Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Busting Common Diet Myths

This article, which appeared in the March 5th edition of the Hampton, Virginia Daily Press, does a great job dispelling popular diet myths such as the notion that pregnant women need to eat for two, red meat is always bad and butter is better than margarine.

Eating well, not to mention losing weight, is hard enough without bad information getting in the way.

Unfortunately, a huge number of diet myths are lurking in people's minds, dietitians say. Here are 10 falsehoods to throw out with the trans fats:

1. All fats are bad. Nope — the body actually needs fat to absorb nutrients from food, transmit nerve signals and keep cell structures strong. The goal is to replace unhealthy saturated and trans fats often found in commercially packaged and fried foods with "good" fats such as those found in nuts, avocado, salmon and certain oils (including olive, canola, corn and sunflower). Even then, people should spend more time thinking about portion control than "bad" fats, says Gale Pearson, a registered dietitian in Newport News. "It's not the food's fault!" Pearson says. "It is the amount of the food that a person chooses to eat."

2. Brown is always best. The low-carb craze helped fuel the idea that all refined "white" foods are fattening and all "brown" foods are natural and healthy. While whole-grain foods are good choices, the truth is more complex, says Gloria Tsang, a registered dietitian and founder of a nationally-known online nutrition site (www.healthcastle.com). Brown eggs, for example, aren't any better nutritionally than white eggs. Ditto for many brown breads without the words "whole-wheat" or "whole-grain" listed first on their ingredient list. And sugar, molasses and honey are virtually identical to white sugar in terms of calories. "Many people will buy a packaged food based on the type of sweetener," Tsang says. "It's better to choose a product that has less of whatever sweetener is on the ingredient list."

3. Calcium is the only key to strong bones. Calcium is very important, but so are other nutrients. Two prime examples are vitamin D (found in fortified dairy products and cereals) and vitamin K (found in many greens and seafood), which help the body absorb calcium and build bone. Exercise matters, too, especially weight-bearing activities such as walking and strength training. "Stress on the bones is needed to stimulate them to take up calcium from the diet," says Suzanne Barnes, a registered dietitian and certified diabetic educator at the Bon Secours Heart Institute in Portsmouth.

4. Skipping meals helps people cut calories. In fact, studies have shown that temporary fasters take in more calories over the course of a day, Tsang says. When the body thinks it is starving, metabolism slows and blood sugar levels dive, making people hungrier than usual at their next meal or snack. Tsang recommends eating based on hunger signals alone. "That's better than coming up with a magic number of meals or snacks for a day," she says. As for people who really do cut calories and exercise regularly but can't lose weight, they should see a doctor to check for an underlying health issue such as insulin resistance, says Anita Pozin, a personal trainer in Newport News.

5. Cutting salt is the only way to lower blood pressure. You do want to eat less salt (first step: get rid of the salt shaker), but you can help prevent and control high blood pressure with a diet high in fruits and vegetables, unsaturated oils and proteins from healthy foods such as chicken or fish. Exercising, limiting alcohol intake and losing extra pounds are other important steps.

6. High-protein diet = big muscles. "If this were true, almost everyone would look like The Incredible Hulk," Pearson says. Many people actually eat more protein than nutritionists recommend, especially those who pile on protein powders and shakes. "It's not the protein that builds muscle, but resistance training and a healthy diet," Pearson says.

7. Red meat is always bad. Although poultry is naturally lower in saturated fat, the way meat is cooked tends to be more important than the type of meat, Tsang says. A piece of chicken fried with its skin still on, for example, is likely to have more fat and calories than a steak trimmed of fat and grilled. People who enjoy red meat should go for leaner cuts such as top round roast or pork tenderloin.

8. Sugar causes diabetes. It's important for people with diabetes to control their sugar and carbohydrate intake, but sugar doesn't bring on the chronic disease. The major culprits are too many calories (of any kind), obesity and a lack of exercise.

9. Butter is healthier than margarine. Butter has more saturated fat — about 21/2 grams per pat and 7 grams per tablespoon — than many people realize. And contrary to popular opinion, most margarine doesn't have any trans fat but contains a mix of unsaturated oils and smaller amounts of saturated fats, Barnes says. In general, liquid or tub margarines are better than stick forms.

10. Pregnant women need to eat for two. Sad to say, most mothers-to-be only need about 100 additional calories early in their pregnancy — think a banana or a small container of yogurt — and about 300 calories extra toward the end of their pregnancy, Tsang says. She does recommend following cravings, even if they point toward fattening foods such as ice cream, but to practice serious portion control. For example, one serving of ice cream is usually about half a cup, much less than what most people eat in a sitting.

No comments: