Myth or fact? Test your diet knowledge
By Janet Helm / Chicago Tribune
Tucson, Arizona Published: 04.18.2007
Myths about nutrition seem to linger for years, just like urban legends. Remember the one about grapefruit burning fat? What about coffee stunting your growth? Maybe you're still holding on to the belief that gelatin will make your nails stronger.
No doubt, you've fallen for a few weight-loss myths, too. It's easy to do with the constant crop of fad diets promising a quick fix. Who can forget the cider vinegar and cabbage soup diets?
Now desperate dieters are turning to options such as the "master cleanse" or lemonade diet and other so-called detox diets. All too often, these extreme weight-loss regimens are popularized in the pages of celebrity magazines.
Other food fads that may be trendy but come up short on true benefits, include the "raw food" movement — based on the false premise that cooking kills vital food enzymes required for digestion — and "food combining," which is the far-fetched concept that starches and proteins should not be eaten in the same meal because they somehow compete with each other.
Can you separate food fact from myth? Take the test and find out.
Calories eaten at night are more fattening
Myth. It is total calories that count, not the time of day you eat them. Many diet books may warn against eating after 8 p.m., but there is no "witching hour" that makes food more likely to adhere to your hips.
That said, avoiding late-night eating may be a smart strategy to help you eat less, said dietitian Elisa Zied of New York City. People who don't eat all day and then come home and devour everything in sight are probably eating more than they think. So space your meals throughout the day and keep track of total calories, not the clock.
Skipping breakfast helps you lose weight.
Myth. Studies show that breakfast skippers actually compensate for those missed calories by eating more throughout the day.
And you have to eat the right food: If you grab only a doughnut, you may be ravenous before lunch because of a rapid rise and fall in blood sugar, Zied said. She suggests a morning meal that contains fiber and protein.
People who regularly eat breakfast tend to have better luck losing weight and keeping it off.
Your body can't tell the difference between honey and sugar
Fact. Honey seems to have a more "natural" appeal, and some people claim it's less fattening. But as far as your body is concerned, there is no difference if you dip into your sugar bowl or squirt from your honey-bear bottle. Honey and sugar are both broken down into glucose and fructose.
Honey is a bit sweeter than sugar so you might use less, but that's the only benefit. Raw sugar, turbinado sugar, brown sugar and evaporated cane juice are all basically the same, too. They may be slightly less refined than white sugar, but that only means more molasses, which is nutritionally insignificant. (And by the way, sugar does not cause diabetes — another popular nutrition myth.)
Fasting helps rid the body of toxins
Myth. A fast may give you the perception of "cleaning out" your body's impurities, but there is no scientific evidence that this is true, Zied said. Our body is pretty self-sufficient. We have our own "detox" system that filters out harmful products on a daily basis. You don't need to deprive your body of food to make that happen.
Nor will fasting keep weight off. The promise of losing "8 pounds overnight" may be alluring, but this is water weight, not fat, and it likely will be regained just as quickly.
Low-fat always means low in calories
Myth. If you see the word "low" on the label, that's your clue to look a little further, suggested dietitian Susan Moores of Minneapolis. Check for serving size and the number of calories on the Nutrition Facts label. Low-fat foods often contain the same number or even more calories than regular versions.
That's particularly true for fat-free foods. If fat is taken out, something else is put back in — and that's often sugar. Some studies suggest that snacks with low-fat labels simply entice you to indulge, so you end up eating more calories than if you selected the regular version.
You can still eat shrimp and other shellfish on a cholesterol-lowering diet
Fact. Shrimp may be high in dietary cholesterol but it's low in saturated fat, which is a bigger culprit in raising blood cholesterol. Studies now suggest that saturated and trans fats tend to have a greater effect on our blood cholesterol than the cholesterol we eat, according to dietitian David Grotto, a Chicago-based American Dietetic Association spokesman. Experts still advise us to keep a lid on dietary cholesterol to keep our hearts healthy (300 milligrams a day), but we should be even more vigilant about saturated and trans fat. So as long as it's not battered and fried, there may be no need to say sayonara to shrimp.
Multigrain foods are always made with whole grains
Myth. The only way to know for sure is to see if "whole" is in front of every grain in the ingredient list, Moores advised. "Multigrain" only means the product was made with several grains. You can't assume that whole grains were used. The same is true for "7-grain" or "cracked wheat." Even breads and cereals that say "made with whole grains" may contain few whole grains. Look for products labeled "100 percent whole grain."
Olive oil has fewer calories than other fats
Myth. Somehow, with all the buzz about the heart-health benefits of olive oil, people forget that it's still a fat, said dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix of New York. All oils are 100 percent fat and supply basically the same number of calories — about 120 calories per tablespoon. "Light" olive oil has nothing to do with the number of calories: That simply refers to the flavor. So even though olive oil contains the "good" monounsaturated fats, be mindful of how much you douse or drizzle.
Organic food is always more nutritious
Myth. Few studies have compared organic and conventionally grown foods, according to food toxicologist Carl Winter, director of the FoodSafe program at the University of California-Davis. Some evidence suggests that organic produce may be higher in certain antioxidants, but there appears to be no nutritional advantage to organic milk and meat, he said. The descriptor refers to the practices on the farm and not the nutritional content of the final product. When it comes to the snack aisle, don't assume that "organic" gives you the green light to load up.
Frozen vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh
Fact. Just-picked vegetables do have more vitamins and minerals, but the nutrient levels can drop the longer that produce is stored. Frozen vegetables are flash-frozen soon after picking to lock in nutrients. You can limit the loss of nutrients by steaming or microwaving with a little water or stir-frying with a bit of oil.