The Truth About Health Foods

Debunking three common myths about healthy eating.

By Jessica Lawlor

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Whether you’re healthy or fighting a disease like cancer, making nutritious decisions can certainly impact your overall health and well-being.

There’s a lot of information and research online about health foods and living a healthy and active lifestyle. It can be challenging to sift through the mountains of data to determine what is fact versus the trends that have become widespread and popular, but often hold little-to-no nutritional value.

We checked in with Jessica Engelbrecht, MS, RDN, LD, CNSC, to figure out the what’s myth and what’s fact when it comes to healthy eating trends.

Because everyone faces different health issues, particularly during and after cancer treatment, Engelbrecht recommends checking in with your doctor before making changes to your diet.

1. Juicing

A 2017 study from Persistence Market Research found that the global cold pressed juice market will reach $845 million in value by 2024. The juicing trend continues to grow in popularity and appears to be a great way to pack in a few servings of fruits and veggies in one sitting.

But is it actually healthy?

“Juicing can be a component of a healthy person’s diet, however, it’s not meant to be the diet alone,” explains Engelbrecht. “Juicing often removes the fiber from the vegetable and fruit creating a lower fiber product, and removing key nutrients.” Instead of juicing, consider making a smoothie, where fiber is retained.

In addition, Engelbrecht recommends aiming for five-to-nine servings of whole fruits and vegetables per day which can lead to improved overall health.

“One mixed fresh fruit and vegetable smoothie per day for a healthy person may be a way of achieving the goal for fruits and vegetables, but it is not a replacement for whole fruits and vegetables required for the day,” offers Engelbrecht. “Keep in mind that one serving of whole fruit and vegetable is ½ a cup.”

2. Using sugar substitutes

There’s a health controversy around the perceived benefits of using sugar substitutes (though evidence does not suggest sugar substitutes cause cancer).

However, it’s likely not the best option.

“Research suggests that the chemically altered forms of sugar substitutes available on the market such as sucralose, saccharin and aspartame may be associated with some health risks. For example, some studies indicate that diets high in diet soda may increase risk of weight gain and type 2 diabetes,” says Engelbrecht.

Engelbrecht advises avoiding sugar substitutes, but if you must use one, she says stevia-based sugar substitutes, which come from the stevia plant, are your best option.

3. Living a gluten-free lifestyle

More and more people are choosing to go gluten-free, a trend that has caught on due to the gut health movement, according to Engelbrecht.  In fact, the number of Americans going gluten-free has tripled since 2009.

“Unfortunately, gluten-free food does not equal healthy food,” says Engelbrecht. “Many gluten-free products on the shelf may lack important nutrients.”

However, gluten sensitivity is real and a problem for many people. If you believe you are sensitive to gluten, Engelbrecht recommends making an appointment with your primary care provider for testing.

Healthy eating is important so be sure to do your research before jumping onto the latest trend.

“Improving the overall health of your cells and supporting your body’s ability to minimize the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, hyper cholesterol, obesity and cancer should be the most important concern for a healthy person,” Engelbrecht says.

Engelbrecht offers her overall best healthy living tips:

  • Increase whole foods such as fruits and vegetables, lean plant proteins like beans, nuts and seeds. When you do eat animal protein, choose lean cuts of beef, chicken, fish, and pork.
  • Consume adequate water for hydration. Everyone has different water intake needs (the 4 to 6 cups per day rule is for healthy people—those with certain medical conditions may need to consume different amounts), so check with your doctor to see how much you should drink each day.
  • Don’t forget to be active! Move more to stay healthy.