Ten Nutrition Myths

Don’t let these misconceptions keep you from the foods you love!


1. Added sugar is always bad for you. Truth: Cane sugar is a natural carbohydrate. Consider all that is does in the kitchen. Other ‘natural’ sweeteners are all metabolized in the same pathway as sugar: to glucose in the blood as 4 calories per gram.   Sugar can also balance flavors in healthy food that might not taste so great on their own. Adding a bit of sugar may help to boost intake of healthier foods. A bit of sugar in tomato sauce, a teaspoon of honey on half a grapefruit or in a cup of yogurt is fine, especially if it helps to increase consumption of these nutrient-dense foods.   Concentrated, processed sweeteners you should avoid are high fructose corn syrup and high maltose corn syrup.


2. Eating eggs raises your cholesterol levels. Truth: Dietary cholesterol found in eggs has little to do with the amount of cholesterol found in your body.   Semantics causes this confusion. The word ‘cholesterol’ is used to describe two different things. Dietary cholesterol--the fat-like molecules in animal-based foods like eggs--doesn’t greatly affect the amount of cholesterol circulating in your bloodstream. Your body makes its own cholesterol, so it doesn’t need much of the kind you eat. Instead, what fuels your body’s cholesterol-making machine is certain kinds of saturated and trans fats.   Eggs contain relatively small amounts of saturated fat (1.5 grams), while things like butter and hydrogenated oils contain much higher levels of artery-clogging fats. Research about eggs has never shown any link of egg consumption with increased blood lipids or the risk of heart disease. Cutting eggs out of your diet is a bad idea; they’re a rich source of protein and 13 vitamins and minerals.


3. All saturated fats raise blood cholesterol. Truth: Stearic acid, a type of saturated fat found naturally in cocoa, dairy products, meats and poultry, as well as palm and coconut oils, has attracted the most scientific interest because it appears to act similarly to monounsaturated fat in that it does not raise harmful LDL and boosts beneficial HDL levels. This is not a license to freely eat anything containing stearic acid, but there are foods like chocolate and coconut that contain what eventually may be called the ‘good’ saturated fat. Moderate consumption of these fats is healthier than once thought.   Keep in mind, though, that many of these foods are also calorie-dense, so watch portions.


4. The only heart-friendly alcohol is red wine. Truth: Beer, wine and liquors all confer the same benefits. Alcohol, the ethanol itself, raises levels of the protective high density lipoproteins (HDL’s), which help to protect against plaque build-up in the arteries and reduce clotting factors that contribute to heart attack and stroke. Limit alcohol consumption to one drink per day for women, two for men.


5. Adding salt to the pot adds sodium to the food. Truth: Salt added to water make actually make vegetables more nutritious. Salt in the cooking water reduces the leeching of nutrients from the vegetables into the water. It also speeds up the cooking process so you don’t lose as many nutrients from overcooking.   The recommendation is about one teaspoon of salt per cup of water. The amount of salt actually absorbed by the food is miniscule.


6. Fried foods are always too fatty. Truth: To keep foods from soaking up oil, fry according to recipe instructions. For most foods, 375 degrees is optimal. Low oil temperatures and overcooking both dramatically increase the amount of oil absorbed by the food. This myth does NOT include fast foods and most restaurant fried foods (which can contain an entire day’s worth of sodium and calories), but in the hands of a careful home cook, delicately fried food can be a part of a nutritious meal.


7. The more fiber you eat, the better. Truth: Fiber is a fad-food component right now, and manufacturers are isolating fibers and adding them to foods to get an advantage. We now know that different fibers have different functions, and it’s becoming apparent that fiber added to foods doesn’t offer the same beneficial effect of naturally fiber-rich foods. While it’s true that only half of us eat the fiber we need, added fiber doesn’t get us off the hook. Increasing foods like whole grains, legumes, seeds (salba and chia), vegetables and fruits will ensure that you’re getting sufficient amounts of all of the different types of fiber essential to optimal health.


8. You should always remove chicken skin before eating. Truth: The skinless, boneless chicken breast, one of the more boring protein sources on earth, has become the health-conscious cook’s standard.   However, a 12 ounce bone-in, skin-on chicken breast contains just 2.5 grams of saturated fat and 50 calories more than its similarly portioned skinless counterpart. What’s more, 55 percent of the fat in the chicken skin is monosaturated—the heart-healthy kind you want more of.


9. Organic foods are more nutritious than conventional. Truth: There are many good reasons to choose organic, but nutrition isn’t one of them. If you buy organic because you believe that sustainable farming supports the health of the soil, the work of small farmers, or the well-being of livestock, that’s all good. However it is inaccurate to also promote organic as inherently more nutritious. Studies including over 50 years of organic research conclude that there is no significant nutritional difference between conventional and organic crops and livestock. 


10. Cooking olive oil destroys its health benefits. Truth: Even delicate extra-virgin olive oils can take the heat without sacrificing nutrition. Heart-healthy monounsaturated fats aren’t unfavorably altered by heat. These oils are surprisingly stable as long as the oil isn’t heated past its smoking point (about 405 degrees F). Canola oil’s smoke point is 400 degrees F. How you store the oil is more important. Fats and phytonutrients remain stable for up to 2 years un unopened, opaque bottles stored at room temperature and away from light. Heat, light and air drastically affect stability. Store in a room-temperature cupboard, and use within six months.


Source: Julie Upton, MS, RD