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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Never Buy These 7 Foods!

A close-up of a brown paper bag filled with groceries
Most people only have so much time, or so much money, to waste in a grocery store. You want to get in, get out and save as much money as possible – all while knowing that the food you’re buying is the healthiest for you and your family.

So which items should you avoid?

1. Energy or Protein Bars.

These calorie-laden bars are usually stacked at the checkout counter because they depend on impulse buyers who grab them, thinking they are more wholesome than a candy bar. Unfortunately, they can have very high fat and sugar contents and are often as caloric as a regular candy bar. They’re also two to three times more expensive than a candy bar at $2 to $3 a bar. If you need a boost, a vitamin-rich piece of fruit, a yogurt, or a small handful of nuts is more satiating and less expensive!

2. Pre-Formed Meat Patties.

Frozen burgers, beef or otherwise, are more expensive than buying the ground meat in bulk and making patties yourself. We timed it — it takes less than 10 seconds to form a flat circle and throw it on the grill! Also, there’s some evidence that pre-formed meat patties might contain more e. coli than regular ground meat. In fact, most of the recent beef recalls have involved pre-made frozen beef patties. Fresh is definitely better!

3. Microwave Sandwiches.

When you buy a pre-made sandwich, you’re really just paying for its elaborate packaging — plus a whole lot of salt, fat, and unnecessary additives. For the average cost of one of these babies ($2.50 to $3.00 per sandwich), you could make a bigger, better, and more nutritious version yourself.

4. Powdered Iced Tea Mixes/Prepared Flavored Iced Tea.

Powdered and gourmet iced teas are really a rip-off! It’s much cheaper to make your own iced tea from actual (inexpensive) tea bags and keep a jug in the fridge. Plus, many mixes and preparations are loaded with high fructose corn syrup and other sugars, along with artificial flavors. So make your own, and get creative! To make 32 ounces of iced tea, it usually takes 8 bags of black tea or 10 bags of herbal, green, or white tea. Most tea-bag boxes have recipes, so just follow along. If you like your tea sweet but want to keep calories down, skip the sugar and add fruit juice instead.

5. Bottled Water.

Bottled water is a bad investment for so many reasons. It’s expensive compared to what’s coming out of the tap, its cost to the environment is high (it takes a lot of fossil fuel to produce and ship all those bottles), and it’s not even better for your health than the stuff running down your drain!

Even taking into account the cost of filters, water from home is still much cheaper than bottled water, which can run up to $1 to $3 a pop.

If you have well water and it really does not taste good (even with help from a filter), or if you have a baby at home who is bottle-fed and needs to drink safe water, buy jugs of distilled or ‘nursery’ water at big discount stores. They usually cost between 79 cents and 99 cents for 1 gallon (as opposed to $1.50 for 8 ounces of ‘designer’ water). And you can reuse the jugs to store homemade iced tea, flavored waters, or, when their tops are cut off, all sorts of household odds and ends.

6. Snack or Lunch Packs.

These ‘all-inclusive’ food trays might seem reasonably priced (from $2.50 to $4.00), but you’re actually paying for the highly designed label, wrapper, and specially molded tray. They only contain a few crackers and small pieces of cheese and lunchmeat. The actual edible ingredients are worth just pennies and are filled with salt.

7. Gourmet Frozen Vegetables.

Sure, you can buy an 8-ounce packet of peas in an herbed butter sauce, but why do so when you can make your own? Just cook the peas, add a pat of butter and sprinkle on some herbs that you already have on hand. The same thing goes for carrots with dill sauce and other gourmet veggies.