11 diet and nutrition myths our experts debunk

May 12, 2017 Allison Milionis

We’ve become a nation of foodies. Cooking shows are everywhere, chefs tout celebrity status and recipes are breathlessly exchanged like juicy bits of gossip. We demand higher quality food and more inventive dishes. That’s certainly a good thing.

The downside of our food obsession is the amount of misinformation that gets passed around online. Facts are minced, truth is pureed. (I couldn’t resist!) To help clear up some of the misinformation, I checked in with one of our professional and well-informed nutrition teams at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif. They divvied up the questions before we sat down to discuss the answers. Here’s what this team of registered dietitians had to say:

  1. Energy drinks rev up your metabolism.
    False. There is no magic food or drink that will boost your metabolism. Energy drinks are basically concentrated caffeine. Up to 400 milligrams of caffeine is considered a safe amount to drink. Some energy drinks have more than 400 milligrams in just one bottle! And some of loads of sugar, too. Drinking energy drinks can increase your heart rate, and that may feel like you have increased your metabolism. But it’s not true. The best thing to drink is water. Even when your energy is down, go with water. Answer by Svetlana Akoyeva, MS, RD
  2. A smoothie is the best thing you can eat before a workout.
    There is no “best” thing to eat before a workout, but smoothies have easy-to-digest carbs, which makes them a good option for many people. Smoothies are also a source of hydration, and some have protein. Think fruit, milk or a nondairy drink and maybe a scoop of peanut butter. We don’t recommend adding protein powder. Here are a few smoothie recipes Jane Cook, RD, suggests you try:
  3. When it comes to eating leafy greens, kale is the best.
    False. Ah, the trend continues! Yes, kale is a good option, but any dark, leafy green is great for you. The greener the better, and the darker the color the more nutrients a vegetable tends to have. Consider collard, mustard and turnip greens, Swiss chard, spinach, watercress, red and green leaf lettuces and arugula. Even herbs are dense in nutrients. Think cilantro and parsley for starters. Answer by Anabelle Ahdoot, MS, RD
  4. Nutrition labels don’t lie (They’re always factual).
    Some truth; some smoke and mirrors. Manufacturers can’t outright lie, but remember, the front of the package is designed to sell the product. (This is especially true for food items marketed to children.) If it says 100 calories, then it’s 100 calories. But look at the nutrition label to see if those 100 calories are per serving size. Then look at the number of servings per package. By law the nutrition label must be accurate, but it can trick you. Don’t focus on the percentages because those are based on 2000 calories a day, which does not apply to everyone. Look at grams and calories. If you don’t know how many calories or grams of nutrients you need per day, check with a registered dietitian. Answer by Margaux Permutt, MPH, RD
  5. Nutrition bars make healthy snacks.
    False. Most bars (Quest, Think, Luna Bar, etc.) are designed to be meal replacements not snacks. Bars can be a good option when you’re travelling. But the rest of the time, eat real food. If you’re going to eat a fruit and nut bar, why not choose to eat whole fruit and nuts? You’ll get the same amount of calories and protein plus more vitamins and minerals. Bars are also expensive, and they’re still processed food. Eating food that isn’t processed can be more economical and is healthier. Answer by Margaux Permutt, MPH, RD
  6. One diet soda a day won’t hurt me, will it?
    Diet soda is safe, but we do not recommend one diet soda a day. Diet soda contains artificial sweeteners that by definition are chemicals. Artificial sweeteners send a message to the brain saying, “this is sweet,” even though we don’t actually get sugar or calories from it. Some studies show that this can affect our metabolism. We always recommend water or even green tea so that you’re not confusing your body. You can read more about this topic in a study published on the NCBI website. Answer by Svetlana Akoyeva, MS, RD
  7. Potatoes are just empty calories - they have no nutritional value.
    False. Potatoes are a good source of carbohydrates, and they’re low in fat. (Whole potatoes, not French fries!) The skin is full of vitamins, minerals and fiber. Think of a potato as a vehicle for a healthy meal – top it with stir-fry veggies, vegetarian chili or broccoli. Branch out from the traditional sour cream, bacon and cheese combo. Answer by Jane Cook, RD
  8. A wrap is a healthier (and lower calorie) alternative to a sandwich.
    Depends. What type of bread or wrap is it? What are the contents? Mayo or fatty dressings and sauces add calories and fat, for example. A tortilla could have just as many calories or carbohydrates as sandwich bread. If you want to make either a wrap or a sandwich healthier, choose a whole-grain tortilla or whole-grain bread. Even better? Use a lettuce leaf or other leafy green for the wrap. If you have a sandwich, make it open-face to reduce the amount of bread you eat. Answer by Anabelle Ahdoot, MS, RD, CDE
  9. Sea salt is healthier than regular table salt.
    False. Sea salt, Himalayan salt, table salt and kosher salt all have similar sodium content. Sea salt has more sodium per teaspoon than table salt because of the size of the crystals. (See the chart below.) You may get a little more potassium in Himalayan salt, however, we advocate for using less salt, no matter what kind you prefer. The best way to reduce salt without compromising flavor is to use fresh or dried herbs, curry powder, pepper, lemon or infused vinegars. These options will enhance any dish without adding sodium. Answer by Margaux Permutt, MPH, RD
    Sea salt, Himalayan salt, table salt and kosher salt all have similar sodium content. Sea salt has more sodium per teaspoon than table salt because of the size of the crystals.
  10. If it’s healthy food, you can eat as much as you want!
    Always celebrate food! Food is energy, nutrients and entertainment. Still, you need to keep it simple, keep the portions small and keep it regular. Give your body time to digest what you eat. More is not always better. Take sleep, for example. We cannot stockpile sleep in advance. Same applies to food and nutrients. We can’t stock up on extra nutrients in advance of when we need them. A good motto/quote to think about is by Michael Pollan: “Eat food (as in real whole food), not too much, mostly plants.” Answer by Svetlana Akoyeva, MS, RD
  11. Coconut oil is good for you. (We threw this one in as a wild card. Coconut oil is certainly popular, but we wonder if it’s actually healthier than other oils. Here’s what the team said.)
    We do not recommend replacing your olive oil, for example, with coconut oil. There are a variety of oils – and variety is a good thing. Use coconut oil in moderation, as you would use butter, walnut oil, olive, oil, grapeseed oil, flaxseed oil, canola oil, etc., in moderation. Celebrate variety and balance, and remember, there is no magic food!

If you have questions about your diet or nutritional needs talk to a registered dietitian. If you live in the Los Angeles area, you can contact any of the helpful professionals who answered our questions above. Outside of the LA area, you can find a Providence registered dietitian near you in our directory.

And as always, we invite you to participate in the conversation by jotting down a note in the comment section below. What diet and nutrition myths would you like to see debunked?


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