THE BLOG
05/01/2014 08:50 am ET Updated Jul 01, 2014

Top 5 Food Facts vs. Fiction

In a recent individualized nutrition counseling session, I was discussing the evidence and science behind many of the eating habits my client was practicing. When I finished explaining the facts, she looked at me in a state of shock. "So the evidence is totally opposite of what everyone else, even my family, says!" She was alarmed that the information she was receiving from the media, friends, family and other outside sources was not evidence-based and yet still so rampant.

Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. Many Americans are looking for quick fixes to health and nutrition concerns and are eager to put faith in theories and diets that promise rapid rewards rather than seeking the facts.

Many food and nutrition theories present in society make sense at first glance. The promoters take time to explain the premise behind the idea and throw in scientific jargon to sound official. Basing our nutrition and health practices on theory rather than fact, is an outdated and dangerous practice. Prior to the 1990s, health care was theory-focused. Decisions were made based on whether or not an idea made sense. Beginning in the 1990s, it was determined that the theories should be tested through research trials and existing studies reviewed. Some theories proved to be true while others proved to be false. As a result, health care practitioners began to adopt evidence-based practice rather than theory-based.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, "Evidence-Based Dietetics Practice is the use of systematically reviewed scientific evidence in making food and nutrition practice decisions by integrating best available evidence with professional expertise and client values to improve outcomes." The public's view on nutrition continues to rely on theory rather than evidence.

Most Americans get their nutrition information from television, magazines and the Internet, according to a survey entitled "Nutrition and You: Trends 2011," rather than from the nutrition experts, registered dietitians. As a result, fad diets and food and nutrition ideas that sound good but aren't evidence-based spread exponentially to Americans through the media. This leads to a massive amount of nutrition misinformation in the public.

Here are the facts on the top five nutrition fads I hear about from clients:

1) Is fruit bad?
Many people avoid fruit in order to reduce their calorie intake
and to avoid sugar. However, the truth is that the sugar in fruit is not added sugar. It is naturally occurring fructose. Added sugars like table sugar are linked to negative health outcomes. Fruit on the other hand is linked to positive health outcomes.

2) Can I still eat dessert and be healthy?
Yes! The fact is that moderation, not elimination, is the key to a healthful diet. Eliminating a desired food completely can often lead to feelings of deprivation that drive one to binge and over consume the "forbidden food." Instead, practice eating everything in moderation.

3) Is "low-carb" the best diet?
While a low-carbohydrate diet does result in initial weight loss, it does not offer long term weight loss. Instead, focus on eating a variety of foods focused on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean whole grains low-fat dairy and healthy fats.

4) Is coconut oil the best oil?
Coconut oil is getting a lot of attention recently. However, don't be fooled! Coconut oil has saturated fat which the American Heart Association recommends limiting to reduce your risk of heart disease. Use olive or canola oil instead, which have healthy unsaturated fats.

5) Should I choose almond milk instead of other milks?
Milk is a nutritious beverage that is part of a healthy lifestyle due to its nutrient contents. Cow's milk is packed with calcium, vitamin D and other nutrients. While almond milk can be fortified with the same nutrients, it does not contain the same amount of protein that cow's milk does. If you are lactose intolerant, opt for lactose-free milk. Or if you prefer not to drink cow's milk, try soy milk.

Given the enormous amount of nutrition trends present in society that are not evidence-based, it is understandable that my client was shocked to realize the nutrition information she was following was the exact opposite of what research supports. Luckily, she sought the advice of a registered dietitian who was able to navigate nutrition fact from fiction.

Don't be fooled by big talk with scientific terms thrown in! Instead, rely on evidence-based nutrition information and reliable nutrition information sources backed by registered dietitians to help you differentiate nutrition fact from fiction.

Sources:
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, www.eatright.org.

Alberts HJ, Thewissen R, Raes L. Dealing with problematic eating behaviour. The effects of a mindfulness-based intervention on eating behaviour, food cravings, dichotomous thinking and body image concern. Appetite. 2012;58(3):847-851.

Byrne SM, Cooper Z, Fairburn CG. Psychological predictors of weight regain in obesity. Behav Res Ther. 2004;42(11):1341-1356.

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