4 Nutrition Myths it’s Time to Debunk

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Lee, MS RD.

healthy produce

photo: www.amiahuja.com

Many might think that as a dietitian, I just tell people what to eat and what to stay an arm’s length away from. I’ve been thought of as a food police, nutrition nut, and someone who “hates red meat and loves V8″ (someone did say that to me, verbatim). Over the years working as a nutrition educator, I realized I’m a myth buster more than anything else.

Here’s the debunking of 4 common nutrition myths:

  1. Organic is always better.Perhaps for produce, meats, and dairy products. But organic potato chips are still chips; an organic version of cereal with marshmallow puffs is still a sugary breakfast item. It’s important to understand “organic” isn’t a justification for consuming foods that should be regarded as treats.
  2. I want to be healthier so I’m going to be a vegan/vegetarian. Even without animal products, there are still plenty of unhealthful foods that would qualify as vegan and vegetarian. Cherry Coke, Froot Loops, Twizlers, and Nutter Butter are all vegan. Healthy eating doesn’t hinge on a label- it’s about the food choices that the eater consciously makes. (And the Fooducate app can help you be a more informed consumer!)
  3. Lose weight with low fat/ low calorie/ low carb products. Americans have been trained to be fat- and calorie-phobic. Fat is undesirable in food or on the body. Hence the logic that eating low fat and low calorie foods will lead to improved health. In fact, a new “low” infiltrates the food markets every few years: we started with low fat, transcended into low calorie, and now we’re at low carb. Well, it hasn’t worked as planned- Americans aren’t getting any healthier or slimmer. These “diet” foods play tricks with our sense of fullness and sometimes propel us to eat even more. Not exactly the effect we’re hoping for. What to do then? Choose foods that are in their whole forms as often as possible and regard health claims as one of the many marketing tools used by the food manufacturers.
  4. Eating healthfully costs a lot… and I can’t afford it. Not to discount the very real reality of food insecurity for many Americans but barriers to eating well are usually time and cooking skills, not money. Raw ingredients and many unprocessed foods are inexpensive, but they require time and skills before they become a meal. Slow Food USA posed a $5 Challenge in 2011 to encourage folks “take back the ‘value meal’” and demonstrate that healthful meals can be affordable. Resources associated with this challenge are still available on the website.

Elizabeth Lee, MS RDElizabeth Lee is a dietitian for an employee wellness program and an outpatient clinic in Southern California. She believes in sensible and sustainable eating. Follow her on Twitter: @HEALingFoodie.

  • http://www.healthy-lifestyle-trainer.com/ Mike Luque

    Along with “organic” you could also add “gluten free” as a tag that doesn’t mean anything with regards to nutritional value. My shampoo says “gluten free”. Who cares? Celiac’s disease is in the intestines, not my scalp. It’s become plain old stupid.

    • Paula Middleton Reed

      Agree with your first statement, but in regards to the “gluten free” shampoo – your skin is your largest organ and absorbs everything you put on it (including your scalp). Some folks are SO sensitive to gluten that they must avoid it in hair/skin care products, as well. Especially for the ladies, important for make-up products to be organic and gluten-free (it’s in a lot of lipstick!). It may sound ridiculous, but it does cause a problem for those very sensitive to gluten. :)

      • Elizabeth Lee

        Great explanation, Paula!

      • http://www.healthy-lifestyle-trainer.com/ Mike Luque

        Do you have any science to back up that claim? Any double blind studies that show that gluten can be absorbed through the pores or that someone with celiac’s disease is affected by gluten in products that come into contact with the skin?

        Because Dr. Michael Picco, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic disagrees with you. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/celiac-disease/AN01623
        Celiac’s disease and gluten intolerance are genuine health concerns and people who have to manage these issues need real information and practical science. Confusing the issue with unverifiable claims is of no benefit to those people.

        • Paula Middleton Reed

          I realize that is the common belief among many medical professionals, but many folks with Celiac Disease in particular have found greater relief of symptoms and healing of their digestive tracts by avoiding gluten in EVERYTHING, including skin/hair care products. This article sums it up pretty well (in my opinion, anyway): http://glutenfreeworks.com/blog/2010/11/12/do-celiacs-need-gluten-free-skin-care/#.UoDdpuKtU98
          In the end, you need to do what works best for you.

          • http://www.healthy-lifestyle-trainer.com/ Mike Luque

            Rememeber, this article we’re posting in is about myth.
            Myth: “an unproved or false collective belief that is used to justify a social institution.”

            The key being “unproven”. The article you link to doesn’t prove anything. It has one scientific reference, which is the same as mine, then links to anecdotal evidence, which is subjective and not reliable objectively. The writer states the correct thing: research is needed. Great, awesome, I’m all for it.
            But until there is this research either proving or disproving your hypothesis, this assertion remains myth.

          • Paula Middleton Reed

            I’m actually not trying to “prove” anything to you, and we’re all free to believe what we choose. Many place their faith in only scientific research, and others choose to listen to what science says, and then they follow their own gut instincts. Medical and nutrition standards and guidelines continue to evolve, and all I was TRYING to point out is that some people actually want to know if there is gluten in their shampoo. Whether you think it’s ridiculous is irrelevant if others find it helpful. Have a nice day. :)

    • Anne Noise

      Similarly – “all natural” does not mean “healthy.” (Or even “all natural” anymore.)

  • Karen

    Another myth is that organic is safer in terms of risk of foodborne illness. Organic means lack of use of pesticides which kill insects, but not bacteria or viruses.

    • Anne Noise

      This. I dated a guy who didn’t wash most of his fruit and veggies under the guise of “OH IT’S ORGANIC” and because he thought it affected the flavor of his cooking. Go ahead and eat your gross, unwashed food then, dude.

    • EVIL food scientist

      No, organic most certainly does NOT mean “lack of pesticides”. Organic means that there is a limited list of pesticides (insecticides, fungicides) that can be used on “organic certified” products. They tend to be extremely toxic, have a broad spectrum effect (that means, kills damn near everything) and are persistent.

      “organic” is a production standard. Nothing more. The Fooducate faithful would like it to mean that it’s produced by hippies in the backyard and transported to the farmer’s market on bicycles or in a biodiesel powered VW micro-bus, but that’s not what it really means.

  • Kristy

    I would change the myth “Organic is always better” to “Organic is always healthier.” I would argue that organic is better, even if it is sugary cereal, because by buying organic junk at least you’re assured you’re not getting GMO ingredients, artificial colors, artificial flavors, or nasty chemical preservatives.

    I get your point and totally agree that sugary cereal is still sugary cereal, but I do think organic junk is better than a non-organic junk. It’s just not healthier.

    • Elizabeth Lee

      That’s a good point, Kristy.