By Jennifer Tveitnes, RD, LD
False information is a common occurrence these days, and the world of food is no exception. As a dietitian, I am frequently fielding questions regarding food myths. Following are just a few common food myths, debunked!
Gluten free foods are better for you.
- What exactly is gluten? Gluten is a specific type of protein found in wheat, barley and rye.
- Individuals diagnosed with celiac disease, a condition where gluten damages the lining of the intestine, and individuals with diagnosed gluten sensitivity, where a person may experience extreme bloating, constipation or diarrhea immediately after eating gluten, must avoid gluten. Both of these conditions are rare, and gluten is perfectly healthy for the majority of us.
- A true gluten-free diet is much more difficult to follow than most people realize. Gluten is in more than just breads and pastries. It can be found as an additive in many foods, even some medications. Gluten can transfer to frying oil (think chicken nuggets fried in the same batch as French fries), or can linger in cooking ovens, making eating out a challenge.
- Some gluten-free foods, such as muffins and other pastries, may have extra sugar and/or fat added to improve their taste. The extra sugar and fat means extra calories, and possible pounds on your waistline, especially if you don’t need them.
Organic foods are better than conventional foods.
- Regarding their nutrient content, research has shown that organic and conventionally grown produce have no differences regarding the amount of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants they provide.
- In fact, scientists are working on genetically modifying some plants to have more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are beneficial to us. These genetically modified plants will never be able to carry the organic label, meaning that conventionally grown foods have the future potential to provide us with more nutrition than their organic counterparts.
- It is also untrue that organic foods are pesticide-free. There are over 20 chemicals that are approved for use by the US Organic Standards. These pesticides may come from natural sources, but natural does NOT always mean things are safe for you. In fact, some of these organic pesticides have been shown to negatively impact health, and are used at higher concentrations than synthetic pesticides because they are not as effective.
Soy foods contain estrogen, which is harmful.
- Soy foods contain weak phytoestrogens, which are not equivalent to the natural estrogens found in our bodies.
- Evidence for soy foods demonstrates that they are in fact helpful, not harmful. A diet that incorporates soy decreases heart disease risk. There is some evidence that soy foods can prevent cancer, not cause it. There is no evidence that soy foods cause cancer in humans, including breast cancer. Even women with a history of estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer can safely consume up to three servings of whole soy products daily.
Sugar is bad for you.
- Our body’s primary source of energy is sugar. Sugar gives us energy and is needed for proper brain functioning. Sugars also serve as building blocks for our bodies.
- Many people think “carbohydrates” and “sugar” are separate things. Carbohydrates are long chains of sugar chemically connected to each other. Much of the carbohydrate that we consume is converted into glucose, a sugar, and enters into our bloodstream. You have sugar constantly flowing through your bloodstream, and without it, you would not be living!
- Some sources of carbohydrate (or sugar) are considered more nutritious than others. One cup of berries, for example, will provide more vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber than a bag of M&M’s.
- It is possible to get too much of even a good thing. All foods, including those with sugar, should be eaten in moderation. Keep in mind that sugar itself is not what is bad for you, it is the amount and quality of these foods that most of us are consuming.
Wilcox, C. (2011, July 18). Mythbusting 101: Organic Farming > Conventional Agriculture. Retrieved April 10, 2017, from https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/science-sushi/httpblogsscientificamericancomscience-sushi20110718mythbusting-101-organic-farming-conventional-agriculture/
Chen, W. Y., MD. (2016, August 26). Factors that modify breast cancer risk in women. Retrieved April 10, 2017, from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/factors-that-modify-breast-cancer-risk-in-women?source=search_result&search=soy%20and%20breast%20cancer&selectedTitle=1~150
Ask the Expert: Soy. (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2017, from http://www.pcrm.org/health/cancer-resources/ask/ask-the-expert-soy
Carbohydrates. (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2017, from http://www.rsc.org/Education/Teachers/Resources/cfb/Carbohydrates.htm