5 Food Myths, Busted
Think you're savvy about healthy eating? Well, some of what you "know" about food may be mere folklore. Bergen Health & Life consulted diet experts about a number of widespread beliefs, and these five turned out to be bogus.
Frozen veggies are less nutritious than fresh. Foods begin to lose their nutritional value the minute they're picked. "Nutrients are degraded by air, heat and time," says Joan Salge Blake, clinical associate professor of nutrition at Boston University. Most "fresh" foods have lost much of their worth by the time they reach our plates.
Flash-freezing, however, retains nutrients at their peak, as well as antioxidants and other beneficial plant chemicals, says nutrition specialist Christine Gerbstadt, M.D., of Sarasota, Florida. "Eating local" is the best way to eat fresh.
"Most studies have looked at a 10 to 14-day lag time between harvesting and testing," says Stephanie DiBacco, assistant professor of nutrition at Russell Sage College in Albany, N.Y. "If you're eating local food sooner than that, it will have almost as much nutrition as flash-frozen."
Bananas are fattening. We've long known bananas are a rich potassium source, but they also have a reputation for being high in sugar and therefore a threat to one's waistline. That's a bum rap, say our experts.
"Fruit's not fattening," says Blake. "It's the added sugar in processed foods like soft drinks and baked goods that adds unnecessary calories. A banana is a great source of Mother Nature's finest nutrition."
Dr. Gerbstadt agrees: "One banana is packed with nutrition and worth every calorie. Bananas are a terrific way for active people to replenish glycogen stores and get a quick energy boost."
6 mini-meals are better than three big ones. "I was always a proponent of eating small meals, but the evidence just doesn't show the practice to make a difference in maintaining a healthy weight," DiBacco says. Rather, it's the total number of calories-not how you spread them out-that counts.
Dr. Gerbstadt agrees: "If the calories are the same, meal frequency is really a matter of lifestyle choice," she says.
What is important: not skipping breakfast. "Studies show that women who miss breakfast do more impulse snacking," says Blake. "When snacking is unplanned, you're vulnerable to whatever food is around when you get hungry, such as donuts at a meeting. When you plan your meals, you can snack on things like fruits and nuts on your schedule."
Foods like celery have "negative calories." You may have heard that some foods are so low-cal that the energy it takes to chew and digest them more than makes up for the calories they contain.
But the truth is that nothing you eat can subtract calories. "It takes about 10 percent of the calories in any food for the body to digest, absorb and use its nutrients, a process often called 'specific dynamic action' or 'thermic effect,' " explains Dr. Gerbstadt. "A food like celery has only a few calories per stalk to begin with, but no matter how vigorously you chew, those calories never reach zero or become a negative number."
Nonetheless, crisp and fiber-rich foods are wise choices for a healthy diet. "They fill you up without a lot of calories," says DiBacco.
Cooking vegetables lessens all their nutrients. While it's true that water-soluble vitamins like B and C diminish when cooked in water, fiber and minerals are not affected by cooking. "And fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K actually do better in heat," says DiBacco. So do the anti-oxidant properties of the nutrient lycopene, found in tomatoes.
"You can minimize nutrient loss by steaming or boiling for a short time in a covered pot with a small amount of water," says Blake. "Even better, try microwaving, grilling or roasting your veggies to maintain more nutrient value." No matter how you cook them, vegetables are a key component of a sound diet.
"The bottom line," Dr. Gerbstadt says, "is that we all should eat four to five servings a day of vegetables from a variety of choices for optimal health."
Pick nuts instead of chips for between-meal munching. "They're high in fiber and protein, with heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats," says dietician Angela Langner of the Nutrition Center of Bergen County in Englewood.