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Busted! 5 Health Food Myths You Need to Know About

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Registered Dietitian and health food blogger, Rachael DeVaux of Rachael's Good Eats, gives us the inside scoop on five common health food myths. 

I've rounded up and explained the truth behind the top five common health food myths I continue to see in my line of work as a dietitian, so you don't fall for them! 

 

  1. Eating Late At Night Makes You Gain Weight

Many people have a cut-off time on when they should be finished eating for the day. But really, you should be listening to your body and eating when you truly feel hungry. Do not deprive yourself simply because it’s that time of day.

Whether you are trying to maintain your current weight, or even lose weight, ultimately your focus needs to be about consuming fewer calories than you’re expending throughout the day. 

So, in this sense, calories are what count. If you end the day at 'equilibrium' — equal calories coming in as expended — or are 'under' your daily caloric allowance, you will find it easier to either maintain or reach your weight loss goals.

The reason why eating at night has been associated with weight gain is because “after-dinner snacks” tend to consist of high-calorie, large-portioned foods and will (generally) push your calories over your daily allowance. However, there’s nothing wrong with having a snack before bed — as long as it’s not sugar-filled, empty-calorie snacks.

A lack of adequate meals throughout the day can contribute to late-night eating. It’s better to supply your body with the food it needs when it tells you rather than wait until you’re way past due and risk binge eating or today.

One of the most important tips for steering clear of unhealthy late-night snacking is to become more aware of your body’s hunger cues. Being able to notice the difference between feelings of boredom, stress, exhaustion, hunger or even thirst is key. It’s actually common for people to confuse thirst with hunger because the same part of your brain is responsible for interpreting both signals.

The next time you’re hungry, take a minute to decide if what you’re feeling is indeed hunger or if it’s a different emotional need that can be satiated by some action other than eating.

All in all, calories in are calories in no matter what time of day it is. So, stay mindful of the amount of calories you’re consuming during the day and stay mindful of your feelings of boredom, thirst, and stress before you dig in to that late-night snack.

  1. Egg Yolks Raise Cholesterol

Egg yolks have gotten such flack for their cholesterol content.

They were once considered a nutrient of concern from the dietary guidelines, but have since been removed —and for good reason. Research has finally indicated that dietary cholesterol doesn’t have as big of an effect on blood cholesterol than initially thought.

Contrary to what you may think, cholesterol is present in all cells in the body and is entirely beneficial to your health. It is used to make vitamin D and hormones, and synthesize substances needed for digestion.

The body makes enough cholesterol for use in the body, but there are foods we eat that contain cholesterol as well. These foods, when eaten in excess, can create high blood cholesterol and can cause a buildup of plaque in the arteries, making it difficult for oxygen-rich blood to reach the heart.

Typically, the concern of cholesterol isn’t from eggs themselves, but from the types of foods that are eaten with eggs – like ham, bacon, biscuits and gravy, and the oils used to cook these items. These foods generally contain more trans and saturated fatty acids, contributing to elevated overall blood cholesterol and possibly leading to heart disease and other related diseases. 

Eggs, the yolk in particular, are packed with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. They’re rich in choline, which is needed for brain and heart health, plus vitamin D, vitamin B12, and many others.

One large egg contains all nine essential amino acids (the amino acids we require from our diet because our body cannot produce them), and around 6 grams of high-quality protein. The yolks of eggs produced in the United States contain large amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin compared with other common dietary sources of carotenoids. These carotenoids may play a role in the prevention of age-related macular degeneration and even some forms of cancer.

Learn to decipher common labeling used on eggs and how to choose healthy eggs. 

That being said, if you’re sensitive to dietary cholesterol or have diabetes, you do need to monitor your intake of dietary cholesterol. Seeing that one egg has nearly 185mg of cholesterol, those wanting to control their intake should limit their daily egg yolk consumption.

  1. Fat-Free Foods Are Better For You

WRONG! Fat-free generally means more chemicals, more sugar, and certainly not lower calories. When fat is removed from a food, the taste is altered… which is why manufacturers add more sugar, chemicals, salt, flour, and thickeners for compensation. 

This is currently one of the health fads people are still falling for. It’s ironic that the normal (and even “full-fat”) versions of food are much healthier because they lack the unnecessary added ingredients. Fat is considered energy dense. It has 9 calories per gram, and can keep you full longer.

Consumption of healthy fats is extremely beneficial to your diet.

It’s encouraged to eat moderate amounts of healthy fats from foods like salmon, nuts, seeds, and oils. Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and can be found in fatty fish like salmon and tuna, walnuts, flaxseed, eggs and vegetable oils. These PUFAs may help lower cholesterol levels and support heart health. Monounsaturated fats improve cholesterol, while decreasing risk for heart disease. Foods rich in monounsaturated fats include nuts, oils, avocado and peanut butter. 

The type of fat we should be worried about and try to avoid at all costs is trans fatty acids. These have been scientifically proven to elevate LDL cholesterol, decrease HDL cholesterol and increase risk of heart disease and stroke. Saturated fats like those found in coconut oil are also ones we want to limit in our diet. The RDA recommends that saturated fats be below 7% of your total daily calories.

Check labels before buying any fat-free products to make sure they aren’t loaded with artificial chemicals and fillers, and have fewer calories than the regular or full-fat alternative. An easier alternative, however, would be to avoid fat-free products in general and learn to love healthy fats! 

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Incorporate healthy fats into your diet with this antioxidant rich Avocado Grapefruit salad! 

 

  1. The Darker The Bread, The Healthier It Is 

Doesn’t this seem like it should be true? You would think! 

Unfortunately, food manufacturers do an incredible job at making people believe darker is better simply by adding caramel food coloring to their conventional white bread. This is when reading the ingredients list on the Nutrition Facts panel is essential before making the mistake of buying a bread that’s chock-full of chemicals, additives and excess sugars. 

I recently went to the grocery store to pick up a loaf of bread and got caught up reading paragraphs upon paragraphs of ingredients listed for each brand, added sugars being high on the list. 

Breads simply claiming “wheat” imply a white bread with added caramel coloring or molasses to alter the appearance. Look for breads indicating they are "100% whole wheat" or "100% whole grain" in order to reap the benefits of a higher fiber, potassium, magnesium and selenium content. Most conventional white breads are highly processed and filled with fast carbs, which are digested very quickly, leave you feeling hungry soon after and can keep your blood sugar elevated. 

The glycemic index (GI) measures carbohydrates based on how much they raise blood sugar levels after eating. As previously described, processed foods tend to land higher on the glycemic index scale, since they are rapidly digested and raise blood sugar. Low-GI foods are slowly digested and absorbed, better controlling appetite and hunger. These foods offer a steady rise in blood sugar. The particular ingredients used and the way they’re processed in the preparation of bread determine how it’s metabolized in the body. 

Sourdough, for example, is made with lactic acid and wild yeast, resulting in low simple sugars and high lactic acid content. This type of bread has a low glycemic index compared to other varieties of breads. 

  1. Foods Labeled “Natural” Are More Healthy

Cut out carbs,” “fat makes you fat,” “gluten-free for weight loss.” All misleading claims made in the media in order to increase sales and dupe consumers.

The term “natural” is merely another misleading claim stamped on food products to make more money. You’d think by seeing this term on a packaged item, you would feel confident in buying a product free of artificial ingredients and GMOs. 

But the United States Department of Agriculture doesn’t even have a definition for the word, “natural,” which gives companies the go-ahead to put it on their products without any rules or regulations attached. This indicates that “natural” products are allowed to contain antibiotics, growth hormones, chemicals and even GMOs. No inspections are conducted at the time of slaughter for meats and producers are not required to be 'certified' in order to label their products “natural.” Even the FDA has yet to clarify whether or not the term “natural” addresses the use of pesticides, thermal technologies, pasteurization or irradiation. 

Do you think there’s a difference between “natural” and “all-natural?” Not a chance. It’s just another hoax for manufacturers to make more money and have people believe they’re buying a healthier product than what it really is.

Instead of choosing “natural” packaged items at the store, choose “organic.”

Organic production practices focus on renewable resources, conservation of soil and water, and avoid most synthetic materials like pesticides and antibiotics.

Unlike “natural” foods, organic foods are backed by standards that farmers are required to follow in order to have their products and produce considered “organic.” These standards include: soil and water quality, pest control, livestock practices, and rules for food additives.

This term "organic" is actively regulated by the USDA and ensures that they are made without pesticides, growth hormones, synthetic fertilizers and antibiotics. 

So, when choosing between two products at the grocery store, go for organic! Organic foods are more controlled and have additional policies in place allowing them to use the term. An even better way to avoid confusion with labels is to choose whole foods instead of packaged items.