We know more now about the science of nutrition than ever before, but there are still countless misconceptions about food that lead people to make misinformed decisions about their diets every day.
So which nutrition myths need to be ditched immediately?
Nora Minno, a registered dietitian and certified nutritionist based in New York City, joined the TODAY show to debunk the most common nutrition myths she hears.
Carbs should be avoided
“I have good news for all you carb lovers. … Carbs are your friend, and in fact they’re a really important part of a healthy, balanced diet,” Minno told TODAY’s Sheinelle Jones in a segment aired on Monday, Feb. 20.
Carbohydrates do a lot for our bodies. “They’re our body’s (and brain’s) preferred source of fuel, they help our digestion and they just make us feel good,” said Minno.
However, the quality and quantity of carbs you choose to consume does matter. “The quantity is really where a lot of people go wrong and over=consume things like refined carbs, sweets (added sugars), white breads, etc.,” Minno added.
Refined, simple or “bad” carbohydrates are digested quickly and send immediate bursts of glucose or energy into the bloodstream, according to the American Heart Association. Complex or “good” carbohydrates are digested more slowly and provide a lower, more steady supply of glucose to the bloodstream, per AHA. Examples include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
“If you focus on portions and choose more complex carbs … you should be in the clear,” said Minno.
Fresh produce is healthier than frozen or canned
“This is not true at all. … In fact, sometimes your frozen or canned options can be actually more nutritious,” said Minno, adding that previous studies have shown that fresh vegetables can lose 15% to 55% of their vitamin C from the time they’re picked to the time they make it to your grocery shelf.
Frozen fruits and vegetables are typically flash-frozen right on the spot, said Minno, which packs in a lot more of those vitamins and minerals. Frozen foods, and especially canned foods, also last much longer, which can help reduce food waste, Minno added.
Another plus? Frozen and canned vegetables are often much more affordable than their fresh counterparts, said Minno. So ditching this myth is good for your body and your wallet, too.
Plant-based milk is healthier than dairy milk
These days, it seems like there are about a million different milk options available out there — from regular old cow’s milk to soy, hemp, macadamia, pea and everything in between. Often, these plant-based milks are touted as healthier options, but this is not always the case, Minno said.
“This one really comes down to preference,” Minno added. It’s a good thing to have so many options out there, especially for people who are dairy-free, but cow’s milk is still a really great choice, she added. “One cup of skim milk packs in 10 grams of protein and a quarter of your daily calcium needs, whereas plant milk, such as almond milk, has one gram of protein per serving,” said Minno.
Ultimately, it comes down to personal choice and what makes your body feel the best. “If you are picking a plant milk, you want to pick varieties that have low or no added sugar and ones that are more fortified with things like calcium and vitamin D,” Minno said.
All fat is bad
“Thank goodness that low-fat craze in the ’90s and thereafter is over,” Minno said, stressing that not all fat is bad.
“Fats, most importantly mono and polyunsaturated fats, are really good for us,” said Minno, adding that these fats can help protect our heart. That’s because monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can help boost HDL, or good cholesterol, and lower LDL, or bad cholesterol, Minno added.
We can get these fats by eating a diet rich in foods like avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil and fatty fish, such as salmon.
However, there are certain fats we do want to avoid, Minno said. The other two types of fats — saturated and trans fats — can raise LDL levels, and consuming high amounts of them over time can lead to heart disease and stroke, according to the AHA.
The AHA recommends staying at or below 13 grams of saturated fat a day, said Minno, and cutting back on trans fats by avoiding things like partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, such as shortening, or foods fried in them.
“You want to be a really savvy label-reader,” Minno said.
Soy increases breast cancer risk
It’s a common myth that’s still very abundant. “This myth really stems from the fact that soy contains something called phytoestrogens,” Minno said. Phytoestrogens are a naturally occurring nutrient found in certain plants, which may have certain “estrogenic effects” when ingested and metabolized, per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We know that estrogen can sometimes be linked to an increase in breast cancer, but the estrogens in soy are very different than mammalian estrogens, the ones we have in our body,” Minno said. These phytoestrogens act differently, too. “They can actually be protective against things like breast cancer because what we’ve seen in Asian countries where they consume more soy is that breast cancer risk is actually much lower,” she added.
According to the AHA, consuming 25 grams of soy protein per day can actually be heart protective, Minno said. Boost your soy protein intake by eating things like tofu, tempeh, soy milk and edamame.