Where should you turn for good nutrition advice? Oprah? Oprah’s cook, her personal trainer, or best friend? How about the clerk at the vitamin/health food store, infomercials, magazines, your friends, or your doctor? What qualifies these sources to give good advice on nutrition?
Good nutritional advice comes from trusted sources, and is backed up by scientific studies and research. For example, a good source might be the “Food Guide Pyramid” or a Registered Dietitian. Please note that someone with the title “Nutritionist” is unregulated, while someone with the title “Registered Dietitian” has completed a four-year degree in nutritional science, 900 supervised clinical hours, and passed a national exam. As a Registered Dietitian, I often get asked about the latest fads and “Nutritional Myths”.
Let’s start with a few “food myths” such as “health foods are better for you”. There is no real definition of “health” foods. So-called “health” foods can be just as high in calories, fat, and salt as other foods and often are more expensive. Some commonly used terms include “health”, “natural”, and “organic” foods. Only organic foods have labeling guidelines as defined by the FDA. A recent commercial on TV would like you to think that monosodium glutamate (MSG) is high in sodium, because their brand does not contain MSG. In reality MSG contains one-third the amount of sodium as table salt (13% vs. 40%, respectively) and what the commercial fails to tell you is that their product has approximately double the amount of sodium as the referenced item.
How about a dairy myth? Many believe that flavored milk is not good for children because of the sugar content. Actually flavored milk has the same nutrients as regular milk. Amazingly, 70% of girls and 60% of boys (age 6-11) do not meet the recommended daily amount of calcium. Therefore, a small amount of sugar added to a nutrient-dense food, such as flavored milk, may enhance the palatability of the product and increase the intake.
What about the anti “carb” phase we recently went through? Is it true that excess carbohydrates, not fat, cause weight gain? FALSE! Excess carbohydrates are no more fattening than excess calories from any source: fats, carbohydrates or proteins. Too many calories from any source, that is not needed by the body or excreted, are stored as body fat. Did you know that carbohydrates are the main power source for your brain and muscles? But choose wisely, good carbohydrate-rich foods include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans and they provide important vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients our bodies need.
Let’s get the “skinny” on “fad” diets. Can following a fad diet be an OK way to quickly lose weight? Of course not! Typically fad diets cause you to experience temporary weight loss, primarily because you eat less food. Many of these fad diets have you give up entire food groups that you need for good balanced health, which makes fad diets ineffective for sustained periods of time.
“Eating sugar causes diabetes.” False, diabetes is a disease in which the body doesn’t produce or properly use insulin. The cause is unknown but genetics and environmental factors, such as lack of exercise, and obesity, have been linked to diabetes. Foods high in sugar are often high in calories, and overeating these foods can lead to weight gain. Research has shown that people who are overweight and/or obese are at increased risk for the disease.
Remember to get your nutritional information from a reputable source, such as the “Food Guide Pyramid”, which can be accessed at www.mypyramid.gov, or from a Registered Dietitian.