There’s a lot of information out there about taboo foods, rules to follow if you want to lose weight and staples of the healthiest diets. However, there’s also a lot of misinformation about what constitutes a nutritionally sound regimen. To sort out fact from fiction, we chatted up a couple registered dietitians to get their expert takes on the most prevalent healthy diet myths floating around today.
Myth #1: Sea salt is a “health food.”
For some reason, the marketing campaigns for sea salt have indicated it’s a great, healthy alternative to kosher and table salt. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. “By weight, most sea salt and table salt have the same amount of sodium: 575 milligrams per quarter teaspoon,” says Barbara Linhardt, M.S., R.D., founder of Five Senses Nutrition. “Eating a high sodium diet can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure, which can cause all sorts of cardiovascular issues. While sea salt does contain trace minerals like magnesium and calcium, which are missing from the more processed table salt, the amounts are tiny and can easily be obtained through other food sources.”
Don’t be fooled. Basically, salt is salt. If you’re at risk for heart disease or have high blood pressure, you should shoot for less than 1500 milligrams of sodium a day, otherwise stick to under 2300 milligrams each day.
Myth #2: Eggs are the enemy.
Somewhere along the line, eggs got a bad rap. But they can be so good for you, for many reasons says Keri Gans, M.S., R.D., author of The Small Change Diet. “My patients, especially with high cholesterol, tend to think they can never eat eggs–but these can definitely be a part of a healthy diet, even according to the American Heart Association,” she says.
The problem with eggs is what Americans tend to eat with them. Think bacon, cheese, home fries. If you choose two poached eggs on whole wheat toast, or a veggie-filled omelet with one egg and two egg whites like Gans suggests, you’ll be in great shape (pun intended).
Myth #3: You need eight glasses of water a day in your diet.
No matter what you’ve read, eight is not a magic number for hydration. “Your water needs depend on a lot of things—your height, weight, age, exercise levels, your health and the outside temperature,” says Linhardt. “In addition, we get water from other beverages as well as foods; it’s found in abundance in foods like cucumbers, melon and soups.
The key is to listen to your body. Always drink when you feel thirsty, in addition to when you are increasing your activity level, under the weather, or outside on a hot day. If you never seem to feel thirsty, then you might want to set a goal of drinking between six and eight glasses of H2O a day. Your body will then learn to tell you when it needs more water, says Linhardt.
Myth #4: Fresh vegetables are healthier than frozen vegetables.
We naturally associate fresh foods as better foods, but ironically, that’s not always the case with veggies. “Frozen vegetables are often flash frozen right after harvest, so they actually can retain more nutrients than fresh vegetables that have traveled around the country and lingered in the produce bin,” Linhardt says. “A great added bonus? Frozen vegetables are often cheaper.” So, don’t fear the freezer section of your grocery store. Those frozen peas, corn and broccoli might be more convenient and better for you–unless you’re shopping at your local farmer’s markets.
Myth #5: Eating healthy is expensive.
“There are tons of things you can do to cut back on the costs of healthy eating. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune,” Gans says. Some of her suggestions? Make sure to buy fruits and vegetables that are in season, as they’ll be cheaper. Buy items like yogurt and chicken breasts in bulk at a lower price point, and then portion them out or freeze until you want to eat them. Buy canned items like vegetables, with no added salt. “You don’t have to buy everything organic either,” Gans says. “There’s no conclusive evidence that organic is better. I am more concerned that you’re eating the healthy fruits and vegetables than that you’re eating organic ones.”
Myth #6: Choosing “fat-free” items are healthier for you.
It’s tempting to think a no-fat food automatically puts you in good-choice territory, but “fat-free” does not equal calorie-free or waistline-friendly. “It’s so easy to reach for that box of crackers or bottle of salad dressing that boldly tauts “fat-free” or “low-fat” and feel confident you’re making a healthy choice,” says Linhardt. “Unfortunately, manufacturers will often replace the fat with extra sugar or salt to make the item taste more palatable.” Yikes! The fix? Always read the food label closely before you buy. If it’s fat-free but still packing lots of sodium, sugar and calories then it goes back on the shelf.
Myth #7: Large doses of vitamin C during cold and flu season is a smart move.
Hitting vitamins and supplements hard during flu season could totally work against your immune system from a nutritional perspective. “So far, research has not proven that vitamin C actually helps with illness prevention or treatment,” says Linhardt. “On the flip side, studies show that high dose vitamin C, like those 1000% packets, can double the risk of developing kidney stones in men.” This may be because vitamin C is broken down into oxalate, which some kidney stones are composed from. Pro tip: stick to fruits and vegetables to get your vitamin C needs.
Myth #8: Carbs lead to weight gain.
Celebrities seem to go on low-carb diets all the time for weight loss, which has led the public to believe carbs equate to weight gain. “Pasta doesn’t make you fat,” says Gans. “Too much pasta smothered in creamy alfredo sauce will make you fat.” Gans says it’s all about portion size. Instead of the bowl of pasta, for instance, you should opt for a cup with lots of veggies, tomato and shrimp tossed in. In terms of other carbs, opt for whole grains–like whole-wheat toast, whole-grain cereal, brown rice or oatmeal–which are high in fiber and will keep you satiated. (A major component in weight maintenance!) “If you are overeating the candy, cookies, chips and cake, then yes, those carbs will make you gain,” says Gans. So stick to healthy, portioned whole grains and you’ll do great.
Myth #9: Eating at night causes weight gain.
Where did this “never eat after 7 p.m.” myth start? According to Linhardt, a calorie is a calorie, no matter when you eat it. “The key is to make sure if you enjoy a nighttime snack, to make it just that: a snack,” she says. “It’s not a time to go all out on the ice cream or chips.” Now if you can’t avoid the siren call of baked goods and tend to overindulge at night, you may want to nosh earlier in the day or opt for a snack that’s a healthy and filling combination instead of your typical choice. Linhardt suggests one serving of Greek yogurt, or a tablespoon of peanut butter and piece of fruit.
Myth #10: Caffeine will dehydrate you.
Lots of people see caffeine as a dietary hazard. For instance, it’s a common misconception that coffee and tea can’t be a part of healthy hydration because caffeine has the opposite effect. “Too much caffeine, like in coffee, will give you the jitters and make you feel a little ill, but it won’t dehydrate,” says Gans. That said, water is the go-to hydration recommendation for a reason. “It’s calorie-free,” says Gans. “With coffee, for instance, if you put a bunch of cream and sugar in, you’ve suddenly got a drink that could make you gain weight. But as long as you’re smart while consuming it, your coffee and tea can count toward your hydration needs.”
You can also try drinking caffeine-free tea simply by cutting out green and black teas from your diet. Herbal teas like chamomile, peppermint and ginger are good alternatives that will provide you with a delicious drink without the added caffeine.