When it comes to nutrition, sometimes it's hard to tell the fact from the fiction. Certain foods get a reputation as "bad for you," whereas others get promoted as "natural" or "good for you" when they are really not.
Sometimes myths about foods are based on urban legends that just get perpetuated for years until we actually believe they are research-based. Other myths are based on old research that was not done in a scientific manner. Whatever the reason, here are some claims around a few popular foods that need to be debunked.
1. Cheese is bad for you
I hear this one every day of the week. The answer lies in the type of cheese you eat. There is packaged, processed cheese and then there is artisan/European and grass-fed cheese. The European/grass-fed cheese is higher in omega-3 fats (anti-inflammatory) fats that are good for you. Cheese is also a good source of protein and calcium. Eating cheese from cows that have been fed growth hormones and antibiotics, and that contains multiple ingredients, fits the myth and should be avoided. You can find imported European cheese in the deli section of your grocery store.
2. Eggs make your cholesterol go up
It's beyond interesting to me that many people will avoid an egg yolk but will eat several packaged cookies during the day! Long-term studies found no relationship between egg consumption and heart disease. Studies do consistently link heart disease with a higher intake of trans fat, which is used in packaged foods to increase shelf life. However, the fat in eggs is mostly polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, and the yolk is an excellent source of the antioxidant lutein, which can lower certain inflammatory responses in the body. Eggs easily fit into a healthy lifestyle, so enjoy an omelet for breakfast and see how satisfied you are the rest of the day.
3. Drinking juice is healthy and a good way to get your fruit
Many people love their morning juice! But experts say drinking juice is equal to the same amount of sugar as drinking a glass of soda. Dr. Charles Billington, a researcher on obesity at the University of Minnesota, states that juice is "pretty much the same as sugar water." Think of all the oranges or apples you would have to squeeze to obtain a cup of juice. You are drinking all the sugar from the juice, minus the fiber that helps stabilize your blood sugar when eating the fruit. Skip the juice and eat a few pieces of fruit per day to improve your health.
4. Avoid avocados since they have too much fat
Avocados do contain fat, but it is the healthy monounsaturated kind, which does amazing things in your body. This is a food you want to include as part of your daily diet. Eating avocados can help with increasing the HDL (the happy kind of cholesterol), which you want higher since it helps with lowering heart disease by getting rid of bad cholesterol. Also, having healthy fats in your diet assists your health in multiple ways, including helping your skin and hair stay healthy and vibrant, providing adequate lubrication for the gut to help with normal digestion and absorption, and assisting with making hormones essential to the manufacture of sex hormones.
5. Agave is a natural sweetener
Agave, which comes from the cactus and has been used to make tequila, hit the market a few years ago. You can find agave as a sweetener in most products found in health food stores... but is it really a health product?
Using high-fructose corn syrup is a cheap way to sweeten foods. It was developed to help food companies cut costs. Whereas real sugar is 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose, high-fructose corn syrup is approximately 45 percent glucose and 55 fructose, and not the natural kind like in fruit. With agave, the percentages are altered more significantly -- the syrup is 85-90 percent fructose and 10-15 percent glucose. When you consume a large percentage of this type of fructose, it gets processed directly by your liver, which not only increases your triglyceride levels, but causes fatty liver, increased hunger levels and a plethora of other health issues you would rather avoid. The agave plant goes through heavy processing in order to concentrate it into a sweet syrup. Rather than being natural, as we've been led to believe, it is actually a processed food, often with few quality controls.
As with everything diet-related, moderation is key, but don't be afraid to add European-style cheese, eggs and avocado to your shopping list. Drop the juice, add some fruit instead, and use honey instead of agave to sweeten your morning beverage. The result? A delicious, satisfying breakfast and a healthier you!
Susan is the author of "A Recipe for Life by the Doctor's Dietitian." Her new book "Healthy You, Healthy Baby: A mother's guide to gestational diabetes" will be out in June 2012. For more information, visit susandopart.com.
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Flickr photo by Ella es Tanya