Nutrition advice stories on the internet, magazines, books, and television are too numerous to count. How do you distinguish between advice that is credible and sound, versus unfounded and even dangerous? Some popular pitfalls are discussed in this article to give you ammunition when your coworkers and friends are talking up the latest crazes.
Is Juicing the Answer?
Seems like a great way to get a lot of fruits and vegetables into your body simply and easily, right? Just juice a giant bag of apples, cucumbers, carrots, and tomatoes… Drink it down and your body will thank you for it, right? Not exactly. The problem with juicing is two-fold. First, the juicing process itself removes a vital nutrient from fresh produce – FIBER! Fiber fills you up and provides specific fuel for your intestinal tract.
Second, juices can be very high in calories, depending on what the ingredients are. If you drink a quart of fruit juice, you are consuming approximately 480 calories! And, by the way, juice “cleanses” have no scientific merit. More on that below.
Are White Foods Unhealthy?
The “no white food” craze started with worthwhile intentions of reducing the intake of white sugar and white flour. Unfortunately, it’s been misconstrued over time and now just confuses consumers. Refined flour and sugars are eaten in very high amounts in the US, and the incidence of obesity and type-2 diabetes mellitus has climbed rapidly in recent years. But, overusing the “white” adjective to food isn’t the answer. Foods made from white flour and white sugar are very easily overeaten – think pasta, bread, crackers, and cereal. But, white foods such as potatoes, cauliflower, onions, turnips and white beans are not refined foods. They are whole foods that should not be in the same category.
Brown versions of bread, rice, pasta and cereals may or may not be any better for you than the white versions. If the brown versions are made from whole grain, and still contain the valuable fiber in them, that would certainly be a healthier choice. Brown rice with fiber is better in the long run than white rice that has been stripped of the fiber. On the other hand, brown bread that is only brown from added caramel coloring, and still does not contain the valuable fiber, is no better for you than white bread. Brown sugar is certainly not any healthier than refined white sugar. Reading labels for ingredients and fiber content of foods is paramount.
Finally, for people with diabetes, the bottom line is the amount of carbohydrate consumed. Most white and brown versions of food will have the same grams of total carbohydrate. Yes, the fiber-containing version is better. But, the carbohydrate effect on blood glucose levels will be very similar between the two types.
Should Everything Be Gluten-Free?
The short answer to this is “No.” The topic of gluten could take up an entire article by itself. As a review, gluten is a protein found in certain grains, primarily wheat, barley, spelt, triticale, and rye. Individuals who have been diagnosed with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity should avoid gluten. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where an inflammatory response and allergic reaction will occur with the presence of the gluten antigen in the intestinal tract.
However, many sources are recently claiming that avoiding gluten will cause weight loss, and resolve a multitude of various symptoms – skin issues, joint pain, fatigue, autism and gastrointestinal problems. In truth, these claims are unfounded. Most people do not need to avoid gluten.
Are Cleanses Worthwhile?
There are so many “cleanses” and “detoxes” on the market in the supplement and weight loss industries that we could not possibly address all of the varieties in this short article. They claim to recharge, renew, and rejuvenate your body. They claim weight loss, clear skin, healthier gut function, and increased energy. They may contain herbs, fluids or electrolytes. They may be an actual eating plan or may be simple fasting. They may be something you drink, something you take in powder or capsule form, or something you might even take via the rectum. “Cleanse” appears to be a catch-all phrase for some type of program that has various health claims to rid your body of toxins.
Suffice it to say, detoxing is the job of you liver and kidneys. The liver performs more than 500 tasks, including metabolism of nutrients, filtration of bacteria and debris, and detoxification. This highly sophisticated organ will accomplish detoxification with far better success than an over-the-counter supplement, or temporary meal plan. Other body organs involved in detoxification – skin, kidneys, lungs, intestines, and the immune system.
Further, there can be harmful effects of certain “cleanses” on the market, including dehydration, fatigue, gastrointestinal symptoms, dizziness, irritability, headache, or more serious complications – electrolyte imbalance and colon damage.
Sea Salt vs. Kosher Salt vs. Table Salt?
There is not less sodium in “all natural” sea salt compared to good ol’ fashioned table salt. Kosher salt is a coarse grain salt made from salt crystals. The primary differences between these three types of salt are their origin and their texture. Sea salt is processed by the evaporation of water from the ocean and saltwater lakes. Table salt is mined from underground salt deposit sources. Still, sodium chloride (NaCl) is the primary ingredient in all three and should still be used sparingly in cooking.
Can’t I Just Exercise to Burn Off High-Calorie Foods?
You ate the donut at work, or the frappuccino on the way to work, or that late-night ice cream sundae… so, you simply need to run an extra mile or spend an extra 10 minutes on the elliptical tomorrow, right? Wrong. While exercise should certainly be part of a healthy lifestyle for a number of reasons, burning off those indiscretions is not as easy as it sounds.
Think of it this way. A donut contains about 200 calories. A typical 20-minute walk will expend only 110 calories. To burn off a venti frappuccino, you need to bike vigorously for nearly two hours. The likelihood of this happening is pretty low. Of course, exercise has many other benefits, including keeping your metabolism ramped up for a while after the activity is finished. But simply planning to exercise to work off a high-calorie food is not an effective strategy.
Isn’t Eating Healthy Too Expensive?
The priciest foods that Americans purchase are meats, junk food, and restaurant foods. None of these would be classified as the healthiest food choices. In contrast, fresh local fruits and vegetables, dried beans, whole grains and starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes, squashes and peas are less costly. A large bag of potato chips can cost $3.50. For that amount of money, you can buy about 4 pints of berries in season. It’s not hard to guess which (chips vs. berries) are the healthier snack food. Other strategies to eat healthy on a budget:
- Shop locally at farmer’s markets
- Join a food co-op
- Stock up on seasonal fruits, vegetables, and other produce when on sale
- Use pricey beef, pork and poultry as a side dish, instead of the main entrée
- Eat a meatless meal at least once per week
- Get your protein from beans, nuts, seeds, tofu and eggs
Is Fruit Too High In Sugar?
Yes, fruits are 100% carbohydrate. Yes, they are high in simple carbohydrates, or “sugars.” Is this the same type of sugar found in your frosted birthday cake? NO! Whole fruits contain fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals… All healthy things that you want in your diet. Simple carbohydrates found in cookies, ice cream, and candy cannot even compete with fruit in the nutrition game. And, the overall calorie content is vastly different. One whole apple has about 70 calories. Compare that to one piece of apple pie containing 600 calories. Easy to see which is the better choice with fewer sugar calories!
What About Negative Calorie Foods?
While the ‘negative calorie food’ craze was popular back in the 1970’s, it has made a resurgence of late. The theory is that it takes more calories to digest and metabolize a particular food, than the calories the food contains, netting a negative balance in calories. The proposed mechanism is based on the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF), or Dietary Induced Thermogenesis (DIT), or Specific Dynamic Action (SDA). Scientists have long known that energy and heat are required for digestion, absorption and elimination of foodstuffs. It has been estimated that 10% of total caloric intake is energy needed for TEF. However, the concept of negative calorie foods has never been scientifically proven, and it is certainly not a good foundation for weight reduction attempts. A better strategy is to eat a well-balanced, healthy diet, and not be concerned or distracted by the amount of calories required to process the foods you eat.
Do I Need a High Protein Diet?
Protein is one nutrient rarely lacking in the typical American diet. Lots of web sources will tell you that you need more protein to lose weight and gain muscle. Let’s look at the math. In truth, protein is only needed at about 0.36 gram per pound body weight. For example, a healthy person who weighs 150 pounds will need 54 grams of protein per day (150 x 0.36 = 54). That is only 7.7 ounces of protein foods each day, equivalent to about one chicken breast, one cup of milk, one egg and ½ cup of beans. That is not a lot of protein! Protein powders, protein supplements, high protein diets… All really unnecessary for a typical healthy person.
Can I Eat As Much Healthy Fat As I Want?
This is a good example of where you can have too much of a good thing. Yes, there are healthier fats than others. Monounsaturated fats found in olive oil, canola oil and nuts are better for you than saturated fats found in animal foods, milk, cheese, and butter. But, in truth, all fats are very calorically dense. One tablespoon of olive oil has about 120 calories. One tablespoon of butter has about 120 calories. One has better fats than the other, but the overall caloric content is the same. Go easy on the amount of fats so you don’t overload your calorie intake without realizing it.
Educate yourself. Eat healthy foods. Eat a variety of foods. Moderation is key.
Dr. Jennifer Bowers is a Registered Dietitian with 25 years of experience in clinical nutrition and health promotion. Dr. Bowers earned her PhD in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Arizona.