When it comes to healthy eating, there are a lot of misconceptions—from how much protein to consume, to the belief that fats necessarily make you fat, and even confusion over food preparation and safety. At Food Insight, we challenge ourselves to know more about nutrition and health every day to keep you informed and up to date. Check out some of the nutrition, health, and food safety misconceptions that we once adhered to and how they’ve changed:
My biggest misconception was that cutting all fat from your diet was a good thing. Since the word “fat” has negative body connotations, I assumed dietary fat made you gain weight. I was finally set straight when I started working with Kris Sollid, RD, here at Food Insight. Kris is really passionate about helping folks understand the different types of dietary fats and where you can swap a less healthful fat for a more healthful one. Now I know that healthful fats in vegetable oils, avocados, fish, and lots of other foods can help with your cholesterol levels and even improve brain health. Now, I know better than to look for foods that are “fat-free” without checking what kinds of fat!
I love salads—all kinds of salads—and I’m keenly aware of and follow safe food handling-practices too. Before coming to Food Insight, my biggest food-related misperception was that all lettuce and spinach needed to be washed. I had become so accustomed to washing heads of lettuce that I naturally assumed the same practice would apply to bagged salad mixes. Not so. I’ve come to learn that washing bagged salad mixes may actually introduce more bacteria (from your sink or cutting board) than eating it straight from the bag. Great news to me—now every time I make a salad from a bagged mix, it takes me a few minutes less!
One misconception that is of particular relevance to my life is about protein intake. It is no myth that protein helps you recover after a workout and keeps you full all day long, but I did not know when or how much protein to eat when I first started working here. I was under the impression I should eat small amounts throughout the day and consume more after a workout. While those tips aren’t entirely false, they aren’t exactly 100 percent accurate either. According to Dr. Jared Dickinson, emerging research indicates that consuming 25 to 30 grams of protein in a given meal is needed to maximize specific health benefits of protein, specific to muscle stimulus, in adults ages 18 to 50. Most Americans consume a majority of their protein at the evening meal, around 35 to 40 grams. Much less is consumed during the morning and mid-day meals, typically only 10 to 15 grams at breakfast and lunch. Now I try to spread out my protein intake to all my meals and snacks throughout the day and shoot for that 25 to 30 gram range three to four times a day. I am fairly active, so I know it is important for recovery and muscle development to achieve optimal protein intake.
My biggest misconception before working at Food Insight centers around protein. While I was aware of the recommendations surrounding intake and timing, I didn’t quite realize that these recommendations were put in place to prevent deficiencies rather than supporting optimal health outcomes. Also, I wasn’t aware that the timing of protein impacts certain fitness results like building muscle. Now, I consider myself to be the protein evangelist to all of my family and friends. Some of my friends trying to lose weight or reach certain fitness goals? I push protein. My little brother is sick from yet another cold? I tell him to eat protein to make sure his immune system has what it needs to fight off infection. Talking to my grandma who is experiencing muscle loss associated with aging? Protein is a key part to prevent sarcopenia, or age-associated muscle loss.
My biggest misconception about healthy eating before becoming an RD was that eating healthy had to involve sacrifice, pain, and deprivation. I thought for sure that the only way to a “healthy diet” was by giving up the foods you love and subsisting on salad for the rest of your days. Luckily, I learned throughout my education and experience as an RD that healthy eating doesn’t need to be a punishment or chore, and instead can be enjoyable. To me, healthy eating is learning to find balance between eating the foods you know are good for you, while still enjoying treats and the other foods that you may previously thought were “off limits.” Healthy eating is not just the act of eating healthy food but also having a healthy relationship with food. It is possible to have a healthy diet and enjoy food—simultaneously!
The last thing I need is to lose weight. In fact, I want to maintain or gain a few pounds if I could. That’s why I avoided eating fiber: My biggest misconception was that fiber can cause weight loss. I always believed that fiber could speed up the metabolism, causing me to lose weight, as well as keep me full and prevent me from getting hungry. Since working at Food Insight, I have learned that this is false. The metabolism functions fairly consistently each day, regardless of when I eat. And while fiber effects satiety, it can help prevent me from overconsuming, which can cause too much weight gain. I have also learned that fiber is good for me, and I shouldn’t avoid it. Fiber doesn’t just help to regulate and maintain digestive health, but it also maintains blood cholesterol and stabilizes blood sugar levels. It can help to decrease the chance of cardiovascular and coronary heart disease too. Now, I consume one or two foods that are rich in fiber each day.
My biggest misconception before working at Food Insight was regarding the importance of hand washing, and how it relates to food safety/food preparation. While I was taught at a young age to wash my hands thoroughly with soap and warm water, I learned through Food Insight’s partnerships with USDA/FSIS and CDC’s Clean Hands Coalition to sing or hum the “Happy Birthday” song (approximately 20 seconds) from beginning to end twice (you can also sing the chorus to “Eye of the Tiger”), and to exercise due diligence in washing the backs on my hands and under my nails. It’s the length of time that is critical to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses such as E. coli and salmonella!
My biggest misconception is that you should always wash your meats before seasoning and cooking them, especially chicken and poultry. This was passed down from my mother, and that was passed down to her from her mother. Since working at Food Insight, I learned that washing chicken can actually spread foodborne bacteria like E.coli all over the sink, on countertops, clothes, and even other food that might be nearby. It’s also completely unnecessary because the heat from the cooking process actually kills any bacteria present. Ironically, I very rarely eat chicken, often choosing other protein options, but now I tell all of my family and friends not to wash their chicken.
Whether you’re eating more protein like Laura, having a sensible splurge like Sarah, or telling everyone not to wash their chicken like Kamilah, there’s always something new to learn—or debunk—when it comes to nutrition and health.