LETS CALL B.S. ON THESE NUTRITION MYTHS

 

While we celebrate National Nutrition Month this March, we frankly need more than 31 days to sift through all the lies and misinformation about nutrition. There is so much shall we say, BS, about what to eat and when to eat it, that trying to find the truth surrounding Nutrition Myths is a hard workout. While there is new nutrition research emerging all the time, many of the same sound basics established years ago remain. Those truths aren’t exactly exciting or terribly earth shattering, so in this day in age of “click bait” it’s no wonder that stretching the facts into something sensational sells. Often the people spouting these astounding falsehoods have no training in nutrition and err on the side of charlatans pushing some alternative agenda.

So I’m putting on the carpet three myths that make me cringe every time I hear them. To assist me in separating fact from fiction, I’m joined by some very knowledgeable registered dietitians who will help put an end to all the confusion.

Myth 1-Sugar Is Toxic

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Nathalie Rizzo, MS, RD.

Ok, no one should be downing copious amounts of sugar, but to raise the alarm of sugar being somehow poisonous is stretching the truth. For centuries people have been eating sugar, albeit in far less quantities than we do today, but there haven’t been any studies pointing to someone keeling over from a lethal ingestion of sugar. Moreover, just pinpointing sugar as the only cause of obesity is misguided. Vilifying only one molecule in our diets will not fix the problem. Most people are over consuming other foods, and there’s so much more to maintaining good health than just attacking sugar consumption.

“There’s such a misconception about sugar because many people don’t realize that sugar is naturally found in foods. All carbohydrates break down to sugar, in the body which is necessary fuel for the brain,” says Nathalie Rizzo, MS, RD. “Carbohydrates also fuel athletic activity. Without proper fuel from carbohydrates, the body will use other fuel sources (protein and fat) to make sugar.”
Rizzo goes on to say that while sugar in carbohydrates, like fruits, vegetables and grains, is natural and needed, sugar gets a bad reputation because of the amount of sugar unnecessarily added to foods. This type of sugar, called added sugar, contributes many empty calories to the diet and often leads to weight gain. “While many people are aware that candy, sugary drinks, and desserts are full of added sugar, many don’t consider the places that added sugar may hide in foods. Sugar is hidden in a large amount of processed food products, such as breads, crackers, chips, yogurts, cereals, sauces and many other products. Like everything else, these products should be eaten in moderation. And, when in doubt, choose natural sugar from foods that come from the earth.

Myth 2: You Must Always Eat Dinner Early To Avoid Gaining Weight

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Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD

I spend a lot of time in European countries and if this myth were a truism, I would be surrounded by a lot of overweight international friends who enjoy first eating dinner at 8pm and beyond. Your body isn’t on a 24-hour clock. Weight loss and fat gain do not occur in a vacuum. And if you are serious about changing your body, a little freedom from the “rules” can go a long way. The one thing most people detest about watching their weight are all the restrictions. Fewer rules leads to less restrictions which increases the likelihood of adhering to a good eating plan over a longer period of time. So do enjoy a good healthy meal even into the darker hours and eat like my global friends-small portions of delicious foods when you are ready to eat.

Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD, agrees.”The body doesn’t stop burning calories at the magical hour of 7pm. If you’re hungry after the sun goes down, by all means have a healthy meal. It’s more important to be mindful though of the time between dinner and bedtime. Midnight munching often includes high calorie junk foods. Chips, ice cream and other indulgent snacks combined with sedentary screen time is a calorie-rich activity that can easily pack on the pounds. Research shows that people who eat late at night (usually after dinner and before bedtime) tend to weigh more. The issue here is not that you eat, it’s what you eat.”

Myth 3: Organic Foods Are Always Better For You Than Conventional Ones

 

Now, I do enjoy the taste of an organic carrot very much; to me it’s sweeter than the conventionally grown ones I have tried. But there aren’t any long-term studies that absolutely prove organic foods are infinitely better for you. I’ll let your pocketbook decide how you wish to spend your dollars and honestly there is nothing wrong with choosing organic over conventional produce, but let’s look at some of the facts surrounding this very controversial issue.

“Over the last decade, the concern for what’s in our produce has been steadily increasing. Greater numbers of people are beginning to question how their food was grown, under what conditions, and what kind of pesticides were used in the growing process. According to industry statistics, over 4 percent of all U.S. food sales are for organic products. Also, using data from Nutrition Business Journal, 2013, it is estimated that the organic food industry reached $28 billion in sales in 2012 and the trend continues to grow through 2016,” says Kim Melton, RD.

“The primary concern for consumers buying organic food are the effects on health and the environment. So much so, that they are willing to pay significantly higher prices for them. Is it worth the extra cost? Is organic produce better for our health?”

Melton explains that the label “Certified Organic” given by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) means that the produce is grown and handled according to strict guidelines set forth by this federal agency. The guidelines include rules regarding soil treatment, as well as pest and weed control. These standards allow for natural substances in organic farming and prohibit most synthetic (man made) substances.

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Kim Melton’s article on ‘Is Organic Produce Worth the Extra Cost?” has more information here….

“The land the produce is grown on must have had no prohibited substances applied to it for at least 3 years before the harvest of an organic crop. Crop pests, weeds, and diseases are to be handled primarily through physical, mechanical, and biological controls. When these practices are not sufficient, a biological, botanical, or synthetic substance approved for use by the National Organic Standards Board may be used. The board is made up of growers, handlers, retailers, scientists, environmentalists and consumer advocates. This indicates that organic food IS NOT pesticide free. Farms must also use organic seeds. The use of genetic engineering (GMO), ionizing radiation, and sewage sludge is prohibited as well.”

She says it is important to remember that just because a substance is “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safer than a synthetic substance. In some cases, natural pesticides may be more harmful. There is a scientific rule when dealing with chemicals that says “the dose makes the poison”. What this means is that all chemicals can be toxic if too much is eaten, drunk, or absorbed. “Many times synthetic forms of natural pesticides (used in organic farming) are used in conventional farming and both have the same chemical structure. Whether a substance is natural or synthetic, it is still a chemical. In some cases more of the natural chemical pesticide has to be used to gain the desired effect and may be worse for the environment. Conventional farming may use less of a synthetic chemical to achieve the desired pest and weed control.”

She concludes by noting,”All of these regulatory factors do not prove that organic produce is more nutritious or any safer than their conventional counterparts. A group of scientists at Stanford University compared 4 decades of research that compared organic to conventional produce. Their research concluded that on average, organic produce was no more nutritious than conventional produce. Pesticide residue was slightly higher in conventional produce but still well below the allowed safety limits determined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Those limits have been proven to be safe and cause no harm to humans.”

I’ll be honoring this National Nutrition Month satisfied that there is good science supporting the way we should eat. And I plan on continuing to waft through the overwrought and poorly researched nutrition claims while I enjoy a favorite homemade cookie made with a touch of sugar, and with or without organic flour around 9pm tonight.

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