By Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN
On this April Fools day, don’t be fooled by these 7 commonly mistaken food and exercise myths:
1. Foods that contain fat will make you fat.
This is one of the biggest myths out there. Just because a food contains fat, does not mean that it will necessarily make you fat. In reality, anything consumed in excess can contribute to weight gain.
Foods that contain healthy fat, like avocados, healthy oils, and nuts and seeds are not only great for their anti-inflammatory properties, but are also great tools for improving satiety and aiding in the promotion of balanced blood sugar. Healthy fat causes your stomach to empty more slowly, which can help prevent blood sugar spikes and surges leaving you tired and hungry.
Of course, as with anything else, portion size is important for weight maintenance. Fat-containing foods tend to be more calorie-dense than other foods, so learning your portion sizes can be beneficial when it comes to keeping your waistline whittled. To help you out, here are portion sizes and calories of some our favorite healthy fats. If you want to consume less calories, just make them smaller because you will still reap the benefits:
2. Eating dairy products is the only way to get your calcium.
Wrong! Unless you’re a child between the ages of 1-2. For children under the age of two, they need the calories, fat, and other nutrients in whole milk; however, for the rest of us, we can get our calcium from plenty of non-dairy sources.
Four great non-dairy sources of calcium, include green leafy vegetables (see our list of top 5 below), non-dairy nut/seed milks that are fortified with calcium such as almond, coconut, and hemp milks, whole nuts and seeds (see our list of nuts/seeds rich in calcium), and occasional soy (think tofu and edamame). When it comes to purchasing non-dairy milks, they’re not all fortified with calcium, but it’s very easy to find those that are. To check if your favorite non-dairy milk carton contains extra calcium, check the front label for an indication of fortification, or turn over and seek out “Calcium” under the nutrition facts. Any milk that is fortified will have ~40% Daily Value (DV) or more of calcium listed in the nutrition facts.
The list of vegetables below, provide a less bio-available source of calcium than dairy or fortified products, so you may need to eat slightly more to give your body the necessary amount of calcium (~1000 mg/daily for most adults). Note: When possible steam vegetables instead of boiling them as many nutrients can be leached into the water and then lost when the water is disposed.
3. Brown foods are healthier for you than white foods.
True in some cases, but definitely not in all. In the plant-based world, we have both brown and white foods that provide many health benefits; to name a few– brown rice, nuts and seeds, teff, buckwheat, quinoa, cauliflower, and coconut. See some famous food feuds, brown vs white below to see which is healthier.
Brown rice vs white rice:
This one is almost a dead giveaway, but as you may have guessed in this case, yes brown rice provides more health benefits than white rice does. Brown rice is equipped with some of the original outer shelling on the grain, which means it’s higher in fiber, magnesium, and slightly higher in iron; overall, there is a place for both of them and regardless of their health benefits, should be consumed in moderation just like everything else.
Brown sugar vs white sugar:
This is one of our myth busters – both are equally as unhealthful, and neither one is better than the other. Sure, sometimes there’s a “raw” label on the front of the packaging, but this really doesn’t mean that one is better than the other. Try to limit consumption of both white and brown sugars, and instead go for all-natural sugars like those found in fruits.
Whole wheat vs white bread:
Though most of the time this one isn’t a myth, it unfortunately can be true that white bread may be healthier than some pre-packaged brown breads. In some cases “whole wheat” brown bread can have ingredients that include corn syrup, added artificial colorings and flavors and a whole lot of salt. In comparison, if you’re making a loaf of bread at home or making a freshly baked sour dough loaf, you’ll find that the white bread in this case is better for you than the whole wheat bread.
The lesson learned here is to read your labels. Try to find the whole wheat bread with the most fiber (4-5 g per serving) and protein (>3 g per serving), without added corn syrups, fillers or anything made in a laboratory. To go even one step further, try substituting breads for grains, like quinoa, teff and other whole grains that provide healthy minerals, micronutrients, and are good sources of protein and fiber. You always want to try to find and eat foods as close to their plant-based origin as possible. Be a savvy consumer and read your labels, and don’t believe everything you hear in the media.
4. Eating cruciferous vegetables is bad for your thyroid.
This statement is true, only if you have hypothyroidism or another thyroid condition. However, for those with a healthy thyroid, this statement is not true. When consumed in moderation (like anything else), cruciferous vegetables that include cauliflower, broccoli, kale, spinach, and cabbage to name a few, are extremely nutrient-rich. Cruciferous vegetables are also a great source of fiber, which has been shown to help decrease colon cancer risk.
If you have hypothyroidism or another thyroid issue, it is recommended that you limit your intake of cruciferous vegetables to 1-2 times per week. Instead of using cruciferous (also called goitrogenic) vegetables, here is a list of non-goitrogenic vegetables that you can use to substitute:
5. Taking a handful of supplements and vitamins every day will improve health.
This one is most often false, except when it comes to a few nutrients that are difficult to get from whole foods. These nutrients include fish oil/omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D, vitamin B12 for vegetarians or vegans or those with a deficiency, and probiotics for some. Besides the aforementioned few vitamins and minerals, it is always best to get your nutrients from whole fruits and vegetables and other plant-based foods. When consumed through foods, your body is able to pick and choose which nutrients it wants to absorb, and which it wants to excrete. Unfortunately, the effect when taking supplements isn’t quite the same as our bodies don’t have the ability to carefully select what it wants to keep versus excrete. Like most things, more isn’t necessarily better, so taking vitamins can give you too much of certain nutrients over time, which may have adverse health effects.
The take home? Vary your vegetables, go for mostly plant-based, and if you’re worried about a deficiency, check in with your MD.
6. Exercise isn’t exercise unless you go to the gym.
This one is definitely a myth. Exercise spans a wide definition of activities from cleaning your house to doing a high intensity bout of running sprints. Though the definition is wide, one thing is for certain, a gym isn’t required to call it exercise. Exercise is a subjective activity, meaning it has different meaning to each and every one of us. Whatever it means to you, do your best to get more active each day. Including some of the following activities can make getting more movement in your day easier.
7. Eating fewer calories will make me lose weight more quickly.
This one is true to a certain point, as portion control and calorie reduction are healthful activities that can help promote weight loss to a certain point. Beyond that point (around 1,200 calories per day), cutting calories may not help promote weight loss. Our bodies are extremely good at withstanding change and at resisting any kind of famine-like environment. Thousands of years ago, famines were real events, and our bodies were able to hold on to calories and fat then to prevent starvation. Now, in this day and age, famines are a rare occurrence for most, but our genetics haven’t changed all that much; so, we’re able to retain and maintain our weight for the most part in the event of a “famine-like” scenario due to our pre-programmed genetics from thousands of years ago.
The take home? Fill up on small meals and snacks, made mostly of vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fat 4-6 times per day. This kind of eating pattern helps to keep your metabolism revved, keeps our brains knowing food is coming, and also helps to maintain steady blood sugar, which prevents sugar spikes and dips leading to hunger. Overall, this type of eating pattern can be helpful with weight loss, particularly if you are careful with your portion sizes, and choose foods that are high in nutrients and fiber but lower in calories, like vegetables.