Maintaining a nutritious diet can be challenging, especially when it feels like the rules are always changing. Is organic produce healthier than conventional? Do carbs make you gain weight? Does fruit have too much sugar? It can be difficult to keep up.
There are several longstanding nutritional myths many of us have fallen prey to. We are here to tell you: it is healthy to eat carbs, real sugar is better than sweeteners and there are other myths to debunk about what makes a “healthy” diet.
Here are 10 nutrition myths, debunked by experts.
Myth 1: To lose weight, avoid carbs
Eliminating carbs from your diet will not guarantee weight loss, carbs are essential to a healthy, balanced diet and they boast several nutritional benefits.
“I have good news for all you carb lovers. ... Carbs are your friend, and in fact they’re a really important part of a healthy, balanced diet,” Nora Minno, a registered dietitian and certified nutritionist told Today. “They’re our body’s (and brain’s) preferred source of fuel, they help our digestion and they just make us feel good.”
There many healthy sources of carbs, some of the healthiest sources include: unprocessed or minimally processed whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans, reports the Harvard School of Public Health.
There are also unhealthier sources of carbs such as: white bread, soda, pastries and other highly-processed foods. These are the sorts of carbs that can contribute to weight gain.
The Mayo Clinic recommends adults eat between 225 and 325 grams of carbs every day. For reference, a medium apple contains about 25 grams of carbohydrates whereas two slices of white bread contain roughly 26 grams of carbohydrates.
Myth 2: Fresh fruits and vegetables are better than canned or frozen
Fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables all share the same nutritional benefits, research shows. The only difference? Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables typically cost less.
A 2014 study examined the nutrition found in fruits and vegetables across different packaging methods (fresh, canned, frozen) relative to average price.
“The evidence from this study suggests that fruits and vegetables packaged as frozen or canned are cost-effective and nutritious options for meeting daily vegetable and fruit recommendations in the context of a healthy diet,” researchers claim.
Frozen or canned fruits and vegetables are usually packaged quickly, so they retain their nutritional value, reports Healthline. During times where fresh fruit and vegetables are not in season, canned and frozen make a perfectly nutritious alternative.
Myth 3: Plant-based milk is healthier than dairy milk
Research shows that cow’s milk is actually more nutrient-dense that plant-based milks such as oat or soy milks. Cow’s milk offers a better source calcium, vitamin D and protein, reports Insider.
“This one really comes down to preference,” Nora Minno, a registered dietitian and certified nutritionist told Today. “One cup of skim milk packs in 10 grams of protein and a quarter of your daily calcium needs, whereas plant milk, such as almond milk, has one gram of protein per serving.”
Keep in mind, if you suffer from lactose intolerance, plant-based milks still offer nutritional benefits.
“There’s really no downside to drinking plant-based milk instead of cow’s milk,” says Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, MPH, UCLA Health senior dietitian. “Although milk is only one small part of a person’s diet, plant-based milk along with a plant-forward diet offers many benefits for your health.”
Myth 4: A glass of red wine is good for your heart
It’s a common misconception that red wine, in moderation, is good for your heart. There is no reason to start drinking red wine in hopes that it will benefit your heart health.
Studies have shown a relationship between drinking moderate amounts of red wine and good heart health, but no research has found a cause-and-effect link between red wine consumption and improved heart health, per the American Heart Association.
There is likely another factor at play that accounts for the relationship between red wine consumption and better heart health.
“It might be that wine drinkers are more likely to have a healthier lifestyle and a healthier diet such as the Mediterranean diet, which is known to be cardioprotective,” Dr. Robert Kloner, chief science officer and director of cardiovascular research at Huntington Medical Research Institutes and a professor of medicine at the University of Southern California, told the American Heart Association.
“Alcohol in excess is really bad for the heart,” Kloner added. “It can cause high blood pressure and promote arrhythmias. It can cause cardiomyopathy where the alcohol is actually toxic to the heart muscle cells, and that can lead to heart failure.”
Myth 5: Soy-based foods increase risk of breast cancer
Researchers once thought that eating soy-based foods could increase the risk of breast cancer and other cancers. This theory has since been debunked. Eating moderate amounts of soy foods does not increase risk of breast cancer, reports the Mayo Clinic.
Isoflavones, which are found in soy, are plant estrogens. High estrogen levels has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, but plant estrogens are different and come with no real threat.
“We know that estrogen can sometimes be linked to an increase in breast cancer, but the estrogens in soy are very different than mammalian estrogens, the ones we have in our body,” Nora Minno, a registered dietitian and certified nutritionist told Today “They can actually be protective against things like breast cancer because what we’ve seen in Asian countries where they consume more soy is that breast cancer risk is actually much lower.”
Myth 6: Organic produce is healthier
The most important part of a healthy diet it that it is balanced. Daily consumption of fruits and vegetables is essential to achieving a balanced diet, according to the CDC.
Organic produce has fewer synthetic pesticides and fertilizers but is also costs a lot more. Additionally, there are no proven nutritional benefits to eating strictly organic produce.
“There’ve been a number of studies examining the macro- and micronutrient content, but whether organically or conventionally grown, the foods are really similar for vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates,” says registered dietitian Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, per Harvard Health.
“I don’t see any nutritional reasons to choose organic foods over conventional,” McManus added.
Myth 7: High-cholesterol foods are bad for you
Cholesterol levels have a lot more to do with genetics than diet — eating cholesterol-rich foods such as eggs might not actually impact the levels of cholesterol in your blood.
“Your genetic makeup – not diet – is the driving force behind cholesterol levels” says Dr. Steven Nissen, per the Cleveland Clinic. “The body creates cholesterol in amounts much larger than what you can eat, so avoiding foods that are high in cholesterol won’t affect your blood cholesterol levels very much.”
High levels of cholesterol in the blood stream has been linked the heart disease, but roughly 85% of the cholesterol circulating through your body is created in the liver. A family history of heart disease prevents much great risker than diet, per the Cleveland Clinic.
Myth 8: Smoothies and juices are always healthy
Certain smoothies and juices are nutritious. But most store-bought smoothies and juices are packed with sugar and calories.
“Just because there’s a leafy green in it doesn’t make it low-calorie,” Sarah B. Krieger, a registered and licensed dietitian nutritionist told the New York Times. “There’s a fine line between a smoothie and a milkshake.”
A medium Hulk Vanilla smoothie from Smoothie King is made with butter pecan ice cream and more than 1,000 calories.
Many store-bought smoothies don’t actually contain fresh fruit in them either. The McDonald’s Strawberry Banana Smoothie is made with a strawberry banana “fruit base.”
Checking ingredients is essential when searching for a healthy store-bought smoothie or juice.
Myth 9: Low calorie, non-nutritive sweeteners are healthy
Artificial sweeteners like Splenda, Stevia, Truiva and Equal are often used as an alternative for real sugar, but recent, updated guidelines from the World Health Organization discourage using non-sugar sweeteners for weight control.
“Replacing free sugars with NSS (non-sugar sweeteners) does not help with weight control in the long term. People need to consider other ways to reduce free sugars intake, such as consuming food with naturally occurring sugars, like fruit, or unsweetened food and beverages,” says Francesco Branca, WHO Director for Nutrition and Food Safety. “NSS are not essential dietary factors and have no nutritional value. People should reduce the sweetness of the diet altogether, starting early in life, to improve their health.”
Myth 10: Avoid eating gluten
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. For those who suffer from Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disease, consuming gluten can be detrimental to their health. But if you do not have Celiac Disease or gluten sensitivity, there is no nutritional benefit to cutting gluten out, per Johns Hopkins Medicine.
“If you cut all gluten out of your diet, there’s a risk that you could miss out on nutritious whole grains, fiber and micronutrients,” reports Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Getting enough whole grains in your diet is especially important if you’re at risk for heart disease or diabetes. Whole grains can lower cholesterol levels and even help regulate your blood sugar.”
“In addition, some gluten-containing foods are sources of important vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins, iron and magnesium.”