Just in time for National Nutrition Month, nutrition columnist Carrie Dennett breaks down some common, all-too-persistent misunderstandings about food and health.
While the benefits of good nutrition aren’t time-bound, March is National Nutrition Month, which makes it a good time to offer these counterpoints to persistent myths about nutrition.
Dietary variety isn’t built in a day. Considering all of the foods with so much to offer — vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, fiber, healthful fats — can be overwhelming, especially if you try to cram them all into your grocery cart or onto your plate. But it’s not what you eat in one meal, one day, or one week that sums up your diet — it’s how you eat over the long term. Aim for variety over time.
There’s not a perfect way to eat. As I wrote last month, a recent scientific review of research on low-carb and low-fat diets found that focusing on food quality is what matters most when it comes to promoting good health and reducing disease risk. Unless there’s a specific medical reason to cut carbs or fat, we can do well eating low-fat, low-carb, or somewhere in between, provided our food choices are nutritious.
“Dieting” and healthy eating are two different things. Many weight-loss trends severely restrict the variety of foods you can eat. I’m not just talking about things like added sugars and ultra-processed foods, which ideally no one would eat in large quantities. I’m talking about nutrient-rich, whole or minimally processed foods that are part of healthful diets all over the world: beans, lentils, whole grains, fruit, dairy. Some diets even claim that no one should eat certain foods simply because some people can’t tolerate them.
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Nutrition doesn’t have to be expensive. You can easily bust a modest food budget by splurging on trendy “superfoods.” Keep in mind that blueberries, broccoli, dark leafy greens, garlic and strawberries are superfoods, too, but they’re much less expensive — especially bought in-season, frozen or on sale. Shopping from the bulk-food section for whole grains, dried beans, spices and other items can help you save big — and so can actually using what you buy. Food waste is money down the drain.
Nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t need to be an Iron Chef to roast a few chicken breasts or fish fillets, cook some whole grains and toss a salad. There’s very little prep, and while you keep an eye on things, you’ll have time to open the mail and feed the dog. You don’t need to follow a lengthy recipe or learn complicated kitchen techniques — you just need some core skills. Use spices, herbs, vinegars and condiments to boost flavor.
Nutrition science paradigm shifts are rare. Be cautious when any study or person claims to upend everything we thought we knew about nutrition. The fundamental principles of balanced nutrition don’t change rapidly, and they aren’t some secret that only a select few can reveal.
You can’t disease-proof yourself with food. If you believe in the power of good nutrition, it’s easy to think diet can dodge all illnesses. While a nutritious, balanced diet does reduce your risk of disease and may help you live longer, it can’t wipe away all risk. Genetics, physical activity, stress levels, social connections, living environment and other factors all play a role, too.