Eggs & Catfish: 8 Food Myths To Ignore

two eggs with smiley faces drawn on them
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.

More recent research, however, has shown that antioxidants aren’t the answer after all. Alcohol raises levels of protective HDL, or good cholesterol, which help protect against plaque buildup in the arteries and reduce clotting factors that contribute to heart attack and stroke, according to Eric Rimm, ScD, associate professor of nutrition at the School of Public Health at Harvard University. Any kind of beverage that contains alcohol, when consumed in moderation (and that means one to two drinks a day), helps reduce heart disease risk.

Myth: Adding salt to the pot adds sodium to the food.

Wrong. Salt added to boiling water may actually make vegetables more nutritious.

 Public health messages encouraging us to shake our salt-in-everything habits are, in general, good; sodium is a potential problem even for non-hypertensive people. But it’s easy to overlook how sodium can actually help in recipes.

“Salt in the cooking water reduces the leaching of nutrients from vegetables into the water,” says Harold McGee, author of On Food & Cooking. That means your blanched broccoli, green beans, or asparagus likely retains more nutrients. “It also speeds up the cooking process so you don’t lose as many nutrients from overcooking.” McGee recommends using about 1 teaspoon of salt per cup of water. The amount of sodium absorbed by the food is minuscule.

Myth: Fried foods are always too fatty.

Wrong. Healthy deep-fried food is not an oxymoron.

When food is exposed to hot oil, the moisture inside boils and pushes to the surface and then out into the oil. As moisture leaves, it creates a barrier, minimizing oil absorption—when the frying is done right. Meanwhile, the little oil that does penetrate the food’s surface forms a crisp, tasty crust.

To keep foods from soaking up oil, fry according to recipe instructions. For most foods, 375°F is optimal. Oil temperatures that are too low will increase fat absorption. So, watch the oil temperature using a candy/fry thermometer, and drain cooked foods on a paper towel for a minute or two before diving in.

You can have fried catfish and hush puppies, too!

Keep in mind that we’re not giving fast-food fried chicken dinners with French fries a passing grade. Such a meal contains an entire day’s worth of calories and sodium, thanks to large portion sizes, excessive breading, and globs of sauces. 

But as an occasional treat, home-fried foods have a place in a healthy diet. Use in moderation by pairing with a sensible side or salad. Always choose a healthy oil that’s low in saturated fat, such as peanut, soybean, and canola oils.

Myth: The more fiber you eat, the better.

Wrong. Not all fibers are equally beneficial. Consider the source. 

Yogurt doesn’t naturally come with fiber, yet the grocery aisles now boast fiber-supplemented yogurt, along with cereals, energy bars, even water.

What’s the deal?

Fiber is a fad-food component right now, and manufacturers are isolating specific types of fiber and adding them to packaged foods to take advantage. But the science isn’t entirely clear yet: Just as we’re learning more about different types of fat, research is showing how complex fiber is as well. We now know that different fibers have different functions (wheat bran helps move foods along; oat bran lowers cholesterol; inulin supports healthy gut bacteria).

Some experts are skeptical that the so-called faux-fiber foods offer the same beneficial effect as naturally fiber-rich ones like whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes.

While it’s true that only half of us eat the fiber we need for good health, eating processed foods with added fiber doesn’t get us off the hook. Eating fiber-rich whole foods is the best way to gain this essential component of you diet.

Myth: You should always remove chicken skin before eating.

Wrong. You can enjoy a skin-on chicken breast without blowing your sat-fat budget.

 Half the pleasure of eating roast chicken comes from the gloriously crisp, brown skin that seems to melt in your mouth. Yet the skinless, boneless chicken breast—one of the more boring protein sources on Earth—became the health-conscious cook’s gold standard somewhere along the way. Fortunately, the long-standing command to strip poultry of its skin before eating doesn’t hold up under a nutritional microscope. A 12-ounce bone-in, skin-on chicken breast half contains just 2.5 grams of saturated fat and 50 calories more than its similarly portioned skinless counterpart.

A chicken breast will always be lean—skinned or not. What’s more, 55 percent of the fat in the chicken skin is monounsaturated—the heart-healthy kind you want more of.

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