The Truth Behind 6 Healthy-Food Myths

Woman's Day
Healthy Living

woman reading a food label
woman reading a food label

By Arricca Elin SanSone

So much of what we hear about eating well isn't true. To further confuse us, food that says "healthy" on the packaging isn't necessarily nutritious. "You have to read labels and not make assumptions that something is good for you just because it's the buzz word of the minute," says

Melissa Joy Dobbins, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "With a little knowledge, you can be healthy and still enjoy food." Here are eight of the most common misconceptions about eating right with the real-deal info. Photo by iStock

Myth: Sea salt is better than table salt because it contains less sodium.

"Sea salt is no different from table salt in how much sodium it contains," says Melinda Johnson, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "There's no nutritional benefit to buying snack foods and other products that contain sea salt instead of table salt."

What to do:
Choose your salt type by the taste you prefer. In theory, though, you may use less sea salt in cooking: Those crystals are larger than table-salt crystals, so fewer of them fit in a teaspoonful, says Johnson. Still, limit overall sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day, or 1,500 per day if you're over age 50, African-American or have high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Related: See 50 tasty foods under 100 calories.

Myth: Grass-fed beef is healthier than grain-fed beef.

Grass-fed beef comes from cattle that spend their entire lives grazing on pasture, as opposed to ones who eat grains in a feedlot. "There's no difference nutritionally," says Dobbins. "Some people choose grass-fed beef because they believe it tastes better."

What to do:
Go with whichever kind of beef you favor, keeping in mind that grass-fed beef is usually more expensive. Remember that the various labels on beef don't relate to nutrient content. Terms such as grass-fed, naturally raised and USDA organic refer to the farming practices used. If that's important to you, learn what each label means so you can make an informed purchase, advises Dobbins.

Myth: Avoid high-fructose corn syrup at all costs.

High-fructose corn syrup is one of the many kinds of sugars added to everything from cereals and snack foods to sauces and salad dressings. "Sugar is sugar," says Dobbins. "It doesn't matter what kind of sugar it is. It's quantity that's the problem."

What to do:
Women should get no more than six teaspoons of added sugar per day, advises the American Heart Association. When you're comparing products, choose the ones with lowest grams of total sugar, says Dobbins. Read the ingredients list, and look for sugar under its many names including brown sugar, molasses, honey, fruit juice concentrates and anything ending with -ose such as dextrose or maltose.
Related: Boost any bad mood with these 7 superfoods.

Myth: All yogurt is good for you.

"Yogurt isn't automatically healthy," says Johnson. "Some yogurt is so loaded with fat and sugar that it's more like a dessert than a good breakfast or snack choice."

What to do:
Choose Greek yogurt, which has twice the protein of regular yogurt, so you'll feel full longer. Make sure it's non- or lowfat, which keeps calories to 150 or fewer per serving, says Johnson. While some sugar is naturally occurring lactose (or fructose if the yogurt contains fruit), watch for added sugars such as cane juice. Or choose plain yogurt and add a drizzle of honey or maple syrup to boost flavor; you'll typically use less sweetener than the manufacturer. Finally, look for yogurts that contain live and active cultures, such L. acidophilus, which are helpful for digestion.

Myth: Fresh produce is more nutritious than frozen or canned.

"Not true at all," says Dobbins. "Veggies and fruits are frozen and canned as soon as they're picked so they're at peak nutrition." Plus, canned produce is great to have on hand because it won't go bad in a few days.

What to do:
Eat fresh fruits and veggies in season; they're less expensive then, and some nutrients, such as vitamin C, begin to break down as soon as foods are harvested. Go for canned or frozen at other times of year. But rinse canned veggies well to cut sodium by about 40%. And look for canned fruit in its own juice rather than swimming in syrup and added sugars. Dried fruits are another alternative-they've lost their water, not their nutrients-but watch serving size and check the ingredients list to see if sugar has been added.
Related: Check out 8 foods that fight stress.

Myth: Frozen yogurt is better for you than ice cream.

Not necessarily, cautions Johnson. "Frozen yogurt can still be a big dose of fat, sugar and calories. You'll get some calcium from both ice cream and froyo, but there's not a lot of valuable nutrition in either one."

What to do:
Have ice cream or frozen yogurt as an occasional treat. But when you indulge, stick to a half-cup of the cold stuff. In general, a frozen yogurt that size has about 120 calories and 5 g of fat, versus 180 calories and 10 g of fat for a half-cup of ice cream (light or lowfat ice cream is less). Tart frozen yogurt flavors, which typically have less sugar, may translate into fewer calories. Don't forget: "Toppings such as candy, syrup, fruit packed in syrup and nuts all add calories," says Johnson. Your best bet: At the ice cream shop, get a plain kiddie-sized cone or dish of your favorite flavor so you'll truly enjoy it. If you bring a carton home, dish out a single portion, sit down and eat it slowly. Savoring the experience may satisfy you after a smaller amount.

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