Did the healthy-eating resolutions you made a few months back not quite stick? The onset of warmer weather might motivate you to make some better choices. Think of it as a kind of spring cleaning.
But with so much nutrition “noise” out there — eat this, don’t touch that — it’s difficult to know which changes have the biggest impact. Here, Consumer Reports tackles a handful of common food myths to make smart eating easier and more enjoyable.
Myth 1: You should avoid fruit if you’re cutting back on sugar.
Truth: Eat more whole fruit, not less.
When experts say you should limit your sugar intake, they’re talking about added sugars, those sprinkled into baked goods, candy, cereal, fruit drinks, tomato sauce, soda and the like. “The natural sugars in fruit are processed a bit differently by your body, because the fiber in the fruit minimizes the sugars’ impact on blood sugar levels,” says Nancy Z. Farrell, an adjunct professor of nutrition at Germanna Community College in Fredericksburg, Va. “In addition, you also get vitamins, minerals and other healthy nutrients.”
Fruit juices are different. They contain vitamins and minerals, but most are lacking in fiber. So their sugars get into your system much faster than those in whole fruit. And juice is a more concentrated source of sugars and calories. For example, a cup of apple slices has about 50 calories and 11 grams of sugars, while a cup of apple juice has about twice those amounts.
Myth 2: You should take the skin off chicken before you cook it.
Truth: Removing the skin doesn’t save you much saturated fat.
This advice dates back to a time when all things fatty were considered unhealthy, Farrell says. Yes, the skin contains saturated fat, but it has more of the unsaturated kind. A 3½ -ounce roasted chicken breast with the skin has about eight grams of fat, only two of which are saturated. Taking the skin off saves you about 50 calories and one gram of saturated fat. If you’re eating several pieces, those calories and fat will add up, but if you practice portion control, you can enjoy the extra flavor from perfectly crisped skin. If you prefer to remove the skin, do it after the chicken is cooked. The skin keeps the chicken moist, and its fat doesn’t migrate to the meat.
Myth 3: Vegetarians/vegans need to combine foods to get enough protein.
Truth: Your body does the work for you. Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are found in plant and animal foods. You need them for digestion, muscle and hair growth, and to make various enzymes and antibodies, among other things.
The difference is that animal foods contain all nine of the amino acids your body can’t make itself. Some plant proteins, such as those found in buckwheat, quinoa and soy, are complete as well. But a majority of plants contain just some of these nutrients, which are called essential amino acids.
“We used to think you had to combine certain incomplete proteins — like the ones in rice and beans — in the same meal to get all the essential amino acids,” says Dana Hunnes, an adjunct assistant professor at the Fielding School of Public Health at UCLA. “Now we know that you can meet your needs by eating a variety of plants throughout the day.”
Myth 4: White vegetables have little nutritional value.
Truth: Good nutrition comes in a variety of hues, including white.
The compounds that give vegetables those vivid colors have antioxidant (disease-fighting) benefits. But paler veggies, such as cauliflower, mushrooms and turnips, deserve kudos, too. “The ‘eat the rainbow’ advice stemmed from the 1980s, when experts were trying to get people to eat vegetables besides white potatoes and corn,” Hunnes says. (To be fair, even white potatoes are packed with nutrients.) Cauliflower and turnips are part of the powerhouse group of cruciferous vegetables, which also counts broccoli and kale as members. They’re high in compounds called glucosinolates, which may have a protective role against cancer.
Mushrooms, especially enoki, maitake and oyster, may have anti-cancer and immune-boosting benefits. A 2016 study in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention found that the lectins in oyster mushrooms may help reduce the toxic impact of arsenic on the liver and kidneys. Emphasizing a variety of plants (and colors) on your plate will help ensure that you get a healthy array of vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients.
For further guidance, go to ConsumerReports.org/Health, where more detailed information, including CR’s ratings of prescription drugs, treatments, hospitals and healthy-living products, is available to subscribers.