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Friday’s Flavor: Nutrition myths versus facts

Today, people want all the information they can get on healthy living.

 What should we eat?  What should we avoid?  What is true in the media and what is false?  As consumers we are flooded with food and nutrition misinformation.  Some of what we hear can actually be harmful to us.

Some common sources of food and nutrition misinformation come from media reports of scientific studies that only tell part of the story and do not put the findings in proper context for consumers to understand.

There are countless Web sites stating inaccurate nutrition information promoted by people supporting unscientific views.   There are companies that promote dietary supplements and weight-loss products that are unfounded and questionable.  So, what are we supposed to believe?

Take this quiz to see if you know the facts.  True or False:

Margarine has fewer calories than butter.

Potatoes and bread are fattening.

Excess carbohydrates, not fats, cause weight gain.

Carbohydrates cause hyperactivity and diabetes.

Eating a dessert before bedtime is more fattening than if you ate it at lunchtime.

Supplements are safe because they are approved before hitting the shelves.

Skipping meals helps you lose weight.

As long as you watch your food intake, you do not need to exercise.

Products claiming “0g Trans fat” have zero trans fat.

All of these statements are false.  How did you do?

Here are the facts:  Regular stick margarine and stick butter actually contain the same number of calories: about 36 per teaspoon.

Potatoes and bread are not high in calories — 88 calories for a medium potato and 70 calories for an average-size slice of bread. Both potatoes and bread are great sources of carbohydrates.

Excess carbohydrates are no more fattening than excess calories from any source: fats, carbohydrates or proteins. Too many calories from any source are stored as body fat.

Do carbohydrates cause hyperactivity?  No.  Sugar does not cause hyperactivity or attention deficit-hyperactive disorders in children.

Sugar has also been wrongly accused of causing diabetes.  The fact is neither sugar nor other carbohydrates cause diabetes.

It does not matter what time of day you eat a chocolate sundae.  It is what and how much you eat and how much physical activity you do during the whole day that makes the difference.  No matter when they’re eaten, excess calories can add up to extra body fat.

Supplements claim many things from losing weight to improving cognitive performance.  The fact is that the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) does not have the authority to require supplements to be approved for safety and efficacy before they enter the marketplace.

Remember Hydroxycut?  Only after the FDA received reports of serious liver injury and even one death due to liver failure was there a warning put out to immediately stop using Hydroxycut products.  According to one study, some supplements are tainted with pesticides, salmonella, glass, bacteria, or heavy metals.

Bottom line:  Be careful when taking supplements!

Skipping meals will not help you lose weight.  Do not skip meals, especially breakfast. As the first meal of the day, breakfast keeps your metabolism going and decreases overeating throughout the day.

Research shows the more food you eat earlier in the day the more quickly you will fill up at dinner and the less likely you will overeat.  Eat your largest meal of the day at lunch since your metabolism peaks in the middle of the day.

Not only is a healthy diet important, but exercise is essential in maintaining and losing weight.  Physical activity burns fat and can build muscle, making weight loss easier.  This will help you increase your metabolism which will help you burn calories at a quicker rate.

Products claiming to be “Trans Free” can actually have 0.49 grams of trans fat per serving.  If you are consuming three servings of margarine that says “0g Trans fat” and it actually has 0.47 grams per serving, you are actually ingesting nearly 1.5 grams!   

Be a conscientious consumer and check the label for buzz words like “partially hydrogenated” oils.  The term “hydrogenated” means that hydrogen has been added to liquid oils to make them more solid.  Trans fats raise LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) thus increasing risk of heart disease.

Bottom line:  Food and nutrition myths pop up every day.  The myths listed above are only a fraction of the misleading information that we are subjected to.  

If you don’t know whether or not to believe a weight-loss or nutrition claim, find out!  The Federal Trade Commission has information on questionable weight-loss advertising claims:

For more information about nutrition facts make an appointment with a senior dietetic student with Bodyworks.  You can contact them at

Friday’s Flavor is edited for contect by Jeanette Davidson, a registered dietician and chair of the dietetics program.

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