Nutritionist Stephanie McElhany was so fed up with some of the sub-optimal information about healthy food she wrote an opinion piece.

Common food myths exposed

We hope you enjoy the read as much as we did:

Low calorie diets

  1. Low calorie diet foods are the best option for those trying to lose weight.

It’s been said over and over again that when companies “remove” fat and calories from food, they’re adding other things we shouldn’t be eating, like excess salt and unnatural sweeteners.

It’s definitely true but there are other reasons to stay away from low calorie diet foods.

People who replace ‘normal’ food with the low calorie version often think they can indulge more because they can eat more of the diet stuff and still consume fewer calories.

They continue to eat large portions of their diet food and over time, they condition their brain to larger portion sizes. That works for a while but rarely do people stay on a low calorie diet.

Eventually, we all migrate back toward our old eating habits and since we’ve redefined our idea of portion sizes, we eat larger portions than we did before the diet. Before long we’ve gained back all the weight we lost. And then some.

Hence yo-yo dieting.

Instead of focusing on diet and low calorie food, find ways to reduce your caloric intake while still eating the foods you love. For some, adding less sugar to their favorite recipes as a great option.

As a chef, I can’t bring myself to compromise the quality of a good, classic recipe so instead of changing the recipe, I change my portion.

I’m much happier eating 1/3 cup of a rich bread pudding than I am a full cup of low-sugar angel food cake. It takes more discipline but not more than we’re capable of.

Explore your options, invest in some portion control plates and do whatever gives you the greatest chance at success.


2. Gluten is bad for you!

Let me start by saying that there aren’t enough nutritional benefits to highly processed grains for me to endorse them so I’m not necessarily pro-flour. But the idea that gluten is at the root of obesity and poor health has been growing in popularity for years and it’s just not true.

For me, there was no better proof than visiting Europe. The French eat bread like it’s their job and at a healthy BMI, I felt obese next to the Parisiennes on the Metro.

A selection of different breads. There is a flat belief that gluten is bad for you -  food myths debunked by nutritionists

It’s estimated that less than 10% of the population has a gluten intolerance and only 1% have celiac disease yet the market shelves are flooded with “gluten free” products. It’s great for a former co-worker of mine who was diagnosed with celiac disease long before it was trendy… he has way more food options now than he ever had before.

But for the other 90% of us, gluten is not the problem. The problem is our lifestyle.

Eat the foods you love (in moderation, of course) and find ways to increase your activity levels.

I said “no” to drive-thru anythings quite a while ago in an effort to increase my activity and it has helped. Wash your car at home instead of driving through a car wash. Mow your own lawn instead of paying someone to do it (let’s be honest, you were just watching TV or surfing the web anyway).

At the very least, commit to walking or jogging. Start small and slowly increase your distance. Every little bit is a step in the right direction.

The cost of healthy food

3. Healthy foods are more expensive!

This is far from the truth. It can seem true to people who eat out more than they cook but that’s because they have barren cabinets.

When they want to cook a meal at home, they usually have to purchase everything they need for that one dish. People who cook often and have a well stocked pantry use one product for several different meals so they stretch their purchases farther.

To save money on nutritious foods, stay away from trendy, over-priced markets. Eating organic food is fine but it can be costly. An apple, even one that’s not organic, is always a much better option and less expensive than a bag of artificially coated nacho cheese tortilla chips.

Stick to your favorite run-of-the-mill grocery store or farmer’s market and watch for sales on meat and produce. It’s the best way to eat well without breaking the bank.

Coconut oil and saturated fat

4. Coconut oil is better for you than canola or olive oil!

I’m not sure where this myth started but it has gained popularity over time. It seemed a little sketchy to me when I heard it a few years ago so I did some research.

At first, I read that coconut oil is lower in fat and calories than other types of oil but since it’s almost completely saturated fat, it’s worse for your overall health. That was enough for me to confidently tell people to avoid it.

I did some additional research in preparation for this article and upon digging further, I found that coconut oil has the exact same amount of calories by volume as olive oil and has 0.5g fat less per tablespoon. Only coconut oil is 94% saturated fat versus olive oil which comes in at 14% saturated fat.

Our bodies need fat for a multitude of reasons and topping the list is for energy and vitamin absorption but not all fats are created equally. Saturated and Trans fats raise our LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) which increases our chances for heart disease and diabetes.

Unsaturated fats lower overall blood cholesterol and decrease chances for heart disease and diabetes.

Those of us who consume meat and dairy products get our fair share of saturated fats and need unsaturated fats to balance the effects. The best sources for unsaturated fats is plant-based oils (like canola and olive), avocado, nuts, and fatty fish (tuna and salmon). If you replace canola or olive oil, one of your top sources for unsaturated fat, with coconut oil, you tip the scales in the wrong direction.

Soy – fermented vs unfermented

5. All soy products are good/bad for you

This is a hotly debated topic. The general consensus is that fermented soy is good and unfermented soy is bad.

According to multiple sources, unfermented soy can lead to a myriad of health problems including:

  • Thyroid problems
  • Issues within the intestinal tract
  • Obstruction of absorption of essential minerals like iron and calcium in the intestines
  • Obstruction of absorption of zinc which is essential for developing brain function, for the reproductive system, and for the prevention of diabetes
  • Aggravation of tumors in cancer patients

A salad with tofu, cucumber and herbs in a white bowl.

Fermented soy, the reported good kind, includes things like natto, miso, tempeh, soy sauce, fermented tofu, and fermented soy milk (must be labeled “fermented”).

Unfermented soy, the reported bad kind, are soy-based cheeses, milk (when they’re not labled “fermented”), ice cream, and meat products.

Because there’s no conclusive evidence either way, some well respected health organizations won’t weigh in too heavily.

The American Heart Association has claimed that there is no evidence to suggest that eating soy can decrease your chance for heart disease (as some sources claim) but they also won’t take a stance against the claim. Same with the Mayo Clinic.

My advice; don’t count on it for its benefits and be aware of its possible drawbacks.

And if you’d like further information on soybeans and soy foods, please see here.

What is ‘fat free’?

6. “Fat Free” means zero fat grams

Food labels were originally created to help us identify what we’re eating but the better consumers get at reading them, the more creative manufacturers get at manipulating them. You can find over 10 different names for sugar on a food label. Same goes for salt and soy. Then you find things like “other natural flavors” and who knows what that means.

Another way manufacturers try to trick us is in the fat content. By USDA standards, companies can round down to the nearest whole number on food labels. That means 3.8 grams of fat gets rounded down to 3. What’s worse, 0.9 gets rounded down to 0.

Let’s say a serving of a particular diet snack food is 1/2 cup and contains 1.9 fat grams. To market the product as “Fat Free,” the company will bump the serving size down to 1/4 cup because the fat grams will then be below 1 and they can legally print “0 grams” as the fat content on the label.

You buy the product and since there’s no fat in it, you eat 3/4 cup and unknowingly consume almost 4 grams of fat. Now multiply that over all the diet foods you consume and it adds up quickly.

The best option? Eat foods without labels. It’s hard to sneak fat and calories into a banana.

Remember also that some fats – such as essential fatty acids – are actually good for us. If you’d like to know more about this topic, see here.


7. I can get the same nutritional benefits from supplements as I can through vitamin-rich food.

A study at Cornell University shows our bodies absorb more vitamin C from eating a small apple than from 1500mg of vitamin C supplements. The average apple contains nowhere near 1500mg of vitamin C so the study’s aim is at showing just how little nutrients our bodies absorb from artificial supplements.

And since apples contain more nutritional benefits than just calcium, eating an apple is a far better nutritional decision than popping some vitamins.

The answer to better overall health is not to increase the amount of supplements you take… overdosing on supplements can be more hazardous to your health than not consuming enough.

The answer is to eat a more rounded diet. There’s a ton of great information out there that can tell you what vitamins and anti-oxidants you can find in each food but that gets overwhelming and hard to apply.

The best advice I can give you is to eat all the natural colours you can; eat more green than anything and add some red, purple, orange, yellow, and blue. You can’t go wrong sticking to fruits and vegetables with lots of colour.

Related Articles:

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Quinoa – A Superfood You Should Know

The ABCs of Supplements

What to do about food cravings

Burning Calories – 40 Tips for Burning Calories in Daily Life (Part 1)

Burning Calories – 40 Tips for Burning Calories in Daily Life (Part 2)