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Nutrition myths — busted!

Forget what you’ve heard about low carbs, fat-free products, fruit juice and more
Woman in grocery store reading nutrition label on yogurt cup

Nutrition myths are like fast food restaurants – they are everywhere, they’re hard to avoid, and they can derail your best intentions to follow a healthy, balanced diet. This year’s Nutrition Month theme is “Take the fight out of food.” And that starts with getting the facts. So let’s skip the fast food in favour of some home-cooked truths. 

MYTH: A low-carb diet is the best way to lose weight. 
TRUTH: In a recent survey of Canadian dietitians, 97 percent said that choosing the right carbs is better for healthy eating than choosing a low-carb diet. The “right carbs” are vegetables, fruit, legumes and whole grains such as oats, brown rice and whole grain bread. These foods provide fibre, vitamins and a wealth of disease-fighting antioxidants. Yes, cutting carbs can help you lose weight, but it may not help keep the weight off. It is difficult to maintain a low-carb diet since the food choices are so limited. Instead, enjoy the right carbs in dishes like Herbed barley bean risotto and Brussels sprout, blueberry and walnut slaw. 

MYTH: If a food is fat-free, it must be healthy.
TRUTH: You’re grocery shopping and a bag of gummy candy hangs at the checkout counter. It’s an impulse buy – but why not indulge? It’s fat free, after all! The trouble is, those gummies are loaded with sugar, which is bad for your heart. Foods labeled “fat-free” can still be high in calories, salt, sugar or other undesirable nutrients. Plus, fat is not the enemy it was once thought to be. Fat from foods like nuts, oil and fish is essential in the diet. Don’t be fooled by fat-free claims – learn how to read the ingredient list and use the Nutrition Facts panel so you can get the whole story. 

MYTH: Only people with high blood pressure should limit their sodium.
TRUTH: We can all benefit from getting less sodium in our diets, since most Canadians get too much. In addition to causing high blood pressure, excess sodium can cause stroke, heart disease and kidney disease. The average Canadian consumes 3,400 mg per day, well above the upper tolerable limit of 2,300 mg.

Most of the sodium we consume comes from processed and packaged foods. The best way to cut back is to limit processed foods, such as canned goods, frozen entrees, broth and bouillon, salty snacks, pickled vegetables, deli meats marinades, condiments and sauces such as BBQ, soy, teriyaki, mustard and ketchup. Cook from scratch more often. Try flavouring your food with herbs and spices instead of salty condiments; when you do use them, look for reduced sodium versions and limit quantities. 

 

MYTH: Cooking meals at home takes way too much time.

TRUTH: If you plan ahead, keep a well-stocked kitchen, and choose simple recipes, weeknight meals can be easy to prepare. Choose recipes that can be prepared in less than 30 minutes, such as Roasted salmon and broccoli or Eat your greens frittata. Cook extra large batches and freeze portions for future meals, so weeknight supper just needs to be heated. Take short cuts with healthy convenience foods, such as pre-cut vegetables or cooked brown rice. Get other quick, easy meal ideas from the Heart & Stroke recipe file.

 

MYTH: Drinking fruit juice is a good way to increase fruit in your diet.

TRUTH: Fruit juice is high in added sugars. In fact, a cup of fruit juice can have as much as 40g of sugar, equivalent to 10 teaspoons. Consuming too much sugar increases your risk of many chronic diseases including heart disease and stroke. The best way to increase your fruit consumption is to eat whole fruit, which gives you the added benefit of fibre. When you’re thirsty reach for water or lower fat milk.