10 nutritional myths that experts would like to disappear

Soy milk may increase the risk of breast cancer. Fat-free foods are healthier than foods high in fat. Vegans and vegetarians are deficient in protein. Some misconceptions about nutrition seem to linger like those awful songs you can’t get out of your head.

So, to set the record straight, we asked 10 of America’s top nutrition experts one simple question: Which nutrition myth would you like to see gone and why? Here’s what they said.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are always better than canned, frozen or dried ones

Despite the long-held belief that “fresh is best,” research has found that frozen, canned, and dried fruits and vegetables can be just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts.

“They can also be a money saver and an easy way to make sure there are always fruits and vegetables available at home,” says Sara Bleich, outgoing director of nutrition security and health equity at the US Department of Agriculture and politics professor. public health at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health.

One caveat: Some canned, frozen and dried varieties contain sneaky ingredients like added sugar, saturated fat and sodium, Bleich said. So read nutrition labels and choose products that contain as few of these ingredients as possible.

all fat is bad

When studies published in the late 1940s found correlations between high-fat diets and high cholesterol levels, experts reasoned that if you reduced the amount of total fat in your diet, your risk of heart disease decreased.

In the 1980s, doctors, federal health experts, the food industry and the media reported that a low-fat diet could benefit everyone, but there was no solid evidence that it would prevent problems like heart disease or overweight and obesity. .

Vijaya Surampudi, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, says that as a result, the denigration of fat has led many people and food manufacturers to replace the calories in fat with those in refined carbohydrates such as white flour. and sugar. added.

“Instead of helping the country stay lean, overweight and obesity rates have increased significantly,” he points out.

In fact, Suampudi added, not all fats are bad for you. While some types of fats, including saturated and trans fats, may increase your risk of heart disease or stroke, healthy fats, such as monounsaturated fats (found in olive and other vegetable oils, avocados and in some nuts and seeds) and polyunsaturated fats (found in sunflower and other vegetable oils, nuts, fish and flaxseed) – actually help reduce risk.

Good fats are also important for providing us with energy, producing hormones, supporting cellular function and aiding in the absorption of some nutrients.

If you see a product labeled “fat-free,” don’t assume it’s healthy, says Surampudi. Instead, prefer products with simple ingredients and no added sugar.

Calorie deficit is the most important factor in losing weight

It’s true that if you consume more calories than you consume, you will likely gain weight. And if you burn more calories than you consume, you’ll likely lose weight, at least in the short term.

But research doesn’t indicate that eating more will consistently cause weight gain, and that this will result in overweight or obesity.

“Rather, it’s the types of foods we eat that may be the long-term drivers” of these conditions, points out Dariush Mozaffarian, a professor of nutrition and medicine in Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutritional Sciences and Policy.

Ultra-processed foods — such as refined starchy snacks, cereals, cookies, energy bars, baked goods, sodas and candy — can be especially bad for weight gain, as they are digested quickly and flood the bloodstream with glucose, fructose and amino acids, which are converted into fat by the liver. Instead, what it takes to maintain a healthy weight is to stop counting calories and prioritize overall healthy eating: quality over quantity.

People with type 2 diabetes shouldn’t eat fruit

This myth stems from confusing fruit juices — which can raise blood sugar levels due to their high sugar and low fiber content — with whole fruit.

But science has discovered that this is not the case. Some studies show, for example, that people who eat a serving of whole fruit a day, especially blueberries, grapes and apples, have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. And other research suggests that if you already have the type 2 diabetes, eat fruit Whole grains can help control blood sugar.

It’s time to bust that myth, says Linda Shiue, internist and director of culinary medicine and lifestyle medicine at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco, adding that everyone can benefit from the health-promoting nutrients in fruit like fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. .

Plant milk is healthier than animal milk

There is a perception that plant-based milks, such as those made from oats, almonds, rice and hemp, are more nutritious than cow’s milk. “That’s not true,” says Kathleen Merrigan, a professor of sustainable food systems at Arizona State University and a former US assistant secretary of agriculture.

Consider the protein: Cow’s milk typically has about 8 grams of protein per cup, while almond milk typically has 1 to 2 grams per cup and oat milk typically has 2 to 3 grams per cup. While the nutrition of plant-based drinks can vary, Merrigan says, many have more added ingredients, like sodium and sugars, that can contribute to health problems, than cow’s milk.

potatoes are bad

Potatoes are often maligned in the nutrition community due to their high glycemic index, which means they contain fast-digesting carbohydrates that can raise blood sugar.

Still, potatoes may be beneficial to your health, says Daphene Altema-Johnson, food community and public health program manager at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for a Liveable Future.

They are rich in vitamin C, potassium, fiber and other nutrients, especially when eaten with the skin on. They are also cheap and available all year round in supermarkets which makes them more affordable. Healthier preparation methods include baking, grilling, boiling, and air-frying.

Do not give almonds to your children in the first years of life

For years, experts have told new parents that the best way to keep their kids from developing food allergies is to not feed them common allergenic foods like peanuts or eggs during the first few years of life. But now, according to allergy experts, it’s best to introduce your child to peanut products at an early age.

If your child doesn’t have severe eczema or a known food allergy, you can start introducing peanut products (such as diluted peanut butter, peanut puffs, or peanut powder, but not whole peanuts) around age 4-6 months, when your baby is ready for solids.

Start with two teaspoons of peanut butter mixed with water, breast milk, or infant formula two to three times a week, says Ruchi Gupta, professor of pediatrics and director of the Food Allergy and Asthma Research Center at Feinberg School of Medicine. . University.

If your baby has severe eczema, first ask your pediatrician or an allergist about peanut products around 4 months of age. “It’s also important to feed your baby a diverse diet in his or her first year of life to avoid food allergies,” Gupta points out.

Plant proteins are incomplete

“‘Where do you get your protein?’ is the first question vegetarians hear,” says Christopher Gardner, a nutritionist and professor of medicine at Stanford University. “The myth is that plants are completely devoid of certain amino acids,” also known as the building blocks of protein, he said.

All plant-based foods, however, contain all 20 amino acids, including the nine essential amino acids, says Gardner. The difference is that the ratio of these amino acids is not as ideal as the ratio in animal foods.

So to get just the right mix, just eat a variety of plant-based foods throughout the day — such as beans, grains and nuts — and then get enough total protein. Fortunately, most Americans eat more than they need every day. “It’s easier than most people think,” says Gardner.

Eating soy foods increases the risk of breast cancer

They found that high doses of plant estrogens in soy, called isoflavones, stimulated the growth of breast cancer cells in animal studies. “However, this relationship has not been demonstrated in human studies,” points out Frank B. Hu, professor and chair of the nutrition department at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health.

So far, science has not indicated a link between soy intake and breast cancer risk in humans. Instead, consumption of foods and beverages made from grains, such as tofu, tempeh, edamame, miso, and their milk, may even have a protective effect on disease risk and survival.

“Soy foods are also rich in beneficial nutrients linked to reducing the risk of heart disease, such as high-quality protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals,” says Hu. The research is clear: Feel confident incorporating soy foods into your diet.

Basic nutritional advice is always changing

Not so, says Marion Nestle, professor emeritus of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University.

“In the 1950s, early dietary recommendations to prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and the like advised balancing calories and minimizing foods high in saturated fat, salt, and sugar. Current guidelines US diet guides recommend the same,” she says.

Yes, the science evolves, but the basic dietary guidance remains consistent.

As author Michael Pollan summed it up in six simple words: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” That advice worked 70 years ago and still works today, Nestlé says. And the recommendation leaves plenty of room to eat the foods you love.

Translated by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves

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