Top 10 Nutrition Misconceptions

We’re revealing the top nutrition misconceptions people have and the truth behind the myths.
diet and exercise

You may not realize it, but every day you make unconscious decisions about how you eat. Some healthy and some not-so-healthy. We’re revealing the top nutrition misconceptions people have and the truth behind the myths.

#1: You can never eat “junk” food

Some folks religiously stay away from all chocolate bars, chips, candy, cookies, cakes and other foods that are categorized as “junk”. They’ll skip the slice of birthday cake or a trip to the ice cream store with their kids. But food is part of our social nature and should be enjoyed. These types of foods can be part of a healthy eating plan. Knowing how to stay in control of your cravings and eating these foods sensibly is the trick.

#2: You should purchase a food because it claims to be “natural”

The term “natural” is so loosely defined by the government that you’ll find it on everything from cereal boxes to soda to packages of meat. You’re better off ignoring the word on any package and taking the time to read through the ingredients and nutrition information. Don’t be fooled into believing that natural means healthy.

#3: You should eat flax to get your omega-3 fix

Flax is a great source of fiber, but isn’t the best source of omega-3s around. There are several types of omega-3 fats, with some more potent than others. The omega-3s found in plants like flax seeds is known as the ALA type. The other types known as EPA and DHA are found in fatty fish like salmon, sardines and tuna and provide many of the omega-3 benefits you read about. If you’re sprinkling ground flax on your food to get your omega-3 fix, you’re probably not getting nearly enough.

#4: If you exercise, you can eat whatever you want

Think you can indulge in a super high-in-fat treat after hitting the gym? Once you take a look at these numbers, you’ll see what we’re talking about. In order to “make up” for an order of large fries, you’d need to swim laps for an hour. Perhaps your guilty pleasure is a slice of pepperoni pizza? Let’s hope you jogged for 30 minutes at a medium pace. To keep your weight in check, balance out physical activity with your calorie intake.

#5: You can’t eat late at night

Making the blanket statement that “I can’t eat after 8pm” isn’t always the smartest choice. You may have had a hectic day and not enough time to eat your dinner at 6pm, does that mean you should skip it completely? The blanket statement doesn’t really apply to all people, schedules and lifestyles. If you do find yourself hungry at night, here are a few healthier snack options you may want to consider.

#6: You must drink 8 cups of water each day

Stop worrying about the numbers and listen to your body! Some folks may need more than 8 cups while other may need less. Many forget that foods like fruits and vegetables also contribute to our overall fluid needs (as does juice, soda and even coffee). Find out more about how much water you really need and the best sources in our previous post.

#7: It’s important to buy organic food whenever possible

There’s no need to spend your hard-earned money on every organic food out there (especially in this economy). If you’re trying to cut back on your pesticide intake, take a peek at the Environment Working Group’s list of the most contaminated produce (a.k.a. The Dirty Dozen), and spend your organic dollar there. Eating locally-grown foods is also a cheaper alternative. Many local farmers cannot afford the costs of being certified organic but follow the same practices.

#8: You must take a multivitamin every day

Taking supplements can be a slippery slope if you don’t do your research. One of the most common supplements that folks think is a must is a multivitamin. Although they may seem harmless, you need to look at the entire picture — how much of each vitamin is present? Does the multivitamin contain herbs too? Do you take other medications or supplements? Talking to your doctor or registered dietitian is a smart idea to be sure a multivitamin is right for you.

#9: Wheat and whole wheat bread is the same thing

All “wheat” is not created equal. Look for “100% whole wheat” on the label to make sure you’re getting the healthier parts of the whole grain. You’ll find that wheat bread contains much less fiber than 100% whole wheat bread. So be sure to read the label carefully before buying.

Need more tips for buying healthy bread? Check out our previous post on whole grain bread and see how your favorite brand stacked up in our taste test.

#10: If you're following a healthy eating plan, that means you can’t eat any of your favorite foods

Healthy and tasty go hand in hand. Think you can’t deliciously make over favorites like lasagna, chili, pasta salad, baked beans, and fried chicken-- think again! There are a few tricks of the trade you can pick up at HealthyEats and use in your own kitchen. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby's full bio »

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