Newsflash: There are a lot of healthy food myths out there. Some aren’t necessarily true, and some are. But which is which?
Here’s how to navigate the sea of food info out there more so you can feel better about enjoying the foods you love.
Take deep-fried foods, for example. They’re universally bad for you, right? Nope.
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When experts challenged themselves to explore whether fried foods could be made healthy, they discovered that, when done properly, fried foods don’t have to be forever banished from a healthy diet.
Myth: Sugar is always bad for you.
Wrong. Just use the real thing to ensure that sugar calories are far from “empty” calories. Sugar is essential in the kitchen. Consider all that it does for baking, creating a tender cake crumb and ensuring crisp cookies. Then there’s its role in creating airy meringue or soft-textured ice cream. Keep in mind that other sweeteners like “natural” honey are basically refined sugar anyway—and they are all metabolized by your body the same way, as 4 calories per gram. Sugar also balances the flavors in healthy foods that might not taste so great on their own.
Don’t go overboard, of course. Most health experts suggest that added sugar supply no more than 10 percent of your total calories—about 200 in a 2,000-calorie diet.
Myth: Eating eggs raises your cholesterol levels.
Wrong. Dietary cholesterol found in eggs has little to do with the amount of cholesterol in your body. The confusion can be boiled down to semantics: The same word, “cholesterol,” is used to describe two different things. Dietary cholesterol—the fat-like molecules in animal-based foods like eggs doesn’t greatly affect the amount of cholesterol circulating in your bloodstream. Your body makes its own cholesterol, so it doesn’t need much of the kind you eat.
Instead, what fuels your body’s cholesterol-making machine is certain saturated and trans fats. Eggs contain relatively small amounts of saturated fat. One large egg contains about 1.5 grams saturated fat, a fraction of the amount in the tablespoon of butter many cooks use to cook that egg in. So, cutting eggs out of your diet is a bad idea; they’re a rich source of 13 vitamins and minerals.
The kind of cholesterol found in eggs doesn’t affect the cholesterol in your blood, so go ahead and enjoy eggs for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, guilt-free. In healthy people, “the research with eggs has never shown any link of egg consumption with blood lipids or with risk of heart disease,” says Don Layman, PhD, professor emeritus in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Myth: All saturated fats raise blood cholesterol.
Wrong. New research shows that some saturated fats do not raise blood cholesterol. Just when we’d all gotten comfortable with the idea that there are good-for-you mono- and polyunsaturated fats (like those found in olive oil and walnuts), along comes new research calling into question the one principle most health professionals thought was sacrosanct: All saturated fat is bad.
Researchers have long known that there are many kinds of saturated fats, and they are handled differently by the body when consumed. Stearic acid, a type of saturated fat found naturally in cocoa, dairy products, meats, and poultry, as well as palm and coconut oils, does not raise harmful LDL cholesterol but boosts beneficial HDL cholesterol levels.
Eating foods like coconut and chocolate that contain stearic acid—an HDL-cholesterol booster that may eventually be called the “good” saturated fat—is healthier than once thought. This is not a license to eat freely of anything containing stearic acid, though, because foods rich in any type of fat tend to be dense in calories, as well.
Myth: The only heart-friendly alcohol is red wine.
Wrong. Beer, wine, and liquors all confer the same health benefits. The so-called French Paradox elevated red wine to health-food status when researchers thought it was the antioxidants in the drink that protected the foie gras- and cheese-loving French from heart disease.