What Everyone Thinks about Healthy Food
When most people think about making changes toward a healthier lifestyle, they tend to make switching up their diet their first priority. Perhaps people do this because they think that eating habits are easier to break, but whatever the reason, eating healthy isn’t always as easy as it’s sometimes made out to be.
There are many health myths out there, which can create a lot of confusion, especially if you’re just starting out on your healthy eating journey. Taking the first steps towards a healthier lifestyle might mean doing a bit of research. So, here are some ways you may be mislead about healthy foods and eating a healthier diet.
Fat is bad
The whole point of trying to lose weight or eating healthier is to reduce body fat, right? In most cases, this may be the end goal people have in mind, but you need to consider the idea that eating “fatty foods” isn’t always bad for you. “Eating fat does not make you fat. We need fat in our diets to keep our brains healthy, protect our organs, carry fat-soluble vitamins into and around the body, and as building blocks for every cell,” says Stephanie Dunne, Registered Dietitian at NutritionQED.com. “It’s definitely time for us to move on from the idea that fat is the enemy.”
Rebecca Lewis, in-house dietitian at HelloFresh agrees. “With that in mind, fat shouldn’t be eliminated from your diet – rather it should be consumed in moderation. Additionally, not all fats are equal – plant based fats like olive oils and those from nuts are unsaturated and linked to heart health. Limit your intake of animal based saturated fats as they have a higher association with heart disease when over-consumed. While the fat may be reduced or taken out, sugar and sodium are often added in to maintain flavor!”
Carbs are evil
Another dieting pitfall? Carbs. A lot of people believe that eliminating carbohydrates from their diets is a good way to lose weight, but the problem with this statement, according to Lewis, is that what “carbs” are, isn’t usually defined, which can cause confusion. “If we say that carbs are whole grains, fruits and veggies — then there is less evidence that they are ‘bad,'” she says.
“However, if we are talking about highly processed and refined grains, pastas, breads, crackers, and cookies — then the story changes.” She told me that the reason so many people feel better when they go low-carb, or eliminate carbs all together, is that they sometimes inadvertently get rid of the junk food in their lives, making room for healthier options. “Not to mention that usually the carb-heavy foods they are eliminating are the boxed and bagged foods that are also high in the combination of salt, sugar, and fat,” she says.
If you’re planning on cutting out carbs, be aware of the kinds of carbs that you’re cutting out of your diet, so you don’t miss out on the carbohydrates that are good for you!
Organic is better
Confused about what “organic produce” even means? According to the Public Health and Safety Organization, “Products labeled as ‘100% organic’ must contain only organically produced ingredients and processing aids, excluding water and salt. No other ingredients or additives are permitted. Products labeled ‘organic’ must contain at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt). Any remaining ingredients must consist of non-agricultural substances that appear on the NOP National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances.”
This is all well and good, but Lewis told me that if you’re making changes in your diet based on organic produce, you have to get real. For example, if you are struggling to eat 5 cups of fruits and veggies each day (Lewis’ recommended amount), then replacing one conventional apple with an organic one — but consuming no other fruits or veggies — isn’t really getting you anywhere. “All of us need to begin with getting enough fruits and veggies,” she says. “Once this becomes easy and part of your daily life, then you can look towards organic.”
Buying organic is complicated
It may take some extra thought, but no need to get your asparagus in a bunch, stressing about it. If you are choosing to buy organic foods to avoid consuming pesticides, Lewis says that not all fruits and veggies are heavily sprayed. “There are definitely the ‘dirty dozen’ to be aware of, (like strawberries, apples, nectarines, peaches, celery, grapes, cherries, spinach, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers, according to The Environmental Working Group, or EWG) but then there are the ‘clean 15’ (like avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwis, eggplant, honeydew melon, grapefruit, cantaloupe, and cauliflower, according to the EWG)” she says.
“There are also many farmers that practice organic farming, but because of strict laws, regulations, and high fees to label the produce as organic — some of them opt out of labeling their food organic.” Her best advice, if you’re interested in purchasing organic produce, is to get to know your local farmers by reaching out, taking a visit to the orchards, or perhaps starting a conversation online if you’ve got questions.
No sugar, no calories = good
Just because a food is listed as zero-calories, or sugar-free it doesn’t mean that it’s good for our bodies. “Most of the diet products and sugar-free products contain artificial sweeteners which trick your taste buds, and actually increase sugar cravings,” says Eliza Whetzel, a Registered Dietitian at Middleberg Nutrition, in New York City. “Not to mention, we don’t fully know the effect these chemicals have on our body.”
“Be wary of low-fat foods when one of the first 3 ingredients list sugar,” says Lewis. “Regularly eating too much sugar in your diet could lead to higher than normal level of insulin in your blood — and in the long term, this will interfere with proper hormone signalling in the brain — including signalling of our hunger hormones! In fact, in long-term studies, people who have consumed artificial sweeteners end up gaining weight and belly fat! Moreover, artificial sweeteners are synthetic chemical creations that are viewed as food additives. They may be generally regarded as safe, but controversy has always followed, especially around their possible link to cancer.”
Even when it comes to the milk we consume, Whetzel says it’s better to choose 2% or full fat dairy products. “People think that skim milk is better than whole, but when the fat is taken out, sugar is generally added in. Check your labels.”