Face Up to Five Food Fallacies
Whether you're chatting with a friend or a watching a persuasive infomercial on television, it's easy to be taken in by food fallacies.
And why not? Who doesn't want to believe that a food will give you lasting energy or that a yummy-tasting beverage is slimming?
The folks who make these products want to sell them. And your well-meaning buddies are likely eager to share the newest fad.
But if you follow the hype instead of sound nutrition science, you could take in more calories than you should and derail a healthy diet. You may also be depriving yourself of the foods you love based on misguided advice.
For the real deal, read what dietitians have to say about five common fallacies.
Fallacy No. 1: Skipping breakfast can help you lose weight.
Since you barely have time in the morning for more than a cup of coffee, what's wrong with running on empty and saving a few hundred calories?
Plenty, say dietitians.
If you don't eat breakfast, you're more likely to overeat later in the day, according to Susan Moores, R.D., a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. The Minneapolis dietitian bases her argument on the National Weight Loss Registry, an ongoing look at the habits of dieters who lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year.
"There are thousands of people who have lost weight and kept it off. The registry shows that almost all of them eat breakfast every day," Moores says.
Knowing you should eat in the a.m. doesn't give you license to grab a doughnut on your way to the office. Your meal should include protein, carbohydrates, and fat to give you energy and help you stay alert, says Kim Gorman, R.D.
Some people, maybe even you, think the morning meal triggers their appetites.
"When I start a weight-management class, people tell me that if they eat breakfast they'll get hungry," says Gorman, a weight-management specialist in Denver. "If you think you get hungry, it's because you're not eating a mixed meal of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Find a cereal with at least 5 grams of dietary fiber. Sprinkle with some crushed almonds."
Nutrition experts also recommend you add fruit to breakfast.
Fallacy No. 2: You have to starve if you want to weigh less.
Dieting means not eating, right? No wonder the idea seems unpleasant. But the good news is that you can fill your plate and still lose weight.
Here's how it works:
If you were to weigh everything you eat during an average day, you'd find it's pretty consistent. The trick is to fill up on more low-calorie foods while cutting back on the most caloric or energy-dense items on your plate, according to Barbara Rolls, Ph.D., a nutrition specialist in University Park, Pa.
By selecting foods with fewer calories and the same weight as your usual food—building up the volume on your plate—you can reduce calories without feeling hungry, according to Dr. Rolls, co-author of The Volumetrics Weight-Control Plan. "We had an experiment with preschoolers, tucking more vegetables into a pasta dish. The children ate more vegetables and reduced their caloric intake" by 25 percent for the entrée.
Soup is a great way to "volumize" a meal. Start lunch or dinner with chunky or puréed vegetable soup. If you're like the volunteers in Dr. Rolls' experiments, you could cut your total calories for the meal by 20 percent.
Are salad bars your downfall? Learn to fill your plate the volume way. Start with a hefty layer of plain greens. Then add vegetables and whole grains. Include foods that are more calorie-dense sparingly, such as condiments.
Fallacy No. 3: Energy bars can save pounds and boost stamina.
That's what the bars promote: "energy that lasts" or a "high-protein bar for an active lifestyle." You may be tempted to rely on an energy bar instead of a meal.
But an energy bar isn't a good substitute, nutrition experts say. Remember Barbara Rolls' lesson on volume?
Energy bars are too small to sustain you, says Nancy Clark, R.D., a Boston-area sports nutrition expert. "If you have an energy bar or diet bar for lunch, you may be quite ravenous later in the day," she says.
The energy promise doesn't mean much, according to the sports dietitian. "Energy means calories. You can get energy from a banana, a Fig Newton, or from breakfast," says Clark, author of The Cyclist's Food Guide.
Energy bars are good for emergencies, like when you're stuck in traffic and your stomach is growling, Clark says. Choose a brand that has some dietary fiber, fewer than 300 calories, and less than 20 percent of calories from fat, Gorman adds.
Fallacy No. 4: Drinks don't add to your weight.
You may not feel full after an extra-large sweetened coffee and dairy drink, but don't fool yourself into thinking you didn't consume plenty of calories. For example, a cream-topped, grande, double-chocolate-chip frappuccino blended crème from Starbucks packs close to 600 calories.
That's as many calories as you'd consume in a meal, according to dietitian Moores.
Bottled tea may be a shocker, too. Sweetened teas can provide more than 200 calories per 20-ounce bottle. "People would be astounded if they looked at the calories. Tea comes in a large bottle that people drink as one serving," Moores says, but that 20 ounces actually makes up 2-1/2 servings.
Sweetened and nutrient-enhanced water-based drinks are another surprise. An 8-ounce serving averages 50 calories. Have two glasses a day and you could be putting on 10 pounds a year.
Eliminating or reducing the number and amount of caloric beverages you drink can lead to a significant weight loss. Try sparkling water with a squeeze of lemon or lime.
Fallacy No. 5: All fat is bad for you.
That's the old message. Today's focus is on the type of fat you eat.
"It would be counterproductive to say, 'Avoid fats,'" says Mara Vitolins, Dr.P.H., a public health specialist in Winston-Salem, N.C. "We've been a society that's feared fat for the calorie content and for the heart attack risk. We didn't know about good and bad fat."
Good fat, the kind you get from eating oily fish such as salmon and herring, may suppress inflammation in your body, according to Dr. Vitolins. That, in turn, may reduce your risk for cancer and heart disease. Monounsaturated fat, found in avocados, olive oil, walnuts, and almonds, may also be healthy.
Even though you can snack on a handful of your favorite nuts and use an olive oil and vinegar dressing on salad, remember moderation. "These are still highly caloric," Dr. Vitolins says.