Let me begin by saying I love my jobs and my profession. However, one of the most frustrating and annoying things about being a registered dietitian is listening to flat-out bad advice from people with little nutrition knowledge. Everyone believes because they eat food, they must be a nutrition guru. But when plain bad ‘healthy eating’ recommendations are made by such folks, as well-meaning as they may be, it can turn accurate nutrition science into a topsy-turvy spin of inaccurate and wrong information.
To get an idea of so-called nutrition rules touted over the years, here’s a look at 8 “healthy eating habits’ you can ignore:
- Everyone needs to go gluten free
If you’ve jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon, you’re not alone. Following a gluten-free diet has been one of the biggest diet trends in recent years. For the record, the only people who must and need to follow a gluten-free diet are people with celiac disease or people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity. That’s it. By the way, only 1% of the population has celiac disease and about 6% has non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Keep in mind, many gluten-free products actually have more calories and can be lacking in certain nutrients. Gluten-free does not equate with health or weight loss benefits.
- Avoid eating white foods
Now here’s a nutrition rule that is too general and really does not add up. First, the color of a food does not dictate its nutrient value. There are many white foods that are quite nutritious – cauliflower, white beans, tofu, turnips, onions, popcorn, mushrooms, milk, and potatoes. Many of these foods are nutrient powerhouses providing valuable vitamins and minerals such as potassium, calcium, vitamins C, and D, and iron. Even white bread and white pasta have unique offerings. Both are fortified with folic acid, a B vitamin necessary to help prevent serious birth defects such as spina bifida. Of course, most of our grain intake should come from whole grains, but there is a place for some fortified grains.
- All smoothies are healthy
Smoothie recipes are all the rage. There seems to be no limit on recipe creativity regarding these concoctions. Many smoothie recipes can be quite healthy providing many important nutrients. When blending together plain Greek yogurt, milk, and fresh or frozen fruit, a smoothie can be very nutritious. Or if adding in an avocado in place of a banana for a creamy texture or throwing in shredded carrots and beets for natural sweetness, can be a sensational smoothie. But when made with only fruit, fruit juice and ice cream, then they become essentially a dessert.
- Avoid processed foods
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying toaster pastries for breakfast or packing lunches of bologna sandwiches are healthy options. But there are plenty of other processed foods that are healthy and nutritious. Examples include canned beans or tuna, quick cooking oatmeal, microwaveable quinoa and brown rice. These are health-boosting processed foods that help all of us get a nutritious meal on the table easier, faster, and less expensive. Plus, some processing actually increases nutritional value. For instance, tomato sauce has more available lycopene, a phytochemical that may reduce prostate cancer risk, than fresh tomatoes.
- Only natural or organic foods should be eaten
Let’s start with the term, ‘natural.’ ‘Natural’ does not even have a legal definition as of this writing. Organic has a lengthy legal definition but even that does not guarantee wholesomeness of the food. A cookie that is labeled as ‘organic,’ is still a cookie and should be eaten in moderation and does not possess any special nutritional value. Then there is the price tag of organic foods. If you want to buy only organic foods and have the money to do so, go right ahead. But for people on a budget and unable to buy expensive organic food, it’s a different story. They may purposely avoid conventionally grown foods believing they are nutritionally inferior, not knowing they are just as healthy and nutritious as organic foods. This means they will be missing out on important nutrients improving their overall health.
- Avoid fruit because it’s full of sugar
I have to scratch my head on this food rule. To avoid fruit because it contains a natural sugar called fructose believing it will cause weight gain is unthinkable. Fruit is so much more than its sugar content. Fruits are nature’s nutritiously packaged dynamos that give us fiber, water, vitamins, minerals, and disease-fighting antioxidants. Forgoing fruit means you may choose higher calorie food, which is much more likely to cause weight gain.
- Skip food with ingredients you can’t pronounce
I understand the rationale of this rule but it is misleading. The number of ingredients or difficulty in pronouncing an ingredient has nothing to do with the nutritional value of a food. For example, methylcobalamin is an ingredient may be hard to pronounce but it’s just the active form of vitamin B12. Alpha-tocopherol may be a strange uncommon word listed in the ingredients but it’s just another name for vitamin E. However, coconut oil and agave nectar are common substance we are familiar with yet also provide unhealthy saturated fat and too much sugar. In small amounts coconut oil and agave nectar are okay but when overly consumed, their easy pronunciation does not make them virtuous.
- Regular detox or juice cleanses are necessary
Avoid this ‘health habit’ at all costs. Our bodies are designed and equipped with its own ‘detox’ system – the liver, kidneys, skin, lungs, and digestive system. The human body naturally rids itself of toxins through urine, feces, and sweat. Dependence on detoxes or juice cleanses can result in possible dietary deficiencies and disruption of metabolism, slowing down the rate of calories burned. A better solution is to eat whole, nutritious foods, drink water, and cut out unhealthy processed food and added sugars.