By: Elizabeth Somer, M.A.,R.D.
Diet dogma has a life of its own. Even when science reveals the truth behind a diet fad or web rumor, the myth lingers on. Here are a few mistaken identities in the nutrition arena.
Myth No. 1: Vitamin supplements are a waste of time.
Fact: Every so often the news reports on a study that found supplements are unnecessary. Before you toss your vitamins, read on.
If a study came out finding that people who drank water had no lower risk for cancer, would you stop drinking water? If another study reported that people who meet their recommendation for protein were at no lower risk for heart disease than people who ate too little protein, would you eliminate protein from your diet? Probably not. Both water and protein are essential nutrients.
Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients, too. The human body can’t make them, yet it needs them to survive and thrive. These essential nutrients must come from the diet on a regular basis and in amounts known to ensure life, as well as health. A lack of even one vitamin or mineral over time can have devastating consequences, in many cases even death.
Just because you’re not on your deathbed, is not a sign you are optimally nourished. National nutrition surveys spanning decades of research repeatedly find that many Americans do not meet the basic requirements for certain vitamins and/or minerals. One study found that 99 out of every 100 Americans don’t meet even minimum standards of a balanced diet. The USDA’s Healthy Eating Index, a tool to assess Americans’ eating habits, rating them on a scale of 0 to 100, consistently finds that most Americans score below or in the 60s, equivalent to an “F” or a “D” ranking on nutrition. Why not fill in the gaps with a moderate-dose, well-balanced multi-vitamin supplement on the days when you don’t eat perfectly? There is no harm in taking a moderate-dose multi-vitamin and mineral, in fact, people who supplement tend to be healthier. Supplementing responsibly is one of the lowest cost preventive measures you can adopt. (11,12,23)
Of course, popping a pill is not license to eat junk. That’s why they are called supplements, not substitutes for an excellent diet. Even the most staunch supporters of supplements agree that no pill can replace a healthy diet and lifestyle. It is one factor in a pattern of living that helps prevent disease and prolong the healthy years. (13-15)
Myth No. 2: Carbs are fattening.
Fact: Just the opposite. Starchy vegetables, like potatoes and corn, and 100% whole grains are quality carbs that are the mainstay of all diets worldwide, since they supply glucose, the main fuel for everything from muscles to brain. They also are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. For example, the fiber in oats (called beta glucan) helps to lower blood sugar and cholesterol, thus playing an important role in the management of diabetes and heart disease. That fiber also fills you up without filling you out, so is a great addition to any weight-loss diet. But, avoid their refined counterparts, such as white bread, and their high-fat friends, such as butter, cream cheese, and sour cream, since ounce for ounce these add-ons contain more than twice the calories. For example, a generous smear of butter has more calories than a slice of bread (108 versus 61 calories), while a plain potato has only 88 calories compared to the same potato French-fried, which packs more than four times the calories (354 calories). (25,26)
Myth No. 3: Women naturally gain weight after menopause.
Fact: Many women believe that weight gain is part of “the change.” But numerous studies, including one from Michigan State University, offer some surprising results. In this study of 28 postmenopausal women, menopause by itself was not the reason for weight gain. It was the level of physical activity that had the biggest impact on body weight – older women who were vigorously active maintained their girlish figures. (1-3)
Myth No. 4: Drinking a glass of water before a meal helps curb appetite.
Fact: Water does curb appetite, but mostly when it is incorporated into food, not gulped from a glass. Several studies from Pennsylvania State University found that only water in soups, thick beverages like tomato juice, and other liquid foods fills us up. In one study, women were given a snack of chicken rice casserole with a glass of water or a chicken rice soup that contained the same amount of water as broth. Results showed that the soup was more filling even though it contained 27% fewer calories than the casserole. The reason – water bound to food is filling, while a glass of water is not, is unclear, but it could be that the bound water slows digestion, whereas a glass of water just passes right through. (4)
Myth No. 5: Shellfish is high in cholesterol.
Fact: Yes, shrimp is high in cholesterol, containing more than a third of your daily quota or 130 milligrams in a 3-ounce serving. But, shrimp is low in fat and contains a smidgeon of heart healthy omega-3s, which might explain why a study from the University of Southern California found that eating shellfish, like shrimp, every week reduced heart attack risk by 59 percent. Besides, most of the cholesterol in your blood is made in the body from saturated fats consumed in the diet, and shrimp is very low in that artery-clogging fat. The bottom line: shrimp is a healthy addition to your diet, just don’t batter or fry it! (5)