Debunking Common Food Misconceptions to Maintain a Healthy Diet

While there are many food myths you may already know are false (like crunching up a cookie before eating it gives it fewer calories), there are several lesser-known misconceptions about certain foods.

Some foods are thought to be good choices, but can actually hinder a healthy diet, or lack the full nutritional value they have a reputation for containing. For example, you’ve most likely been told your whole life that eating a lot of carrots will help improve your eyesight or that chewing on celery actually burns calories, but we are here to shed some light of these myths. 

Here is a roundup of eight healthy food myths, plus some proven alternatives to help promote a healthy diet.

1. Organic Foods Are Better for You

Just because a product is labeled as organic, doesn’t mean it earns the nutritionist’s stamp of approval over all non-organic foods. It’s a common misconception that organic produce is better for you nutritionally than non-organic. While organic produce is grown and processed according to federal guidelines, it holds the same caloric and nutritional value as non-organic food.

When it comes to maintaining a healthy diet, organic food can be a great choice, but the best thing to do is to find locally-grown fruits and vegetables that are in season and have the USDA-certified label. For more information on organic foods, visit the USDA website.

2. Potatoes Count as Your Serving of Vegetables

While potatoes offer a great source of energy, fiber, vitamin B, and potassium, they actually don’t count toward your daily vegetable serving. Potatoes are indeed a vegetable but they are typically used in place of other sources of starch (carbohydrates), such as rice, pasta, or bread.

That being said, potatoes do still play an important role in your diet. Forget the added salt but leave the skin on your potatoes for extra fiber and vitamins.

3. Eating Carrots Improves Your Eyesight

There is a widespread myth that was first circulated during World War II that eating a lot of vegetables would help keep the pilot’s eyes in top shape. In reality, it was improved technology that helped the fighter pilot’s eyesight. 

However, since that time, the myth continued and many parents still offer this anecdote as a way to convince their kids to eat more vegetables. While carrots are rich in vitamin A and are a great addition to any healthy diet, they do not typically improve your vision.

4. Fat-Free Foods Are Always Healthier

Health foods continue to sweep the shelves of grocery stores, but it is always important to look beyond the label before purchasing. This is especially true when it comes to food marketed as “fat-free,” “low-fat,” and “non-fat.” For some dairy and meat products, it’s generally true that anything with less fat is better. However, when it comes to packaged and processed foods, lower fat alternatives often have other harmful ingredients as fat substitutes.

When manufacturers remove fat from packaged cookies, for example, they compensate for the taste by adding other unhealthy ingredients such as sugar. As manufacturers continue to tweak the ratios of fat, salt, sugar, and other ingredients in foods, nutrition experts claim you are better off avoiding these “fat-free” foods. Instead, focus on incorporating healthy fats into your diet such as avocados or nuts.

Learn more about the dangers of added sugar and what to eat instead in our blog Maintaining a Healthy Diet: Recommended Daily Sugar Limit and Healthier Sugar Alternatives.

5. Margarine Saves Calories

Margarine is marketed as a healthier alternative to butter because it’s made from vegetable oils while butter contains cholesterol and saturated fat. However, butter and margarine each have the same amount of calories. Additionally, some kinds of margarine are actually unhealthy compared to butter because they contain trans fats, which studies show can have negative effects on heart health and cholesterol.

6. Eating Celery Burns Calories

Negative-calorie foods are boasted to require more energy to digest than the amount of calories they contain. Celery is mostly made up of water and fiber, often marking it at the top of the list of “negative-calorie” foods. However, there is no research to support this common food myth. 

According to the Mayo Clinic (among many other studies), the human body only spends up to 10% of energy digesting foods, which is not enough to subtract calories. However, celery is a great low-calorie option to add to a healthy diet, no matter your weight loss goal.

Interested in learning more dieting myths? Read our blog Dieting Myths You Didn’t Know About and Harmful Exercises to Avoid.

7. Ready-Made Protein Shakes Have Less Sugar

You have likely seen or even purchased pre-made smoothie drinks and protein powder mixes before, which often claim to contain less sugar than in milkshakes, slushies, and diet sodas. In actuality, they have the same amount of sugar and artificial sweeteners.

However, not all ready-made protein shakes and smoothies are this way. Many of them, especially the plant-based mixes, are still a great addition to a healthy diet. Be sure to check the nutrition label to avoid added sugars and artificially sweetened mixes.

8. Frozen Yogurt Is Healthier Than Ice Cream

Frozen yogurt (froyo) contains gut-friendly bacteria, often making it a healthier choice than regular ice cream. However, it is a common food myth that froyo (even plain vanilla flavor) is the better option. In fact, frozen yogurt can have as much sugar as regular ice cream and not enough probiotics. Plus, as you add in your favorite toppings like chocolate candies, sprinkles, and cookie dough, frozen yogurt quickly turns into an unhealthy snack.

Try opting for a small portion of the full-fat version instead, as it will keep you fuller longer. Additionally, instead of adding in a lot of toppings, consider swapping the candies and sprinkles for fresh fruit.

For more on common foods you should limit in your diet, download our Fact Sheet!

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