Nutrition myths that won't quit

June 1, 2014 in Leslie's Featured Content

Nutrition myths that won't quit

Avoid baby carrots. Drink eight glasses of water each day. Load up on protein after a workout. Stay away from bread.

We get a lot of nutrition advice from friends, family members, the internet and health professionals. Some of it's good, some is questionable, and some is just downright wrong and drives me crazy. If you're thinking about adopting some of the habits below, keep reading to separate nutrition fact from fiction.

Myth: Carbohydrates make you fat

Despite the crash of the low carb diet a decade ago, this myth still persists: bread, cereal, pasta, and rice make you fat. Carbohydrates don't make you fat.  Excess calories - whether from protein, fat or carbohydrates - cause weight gain.

Your muscles and brain rely on carbohydrates for energy. What's more, plenty of research has found that a regular intake of whole grains helps guard against heart disease and type 2 diabetes. 

Limit refined sugars and white starches, carbohydrates that are quickly digested and leave you feeling hungry sooner.  Include whole grains at meals - just watch your portion size.

Myth: Eating frequent mini meals speeds up metabolism

The theory: eating five or six small meals of equal size each day (e.g. grazing) will help your body burn more calories and fat compared to eating three square meals. 

However, despite years of research there's no consensus on which meal pattern is best for boosting metabolism.  In fact, most studies have shown that eating frequency has no effect on a person's overall metabolic rate.

Whether you eat three meals or six, weight loss comes down to how many calories you consume. My advice: divide your day's worth of calories into three meals and two snacks to keep your blood sugar stable and prevent becoming overly hungry and overeating.

Myth: A high protein diet builds muscle

It's true that athletes have higher protein requirements than sedentary people.  Extra protein is needed to repair muscle damage that occurs during exercise and to support muscle building.

But if you workout, you don't need to resort to an Atkins-style diet - or fill up on protein shakes - to get the extra protein you need. Studies show that most athletes can easily meet their daily protein requirements from a mixed diet. 

If you're trying to build muscle mass, increasing your protein intake beyond the recommended level won't build bigger muscles since there's a limit to the rate at which protein can be synthesized into muscle.

Unlike carbohydrate and fat, the body can't store protein. The excess will either be burned for energy or, if you're getting the calories you need, it will be tucked away as fat.

Myth: You need 8 glasses of water each day

Yes, water is an essential nutrient.  Your body needs it to regulate its temperature, transport nutrients to cells, keep your skin moist and cushion your joints.

And you must replace what your body loses every day. (The average adult loses roughly 2.5 litres of water each day just by breathing, sweating, and excreting wastes. Exercise, hot temperatures and humidity cause your body to lose even more.)

According to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences adult males need to drink 13 cups (3 litres) of water each day; women require 9 cups (2.2 litres).  But all beverages - excluding alcoholic beverages - count towards your daily water requirements. Water, fruit juice, milk, soy beverages, soft drinks, even coffee and tea help keep you hydrated.

So you can relax with the water bottle. You don't need to drink eight glasses of water on top of everything else you drink.

Myth: Drinking milk prevents osteoporosis

As a dietitian in private practice, I often hear clients express surprise when they learn they have low bone mass or osteoporosis, despite a lifetime of drinking milk.

Calcium - from dairy and other foods - is critical for developing strong bones and delaying age-related bone loss. No argument there. But it takes more than meeting your daily calcium needs to protect your bones from osteoporosis.

A diet that supplies - in addition to calcium -  adequate protein, vitamin D, vitamin K and magnesium along with regular weight bearing exercise (e.g. brisk walking, jogging, weight training) plays an important role in maintaining strong bones.

Myth: Baby carrots are soaked in chlorine and are toxic

This email has been circulating for months now. Yes, it's true that chlorine is used to process baby carrots. It's used to prevent the spread of bacteria that cause food poisoning. 

But the trace amount used to keep the carrots, processing water and processing equipment sanitary is regulated by the U.S. FDA and comparable to the residual amount that's acceptable in drinking water. What's more, the chlorinated water is rinsed off before the carrots are packed. 

Much of the pre-packaged produce we consume such as bagged salads and ready-to-eat fresh vegetables have been treated with chorine to protect you from foodbourne illness.

The fact that baby carrots turn a whitish colour is not the result of chlorine "resurfacing".  The whitening is completely natural; it's simply the result of moisture loss that occurs because the outer peel has been removed.  Baby carrots would turn white with or without the use of chlorine.

Myth: Fresh vegetables are more nutritious than frozen

Fresh produce may not be as fresh as you think.  By the time it travels from farm to supermarket to your dinner plate, a few weeks may have passed during which time nutrients are lost.

Research has shown that many frozen vegetables (and fruits) rival or outshine fresh as a source of vitamins and minerals. That's because processing and packaging takes place almost immediately after harvest, locking in more nutrients. 

When fresh produce is out of season, or out of your price range, frozen is a good alternatives to have on hand. Just stay clear of brands with added salt.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.