Over the past 35 years, consumers have gotten pretty smart about choosing healthy foods. We’re no longer buying overly-processed snacks or pesticide-drenched produce, and there are endless options at grocery stores to keep us fit and healthy. Or are there? While this may seem like the reality we live in, these “truths” we believe may be nothing more than creative marketing campaigns.
Imagine walking through the produce section of your favorite local supermarket. As you approach the apples, you notice that one bag is labeled “organic,” and the other isn’t. Since you aren’t very keen on pesticides, you grab the organic apples. A few minutes later, you pass up a loaf of whole grain bread for a gluten-free option on the advice of your savvy friends lauding the health benefits of their GF lifestyle. Last stop, the dairy section. You walk right past the cow’s milk and grab a quart of organic soy milk. Since you’re a cheese lover, you also toss a pack of low fat American cheese into your cart before heading to the register.
Many consumers might say the choices made were healthier alternatives, but would you agree? With diet and fitness trends defining today’s culture, especially among young groups like millennials, marketing companies are already cashing in. When making healthy food choices, we tend to lean on assumptions and hearsay that have circulated for so long it’s hard to remember where they started.
We dove into the top eight misconceptions about healthy diets and came up with some tips to help you feed your body better. So let’s get down to it!
Organic Foods Are Pesticide Free
False. The term “organic” has erroneously been associated with chemical-free homegrown goodness, which means brands are able to charge a premium for this misunderstanding. The truth is, organic food is just as likely to be showered with pesticides, but there are some limitations on which chemicals may be used.
It’s important to note that, while these allowable insecticides are naturally occurring, they are often used in much higher quantities to make up for their lack of potency. Don’t be fooled by the term “natural” either. Many links have been found between ingredients used in natural pesticides and serious health illnesses, like Parkinson’s disease.
Health Tip: If you don’t have a green thumb, shop locally and talk to the growers. They’ll be honest about what they’re using on their produce, and you’ll be supporting the local economy.
Gluten Free Is The Way To Go
False. For those who live with celiac disease, consuming any amount of gluten can cause serious health problems, including autoimmune reactions, inflammation in the small intestine, and nutritional deficiencies. In these cases, gluten-free is the ONLY way to go.
But for the rest of us, it’s quite the opposite. People who do not have celiac disease but avoid gluten could be putting themselves at risk. Many foods that have gluten in them also contain important ingredients like fiber, vitamins, and iron. Gluten-free foods also tend to be higher in fat and sodium to make up for their dryer textures.
Health Tip: If you’re counting calories or limiting salt intake, going GF could be doing more harm than good. You may also need to take some vitamin supplements if making the switch.
Cow’s Milk Is the Best Dairy Option for Calcium & Nutrients
False. Not long ago, whole milk was the only option you had for dipping your cookies. Now this bovine beverage comes in fat free, 1%, 2%, whole, and even lactose free (not to mention chocolate). But we’ve all read articles about how bad milk is for you, so vegetarian options must be the way to go, right?
The top contenders to overtake dairy among health-focused Americans are soy milk, almond milk, and rice milk—with soy holding steady at the top. However, many of the health claims about soy are dubious at best, and it can lead to a number of potential problems, including soy allergies, hot flashes, and even breast cancer. If giving up cow’s milk just isn’t for you, be sure to read about each product to make sure it doesn’t contain antibiotics or other additives. As with any dietary change, it’s important to do your homework on the benefits and risks of ditching dairy before you say goodbye.
Health Tip: Look into the pros and cons of milk varieties before making any serious decisions. This myth is less about which is best, and more about which is right for you.
Eating Low-Fat Products Will Help You Lose Weight
False. “Low fat,” “light” and “reduced fat” labels are frequently used on foods to make them seem like healthier options, but they can sometimes be worse for you than their full-fat counterparts. Just like gluten-free products, when a food is missing one ingredient, it’s usually replaced with another.
In fact, some low-fat foods have the same number of calories (or more!) because they’re filled with sugars, salts, and flavor additives. Some foods to consider eating full of fat instead of low fat include cheese, peanut butter, baked goods, and ice cream.
Health Tip: Understand the difference between low fat, reduced fat, and “lite”. You may be purchasing something that sounds low fat, but is just slightly reduced fat from the original.
Eliminating Carbs Is a Healthy Way to Burn Fat
False. It is true that cutting back on carbohydrates often leads to weight loss, but it’s not recommended to go cold turkey (despite cold turkey being a great source of protein…). While carbs like starches and sugars are considered to be a factor in weight gain, others are influential to help keep you healthy and feeling full.
fFiber is a great example of a healthy carbohydrate. It’s suggested that a person take in about 25 to 38 grams of fiber each day to avoid constipation. Also, it’s a common misconception that fruits and vegetables are carb-free, so it’s nearly impossible to cut them out entirely.
Health Tip: Rather than banishing bread from your pantry, be smart about portion sizes and choose carbs with more fiber, seeds, and whole grains.
Bingeing on “Healthy Fats” Is Okay
False. So-called “healthy fats” like polyunsaturated, unsaturated, monounsaturated, Omega-3, and Omega-9 are all fats/fatty acids that we should feel good about including in our diet. The good news is that nature has conveniently packed these lovely lipids into some delicious foods for us to eat.
However, as with all things in life, moderation is important. Overconsumption of even the healthiest fats has a downside. Some of these foods also contain Omega-6 fatty acids, which can cause inflammation if overcooked or eaten in large quantities.
Health Tip: Choose healthier fats that can be found in salmon, avocado, almonds, coconut oil, and olives (including olive oil)—but don’t overdo it, or you’ll find yourself investing in elastic waist bands.
Fresh Produce Is More Nutritious Than Frozen
False. Frozen foods seemed to have gotten the cold shoulder when it comes to perceptions about their nutritional value. Despite this popular belief, recent studies have shown that frozen fruits and vegetables can hold even more vitamins and nutrients than fresh produce.
Most frozen foods are picked at the peak of the season and flash frozen, locking in their nutritional value. They also have a longer shelf life in the freezer, helping to minimize food waste. All in all, they are a great way to eat healthy without overdoing it.
Health Tip: Stock up on firmer frozen veggies like corn, carrots, and beans. These will retain their nutrients without getting mushy like spinach or tomatoes.
Avoid Yolks When Eating Eggs
False. Avoiding eggs yolks has been circling for as long as most of us can remember. Some companies have gone as far to sell only egg whites. This has been done in hopes to reap the benefits of eggs without consuming the “risks” that have been associated with egg yolk. It’s time to set the record straight.
There are many health benefits of egg yolks that many people are missing out on because of this long-believed myth. An abundance of vitamins and other benefits such as Omega-3s and calcium are found in the golden center of eggs. Meanwhile, the cholesterol that has been linked with the fear to eat egg yolk is also present in other foods such as meat and dairy products that many people snack on without second thought.
Health Tip: Don’t feel like you have to avoid egg yolks in order to take advantage of the health benefits of eating eggs. When you do eat them, be mindful of your intake of other foods as well. It’s all about balance.
Beware the Marketing Diet
Next time you go to the store, take the time to read labels and learn what they are really telling you. If a label says “Gluten Free,” make sure to read what is being included in the absence of gluten – or any ingredient at that. Educate yourself on the food you are eating and feel free to ask questions.
It’s your body. Do what you know is best for it and not just what companies are trying to persuade you to what is.