WITH AUDIO: Myth busters: Dietitians set the record straight, from superfoods to the 5-second rule

Hover over blue text to hear audio clips from the interview

By SARA ARTHURS
STAFF WRITER

Go online even briefly and you may come across the claims: "This superfood will cure all diseases!" "Eat THIS and lose 10 pounds overnight!" And so on.

Dietitians have heard it all. And they'd like to politely encourage you to seek out truth rather than myth.

"There's a lot of misinformation out there," said Martha Gonzalez, clinical nutrition manager at Blanchard Valley Health System.

How often do people misunderstand the facts about nutrition?

"It's all the time," she said.

Gonzalez said people now pick up information from Facebook and elsewhere on the internet.

She pointed out anyone can claim to be a "nutritionist." A dietitian, by contrast, is licensed by the state after going through specific training.

And the years in school studying nutrition include "a lot of science classes," said Rachel Snyder, a registered dietitian at the health system.

There's no "bad food" or "good food," Gonzalez said. Instead, both she and Snyder stressed the importance of variety.

Snyder has noticed that people believe "this new hot trend" or fad diet will solve everything.

Someone reads about a "superfood" -- say, kale, or apple cider vinegar -- and becomes convinced it will solve all their dietary problems.

She said a "superfood" is characterized as one that is very healthy and high in antioxidants, which protect against free radicals that can damage cells, causing disease. But Snyder said this is often reported as a cure-all: "Let's put kale in every single thing."

Not that Snyder is not a fan of kale. "Kale is great," she said. Just be sure to incorporate it into your diet with a lot of other foods, too.

Good nutrition involves looking at your diet as a whole: "One food does not cure all," Snyder said.

What you eat does, of course, make a huge difference in your health.

When dealing with a health issue, one of the first approaches should be changes to your diet, such as eating more fruits and vegetables if you have Type 2 diabetes, Gonzalez said. Some people with diabetes can discontinue medications after changing their diet, she said.

It starts with more fruit and vegetable consumption, Gonzalez said. Eat fresh vegetables, and cook or grill them yourself, rather than eating TV dinners. And be sure to watch fat and processed food, she said.

Plenty of nutritional subjects elicit strong opinions, but one of the biggest is carbs. They're bad, right? Everyone knows that.

It's not that simple, Snyder said. Carbs are actually the main source of energy for your body.

Dessert is full of carbs. But you also find them in fruits and vegetables, grain products like pasta and bread, and dairy -- all of which are part of a balanced diet, Snyder said.

So, when people say they are "cutting out all carbs," she asks what they mean -- are they just cutting out dessert, or are they also cutting out fruits, vegetables and whole grains?

Snyder said it would be valuable to make at least half of your grain consumption whole grains.

You could use whole-grain spaghetti instead of white flour, but you do not need to cut all pasta out of your diet, she said.

Gonzalez said protein is usually associated with meats including fish and poultry. But you can also get protein from beans, lentils and nuts, and these nonanimal sources of protein can help those who want to watch their cholesterol, she said. Eggs and milk are also good sources of protein.

So, yes, vegetarian and vegan diets can include plenty of protein.

One source of vegetarian protein is soy. Snyder works with cancer patients, and said those with breast cancer worry that soy may be dangerous to their health. However, research has indicated that soy is actually protective, she said. But she said tofu and soy milk are preferable to soy that has been very heavily processed.

Soy is high in a chemical called "phytoestrogen," and that name scares people because they worry too much estrogen can cause health problems. In fact, this is a different type of chemical than human estrogen hormones, Snyder said.

And, she said, there are "so many positive benefits" to soy.

Another thing "everyone knows" is that raw vegetables are superior to cooked, as cooking removes all the vitamins.

But once again, it's not so simple. It depends on what you're cooking and how you're cooking it. If you boil green beans, the nutrients will indeed leach into the water, leaving fewer nutrients in the cooked beans. But you actually get more lycopene out of cooked and canned tomatoes than raw ones.

Snyder said eating cooked green beans or raw tomatoes one day is fine. Again, you're striving for variety. The biggest thing is to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet, whether raw or cooked.

What about coffee? Is it OK?

"Well, I drink coffee," Snyder said. Gonzalez does, too.

The women agreed that it depends. If you consume lots and lots of caffeinated beverages, "we may get irritable," Snyder said.

She said research has shown that coffee is protective against Alzheimer's disease. Pay attention to how much you consume, though, and how late in the day.

Snyder noted that with a beverage like diet soda, the more you drink it, the less water you're drinking. The same is true of coffee.

With beverages, in general, pay attention to excess sugar. Snyder said excessive sugar can lead to weight gain and a variety of chronic diseases.

And there's no scientific evidence that "detox" diets work, Gonzalez said.

"Our body detoxifies naturally," with the liver, kidneys and lymphatic system excreting toxins.

Snyder said if you fuel your body with the right types of foods it will help the organs detoxify -- you don't need to do a detox cleanse. Again, eat fruits and vegetables instead.

A weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds in a week is considered safe, Snyder said. If you're scrolling Facebook and you see a post that says you can lose 20 pounds in a week, consider it a "red flag."

"Just don't even click on it," Snyder said.

Gonzalez said diet and exercise need to go together.

"You can't do one without the other," she said.

Strive for exercise that raises your heart rate, such as a brisk walk. And eat fruits and vegetables, lean meat and other sources of protein.

But you can have treats, as long as they're in moderation. After all, we live very, very close to Dietsch's. Just don't eat it every single day.

"There's some calcium in ice cream," Gonzalez said. "There's vitamin D."

Gonzalez hears from people who say if they "just don't eat," they won't gain weight. This is a myth, she said.

We need food for so many things, including energy. Your sleep is affected by your eating and vice versa, so you need to keep eating to have a healthy metabolism, she said.

But, Gonzalez said, it may be more beneficial to eat five to six small meals a day, rather than three large ones. If you eat breakfast and skip lunch, you will be starving by dinner, she said.

The general rule is that women should not eat fewer than 1,200 calories and men should not eat fewer than 1,500. So if you're following a diet that only calls for 800 calories, "maybe rethink things," Snyder advised.

She said calories indicate the amount of energy. Carbohydrates and protein have 4 calories per gram, while fat has 9 calories per gram.

How many calories you need depends on your height and weight. And the more active you are, the more calories you need, Snyder said.

Then there's the "five-second rule," the belief that if you drop food on the floor it's safe to eat if you pick it up within 5 seconds. Not true, Gonzalez said.

If you feel like you're not well informed about nutrition, there are plenty of resources that can help you.

Don't be afraid to reach out for help, Snyder said. You can ask your doctor to make a referral to an outpatient dietitian, who will work with you to establish and work toward goals.

And there are good, reputable sources online. Snyder and Gonzalez recommended the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' eatright.org, the USDA's MyPlate and the American Heart Association. Snyder said parents can use MyPlate as a reference to teach their children about nutrition.

Gonzalez said there are also apps like My Fitness Pal, which can be "very handy." They have their limits, but can help you get started, she said.

Gonzalez has been in the field for more than 20 years and said, in that time, the internet has had both positive and negative effects. People are interested in learning and, though there is a lot of misinformation out there, there is good information out there, too.

Arthurs: 419-427-8494
Send an E-mail to Sara Arthurs
Twitter: @swarthurs



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