March 14, 2017

Confused about nutrition? 4 myths debunked

When it comes to nutrition, it can be difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction. Have you heard some nutrition tidbits recently and wondered how you should interpret them? Ricia Taylor, RD of Kaiser Permanente Panola Medical Center, helps debunk four nutrition-related questions you may be pondering.

1. Is it true that frozen vegetables can be healthier than fresh veggies, which can lose nutrients over time?

Yes. Some frozen vegetables can be healthier than fresh produce. Frozen vegetables are generally picked and processed at their peak ripeness, which is when they are also the most nutritious. Before vegetables are frozen, they undergo a blanching process that kills harmful bacteria, brightens color and helps retain vitamin and nutrient content. While some water-soluble nutrients, such as vitamins B and C, are lost in the blanching process, other nutrient levels remain intact up to a year after freezing.

Comparatively, fresh vegetables are usually picked before they are ripe to allow for transport. Some vegetables spend up to three weeks in route to produce markets. Vegetables that are picked prematurely have not yet developed all of their vitamins, minerals and natural antioxidants.

2. Is it true that margarine may not be a better alternative to butter?

Yes. But both butter and stick margarine are high in fat. Margarine, however, contains trans fatty acid, which is as harmful, if not more, than saturated fat. Trans fat is made by adding hydrogen to liquid oil to make it solid.

Though the American Heart Association recommends limiting consumption of trans fats to less than 1.5 grams per day for females and two grams per day for males, our goal should be to avoid trans fat altogether. Instead of stick margarine, try a spread with no more than 2 grams of saturated fat per serving and 0 grams of trans fat.

3. Is it true that the fat and protein in full-fat milk and yogurt can keep you fuller, longer, which can lead to weight loss?

No. While there is new research that suggests full-fat dairy products may not be as harmful as once thought, they are higher in calories and can actually lead to weight gain. The fat content in food adds to satiety, which is the feeling of fullness. You may feel fuller for a longer period time, but those products are not healthier for you.

In general, full-fat dairy products are only recommended for kids under the age of two. Healthy individuals, who are over age two, should consider low-fat milk and yogurt, as well as dairy alternatives such as one percent almond or soy milk. Low-fat and full-fat dairy products have similar amounts of protein, which also contributes to satiety. It is important to understand how to read food labels, so you can make a healthier choice.

4. Is it true that eggs are not healthy and should be avoided?

No. Eggs have gotten a bad rap in the past because of their cholesterol content. New research shows it is not actually the cholesterol in food that raises a person’s blood cholesterol, it is the saturated and trans fat. For those who consume animal products, eggs can provide a healthy source of protein and are generally considered low in fat. The American Heart Association recommends limiting consumption of whole eggs to no more than seven per week.

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A NOTE FROM RICIA TAYLOR, RD: 

Food for Health readers:

Thank you for the lively discussion around nutrition. While I certainly appreciate and welcome different ideas and stances on the topic, I want to make some clarifying points to my original post.

Plant-based diets: I believe whole heartedly in plant-based diets and personally try to follow a plant-based diet the majority of the time. Research has shown that people who eat only a plant-based diet are at lower risk for heart disease, some cancers, and other health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. However, as a nutrition professional, I know that not everyone will be satisfied or comfortable with a plant-based only diet. There are definite health benefits associated with people who increase their fruit and vegetable intake, eat less meat and consume fewer dairy products.

Frozen vegetables: In some instances, some frozen vegetables can be healthier than fresh produce for the reasons stated above. If you are fortunate to grow your own produce or have access to a local farmers market, then fresh is certainly best.

Full-fat vs. non-fat: As stated in the original blog post, new research suggests that full-fat dairy may not be as harmful as once thought. One needs to read the food label to determine which product is the best. In response to new research suggesting low-fat products can lead to weight gain: this is not new; low-fat products have always been linked to weight gain because when fat is removed, additional sugar and/or sodium is often added. People also feel they can eat more of a product since it is ‘low-fat’. It is important to learn to read food labels, compare products and choose which is best for you.

Eggs: Eggs can be nutritious in that they contain a little of almost all the nutrients we need.  Eggs are one of the few foods that can raise HDL, which is also referred to as our "good" cholesterol. People who have higher HDL levels are usually at decreased risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions.

As previously stated, eggs are high in cholesterol (as is any animal-derived product) but they do not necessarily raise cholesterol in the blood. Eggs contain antioxidants like Lutein, Zeaxanthin and Vitamin A -- all of which benefits eye health.

Eggs are low in calories (70 cal), provide high quality protein (6 grams), and are low in unhealthy saturated fat (1.5 grams). Adequate protein is essential for weight loss and increasing muscle mass. There are definitely plant-based proteins that provide adequate amounts of protein when well-planned, however, eggs can help provide this adequate protein to individuals who choose to consume animal products.

Nutrition and meal-planning are not cookie-cutter; no one diet or meal is going to work for everyone. I encourage everyone to take inventory of their own health and talk to their care provider to find an approach that works for them. Thank you for reading.