Did you know that some of the nutrition “truths” we hear are actually more myth than fact? Here are the real stories behind four of the most common healthy-eating misconceptions.
Myth 1: Eating before bed will make you gain weight.
Truth: While a large meal right before bed may cause weight gain, having a small snack might be a different story.
In one study, some participants ate a small bowl of cereal before bed and some didn’t. Those who ate before bed actually lost weight and were less hungry the following morning.
There’s even some evidence that poor sleep is more likely to cause weight gain than the timing of our meals. Sleep seems to have its own effects on metabolism and body weight, regardless of what, and when, we eat.
While we need more research before we completely toss this myth out, research suggests that a small bedtime snack might be a good idea.
Myth 2: Gluten is bad for you.
Truth: Most healthy people don’t need to avoid gluten.
Among the people who do really need to avoid it are those with gluten intolerance or celiac disease. A gluten-free (GF) diet may also help people with certain autoimmune disorders, including psoriasis and lupus. For the rest of us, gluten is not the enemy.
When people avoid gluten, they also tend to subtract fiber and whole grains from their diets. Fiber is a necessary fuel for a healthy microbiome. Adequate intake of whole grains, including wheat sources, can reduce the risk of colon cancer and Type 2 diabetes. Whole grains in GF foods are often replaced with fat, sugar and/or highly processed and unfortified gluten-free grains.
For most people, the healthiest choice is to eat a variety of whole grains rather than hiding from gluten.
Myth 3: All processed foods are bad for you.
Truth: Minimal processing transforms foods into more convenient forms that are still nutritious.
Processed foods get a bad rap, and some of them rightfully so. Processed foods may contain fewer vitamins and minerals than their whole counterparts. Lengthy ingredient lists may include high amounts of sugar and salt. Consider, for example, corn on the cob compared to its distant relative, the corn puff. The corn puff bears little resemblance to corn, and far fewer nutritional benefits.
Some other types of processing offer health benefits. For example, pasteurized milk allows us to safely consume dairy products hundreds of miles from a farm. Pre-washed and chopped salad greens make a great base for a quick, nutritious lunch. Chopped walnuts save us hours of tedious nut cracking.
A good guideline is to choose minimally processed foods whenever possible, like already-prepped greens or chopped nuts. They can help save you time in the kitchen while still providing plenty of healthy nutrients.
Myth 4: If you don’t like your veggies, take a vitamin.
Truth: Nutrients work together in food to provide benefits beyond what you get from a vitamin.
The nutrients in food work synergistically. This means choosing a variety of foods in their whole forms helps boost the nutrition of what we eat more than vitamins can. The nutrients found naturally in our food are often present in the right doses and combinations we need for health. For example, consider broccoli. Each bite of broccoli includes fiber, antioxidants and strong anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer molecules. You cannot replace or replicate that combination with supplements.
One popular supplement on the rise is fish oil, which is often recommended for people with heart disease. Unfortunately, fish oil has not been shown to convincingly reduce the risk of heart attacks. But eating fish does make for a healthier heart.
Is there a healthy food you just don’t like? Get creative and keep tasting it in different ways. In time you may learn to prefer it over your gummy vitamin.