The world is full of food fantasies, many masquerading as good advice. Too often people looking for quick fixes want to believe these magical promises. But good nutrition isn’t based on misconceptions or old-wives tales, so it’s time for a reality check on common myths like these:
Fantasy: Eat dry-roasted nuts because they have less fat than oil-roasted nuts.
Reality: The only difference is in flavor. The amount of fat, 14 grams per ounce, comes from the nut itself and isn’t affected by preparation method, says Roberta L. Duyff, MS, RD in Food Folklore—Tales and Truths about What We Eat.
Fantasy: Eating spicy foods burns calories.
Reality: Adding cayenne or chili peppers to your food may make it taste better—and may create enough heat that you eat less. That’s the only way hot stuff will help with weight loss.
Fantasy: Choose the salad bar for a lower-calorie meal.
Reality: The average plate from a salad bar may have more calories than a fast-food combo meal, warns Duyff, who practices in St. Louis. Adding pasta, potato, or even fruit salads to the leafy greens significantly raises calorie count--not mention how numbers skyrocket when you pour on creamy salad dressing. One-third cup of cottage cheese is a good substitute using the same calories found in one tablespoon of blue cheese dressing.
Fantasy: Consuming food after 6:00 p.m. causes greater weight gain than eating earlier.
Reality: It’s not when you eat, but what that matters. While regular mealtimes may reduce impulsive snacking, calories count the same no matter when they are consumed. “If you eat early and need to take the edge off hunger, save dessert from dinner to eat later, or have a nourishing snack--and include the calories in your daily total,” recommends Duyff. The key is to leave out late night binging on high-fat choices like chips or cookies.
Fantasy: Organic foods are healthier and safer than foods grown by conventional farming methods.
Reality: Organic is a production claim, not a food safety or nutrition claim, says Harshavardhan Thippareddi, Ph.D., a food science professor at the University of Nebraska. Food value is comparable regardless of how the food was grown. “From a nutrition standpoint, spending extra dollars just to buy organic isn’t necessary,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, M. A., R. D. of New York. While organic products are free from man-made chemicals, which appeals to some consumers, organically grown foods are just as likely to harbor harmful bacteria. Proper washing and handling is important for all foods.
Fantasy: If you’re avoiding caffeine, skip the chocolate bar.
Reality: A 1-ounce milk chocolate bar contains 6 milligrams of caffeine, compared with 85 mg. in 8 ounces of regular coffee. An occasional splurge with the sweet stuff won’t give you the jitters--and chocolate is a great comfort food when your mood needs lifting.
Fantasy: Brown eggs are more nutritious than white eggs.
Reality: The color of the shell relates to the breed of chicken that laid the egg, not nutritional value, which is the same for both. Buy brown eggs only if you like the color.
Fantasy: Solid margarine has more cholesterol than margarine in a tub.
Reality: Both are made from vegetable oils, so neither has cholesterols. Only foods of animal origin—like butter or lard—have cholesterol. For the record, both margarine and butter contain about 100 calories and 12 fat grams per tablespoon; however, Geise suggests choosing whipped margarine (lighter due to the addition of air) if you’re trying to cut back on calories and transfats that pose cardiovascular risks.
Fantasy: Sugar causes hyperactivity.
Reality: No scientific study has shown a link between eating sugar and hyperactivity, says Orlando, Florida dietician Tara Geise. Most evidence is simply anecdotal: Occasions such as birthday parties when children consume a lot of sugar involve excitement and extra activity, which might lead parents to think sugar is the culprit when the environment is a more likely cause.
Fantasy: Carbohydrates and protein consumed together make an unhealthy combination.
Reality: Carbs raise blood sugar level quickly, but proteins act as a buffer to this spike. “Combining carbs with protein gives a smoother, longer-lasting increase in blood sugar and energy level, and you’ll feel more satisfied,” says Taub-Dix. She recommends spreading peanut butter or cheese on bread for a healthy pick-me-up.
Fantasy: Natural products are always better than processed items.
Reality: All-natural doesn’t mean there’s no sugar, says Taub-Dix. For example, honey is a natural food, but it contains 75 percent sugar, no better for you than refined sugar. And fresh foods aren’t always best, either. Improperly storing fresh fruits and vegetables may actually result in a decreased nutrient value as compared to equivalent frozen foods.
Fantasy: Drinking ice water shrinks your stomach, so you eat less.
Reality: Loading your tummy with liquid may take the edge off hunger and fill you up temporarily, but your stomach won’t decrease in size. Nor will chewing ice burn calories, says Geise. Just think how easily America’s obesity problem could be solved if such a simple remedy actually worked.