With every Instagrammer in your feed dishing out nutrition advice these days, it’s never been trickier to decipher fact from fiction. Not only is this social media misinformation confusing, but it can keep you from being your healthiest self.
To set the record straight, I asked some of my expert pals to bust the most frustrating food-related falsities out there. Keep these myths in mind the next time you’re scrolling through the social media static.
Myth #1: You Should Only Shop The Perimeter Of The Grocery Store
Food shopping can be so tricky that I wrote an entire book on it! The perimeter of the grocery store may house many of the whole foods we’re told to fill our diets with—like produce (my favorite section), animal proteins (like poultry and meat), and refrigerated dairy—but that doesn’t mean the middle aisles don’t have healthy foods to offer! Soda, cookies, and chips aside, those center aisles contain plant foods like beans, whole grains, and nuts, which are nutritious, versatile, affordable, and easy to store. These ingredients can help you create an endless number of delicious, nutritious meals and snacks, like bean-filled soups and salads, homemade trail mix, and more.
Myth #2: Foods With More Than Five Ingredients Aren’t Healthy
While long ingredient lists that include sugar and its aliases, preservatives, and artificial flavors and colors should be questioned and perhaps avoided, not all multi-ingredient foods are unhealthy. It’s the quality of a food’s ingredients—not the quantity—that matters most. If a product’s ingredients are whole foods you’d already stock your kitchen with—like whole grains, fruits, veggies, and spices—then it’s probably an okay choice. (Consider this: My favorite bread, Dave’s Killer Bread, contains 32 organic ingredients, 21 of which are whole grains and seeds.)
Myth #3: Avoid Nuts; They’re High In Fat
It’s true, nuts are mostly fat and fat is more calorie-dense than carbs or protein—but the majority of the fat in nuts is healthy unsaturated fat, which keeps us feeling full, and supports healthy blood sugar and a healthy heart. Plus, nuts are naturally packed with protein, fiber, and many other nutrients (like minerals!), says Patricia Bannan, M.S., R.D.N., author of Eat Right When Time is Tight. A serving of nuts (about a handful or two) is a great snack choice and can actually support weight loss by keeping you satisfied and making you less likely to munch on less valuable foods.
Myth #4: Gluten-Free Foods Are Better For You
Newsflash: Donuts are donuts! Plenty of the gluten-free foods out there are highly-processed and low in nutritional value. That ‘gluten-free’ label doesn’t say anything about how much protein, fat, fiber, sugar, or calories the product contains, says Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D.N., author of The Superfood Swap. And unless you have a condition like celiac disease, your health doesn’t depend on avoiding gluten, anyway. So if you’re reaching for those gluten-free donuts because you think they’re somehow better, think again.
Myth #5: Carbs Make You Fat
Along with protein and fat, carbohydrates are an essential macronutrient, which means they’re essential for our bodies’ proper function. In fact, they’re broken down into glucose, which is our primary source of fuel! Because our bodies prefer to use carbs for energy, we actually resist storing them as body fat, says Kara Lydon, R.D., L.D.N., R.Y.T., Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. When we don’t eat enough carbs, our bodies become desperate for glucose, and may even start to break down the protein found in our muscles to turn into glucose, which is bad news for our muscles, metabolism, and fitness.
Sure, regularly chow down on big portions of refined carbs (think bagels, sub sandwiches, and pasta) and you’re likely going to pack on the pounds. However, stick to whole grains, starchy vegetables, and fruit—and eat your carbs alongside fat and protein—and you’ve got yourself a balanced, waistline-friendly diet.
Myth #6: Coffee Is A Bad Habit, Not A Health Food
We often assume that if something feels good, it must be bad for us—and while that may be true with highly-processed, addictive foods, it’s not the case with coffee. While some people who are caffeine-sensitive may experience shakiness, upset stomach, or sleeplessness after drinking coffee, studies have suggested that it can protect against Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, and gout, so go ahead and enjoy that morning (or early afternoon) brew.
Myth #7: White Foods Aren’t Nutritious
When we talk about the importance of ‘eating the rainbow,’ white tends to get left out—even though there are plenty of white-colored foods out there that deserve a place on your plate. Cauliflower, potatoes, white beans, some mushrooms, and garlic are all white in color and packed with healthy nutrients like potassium, vitamin C, B vitamins, and fiber, says Keri Gans, R.D.N., author of The Small Change Diet. Meanwhile, dairy foods like milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese provide calcium and protein. Instead of judging a food by its color, check the Nutrition Facts to see whether it provides nutritional value, like protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. The white foods that won’t make the cut: processed foods like white bread, white rice, and pastries.
Myth #8: Organic Is The Only Way To Go
There are plenty of reasons people choose to switch to organic foods, like the fact that they don’t contain certain man-made pesticides or fertilizers and are non-GMO. But that doesn’t mean your conventionally-grown produce doesn’t offer nutritional value. In fact, research has found that, nutritionally speaking, organic foods have little extra to offer than conventionally-grown foods, says Alissa Rumsey M,S., R.D., founder of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness. (The exceptions: Animal products like chicken, milk, beef, and eggs, whose organic versions have been shown to contain more omega-3 fats.) Since going green can cost more green, stick to produce that’s in-season, keep an eye on sales, and shop the store brand when you want to buy organic. Otherwise, just make sure to wash your conventional fruits and veggies before eating them; no excuse to pass on produce!
Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Women’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label To Table.