Diet Mythbusters Part 1: Food and Nutrition Myths that Never Die

Mythbusting some of the most common food and diet myths! #nutrition #health #intuitiveeating

This post was sponsored by Egg Nutrition Center. As always, thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are my own.

Happy National Nutrition Month! For those of you who aren’t dietitians, National Nutrition Month is a yearly nutrition education campaign by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and a time to highlight the work of registered dietitians. Usually I don’t do anything special to celebrate (other than guilt my husband for not bringing me flowers on RD Day), but this year I thought it would be fun to do a nutrition focused series on the blog. 

When people find out I’m a dietitian, one of the first things they say is “oh, so you tell people what to eat.” As a non-diet dietitian and intuitive eating counselor, I do a lot more unlearning in my practice, mythbusting the overblown and inaccurate nutrition advice that gets accepted as fact in this diet culture we all live in.

So in that light, every week this month I’ll be sharing a mythbusting post, covering topics like fad diets, carbohydrates, women’s health and today’s topic – those nutrition myths that just won’t die! I hope this series helps you feel more confident in feeding yourself, and helps you think a little more critically next time someone tries to tell you that you shouldn’t eat something.

Myth: Throw away the egg yolk.

I can’t think of a better encapsulation of how wishy-washy diet culture can be than an egg! Growing up, even when I was in elementary school, I remember ordering egg white omelets because is was just common knowledge that egg yolks were bad - and clearly as a 5th grader, cholesterol was something I should be worrying about. Oye. 

Now, thanks to the popularity of diets like keto and paleo, egg yolks are all the rage again. I fully support eating the whole egg. Fad diets based on pseudoscience…not so much.

With all the back and forth, I still see clients in my office who are confused about egg yolks, especially when it comes to cholesterol. So what’s the truth?  

Yes, egg yolks contain cholesterol, but that doesn’t mean you should toss it. It is estimated that three-fourths of the population has minimal or no response to dietary cholesterol (1). And of course, risk for heart disease is so much more complicated than high cholesterol. For example, inflammation, cholesterol particle size, and blood sugar matter just as much, and I would argue more! In fact, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans used to list dietary cholesterol as a nutrient of concern limiting consumption to no more than 300 mg/day; however, the 2015 Guidelines no longer list cholesterol as a nutrient of concern because available evidence shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol.

If you’re still anxious about cholesterol in eggs, a few more facts:

  • A 2018 study found that the cholesterol in whole eggs is poorly absorbed, and does not acutely affect serum (blood) cholesterol (2).

  • As a source of fat and protein, multiple studies have shown eating eggs helps with blood sugar control (3) – and you lose a lot of that fat and protein when you toss the yolk!

  • Studies have shown 1-3 eggs a day may increase HDL (i.e. “good”) cholesterol (4).

Also, there’s tons of nutrients in the egg yolk! Not only does the yolk contain more than 40% of an egg’s protein, but it also contains the nutrients choline and lutein, which are associated with cognitive function and eye health. The yolks also house 100% of the egg’s fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E, as well as 100% of the eggs vitamin B12, B6, iron, and zinc.

AD: Learn why you should stop tossing your egg yolk. #nutrition #diet #wellness #egg

If you’d like to get more whole egg benefits, here’s some of my favorite easy egg recipes from the blog:

Myth: Eat after 8 and you’ll gain weight.

While this nutrition myth does have a good ring to it, it doesn’t have a ring of truth. Nighttime eating has long been associated with weight gain, often times with arbitrary caps on when to end eating. While this myth has lots of variations, the main idea is that at night, your body isn’t using energy, so your meal will get stored as fat.

In my practice, I’ve found this myth creates a lot of stress, as people try to rush to get dinner in before the deadline, or shame themselves for giving into hunger before bed. With intuitive eating, this myth definitely interferes with one’s ability to honor their hunger.

In reality, your body doesn’t shut down at night. While you’re using less energy at rest, your heart is still pumping, your body is still regulating it’s temperature, your lungs are still breathing, and your brain is actually doing quite a bit of work besides having weird reoccurring nightmares about dinosaurs (oh wait, is that one just me?). That uses a pretty significant amount of energy, plus 8+ hours would be a pretty long time to go without food if you were awake.  

That said, I understand where this myth comes from. Many people struggle with eating concerns at night. Not eating enough during the day and binging at night is a pretty common pattern I see in my office. But here, the problem is undereating during the day, not “overeating” at night. The solution isn’t putting a cap on eating at night – it’s learning to fuel your body adequately and appropriately during the day, so you can make rational decisions at night that aren’t driven by primal hunger.

I also have to point out that weight is not a proxy for health. Talking about food or behaviors supposed effect on weight is not the same thing as talking about health.

If you’re hungry at night, eat a snack! I generally recommend pairing a source of carbohydrate with something that contains fat and/or protein. One of my favorite bedtime snacks since childhood is a piece of toast with a fried egg. You could also try cheddar apple toast, salty cashew coconut energy balls, or dessert, like a tahini chocolate chip cookie and a cup of milk.  

Myth: Chocolate gives you acne.

I remember believing in this one SO hard when I was in high school! My theory is that it comes from the fact that many people start breaking out before their period, and craving chocolate at the same time, since our body needs more calories during that time. This myth is a great example of how correlation does not equal causation - no studies (5) have ever shown chocolate causes acne. In fact, there’s not a lot of evidence any specific foods can either cause or cure acne.

Mythbusting the idea that diet causes acne# #nutrition #wellness #health

 That said, there are some dietary patterns which may be helpful. Eating antioxidant rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is helpful for reducing inflammation that can contribute to acne. So is eating enough fat and protein, which is important for hormone production. Eating a low glycemic dietary pattern has also been shown to be helpful for acne, but before you cut out sugar, remember that has much more to do with eating consistently and getting some fat, protein and carbs when you eat.

Myth: Fresh is better than frozen or canned.

When it comes to produce, there’s always been this idea that fresh is best, thanks to the popularity of “clean eating,” frozen and canned vegetables have become one of the casualties of the fearmongering around processed foods. Definitely there is truth to the fact that eating a diet rich in fresh foods is good for health, but that doesn’t mean that all processed foods are bad for you.

Is fresh produce healthier than canned or frozen? #nutrition #health

Frozen fruits and vegetables are simply made by flash freezing produce immediately after harvesting. Because the produce is preserved at peak freshness, there may actually be more nutrients than in fresh, depending on the season. Canned fruits and vegetables are preserved by heating in salt water (vegetables) or syrup/juice (fruit) to kill off and prevent growth of bacteria. Again, because they’re canned soon after harvest, there may be more of certain nutrients versus fresh. Some nutrients, like vitamin C, may be damaged by heat in canning, but other nutrients may actually be more absorbable. A good example of that is lycopene in canned tomatoes – according to the USDA database, a cup of tomato puree has about 11X more lycopene than a cup of raw tomato.

Canned and frozen vegetables may sometimes have added sugar and salt, but that’s OK! I think the key is variety – getting a variety of fresh and convenience foods, and a variety of foods in general! Instead of getting wrapped up on the food label, try zooming out on nutrition. If choosing frozen or canned makes it more convenient or tastier to eat vegetables, that’s a healthy choice for you. Personally, I always keep a variety of frozen and canned produce on hand for convenience. One of my favorite easy weeknight meals is veggie fried rice with frozen rice, edamame and stir-fry veggies with scrambled egg and soy sauce.

Were any nutrition myths busted for you in this post? Feel free to share any myths you’d like to see me bust in upcoming posts in the comments!

References:

1.     McNamara DJ. The impact of egg limitations on coronary heart disease risk: do  the numbers add up? J Am Coll Nutr. Vol 19(5 Suppl) 2000:540S.

2.     Kim, Jung, and Wayne Campbell. “Dietary Cholesterol Contained in Whole Eggs Is Not Well Absorbed and Does Not Acutely Affect Plasma Total Cholesterol Concentration in Men and Women: Results from 2 Randomized Controlled Crossover Studies.” Nutrients, vol. 10, no. 9, 2018, p. 1272.

3.     Pearce, Karma L., et al. “Egg Consumption as Part of an Energy-Restricted High-Protein Diet Improves Blood Lipid and Blood Glucose Profiles in Individuals with Type 2 Diabetes.” British Journal of Nutrition, vol. 105, no. 04, 2010, pp. 584–592., doi:10.1017/s0007114510003983.

4.     Blesso, Christopher N., et al. “Whole Egg Consumption Improves Lipoprotein Profiles and Insulin Sensitivity to a Greater Extent than Yolk-Free Egg Substitute in Individuals with Metabolic Syndrome.” Metabolism, vol. 62, no. 3, 2013, pp. 400–410., doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2012.08.014.

5.     Kucharska, Alicja, et al. “Significance of Diet in Treated and Untreated Acne Vulgaris.” Advances in Dermatology and Allergology, vol. 2, 2016, pp. 81–86., doi:10.5114/ada.2016.59146.


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