Myth busting is one of my favourite activities as a dietitian, and I know it makes for some of the most interesting and intriguing nutrition content.
In today’s article, I will take a closer look at some of the foods that are often considered healthy choices and conventional components of a healthy, balanced diet.
I will offer some insights as to why these foods aren’t quite as necessary as you thought they were, and offer alternative solutions where possible.
Cow’s Milk: I’m not anti-dairy but it is important to understand that the primary utility of milk is to act as a vehicle for calcium, vitamin A and vitamin D. But guess what, fortified soy and almond milk can serve that very same purpose. So drink cow’s milk if you like it, but don’t feel as though you need it. The nutrients in any type of milk (cows milk or otherwise) can also be obtained through eating a healthy diet rich in leafy greens, nuts, seeds, legumes and fish. If you do want to enjoy dairy, I’d argue that option for greek yogurt is a wiser choice as it also has the additional benefit of being high in gut healthy probiotics and is generally better tolerated by those with lactose intolerance.
Instant Oatmeal/Granola: Instant oatmeal is probably one of the most misunderstood breakfast foods on the market. Don’t get me wrong, oatmeal is an extraordinarily healthy food but there is a significant difference in the way your body responds to oatmeal in its original form and heavily processed instant oatmeal. Did you know that steel cut oatmeal (commonly sold in most grocery stores) is a much less refined version of the oat grain that takes 20-25 minutes to cook, as opposed to the 60 seconds it takes to prepare instant oats. Trust me, your body knows the difference. Instant oatmeal has a much higher glycemic index and raises your blood sugar more quickly as a result. Oh and unfortunately granola has that same property in addition to having extra calories ( from fat and sugar) added to it. My suggestion? Make the conversion to steel cut and add some cinnamon and your favourite nuts or seeds.
Olive Oil: Before anyone gets too upset at me for including olive on this list, let me start by saying that olive oil is an exceptional source of heart healthy monounsaturated fats and one of the premier choices when it comes to selecting an oil to prepare and dress food with. But, there is a big caveat here. Oil happens to be one of the most significant sources of calories in the diet of Canadian’s ( among sources that are not part of one of the traditional food groups). What does that mean for you? Keep using your olive oil, but be very mindful not to use more than 2-3 tbsp a day. As healthy as it may be, it could easily be contributing excess calories to your diet.
Cold-Pressed Juice/Smoothies: Cold pressed juices appear to have become quite the trend in the city of Toronto as of late, and I’m not thrilled. Not only are these juices extraordinarily expensive, they don’t give you anywhere near the total value that eating whole fruits and vegetables do. Keep in mind that when you drink a juiced or blended beverage, you are consuming calories at a rapid rate without any of the fullness you would get from eating the whole food. For example, it would take a good 5-10 minutes to enjoy a banana, apple and an orange whole, and you’d feel quite full afterwards. What happens if you consume that juiced? You could take it down in 30 seconds, and would feel much less satisfied and potentially be hungry again shortly after. Save your money, and purchase whole, fresh fruits and veggies, juices just dont’t compare.
Protein/Granola Bars: Don’t be sold on flashy packaging, added protein and expensive prices. These bars tend to be relatively high in fat, sugar and calories and may not contain as many nutrients as you think they do. In my opinion, a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts is a more nutritious snack option any day the week.
Sugar Alternatives ( Like Agave, Maple Syrup, Honey): Sugars in our diet get a whole lot of negative attention. A lot of this has to do with the fact that soft drinks are the #1 source dietary calories that do not come from a food group food. Unfortunately, with all of the negative attention different types of sugars have gotten, somehow novel sugar alternatives like agave appear to be increasing in popularity. These products are sometimes perceived to be “healthier” than just plain old sugar. The reality is that there is very little nutritional difference between sugar and alternative syrups, so don’t be fooled into thinking you are doing your health a great service by using these items. Keep your usage moderate, as it really ends up just being extra calories you probably don’t need.
There you have it folks! I hope I haven’t ruined anyone’s favourite foods (I probably have). I’ve shared my humble professional opinion on foods that I believe are given more value then they deserve, and my hope is you have it found both insightful and useful.
Andy is a Toronto-based registered dietitian and nutrition writer who holds a master’s degree in public health nutrition. You can learn more about Andy and his services at AndyTheRD.com.