As a dietitian, I steer clear of saying that eating a particular food is 100 percent guaranteed to prevent a person's risk of disease, promote weight loss or result in health ramifications.
The fact is, nutrition science is always evolving, and what may appear to be good or bad today may not be the case tomorrow. That's the challenge -- and beauty -- of science, particularly in the field of nutrition. One of the most helpful things to me as a writer is reading the comments left by readers as well as interacting each and every day with patients. I am reminded that many fallacies exist in the world of food, many thoughts about particular diets that haven't been proven (or disproven) yet in studies and many opinions taken from sources that are not always reliable.
In the food world, there are strong opinions centered on "right" vs. "wrong" and "good" vs. "bad." Perhaps that is why new discoveries of certain food properties are rarely without controversy and debate. This article will probably make me unpopular with certain individuals that have devoted their dietary habits to at least one of these concepts, but remember, I'm just the messenger, and what I'm discussing in this article deals only with food and its effect on the body. While issues surrounding sustainability, environmental impact or supporting local agriculture are important and surely may impact nutritional quality, the body only knows how to process what you put in it. For example, honey that comes from your local farmer and honey that come from the big box store do the exact same thing to your blood sugar. Here are six food theories you may want to take a closer look at -- at least for now.
1. Organic is always better for your body.
Last week, I had a woman come to me to help with a sugar addiction problem. Upon reviewing her food diary, I noticed that every grain she ate was refined and stripped of all the wonderful things (like B vitamins, fiber and protein) that make grains great to begin with. She sat across from me and said, "Don't worry; I know I eat a lot of bread, but it's all organic." The truth is, organic foods can be fabulous but an organic label is not a green light to healthiness. You can buy organic cookies, ice cream, candy, cola, doughnuts and yes, white bread. While I'm not arguing that these foods may be better for you (if only slightly) than their non-organic counterparts, they are in no way "good" for you. I wrote an article about this last month, detailing the organic health halo concept that evoked a lot of conversation. It got people thinking about the issue and perhaps questioning whether their organic choices all made sense in terms of benefit to their body. My rule for patients is to focus on nutrient density first and the organic label on the front of the package second. That means, when it comes to organic foods, stick to the ones you want to buy, but don't assume that every organic choice in the grocery store of farmers market is actually good for your body.
2. GMOs hurt human health.
There are certain foods that, every time I mention them in an article, I get multiple comments that go like this "all (insert food such as corn and soy here) are GMO!" There has been a strong movement against genetically-modified foods, but the scientific truth is that we don't know yet if they are actually bad (or good) for human health. Let's first start with defining what a GMO is. According to the World Health Organization, GMO stands for genetically-modified organism, in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. The technology is often called "modern biotechnology" or "gene technology," sometimes also "recombinant DNA technology" or "genetic engineering." It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between non-related species. While GMOs are generally regarded as safe, further testing on each specific food will be needed to back up this notion of safety. In the meantime, if the thought of GMOs in your diet outweighs the science we're all waiting for, you can easily avoid foods that have GMOs by buying organic or by looking for the non-gmo label on the front of the food package. While I'm sure there will be much more research to come on this hot topic, for now, the jury is out on this one.
3. Your blood type predicts how you should eat
Struggling to keep your diet close to your blood type? I've got good news for you -- there's no such thing! A 2014 study in the journal PLoS ONE found no evidence that a person's diet had any interaction with his or her blood type. The lead author of the study commented that, "The way an individual responds to any one of these diets has absolutely nothing to do with their blood type and has everything to do with their ability to stick to a sensible vegetarian or low-carbohydrate diet." This wasn't the first study to debunk the blood type theory. A 2013 study also found no evidence supporting the blood type diet connection after review of 16 articles and almost 1,000 scientific references. Though several scientific articles have connected blood type to increased risk of heart disease, certain types of blood clots, and even risk of acquiring rotavirus, no strong studies have found evidence linking a connection with what we eat.
4. Diet soda causes weight gain
Consumption of sugary beverages such as soda is a driving force of obesity in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans risk of being overweight or obese can be significantly reduced by decreasing intake of sugar drinks and energy-dense foods that provide excessive calories. As awareness of the risks associated with sugary beverages expands, non-caloric sweeteners have become more attractive for weight loss. While there are five artificial sweeteners deemed safe by the United States Food and Drug Administration, many question the true benefits of these substances. A 2013 literature review analyzed the current evidence on diet sodas and the risk of obesity. The authors concluded that experimental studies indicate artificial sweeteners may be effective for weight loss but only when they replace calorically dense foods without compensation. There is some concern over the association of artificial sweeteners and risk of cancer in animals however the decreased risk of obesity and associated chronic diseases appears to outweigh an unproven link to cancer. If you drink sugar-sweetened beverages, it is best to transition to water, coffee, tea, and, until we know more, a diet cola every so often may not hurt your weight loss efforts.
5. Sugar is "bad" but honey is good
Sugar has gotten a lot of bad press lately -- and all of it is well deserved. Studies link excess sugar consumption to several chronic conditions including an increased risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and cancer. The problem with giving up sugar lies in the fact that sugar is everywhere . The American Heart Association as well as The World Health Organization has just suggested limitations of sugar sources in the diet as an attempt to significantly impact human health. Guess what, honey lovers and defenders, these guidelines apply to you too! While there is no doubt that honey has some amazing benefits to human health, such as the ability to fight off infections, the glycemic index of honey still rivals that of pure sugar, and though it's often sweeter than other sugars (which means you can eat less of it for the desired effect), it will still cause fluctuations in blood sugar and insulin. So have your honey, just don't have tons of it under the premise that it won't affect you the same way that every other type of sugar will because, as unpopular as this will come off -- it will.
6. Raw is superior 100 percent of the time
Proponents of raw food will tell you that the only way to protect vital nutrients and enzymes in food is to go raw, but for many foods, science would disagree. Despite the studies that point to harms of consuming certain raw foods like milk, many proponents of it still swear by a raw foods diet. As it turns out though, the raw revolution doesn't apply to all foods. In fact, many foods such as spinach and broccoli as well as green beans and carrots contain higher levels of available nutrients. Cooking often times enhances the bioavailability of important nutrients necessary for disease prevention and management. So be raw if you'd like, but if you're going for the maximum benefits to your health, learn which foods need heat and which don't.
It's important to always keep in mind the vast differences between strong studies vs. weak studies and how they impact scientific outcomes to specific foods. There are many aspects to our food environment, and our health outcomes are often based on a complex set of factors. In the current environment of over information, it's easy to get caught up in a food theory and dismiss all other opinions around us. Be choosy about what you follow and who you listen to and most importantly, never forget that an overall healthy diet, coupled with physical activity and stress management will always win over the latest food fad or theory.
Follow Kristin Kirkpatrick, M.S., R.D., L.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/KRISTINKIRKPAT