Food Rules to Forget

by Jeanne Rhodes

It may seem that eating a healthy diet keeps getting more and more confusing. Hardly a week goes by without a new research that contradicts many we’ve read before. One day we are urged to eat less fat, the next we should eat more of certain fats. We were told to avoid shrimp because it is high in cholesterol; then we hear that shrimp is not so high in cholesterol and is good to eat. Peanut butter is bad for you-peanut butter is good for you, etc. Many nutrition beliefs turn out to be myths. Here, a closer look at some widely accepted “nutrition myths” the experts say people would be better to forget:

1) You must omit certain foods to have a healthy diet.

People fall into the trap of labeling some foods (like vegetables and fruits) as “good” others (such as sirloin steak) as “bad”; but the truth is that no food in moderation is truly off-limits and even the healthiest food that’s eaten in excess can be “bad.”

“The question we ought to be asking ourselves is whether our overall diets are good or bad, rather than concentrating on individual foods,” states Judith S. Stern, Sc. D., professor of nutrition at the University of California at Davis. “In a balanced diet there’s room for everything. Someone who adores chocolate fudge ice cream, for example, can eat it in small quantities every now and then; while another person who detests cabbage can still manage to eat a perfectly healthy diet without it.”

“Good vs. bad” food thinking leads many of us to believe we’re eating a healthy diet when we’re not. Someone who chooses a large blueberry muffin rather than a small chocolate cupcake is sadly misled. Along with a small amount of blueberries they’re also getting a hefty dose of sugar, salt and fat. It’s the same as choosing a fish sandwich instead of a burger at a fast food restaurant. The fish is fried, coated and served with tartar sauce - a choice that is 50 percent fat. The burger is a better choice at about 35 percent fat. While both are high-fat choices, the better choice of the two is the burger.

2) Cutting out certain foods is necessary for a healthy diet.

Limiting food choices could result in nutritional deficiencies rather than benefits. Studies find that our “eat more of this and less of this” attitude often results in eating more of things we’re trying to avoid. One such study found that a group of women attempting to reduce dietary fat by reducing their intake of eggs, whole milk and beef ended up eating the same amount of fat as women who were not watching dietary fat intake. According to Susan Welch, Ph.D., from the USDA, “The problem was that their intake of salad dressings, cheeses, and creamy sauces made up for the reduction in fats from the foods they eliminated.”

The psychological impact of “foods I can’t have” can be a no-win situation simply because it is often human nature to want that which we “can’t have.” The “can’t have” makes any food much more enticing than it would normally be. Plus, there is not a sound reason, nutrition or not, that we should totally eliminate any foods, especially foods we like. Eliminating foods you like and/or eating foods you don’t like will set you up for failure quicker than almost anything you can do!

3) You can’t “overeat” foods that are healthy.

Americans are famous for “if a little is good, a lot is better.” When a food is reported to have potential health benefits, we’re likely to take this thinking too far. Overindulgence of health-protective foods can backfire-weight wise as well as health wise. Anytime a person eats beyond their appetite, the excess will be stored as fat - any food-including healthy food. “These cookies are fat-free so I can eat the whole box.” Not so.

Health claims for certain foods are often misunderstood. Although fatty fish like salmon are heart healthy, taking an excessive amount of fish-oil capsules will create problems.

4) Certain foods are “magic bullets” for weight loss.

Consider the latest weapon on the fight against fat - the high protein diets. These diets were popular in the 60s and 70s, yet our overweight statistics continued to escalate and are still escalating during the second wave of high protein popularity. There are no “magic bullets” and never will be. But, alas! That doesn’t stop Americans from wishing for one.

Rhodes, B.A., M.A., is a Nutritionist, Wellness Lifestyle Strategist, Author and Director of Rhodes Preventive Health Institute in Hagerstown.