It seems like every week we're issued a new set of rules for how to eat: Just juice! No carbs! Placenta! Placenta? (We'll skip that) With all of the nutrition guidelines out there, it's easy to start questioning your eating habits. So we've reached out to Leslie Bonci, MPH, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and nutrition consultant to the Pittsburgh Steelers, to help us weed through the fact and fiction and reveal what we really should be putting on our plate.
Myth: Paleo is the best diet out there
Fact: You don't have to give up your beloved brie and baguette just yet. It may be most searched term on Google in 2013, but Paleo and and it's requirement that you cut out dairy, refined sugar, grains, and legumes isn't for everyone. "If you don't have a wheat allergy or Celiac disease, you'll be missing out on B vitamins and fibers in whole grains, many of which are not found in vegetables," says Bonci. Instead, make sure your breads and pastas are whole wheat: Check the label for whole grain or whole wheat as the first ingredient and make sure the the package has a Whole Wheat Council label.
In terms of dairy, ditching milk products may be necessary for those with a milk allergy or lactose intolerance, but for the rest of us, it's just best to be dairy savvy. "Dairy foods such as low-fat milk are an excellent source of protein, vitamins and minerals, Greek yogurt is a great way to get protein, and many brands of yogurt are a good source of probiotics," says Bonci. You will want to keep the ice cream and full-fat cheese binges to a minimum, since those foods are high in saturated fat.
Myth: Cleansing is the only way to rid your body of toxins
Fact: Though juice cleanses are a big health trend right now, there's no need to throw down cash (sometimes as much as $10 per bottle!) for a green drink fast. "The liver does a great job of detoxing on its own," says Bonci. The simple trick to revving your gut? "Eating more fruits and vegetables, getting enough fiber and drinking lots of water will help your body more than drinks or pills," she says.
Myth: Cooking produce kills the nutrients
Fact: Before you chuck the pots, pans, and microwave, hear us out: "Cooking may boost the absorption of certain plant nutrients that are broken down with heat and available to the body, so don't be afraid to do a quick stir-fry or grilling of vegetables," Bonci says. One study from Cornell University found that cooking tomatoes increases lycopene, a nutrient key to heart health. Other vegetables that can take the heat are mushrooms, peppers, cabbage, and spinach, all of which supply more antioxidants when steamed or boiled. The key is to keep cooking time to a minimum and avoid deep-frying (no Paula Deen recipes here).
Myth: Choose low-fat everything
Fact: Believe it or not, a little fat is good for you. "Fat helps contribute to the aroma and taste of foods, transports fat-soluble vitamins, such as Vitamin D, through the bloodstream, and can keep you fuller for longer," says Bonci. The key is being selective. Good fats in avocado, nuts, and olive oil are encouraged, just remember to keep those servings in check too. "A little goes a long way," says Bonci. "A tablespoon of olive oil for dressing or 1/4 cup of nuts is sufficient." Jonesin' for a pint of Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia? Keep it to one serving.
Myth: You need to eliminate all sugars
Fact: Many very healthy foods — think fruits, vegetables, grains, and milk — contain a little bit of natural sweetener. Though fruit has often been shunned due to it's slightly higher sugar content, have no fear: a recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that eating whole fruits is linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. What you do need to keep tabs on is added sugar, the kind found in soda, desserts, candy, jam, syrups and sweeteners. Watch for ingredients ending in "-ose" (like fructose, dextrose, sucrose) as well as corn syrup, molasses, raw sugar, and honey. "It's best to keep added sugar consumption to six teaspoons per day," Bonci advises.
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