“Everyone who has ever eaten seems to be granted an equally authoritative opinion about nutrition.” That is undoubtedly one of my favorite quotes from Dr. David Katz this past year, and I’m sure I’ve repeated it many times before on this blog. Misconceptions about food and nutrition myths continue to exist and thrive because of that mixed up role playing. Yes, everyone eats but not everyone is a nutrition expert.
That’s why I’ve asked dietitians and nutritionists in Lebanon to set the record straight regarding nutrition myths and misconceptions they hear from friends, family and clients.
Here’s what they had to say:
The most popular myth I encounter would be that carbs make people fat, but not “in general” fat – it’s always “that spaghetti makes my hips bigger, or bread makes my stomach bigger”. This is something I’ve heard way too many times. Another one would be that drinking hot water with lemon or vinegar helps emulsify fat so it’s recommended that they drink it between meals; which of course is not true as well. And the last, which is a VERY common misconception, is that lots of women still think that breastfeeding alone is not enough for a baby and that you need to supply the baby with sugary water or formula. The belief here is that the baby doesn’t grow alone on breast-milk.
The Mediterranean diet has been taking a lot of hype recently as an overall healthy diet. Two of the food groups that constitute a large part of this diet are fish and dairy. Naturally, misconceptions on consuming these food groups together followed. As a dietitian, I often hear that yogurt (more commonly consumed than milk in the area) eaten with fish caused a food reaction. Thus, many people I know will avoid eating them at the same meal. This is not a big deal since in Lebanon, fish is usually accompanied with baa-doun-seye (parsley sauce); a mixture of tahini paste, lemon juice, parsley and some salt. However, in the end misconceptions need to be addressed. Fish and dairy products (each alone) might be a sensitive food item for some people. As is well-known, many people have a food allergy or intolerance towards dairy or fish and shellfish. For that sensitive person, the combination of fish and yogurt (2 risky food items) might spur a food reaction. However, a food reaction is not expected to occur in the person who has no food allergies or intolerance.
P.S. a food allergy is the body’s immune system reacting to a protein in a certain food item. This might cause a mild rash or be as severe as anaphylactic responses that require immediate medical attention. A food intolerance has a wide range of symptoms ranging from gas and nasal congestion to eczema, mouth ulcers or severe diarrhea/constipation. Consult your physician if you have any doubts about a food intolerance or allergy.
Myth #1: The additives in processed foods are not hurtful
Fact: Additives harmfulness is dictated by the quantity consumed from a certain product. If you consume frequently and increasingly from certain processed foods that contain artificial ingredients ( despite their safety), some toxins can accumulate in your body and eventually cause certain diseases. All food additives (emulsifiers, colors, preservatives, improvers, stabilizers) must be approved by appropriate governmental authorities (such as FDA in USA ) whereby strict limits are put on the amount and types of additives in foods. Any additive must be included in the ingredients listing on a package ensuring that consumers have a choice.” It is also our responsibility to be “label literate”. People need to read the ingredients list every time they are buying something from the shelf. So, if one is reading the list and couldn’t understand or recognize the ingredient, then this might be something they shouldn’t buy and eat. Also, they should be aware of food that has one of these words “modified”, “bleached”, or “refined”, which means extreme processing.
Myth #2: Freezing foods kills all harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning
Fact: Bacteria can survive freezing temperatures. Freezing is not a method for making foods safe to eat. Once food is thawed, bacteria can still be present and may begin to multiply. Cooking food to the proper internal temperature is the best way to kill harmful bacteria. Use a thermometer to measure the temperature of cooked foods.
Myth #1: Low-fat foods are healthier than full-fat options
Fact: After removing the fat from food, it simply doesn’t have the same taste or structure. In order to compensate for taste and form, food manufactures often add additives and preservatives such as sweeteners like sugar, high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners like aspartame. Even if artificial sweeteners have no calories, the evidence does not suggest that they are better for you than sugar. In these low-fat products, healthy natural fats are being replaced with substances that are extremely harmful with some unknown ingredients listed on the food item. The bottom line is that low-fat foods are usually highly processed and filled with unhealthy and unnatural additives to keep taste and structure.
Myth #2: Saturated fat is bad for the health
Fact: A few decades ago, it was decided, based on the amount of information available at the time that the epidemic of heart disease and obesity was caused by eating too much saturated fat. Many more recent studies have repetitively disproven that theory. A massive review article published in 2010 looked at 21 prospective epidemiological studies with a total of 347,747 subjects. Their results confirm that there is absolutely no association between saturated fat and heart disease (1). But the idea that saturated fat raises the risk of heart disease somehow did not change and became common knowledge. Other recent studies show that saturated fat raises the amount of good cholesterol (HDL) in the blood (2). Natural foods that are high in saturated fats such as coconut oil, butter and meat are actually good for you.”
Sabine Kassouf, holistic health coach, co-founder and co-owner of A New Earth Store, a leading organic and health food store in Achrafieh, Lebanon. Follow A New Earth Store on Facebook ,Twitter and Instagram
“The biggest misconception I have to deal with every day is primarily about fats! It is hard for people to understand that fats are not fattening. White carbs are. All the cells in our body need fat. It is also essential for our hormonal health, yet, it’s the types of fat you eat that really matter… Bad fats increase cholesterol and your risk of certain diseases, while good fats protect your heart and support overall health. In fact, good fats—such as omega-3 fats—are essential to physical and emotional health.
The second misconception is: “Salt is bad, it leads to high blood pressure”. This is true if we are talking about the chemically produced table salt that is added to most processed foods, meats and snacks. This type of salt is also devoid of the many trace minerals that the body needs… so it is a wise decision to avoid it. To the degree that table salt is bad, real salt is healthy, necessary and good. Real salt supports a host of hormonal, chemical and electrical processes in the body.
And the last one is : “Milk is necessary for bones health”. Contrary to popular belief, milk may increase the likelihood of osteoporosis. It is still widely accepted that the calcium in dairy products will strengthen our bones and help prevent osteoporosis, but studies show that foods originating from animal sources (like milk) make the blood acidic. When this occurs, the blood leeches calcium from the bones to increase alkalinity. While this works wonders for the pH balance of your blood, it sets your calcium-depleted bones up for osteoporosis. No wonder the US have the highest rate of osteoporosis and they are the biggest milk drinkers!”
One of the most common misconceptions I hear is that some food combinations (labneh with wine or fish with milk) cause poisoning or digestive trouble when consumed together. Another one I hear constantly is that meat consumption especially beef is essential for survival which of course is not true.
I have to admit I have heard most of what has been said, plus some more. Recently, the gluten-free talk is taking over. If you are gluten-intolerant or have a sensitivity towards gluten and have celiac disease, then it is crucial for your health to stop consuming gluten (found in wheat, rye, and barley), and there are thousands of food options out there that are inherently gluten-free and healthy for you. However, if you are not gluten intolerant, then consuming overly-processed gluten-free cookies and cakes will not improve your health nor make you lose weight. In addition to gluten, I hear so many misconceptions about organic food and weight loss. I try to buy mostly organic when it comes to fruits and vegetables, grains and legumes even cookies or pizza sometimes. I buy organic because they do not have GMOs and they are free of pesticides and herbicides. I don’t expect an organic pizza slice to have fewer calories than a non-organic one and I don’t expect an organic cookie to help me lose weight. So if you want to buy organic, do so for its health benefits, and try to stick with whole minimally-processed foods. The calories won’t magically disappear if the label says “organic”.
What about you? Have you heard these before? What other nutrition myths do you think need to be properly addressed?
Wishing you all a Happy New Year!