Dispelling the myths

Is butter worse than margarine? Does protein build muscle? Read on for answers to these and other nutrition falsehoods.

Myths about food and nutrition perpetuate themselves as consumers continue to seek quick and easy solutions to health conditions such as overweight and obesity. In addition, Americans spend billions of dollars a year on dietary supplements and weight-loss products and diets—but some of these products may be ineffective, costly and even harmful to health.

Non-commercial operators are in a unique position to help dispel some of these myths, since they encounter many of the same customers daily, or often between two and four times a week.

Here are 10 of the most common nutrition myths plus commentary you can use in helping customers see through them.

Butter contains more calories than margarine.
Butter and margarine contain equal amounts of calories (100) and fat (12 grams) per tablespoon. But, butter contains cholesterol and more saturated fat (which raises blood cholesterol and risk for heart disease) than margarine does. To reduce calories and fat, especially saturated fat, advise customers to choose “diet” (more water) or whipped (more air) margarine in a soft tub or liquid form that is “trans-fat free.” Trans-fats raise blood cholesterol.

Honey and brown sugar are more nutritious than white sugar (sucrose).
Ounce for ounce, there is not a significant nutritional difference between sugars. They all provide four calories per gram and are digested to glucose (blood sugar). Since honey is more concentrated, honey is slightly higher in calories (64 per tablespoon) than white sugar (50 calories per tablespoon). But, honey tastes sweeter, so less can be used in place of sugar. Brown sugar is white sugar flavored with molasses.

Consuming extra protein (e.g., bars, shakes) increases muscle and improves athletic performance.
Extra protein from food or supplements will not increase muscle size and strength. Only training like weightlifting and exercise will. Extra protein will be used for energy or converted to body fat. Most adult athletes need half to three-quarters of a gram of protein per pound of body weight daily. Teen athletes need one gram of protein per pound. This amount can easily be provided by balanced meals.

Vitamin C can prevent or cure the common cold.
No scientific evidence has proven that a large dose (e.g., one gram daily) of supplemental Vitamin C prevents colds. But, extra Vitamin C may slightly reduce the duration and severity of cold symptoms. Megadoses of Vitamin C supplements may cause kidney stones and diarrhea.

Vitamins provide pep and energy.
Vitamins like B12 do not supply energy (calories). Carbohydrates (sugars and starches), proteins and fats do. Vitamins act as catalysts in the body’s chemical reactions that produce energy. Megadoses of vitamin supplements (e.g., A, D, C, B6) may be harmful.

Avoid eggs to reduce high blood cholesterol.
In most people, dietary cholesterol in animal foods has little effect on blood cholesterol. Our bodies make cholesterol. Genetics, trans-fats and saturated fats (low in eggs) affect blood cholesterol levels much more than dietary cholesterol does. The American Heart Association no longer advises limiting egg yolks (215 milligrams of cholesterol per yolk). Eating up to one egg yolk a day is acceptable for healthy individuals if cholesterol intake is limited to 300 milligrams daily.

Raw foods are always healthier than cooked foods.
Not always. Raw foods are low in fat, cholesterol and sodium and high in fiber and Vitamins A, C and E. But, Vitamin B12, calcium and iron may be deficient. Cooked foods are a better source of lycopene (e.g., tomatoes) and beta-carotene (e.g., carrots) since they are released by heat. Eating raw foods is risky, since cooking destroys potentially harmful bacteria. Proponents of raw foods believe the myth that uncooked foods contain essential enzymes destroyed by cooking. We produce enough enzymes to digest foods and release nutrients. 

Sugar causes diabetes.
Diabetes (inadequate insulin production or insulin resistance) is associated with high blood sugar levels, but eating sugar is not the cause.  Genetics, obesity and old age are three major risk factors. Obesity leads to insulin resistance. A balanced diet (including sugar in moderation), weight loss, exercise and medications are used to control diabetes.

Starches like bread, pasta, rice and potatoes are “fattening.”
No food by itself causes weight gain. Excess calorie intake from carbohydrates, protein and/or fats compared to calorie expenditure causes weight gain. People who eat a lot of starches usually eat less fat and total calories, since carbohydrates are satisfying. At least six servings a day of starches and whole grains (half of the servings) are advised for adults in the new Food Pyramid. But, beware of high-fat, high-calorie sauces, gravy, mayonnaise, butter and sour cream.

Olive oil is the healthiest vegetable oil.
Use any oil in small amounts, since all oils provide 14 grams of fat and 120 calories per tablespoon. Monoun-saturated fats (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) are considered the healthiest, since when substituted for saturated fat, they can reduce high blood cholesterol (especially “bad” LDL-cholesterol).

Olive oil has polyphenols (antioxidants) that may reduce risk for cancer and heart disease, and it has the highest proportion of MUFA. Canola oil is also a good source of MUFA, higher in PUFA and lowest in saturated fat. Peanut, nut and rice bran oils are rich in MUFA, too. PUFA reduce LDL-cholesterol more than MUFA do. PUFA include soybean, safflower, sunflower, corn, cottonseed, walnut, sesame, and flaxseed oils.