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Debunking diet myths

They’re the urban legends of the nutrition world: food and diet stories that have been fed to us so many times, we just accept them as gospel. But before you take another bite of that bran muffin, read on. You may be surprised at what you learn:

Myth: Fresh is nutritionally best.
Fact: There’s no reason to shun frozen vegetables. Unless you’re growing your own or buying from a farmstand, fresh vegetables are not nutritionally superior to frozen. Although vegetables served the same day they were harvested offer the best nutritional value, vitamin levels slowly decrease as soon as crops are harvested. When fresh vegetables sit for too long, get stored improperly or begin to wilt, they lose a substantial amount of nutrients. Frozen vegetables are typically flash frozen after harvesting, so most of their nutrients remain intact. However, frozen can’t compete with the taste and texture of fresh. The solution? Buy locally grown produce in season, use it quickly and keep frozen vegetables on hand as an excellent nutritional option.

Myth: A bran muffin is a healthy breakfast.
Fact: One deceptively healthy-looking bran muffin can contain as many as 400 calories and 13 grams of fat. The problem with store-bought bran muffins (and muffins in general) is they are usually made with lots of hydrogenated oil, sugar and eggs. Since the bran muffin you buy in a coffee shop or a bakery doesn’t have a nutrition label, you can’t tell how much bran you’re actually getting. Unless you want to eat cake for breakfast, you’re better off making your own bran muffins at home and replacing some of the oil with applesauce, reducing the sugar and increasing the bran. For an easier option, try an all-bran cereal with skim milk.

Myth: You’ll gain weight if you eat most of your calories at dinner or later.
Fact: There’s no difference between eating a big lunch and a small dinner or eating a small lunch and a big dinner. According to research from the Dunn Nutrition Center in Cambridge, it’s the total amount of calories you consume that affects how much fat your body stores, not the time of day you choose to eat those calories. As long as you are not skipping lunch and overeating at dinner, eating most of your daily calories later in the day shouldn’t affect your weight at all.

Myth: Olive oil is less fattening than butter.
Fact: It may taste good, but you’re not saving any calories when you dip your Italian bread in olive oil instead of slathering on butter. Olive oil, like most other oils, is 100 percent fat. Butter clocks in at approximately 80 percent fat (it also contains water and other nutrients), so it’s lower in fat and calories overall.

To its credit, olive oil is lower in cholesterol-raising saturated fats and higher in beneficial unsaturated fats. But like any fat, it needs to be used sparingly, something that can be difficult to do when bread soaks up a lot more oil than the teaspoon of butter you might have spread on it.

Myth: Pasta makes you fat.
Fact: Despite the proliferation of high-protein diets, a small plate of pasta can actually be a dieter’s best friend. Offering a great source of energy with practically no fat, pasta can also fill you up, so you may even eat less. According to recommendations from the USDA, you should eat six to 11 servings of complex carbohydrates daily, and pasta certainly counts toward that number. To keep your pasta dish low in fat, stay away from pink or white sauces like vodka or Alfredo and instead opt for red sauces or lightly sautéed vegetables.

Myth: Sugary foods make kids hyper.
Fact: Sugar has gotten a bad rap for years, but it’s undeserved. Researchers studying kids in a scientific setting have found no increase in activity as a result of eating sugar. Parents who swear their kids become movers and shakers upon eating sugar might want to consider another culprit—caffeine. It’s found in many sugary sodas and drinks, even those that aren’t cola-based.

Myth: A daily multi-vitamin is a must.
Fact: Even though as many as 40 percent of Americans pop one daily, research has found that a daily vitamin is unnecessary for people who eat a well-balanced diet. What’s more, vitamins can’t make up for a less than stellar diet. Because they work in concert with other nutrients in food, they will do nothing for you if you eat primarily junk food. With the exception of certain groups of people—such as pregnant women or the elderly who may be prone to vitamin deficiencies— most people do not need to take vitamins.