Dietitian and healthful-eating columnist Ellie Krieger cleared up some common misconceptions around nutrition and popular foods in a recent online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.
Misconception: There isn’t any nutritional value to cereal. Cold cereals can be the foundation of a good breakfast if you choose well and balance them out. It is easy to fall for healthy-looking packaging and buzzwords that imply healthfulness when all you are getting are hyper-processed sugar puffs.
Your best bet is to stick with simpler cereals, such as shredded wheat, oat cereal or flakes that are whole grain and unsweetened. It’s okay if cereal has real dried fruit and/or nuts in it, but avoid bells and whistles such as clusters, which are often overly sweet. Add your own fresh or dried fruit and/or nuts to the cereal. If you have it with milk, you’ll be getting protein and lots of nutrition there, too.
Misconception: Greek yogurt is always better than regular yogurt. Greek yogurt has a lot going for it, but it is not necessarily better than regular yogurt; they have different assets.
Greek yogurt is made by straining regular yogurt to remove the whey. The result is a thicker, creamier product that has less tartness and more protein than regular yogurt. But with the whey also goes a lot of the calcium, so regular yogurt has substantially more of the mineral than Greek yogurt does.
The bottom line is that they are both good, so enjoy what you like best, or switch back and forth if, like me, you love both.
Misconception: You should never put mayo on your sandwich. Mayonnaise is not that bad for you, but there are better alternatives that could hit the spot just as well. You could try a smear of ripe avocado. It adds a similar layer of moisture and unctuous flavor with a lot more nutrition. Or get mayo that uses a healthier oil, such as olive oil, as a base.
Misconception: Coconut oil is a healthy alternative to olive oil. A new meta-analysis (a study that evaluates and makes conclusions based on a body of available studies) that was published in Nutrition Reviews concluded that coconut oil, which is mostly saturated fat, raises total cholesterol and LDL (but not as much as butter does) and that unsaturated oils are better for your heart health. So have a little coconut oil here and there, but stick to heart-protective olive oil as your go-to.
Misconception: You should cut all sugar from your diet. It is a mistake to avoid whole fruit and healthy dairy such as milk and yogurt because of the sugars they inherently contain. These sugars are naturally “packaged” with fiber, water and an incredible wealth of protective nutrients. The evidence on the negative impact of sugar pertains to added sugars: sugar put in food to make it sweet.
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