consume them.”

8. “Healthy” foods are bland

The truth: There are many ways to make natural foods tasty and nutritious at the same time, says Elise Museles. You just need to know the best foods to mix together. “Picture a simple smoothie made with all kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables; a colorful salad with deeply pigmented vegetables and some added protein (plant or animal-based); or a savory soup with butternut squash and a side of homemade kale chips.”

9. Eating after 7 PM will make you gain weight

The truth: “You don’t magically store more fat after 7 PM,” says Danielle Omar. “What and how much you eat will determine weight gain or loss.” To lose weight, try spreading out your calories throughout the day, so you’re not starving in the evening and end up overeating, she suggests.

10. Carrots are high in sugar, so you should avoid them

The truth: Carrots are more than 85 percent water, and one pound of cooked carrots only has three teaspoons of sugar. In fact, since they’re high in phytochemicals such as beta carotene and fiber, eating them will actually help lower blood sugar, Omar says.

11. Babies sleep better and longer if you give them formula before bed

The truth: It’s an old wives’ tale, says Natker. In fact, formula can cause an upset stomach in some babies, which would certainly keep them up at night. A good night’s rest really depends on a baby’s size, daily sleep patterns, and temperament.

12. Eating a product labeled gluten-free is healthy

The truth: Gluten-free is a hot trend in the world of nutrition, but it’s not for everyone, says Museles. While those who jump on the gluten-free bandwagon even if they don’t suffer from celiac disease often feel better, it’s most likely because they’ve eliminated processed foods from their diet. Eating naturally gluten-free foods such as quinoa, sweet potatoes, and millet is great, but gluten-free processed food is not necessarily a healthy choice.

13. Ground turkey and chicken are always better for you than ground beef

The truth: Ground turkey and chicken can be made of any parts of the bird, including the higher-fat dark meat and skin, says Claire LeBrun, senior nutritionist at GW Medical Faculty Associates. Ground beef comes this way, too, but it’s labeled with the percentage of fat. In fact, 95 percent lean or “extra lean” ground beef is much lower in fat than most ground turkey. Lebrun says for the leanest meat, look for packages labeled “ground turkey breast.”


7 Big Nutrition Myths

By Melanie Thomassian, RD

These days there is an incredible amount of information available on what to eat for health, fitness and weight loss. Unfortunately, a good deal of it is distorted, biased, or simply untrue. Often, the scientists conducting studies on a given food product, or supplement, are employed by the very company which produces the product — how can they possibly be impartial? At other times, studies are completed in a very short period of time, or are improperly carried out, producing misleading results. This is why you need to be so careful where you get your health information from, and make sure you always examine claims with a critical eye.


Here are some of the most common nutrition myths which you’re likely to come across.


Despite the vitamins, amino acids, and other compounds which energy drinks contain, the fact remains that huge amounts of sugar, artificial sweeteners, and caffeine make them a very dubious choice.

Furthermore, the rush they produce can quickly lead to a sharp crash in blood sugar, and energy levels afterwards, making you feel even worse than you did before.


Despite the fact that diet soda’s don’t contain any sugar, they have actually been shown to increase the desire to eat sugary foods.

In fact, some studies suggest diet soda drinkers are actually more likely to be overweight.


Some studies suggest that when our taste buds sense sweetness, the body expects a calorie load to accompany it. When that doesn’t happen, it may cause us to overeat because we crave the energy rush our body was expecting. (Source – Cheryl Forberg R.D.)

Another suggestion is that artificial sweeteners dull the taste buds, which means you eat more high-flavor, high-calorie foods to satisfy those cravings.

So, stick to water and unsweetened teas, particularly if you want to lose weight.


The truth is, there is no serious regulation of these claims.

Just about any food manufacturer can use the word natural on their food label, making you think a particular food is healthier for you than something else.

As a general rule, try to choose foods that are close to their natural state, i.e. fresh fruit and veg, raw, unsalted nuts, plain meats, etc… basically foods that haven’t been processed to death.

When choosing packaged foods, go for those that have a short ingredients list, and also foods that contain real ingredients, rather than a list of chemical additives.


Too much of anything can be bad for us, but a little dark chocolate now and then, is actually healthy.

It contains compounds called flavonoids, which can improve circulation, raise HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol), and stimulate the release of those feel-good endorphins.

The key, though, is to stick with dark chocolate most of the time, which has a higher cocoa content (60% plus), rather than milk or white chocolate, which tend to be little more than sugar and fat.


Unfortunately, this is a myth that will probably be around for some time yet.

For the most part, I stay clear of “low fat” foods. My reasoning?

Well, I’ve come to believe, like I mentioned above, that foods are better consumed in their natural state, or at least as close to it as possible.

So, when I pick up a tub of margarine, for example, to read the contents list, what do I find? A list of ingredients I cannot pronounce, let alone understand what they are there for. That can’t be a healthy choice, can it?

My personal preference is a very small amount of butter — but, that’s a story for another day!

The truth is that food manufacturers make up for the taste deficiency, which comes from removing the fat in foods, by filling them with sugar and other unnatural additives.

I’d rather take my chances, and eat a little less of a higher fat food, which is closer to its natural form, rather than some lab produced food product.


Truthfully, calories are calories. If you eat more than you burn, you’ll gain weight.

A more likely conclusion is that those calories eaten at night tend to come from junk food, with a very low nutrition profile.

Try to plan all of your snacks and meals, and then stick with your plan, rather than allowing yourself the luxury of random choice in the evenings, when the resolution to eat better is often weaker.


Your body does a fine job of clearing toxins on its own.

The liver, kidneys and spleen are designed to help remove harmful substances from our system.

There is actually no credible evidence that fasting helps the body do its job any better than it would otherwise.

Instead, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, drink lots of water and green tea, take some exercise, and get a few good nights of sleep in a row.

Try to get into the habit of questioning any nutritional claims you hear. Also, keep in mind that the healthiest foods are likely to be the ones that are the least processed.

What’s the biggest nutrition myth you’ve ever heard?


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