Food Myths Busted

By AM Northwest Staff

Here to set the record straight on common food myths, was registered dietitian and author of Ten Habits that Mess Up a Woman's Diet, Elizabeth Somer.

7 Food Myths Busted

Elizabeth Somer, M.A.,R.D.

AMNorthWest: April 21, 2008

Script: April 2, 2008

Diet dogma has a life of its own. Even when science reveals the truth behind a diet fad or web rumor, the myth lingers on.  Like the myth that vinegar melts away body fat. Not! Even nutritionally savvy people hold tight to a myth or two. Here to set the record straight in the diet arena is Elizabeth Somer, registered dietitian and author of 10 Habits That Mess Up a Woman’s Diet.



1. Myth #1: Late night eating causes more weight gain than eating at other times of the day

Eat a huge dinner or snack uncontrollably in the evening and there might be a slight fat-storing effect compared to eating a big breakfast followed by a physically active day, but the effect is so insignificant, that it won’t have any noticeable influence on your weight. However, dinner typically is our biggest meal, supplying almost half of a person’s daily calorie intake, and that’s not even counting the late-night snack.  In truth, people let their guard down at night and are more prone to overeating, especially comfort foods like ice cream and chips. It is the extra calories, not the time of day, that leads to weight gain.

            Granted, late-night noshing can be a sign of a general out-of-whack eating schedule that can lead to the Night Eating Syndrome, where you eat the bulk of your calories later in the day, wake up not hungry so skip breakfast, then pig out that night. The problem here is not only are you overeating at night, but you’re skipping the most important meal of the day - breakfast. Breakfast - especially if it’s whole grain cereal, milk, and fruit - is one of the most nutritious and low-fat meals of the day, so it makes sense that breakfast eaters consume fewer total calories and have an easier time managing their weights than people who overate the night before then skipped breakfast. 



Myth #2: Women naturally gain weight after menopause

Fact: Many women believe that weight gain is part of “the change.” But numerous studies, including one from Michigan State University, offer some surprising results.  In this study of 28 postmenopausal women, the scientists found that menopause by itself was not the reason for weight gain. It was the level of physical activity that had the biggest impact on body weight - older women who are vigorously active maintain their girlish figures.



Myth #3: Drinking a glass of water before a meal helps cut appetite

Fact: Water does curb appetite, but only if it is incorporated into food, not drunk from a glass. Several studies from Pennsylvania State University found that only water in soups, thick beverages like V8 juice or a smoothie, and other liquid foods fills us up. In one study, women were given a snack of chicken rice casserole with a glass of water or a chicken rice soup that contained the same amount of water as broth. Results showed that the soup was more filling even though it contained 27% fewer calories than the casserole. The reason why water bound to food is filling, while a glass of water is not, is unclear, but it could be that the bound water slows digestion, whereas a glass of water just passes right through.



Myth #4: The occasional fat feast --burger and fries--won't kill you

Fact: As long as that fat feast is only once in a blue moon, and the rest of the time you’re chowing down on vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and other healthy stuff, you needn’t worry. But indulge too often and watch out. A study from the University of Sydney in Australia found that when healthy people between the ages of 18 and 40 years ate a high-fat meal, equivalent to that burger and fries, the saturated fat-laden feast prevented the “good cholesterol,” HDL, from protecting the body against clogged arteries.  The good news is that the harmful effects are temporary and can be offset with a brisk, 90-minute walk after the binge.



Myth #5: Red wine is healthy and white wine isn't

Fact: Red wine contains at least 20 times the antioxidants of white wine (that’s because the antioxidants are in the skin and red wine is processed with the skins, while white wine isn’t), but white wine does have its virtues. Besides the crisp taste of a German Riesling or the perfect combination of a Chardonnay with roast chicken, white wine might improve your health, according to a study from the State University of New York, where researchers found that white wine, not red, improved breathing and lung function in a group of 1,555 adults. Lung function is a strong predictor of heart health, so toast to your lung and heart with a glass of Chablis!



Myth #6: Diet soda is better for you than regular soda

Fact: Soft drinks now outrank coffee as America’s favorite beverage, but we all would be better off if  both diet and regular soda were cut out of the diet. Even one or two soft drinks a week is enough to pack on the pounds, while both regular and diet soda increase the risk for kidney and heart disease, according to several studies including a recent one from Harvard. Both diet and regular soda also contain acids that erode tooth enamel, increasing the risk for cavities The best alternative? You guessed it - water!



Myth #7: With the right diet, you can burn cellulite.

Fact: Cellulite is touted as “fat-gone-wrong”, a combination of fat, water, and toxic wastes that resists being dislodged but should be eliminated from the body. Let’s set the record straight once and for all: There is no such thing, medically speaking, as cellulite. It’s a pretend name for plain, old pudge that ripples, puckers, and waffles, mostly on the thighs, in varying degrees in up to 90 percent of women regardless of dress size or fitness level. This clumpy fat is what makes women curvy and results from fat cells stored just under the skin in honeycomb-like structures held in place by bands of connective tissue. The more fat stuffed into each honeycomb, the more puckered the texture. As skin loosens from age or weight gain (sun bathing or smoking also are factors), the fat clumps become more visible, creating that dimpled look.  This womanly fat is no different from any other fat in the body; however, women are more prone than men to dimpley fat because their skin is thinner, they have less even fat distribution, and because they store fat in the hips and thighs. Since there is nothing special about cellulite, there also is no unique diet trick to remove it. To think a woman could totally eliminate the ripples that are part of her womanly body, is to think she can totally restructure basic anatomy. The bottom line? A calorie-controlled, healthy diet plus exercise helps you lose weight, especially fat weight, and improve your appearance if you are overweight.



Myth #8: There is no such thing as “good foods” and “bad foods.”

Yeah, yeah, there are only good and bad diets, right? In general, that could be considered true, but come on! In a country faced with epidemics of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, and a population where indulgence is a daily routine, what is good about a fried pork rind? Nutrition-wise a can of cheese whiz doesn’t hold a candle to a mango! We usually don’t have a problem treating ourselves to those tasty foods, so to say there are no ‘bad’ foods might be a license for some people to eat anything whenever they want. It's possible some foods really are not good for some people. For example, if having cookies in the house triggers a person to binge, then that food could be a problem simply because it results in unhealthy behaviors.  That doesn’t mean you can’t have your cake, chocolate, or chips, but only once in a while and in reasonable portions, such as a can of soda once a week, not every day. Instead, stock the kitchen with ‘good’ foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grain bread, canned tomatoes and beans, and low-fat yogurt or soymilk.


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