If eating healthy seems difficult to begin with, it gets even more so when you consider the conflicting ideas and misinformation that abounds regarding food and nutrition. Well-meaning friends, family members, and even celebrities readily share diet tidbits that turn out not to be factual. Unfortunately, even health professionals aren't immune from giving out false nutrition advice. A 2010 report found that American medical schools only offer an average of 19.6 hours of nutrition education during their four years of studies. A 2016 study tested medical school graduates and found that on average, they could only answer 52% of the nutrition questions correctly.
Here are some of the most common myths that registered dietitians hear from clients during the course of their days:
Myth: Fruit is all sugar so you shouldn't eat it.
While you should certainly limit added sugars such as those in pastries and sweetened beverages, fruit should not be included in this category. While fruit does contain natural sugar, but along with that sugar (which your body needs for energy!), you are also getting a healthy dose of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. The calories in fruit also tend to be lower than in sugar-sweetened products, plus you are not going to have the same fat content when comparing an apple with a doughnut. Fruit is a healthy part of the diet, and most Americans do not meet the recommendation for two to four servings per day. Note that a piece of whole fruit is a healthier choice than a cup of juice due to fiber content.
Myth: Don't eat anything white.
This myth is way too common, with many people even saying that they got this piece of advice from their doctors. You miss out on a lot of healthy foods when you exclude everything white: cauliflower, bananas, onions, garlic, mushrooms, leeks, plain yogurt, and potatoes, for instance. While people tend to think of white potatoes as being unhealthy, it's all about portion size and how you top them. Remember, potatoes provide you with potassium, fiber, and even vitamin C. As for grains, choosing whole grains over processed white grains does offer benefits, so ideally you would limit white grains in favor of their darker whole grain counterparts.
Myth: Sea salt is healthier than regular salt.
People often believe that sea salt is not only inherently healthier than regular salt but also that it is lower in sodium. Sea salt and table salt actually contain comparable amounts of sodium. Sea salt may contain some additional trace minerals depending on the water source. Most table salts contain iodine added to it to promote thyroid health. Before its addition to salt, many Americans suffered iodine deficiency which can result in goiters, pregnancy-related problems, and intellectual disabilities.
Myth: Vegans can't get enough protein.
First, how much protein do you really need? Many people tend to overestimate the amount. Most healthy Americans only need 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight. To get your weight in kilograms, simply divide your weight in pounds by 2.2. For someone who weighs 150 pounds, that would come out to about 54 grams of protein per day. Protein-rich foods have about 7 grams of protein per ounce, meaning that a three-ounce serving of protein (about the size of a deck of cards) has 21 grams of protein. Vegans can get plenty of protein from plant-based sources such as beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, nuts, seitan, quinoa, edamame, and nutritional yeast.
Myth: Your body needs the occasional detox or cleanse to rid itself of toxins.
Thankfully, if you have a functioning liver and kidneys, your body gets rid of toxins all on its own without the need for colon cleanses, detox diets, or anything else. Your lungs and digestive system also work to eliminate toxins from the body. If you simply want to do a cleanse or detox to speed up weight loss, know that you're mostly losing water weight and could even face muscle loss. Long-term, you can set yourself up for nutrient deficiencies. Instead, focus on eating a balanced diet and be happy that your body is functioning as it should.
Myth: Diabetics can't eat any carbohydrates.
People with diabetes face difficulty in regulating their blood glucose levels. While it is true that carbohydrates break down to glucose when digested, this absolutely does not mean that people with diabetes should avoid them! Glucose is the body's (and especially the brain's) primary source of energy. People with diabetes should work with a registered dietitian to balance their daily intake of carbohydrates to meet their needs while keeping their blood sugar levels under control.
Myth: Gluten makes people fat.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Just because a loaf of bread or a box of cookies is labeled gluten-free does not mean that it is devoid of calories. When people who cut out gluten lose weight, it is because they are often choosing less processed foods in favor of more fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins (which happen to be gluten-free). The only people who need to avoid gluten are those who have been diagnosed with a digestive disorder such as celiac disease.
Myth: Men shouldn't eat soy because it will give them breasts.
While soy contains phytoestrogen, men should feel safe to consume soy as a part of their diets without risk of feminization. There have been extremely rare cases of men consuming a high intake of soy developing feminine physical changes; these men were taking in very high amounts – in one case, the patient was drinking 3 quarts of soy milk per day! In each case, when the man in question reduced his intake of soy, the effects were reversed. Soy can be a healthy source of dietary protein, and men shouldn't feel compelled to avoid it due to fear of feminization.
Myth: Avocadoes are a good source of protein.
I'm not sure where this myth came from, but my dietitian colleagues and I see it coming up all the time. Seemingly any time someone asks for high-protein vegetarian meal ideas in a social media group, people start recommending avocado. As we covered before, a good protein source usually contains about 7 grams of protein for each ounce. One 7-ounce avocado, on the other hand, has an estimated 4 grams of protein, which is less than half a gram of protein per ounce.
Myth: You should eat only one food group at a time because your body can't digest multiple types of food at once.
Some people believe that fruit can only be eaten alone or else it "rots" in the stomach, or that meat and carbohydrates cannot be digested if they are consumed together. Thankfully, our bodies can efficiently break down multiple types of food at once, so there is no need to avoid mixed dishes. While there are different enzymes for different nutrients, the body can digest multiple nutrients at once. Along the same vein, you don't need to eat or avoid certain combination foods to maintain gastric pH for digestion. Our stomachs can maintain their pH levels independent of food choices.