The other day while I was making zucchini bread, I cracked an egg and dumped it right down the drain. Total mistake. (With a baby who still wakes up multiple times a night, I’m still a little sleep deprived.) There was a time, however, when I intentionally washed egg yolks down the drain—and used only the whites—because I thought that egg yolks were bad for my heart.
Here are the details of why you should go ahead and eat the yolks, plus highlights of other food myths that just won’t die.
The Truth: Eggs do contain a substantial amount of cholesterol in their yolks—about 211 mg per large egg. And yes, cholesterol is the fatty stuff in our blood that contributes to clogged arteries and heart attacks. But labeling eggs as “bad for your heart” is connecting the wrong dots, experts say. “Epidemiologic studies show that most healthy people can eat an egg a day without problems,” says Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., R.D., distinguished professor of nutrition at Penn State University. For most of us the cholesterol we eat doesn’t have a huge impact on raising our blood cholesterol; the body simply compensates by manufacturing less cholesterol itself. Saturated and trans fats have much greater impact on raising blood cholesterol. And a large egg contains only 2 grams of saturated fat and no trans fats. The American Heart Association recommends limiting cholesterol intake to less than 300 mg daily—less than 200 mg if you have a history of heart problems or diabetes or are over 55 (women) or 45 (men). “That works out to less than an egg a day for this population—more like two eggs over the course of the week,” notes Kris-Etherton. Related: Two Dozen Easy, Healthy Egg Recipes
The Truth: The idea that high-fructose corn syrup is any more harmful to your health than sugar is “one of those urban myths that sounds right but is basically wrong,” according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a health advocacy group. The composition of high-fructose corn syrup is almost identical to table sugar or sucrose (55 percent fructose, 45 percent glucose and 50:50, respectively). Calorie-wise, HFCS is a dead ringer for sucrose. Studies show that HFCS and sucrose have very similar effects on blood levels of insulin, glucose, triglycerides and satiety hormones. In short, it seems to be no worse—but also no better—than sucrose, or table sugar. This controversy, say researchers, is distracting us from the more important issue: we’re eating too much of all sorts of sugars, from HFCS and sucrose to honey and molasses. The American Heart Association recently recommended that women consume no more than 100 calories a day in added sugars [6 teaspoons]; men, 150 calories [9 teaspoons]. Related: Delicious Desserts with Surprisingly Low Added Sugars
The Truth: “Raw foods are unprocessed so nothing’s taken away; you don’t get the nutrient losses that come with cooking,” says Brenda Davis, R.D., co-author of Becoming Raw: The Essential Guide to Raw Vegan Diets (Book Publishing, 2010). But the claim by some raw-food advocates that eating raw boosts digestion by preserving “vital” plant enzymes, Davis explains, just doesn’t hold water. “Those enzymes are made for the survival of plants; for human health, they are not essential.” What about the claim by some raw-foodistas that our bodies have a limited lifetime supply of enzymes—and that by eating more foods with their enzymes intact, we’ll be able to spare our bodies from using up their supply? “The reality is that you don’t really have a finite number of enzymes; you’ll continue to make enzymes as long as you live,” says Davis. Enzymes are so vital to life, she adds, “the human body is actually quite efficient at producing them.” (Photo from Flickr: ilovemypit)
The Truth: Proteins—which our bodies need to make everything from new muscle to hormones—are made up of different combinations of 20 amino acids. Thing is, our bodies can make only 11 of these amino acids; we must get the other nine from food. Animal-based protein-rich foods like eggs and meat provide all nine of these “essential” amino acids, but nearly all plant foods are low in at least one. Experts used to say that to get what your body needs to make proteins, you should pair plant-based foods with complementary sets of amino acids—like rice and beans. Now they know that you don’t have to eat those foods at the same meal. “If you get a variety of foods throughout the day, they all go into the ‘basket’ of amino acids that are available for the body to use,” says Winston J. Craig, Ph.D., R.D., nutrition department chair at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Related: Cheap, Quick Dinners Using Canned Beans (Photo from Flickr: Stuti ~)
The Truth: This is misguided thinking, says Carol Byrd-Bredbenner, Ph.D., R.D., professor of nutrition at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Whether you’re using a microwave, a charcoal grill or a solar-heated stove, “it’s the heat and the amount of time you’re cooking that affect nutrient losses, not the cooking method,” she says. “The longer and hotter you cook a food, the more you’ll lose certain heat- and water-sensitive nutrients, especially vitamin C and thiamin [a B vitamin].” Because microwave cooking often cooks foods more quickly, it can actually help to minimize nutrient losses. Related: How to Cook 20 Vegetables
The Truth: “Radiation” might connote images of nuclear plants, but it simply refers to energy that travels in waves and spreads out as it goes. Microwaves, radio waves and the energy waves that we perceive as visual light all are forms of radiation. So, too, are X-rays and gamma rays—which do pose health concerns. But the microwaves used to cook foods are many, many times weaker than X-rays and gamma rays, says Robert Brackett, Ph.D., director of the National Center for Food Safety and Technology at the Illinois Institute of Technology. And the types of changes that occur in microwaved food as it cooks are “from heat generated inside the food, not the microwaves themselves,” says Brackett. “Microwave cooking is really no different from any other cooking method that applies heat to food.” That said, microwaving in some plastics may leach compounds into your food, so take care to use only microwave-safe containers. Related: 12 Foods You Should Buy Organic
More Food Myths Busted:
- It's important to fast periodically, to cleanse toxins from your body.
- I have a weight problem because I eat foods like wheat or dairy that my body can't process.
- You crave certain foods because you're deficient in one of the nutrients they provide.
- Grazing on mini meals throughout the day keeps your metabolism stoked and helps you control your weight better than eating fewer, larger meals.
- Carbohydrates make you fat.
- Anyone can benefit from a gluten-free diet: it can give you more energy and even treat autism.
- Calories eaten at night are more fattening than those eaten early in the day.
What food myth are you sick of hearing people defend?
By Nicci Micco
Nicci Micco is deputy editor of features and nutrition at EatingWell and co-author of EatingWell 500-Calorie Dinners. She has a master's degree in nutrition and food sciences, with a focus in weight management.
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