Urban Food Legends

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 an urban legend or two. Here to set the record straight in the diet arena is Elizabeth Somer, registered dietitian and author of Eat Your Way to Happiness.


1. You lose a pound for every 3,500 calories you cut or burn.
Common advice is to cut 500 calories a day and you’ll lose a pound in a week (3500 calories equals 1 pound of body fat). Yes, you exercise or cut 500 calories a day, you will lose about a pound a week. However, once you have lost a significant amount of weight, say 10% of your body weight, it takes more effort than just cutting 500 calories to lose a pound. That’s because the body becomes a more efficient engine and gets more miles to the gallon.
Solution: You can rev that engine by continuing to cut calories and increasing the exercise. Also, do strength training to build muscle, since it burns more calories than does fat.

2. Sugar causes diabetes
Diabetes is defined as elevated blood sugar levels. Granted, a high-sugar diet is a contributing factor, but it is not the whole story. Granted, women who drink even one soft drink a day have a higher risk of developing diabetes than women who drink one less than once a month. But, the real villain of type 2 diabetes is being over-fat. 80% of people who type 2 diabetes are over-fat. Also, people who eat more refined grains and potatoes have a higher risk for diabetes than do people who eat few potatoes and lots of whole grains. Red meat, trans fats, and processed meats also increase risk.

3. Sandwiches are healthier than entrees.
At most restaurants, the sandwiches have just as many calories as the entrees. For example, at the Cheesecake Factory, the Chicken Salad, Grilled Chicken & Avocado Club, the Chicken Parmesan, and the Crabcake sandwiches all have from 1,100 to 1,500 calories. And, that’s without the fries. Sandwiches range from 600 to 1,000 calories at Panera, and from 500 to 700 calories at Au Bon Pain.
Solution: Eat half a sandwich and skip the fries.

4. A Mediterranean diet is good for you.
Yes, but you must be following the traditional diet, not binging on gyro sandwiches, lasagna, and pizza. None of the Mediterranean-style cuisine served in the U.S. is closer to the Western-style menu, than the true Mediterranean diet. Most of those dishes are loaded with cheese, meat, white pasta, and white bread. Greek restaurants are heavy on lamb, beef, white rice, white bread, and potatoes.
Solution: The true Mediterranean diet is one loaded with fresh, colorful vegetables, fish, beans, whole grains, with some fruit and olive oil.

5. You only need 20 minutes of exercise 3 days a week.
That’s old, outdated news. The CDC recommends at least 150 minutes of vigorous exercise a week, the National Academy of Sciences says at least an hour a day, and if you want to maintain a significant weight loss, you need at least 1 1 /2 hours a day of brisk walking or the equivalent. Solution: Don’t have an hour? Squeeze in a brisk 10-minute walk while you are on the cell phone. Use a treadmill or stationary bike while you watch TV or use your computer. Anything is better than nothing.

6. Low-fat foods are best for your heart.
The best foods for your heart at low in saturated fat, the fat in meat, dark chicken, whole milk and other fatty dairy products, and margarine.
Solution: A little olive oil, a few nuts or avocado once in a while, and the fat in fatty fish is good for your heart.

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