New studies come out on a regular basis touting the health benefits or risks of eating certain foods. Sometimes, the information contradicts earlier research or refutes common claims, making it difficult to determine which foods really do lead to better health.
Joe Kearney, a health educator at Scripps Clinic, helps clarify some misconceptions about food to help you make smarter dietary choices.
1. Myth: Organic produce is more nutritious
When compared with conventionally farmed produce, organic produce has the same vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, proteins, lipids and other nutrients — not to mention the same amount of calories.
According to a study by the Annals of Internal Medicine the health benefits of organic food is still unclear since there isn’t any long term evidence that consuming organic products can improve health or lower disease risk.
Takeaway: If the decision to buy certain produce comes down to price, Kearney says both organic and non-organic produce are nutritious and beneficial to your health. However, organic produce is often free of synthetic insecticides to reduce pests and synthetic herbicides to manage weeds. Those looking to limit their exposure to these residues on their food may feel it is worth the money to eat organically growing fruits and vegetables instead of conventionally grown produce.
2. Myth: Avoid all processed foods
Not all processed foods are created equal, says Kearney. Whole foods blended in a food processor are still the same food. Some processed foods are good for you, such as whole grain pasta, canned light tuna packed in water and plain flash-frozen fruits and vegetables.
Not-so-healthy processed foods to look out for are those with:
- Sweeteners (syrup, sugar, artificial sweeteners [aspartame])
- Food coloring
- Preservatives (sodium, oils, nitrites, sulfites)
- Additives (corn, soy, cottonseed, cereal by-products)
Takeaway: Choose processed foods that most closely resemble their natural state. If the packaging lists a lot of scientific sounding ingredients, Kearney says that food is probably not your healthiest choice.
3. Myth: Multigrains and whole grains are the same
Multigrain is not synonymous with whole grain. According to the Food and Drug Administration, whole grains consist of the unrefined grains whose components — the bran, germ and endosperm — are still intact along with all of the fiber, vitamins and minerals produced by nature. Multigrain foods are simply made with more than one grain — but none of them may be whole grains. Because brown bread is often equated with being healthier than white bread, loaves labeled as multigrain may be dyed to appear darker. Kearney says most lack nutritional value after the refining process.
Takeaway: When buying whole multigrain products, Kearney recommends looking for the “100% Whole Grains Council” stamp on packaging and reading food labels carefully to be sure they list whole wheat, whole oats and whole grain.
4. Myth: Eggs raise cholesterol
Eggs — particularly the yolks — have gotten a bum rap in recent years for being high in artery clogging LDL cholesterol. But recent studies suggest that eating eggs in moderation poses few health risks.
Takeaway: If you like eggs, Kearney recommends eating only three eggs with yolks each week. Even better? Eat the egg whites. You’ll remove the fat and cholesterol in the yolk while keeping the protein.
5. Myth: A gluten-free diet is good for everyone
Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, rye and some oats. If you do not have a sensitivity to gluten or suffer from celiac disease, there is no reason to avoid gluten in your diet. If you do, incorporate gluten-free grains such as corn, millet, rice or quinoa.
Takeaway: Whatever you choose, Kearny recommends incorporating grains into your diet every day to get the nutritional benefits of complex carbohydrates, vitamin B and iron.