Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet, especially when it comes to diet and nutrition tips. In honor of National Nutrition Month, dietitians at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center are debunking the Internet’s biggest nutrition myths.
Myth: Coconut oil is a miraculous healthy fat source.
Truth: Despite Internet claims touting the numerous health benefits of coconut oil consumption (burning fat, speeding metabolism, promoting weight loss, improving heart health, and even curing Alzheimer's disease) the reality is that no credible, peer-reviewed research exists to support these claims. Nutritionally, coconut oil is more than 90 percent saturated fat, meaning it has the same detrimental effects on your heart and blood vessels as similar saturated fat sources, like butter.
The take-away? If you enjoy the flavor or texture of coconut oil, then use it, but do so in moderation. Treat it just like you would any other saturated fat, using small, mindful amounts.
–Olivia Gross, RD, LDN
Myth: You need to do a detox or cleanse to rid your body of toxins.
Truth: No supplement, juice, or special pad is going to do better than your liver, kidneys, skin and lungs. Detox and cleanse supplements are unregulated, and their claims are not backed by science; they can actually do more harm than good.
Bottom line: If you are looking to do your body right, spend your money on fresh fruits and vegetables, drink water and don’t smoke.
–Sara O’Brien, MS, APRD, LDN, CNSC
Myth: Gluten is evil.
Truth: Gluten is not an evil carbohydrate; it is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Avoiding gluten if you don’t have to for medical reasons may result in inadequate intake of B-vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin), iron and fiber. A gluten-free diet can be high in calories, fat and carbohydrates and contribute to weight gain, not to mention cost twice as much without necessarily being healthier.
For people who cannot eat gluten for medical reasons, naturally gluten-free foods like fruit, vegetables, whole grains (teff, millet, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, gluten-free oats) and lean proteins are healthful options.
–Elaine Lyons, MS, RD
Myth: Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are unsafe to eat.
Truth: A GMO is a plant or animal that’s DNA has been altered to express desirable traits (e.g. resistance to disease or insects, improved nutritional value, or higher crop yield). This is not a new idea; humans have been breeding plants and animals for this purpose for a long time. Scientific evidence shows that GMO foods are safe for human and animal consumption, and the American Medical Association supports this conclusion. Government agencies regulate GMOs the same way they regulate conventional crops, meaning GMO foods don’t require separate labeling. This lack of transparency has spurred debate and caused many people to fear GMOs. You can choose not to eat these foods for personal, agricultural or other reasons, but you should not fear for your safety.
–Taylor Gillis, MS, RD, LDN, CNSC
Myth: It’s unnatural to eat dairy products.
Truth: The Internet will tell you that because some people are lactose intolerant — meaning they have bloating, gas, diarrhea or other digestive symptoms after the consuming lactose (the naturally occurring sugar in milk) — human beings are not meant to eat dairy products.
This is simply not the case. Some people are allergic to peanuts, but it is not unnatural for human beings to eat peanuts. Different ethnic groups developed the ability to digest lactose over time as part of the evolutionary process. Therefore, if you’re not allergic to dairy, consuming low-fat dairy products can provide a good source of calcium, potassium, vitamin D and good-quality protein. If you are lactose intolerant, try lactose-free milk, aged cheeses and yogurt to receive the nutritional benefits of dairy products.
–Sara O’Brien, MS, APRD, LDN, CNSC
Myth: You can’t eat fruit if you have diabetes.
Truth: You can eat fruit if you have diabetes, but you need to be eating the right amounts and in the right forms. A serving of fruit is about 60 calories and 15 grams of carbohydrate. Examples include a full cup of whole strawberries, a medium orange, two clementines or 17 grapes. Unlike most fruit juices, whole fruit provides dietary fiber, which slows digestion and the rise in blood glucose, especially when eaten with a meal. So in general it is better to eat your fruit than to drink it!
-Rebecca Bradley, MS, RD, LDN, CDE
Myth: A fiber supplement will help you lose weight.
Truth: If you look to the Internet for nutrition recommendations on weight loss, the answer may be to take a fiber supplement. This may not be the best advice. Fiber supplements or fiber-fortified processed foods do not contain the other health benefits of fiber-rich whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains. Also, when these supplements and fiber-fortified processed foods are introduced too quickly, many people feel gastrointestinal discomfort.
For a healthful, weight-conscious eating plan, make whole high-fiber foods the base of your diet. If you are not used to eating a high fiber diet, incorporate these foods slowly and drink lots of water.
Increasing natural fiber while reducing foods high in saturated fat and sugar can help many people reach their weight loss goals.
- Katherine Lundy RD, CSO, LDN