Time and time again, I find myself correcting these popular, recurrent nutrition-related myths. To wrap up 2018, let’s set the record straight.
Vitamin C prevents Colds & Flu
With the peak of flu season upon us, you may be thinking about dosing up on those vitamin C supplements. The truth is that research doesn’t actually support taking supplemental vitamin C as a method to prevent colds and the flu. It may, however, help to lessen the severity or shorten the duration of your symptoms if you do get sick. The best way to prevent colds and flu is good hand hygiene, getting the flu vaccine each year and helping your immune system stay strong with a nutrient-rich diet.
Tryptophan in Turkey Causes Post-Thanksgiving Sleepiness
Thanksgiving may be behind us, but if you blamed the tryptophan in the turkey as to why you were sluggish and tired after the meal, the truth is that the meal portions overall and amount of carbohydrates and sodium are more likely to explain your symptoms. Consider that a less severe version of this can also happen throughout the rest of the year, especially around that 3 PM work day slump. You know, the one where you notoriously need some extra caffeine to get you through until the end of the day. While you may very well need a healthful snack around this time, if you’re fatigued and tired, you may need to evaluate the size of the meal prior as well as the amount of carbs contained within the meal.
Annual Five Pound Holiday Weight Gain
When you step on the scale and see a three to five pound gain the day after a holiday meal, you are not likely seeing true weight (or fat) increase. What you are seeing is some fluid retention from excess sodium and carbohydrate consumption. A one to two-pound weight gain over the whole six to eight-week holiday time is a more accurate number. It helps some people to weigh daily to help keep them on track, for others that get discouraged by the ups and downs naturally seen each day, weighing consistently once a week or every couple of days may be more beneficial. If you have heart disease, you should weigh yourself daily since a change of three or more pounds in one day can be a sign of your heart’s health.
High Cholesterol Foods Raise Blood Cholesterol Levels
Foods that are high sources of cholesterol (like shrimp and egg yolks) actually do not impact the cholesterol levels within your body. If you have elevated cholesterol, specifically low-density lipoprotein or LDL, think of it more like plaque accumulation and that saturated fat is the main culprit. Choosing lower saturated fats as well as avoiding trans-fat consumption, increasing fiber intake and daily exercise can all help to reduce your LDL, but the need to avoid shellfish and eggs is outdated and unnecessary. So, when you’re planning your new year meals, incorporating lean proteins like shrimp and eggs can be a helpful way to add variety and flavor into your diet.
Full Fat is Better than Fat-Free
Some fats are better for you than others, but we need to shift our language to emphasize that heart-healthy types of fats which are lower in animal-based saturated fats are the better fats for us. Simplifying the statement to say full fat vs fat-free is misleading by groupings all fat sources together. For example, dairy products like milk have different fat contents that range from whole (3.25% fat) to reduced (2%) to skim (0% fat) milk. Whole milk is increasing in patient-reported consumption in my practice often due to the filling and satiating nature of the fat content. However, the fat content is animal-based saturated fats and for those with or at-risk of heart disease, it is not typically the best option. Fat-free milk has the same amount of sodium, carbohydrates, sugar and protein content as whole milk but without the saturated fat. Therefore, the protein content can still help to keep you full and satisfied, there’s no added sugar, and if desired, can be a good option despite its fat-free classification and what the current trends are claiming.
Good vs. Bad Carbs
Just like with fats, there are carbohydrate sources that are better for you than others. Whole grains (yes, even 100% whole wheat or whole grain breads, pasta, some crackers), fruits and starchy veggies offer more nutrients like fiber, vitamins and minerals than simple carbohydrates like sweets, alcohol and baked goods to name a few. The complex and nutrient-rich carbs can be incorporated into a successful and life-long meal plan despite what any fad diet likes to claim. Even the occasional sweet treat or carbs that are not as good for you can be enjoyed as well. It all comes down to how often and how much you eat these items. It’s also about picking what’s worth it to you and what you really love to eat. If you love it, it’s not consumed in big portion or frequently, then it can be part of a healthy long-term plan.
You don’t need to avoid people, places, events or even some food items to stay on track with your goals. If you can establish healthier choices or make a healthier habit, you can be successful long-term as long as you can make the healthier habit and choice just as rewarding as the original unhealthy one. If you avoid the people and things you love, is it really worth living that way?
For example, going to a Christmas party and having a little bread, pasta or fried food you love isn’t going to make you gain five pounds. Can you make other choices at the party? Can you go back for seconds on a vegetable or salad option rather than a carb option? Can you bring something you enjoy that fits in with your plan? And if all else fails, enjoy the occasion, shake it off and get back to your plan the next day.
Perfection and Extremism
Whether it’s your nutrition plan or your exercise goal, it doesn’t have to be “all or nothing”. If you only walk for 10 minutes or two days on the weekend, it may not be where you want to be (30-60 minutes daily, for example) but it is better than doing nothing. Your meal plan doesn’t have to be rigid and restrictive to see results either. You can incorporate some of your favorite foods – in a healthful amount – and still lose weight. It really is all about moderation and balance, as boring and cliché as that sounds.
There isn’t necessarily a right way to eat. We’ve learned better ways to eat and that’s really all we can hope to do, be better. Not perfect, just better.
Rebecca Miller, MPH, RDN, LDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist who shares recipes + inspiration on her blog, Twisted Nutrition. She can be reached at TwistedNutritionBlog.com or on social media @TwistedNutrition. She can be reached through her blog or followed on facebook & Instagram @TwistedNutrition.