Nutrition Tips: Food Myths

By Ellen Daley, MS, RD, CDE

Behind most food and nutrition myths, there is a little truth, but a lot of stretching of the truth.

Tips for spotting nutrition myths:

•First, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If there were an easy fix to nutrition issues, no one would be struggling with weight or diet.

•Second, where is the information coming from? Is it from a credible organization or does the person making the claim have something to sell you? Are there good studies to support the claim? Or is the information based on someone’s personal experience?

Here are a few nutrition myths that students are asking about.

Coconut Oil is a superfood.

The promises are big - weight loss, slows aging, improves heart health, protects against Alzheimer’s…but research does not support these claims. Coconut oil is 90% saturated fat. The consistent message from good studies is to replace saturated fat with (poly or mono) unsaturated fat for improved health and to reduce the risk of heart disease. Limit saturated fat to no more than 13 grams a day, about one tablespoon of coconut oil, so you can still include small amounts of coconut oil in your diet. Nuts, seeds, beans, avocados and olive, flaxseed and canola oil are good sources of unsaturated fat. Including healthy fats at each meal will improve the flavor of your food and help you feel satisfied.

Chocolate is a health food.

Many headlines praise the health benefits of chocolate including improved heart health, brain function and mood. Naturally processed, unsweetened cocoa is a very good source of flavonols and is relatively low in calories. When cocoa is made into your favorite chocolate, flavonols are lost and fat and sugar are added. This results in chocolate with lots of calories and very little health benefit. To get the most flavonols, choose dark chocolate or cocoa powder that has not undergone Dutch processing. Avoid excess calories by enjoying a small, 1-ounce piece of cholate a few times per week. Remember to include other foods that are rich in flavonoids in your diet, including apples, tea, onions, cranberries and peanuts.

Only fresh (not canned or frozen) fruits and vegetables are healthy.

People often believe fresh is best when it comes to fruits and vegetables, but canned and frozen fruits and vegetables have the same, and sometimes more, nutrients than fresh. Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables are often more affordable and easier to keep on hand. You also will not waste your money when you forget to use the fresh produce in your fridge. It’s great to eat fresh vegetables and fruits when you can. Keep some canned and frozen options on hand to have a quick and easy healthy option when fresh is not available. Choose no-salt-added or low-sodium canned vegetables or drain the can and heat in fresh water to get rid of almost half the salt. For canned fruit, avoid those packed in syrup and choose packed in fruit juice instead. When buying frozen fruit or vegetables, avoid those with added sauces or seasoning.

Avoid coffee.

This is a recently debunked diet myth. Moderate coffee consumption, 3-5 cups per day, can be included in a healthy diet according the USDA. Recent studies show positive sugar-control, liver health and cognitive benefits from drinking coffee. It is unknown if benefits come from the coffee, caffeine or the antioxidants in the coffee. The benefits are seen with regular black coffee, contributing only 2 calories per cup. Adding cream and sugar increases the calories to 50 calories and a Starbucks grande caffe latte has 230 calories, so keep it simple. Some people are very sensitive to the side effects of coffee including feeling nervous and disrupting sleep. The evidence is not powerful enough to recommend starting drinking or increasing your current daily habit, but if you drink coffee you can enjoy it guilt-free.