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7 nutrition myths

You try to eat a healthy diet, but so much “expert” advice is floating around these days it’s sometimes hard to know what to do. Consider these food myths and see if you’ve been misled.

Myth 1: Cut carbohydrates to get slim.

Limit the amount of junk-food carbohydrates, like oversize muffins and bagels, cookies and chips. But remember that carbohydrates fuel your body and brain and offer quality nutrition, too. Fruits, vegetables (including starchier selections like corn, beets, yams and winter squashes), legumes and whole grains are chock full of disease-fighting nutrients. Experts warn that high-protein/low-carb plans help some people slim down in the short term, but these diets’ long-term effects are not clearly understood. Unbalanced plans may contribute to health problems like heart disease and some cancers. They also may result in rebound weight gain if you end up bingeing after a month. To lose weight and keep it off, most nutritionists suggest following a well-balanced diet you can live with. Keep calories within limits and cut back on saturated fats and sugary foods. Don’t forget to add exercise, which will help you shed pounds more effectively.

Myth 2: Drink milk to strengthen bones.

It’s important to get your recommended amount of calcium—about 1,000–1,500 milligrams a day for adults, according to the National Academy of Sciences—but keep in mind that your bones need more than calcium to stay strong. Vitamin D—about 400 to 800 IU a day—helps your body absorb calcium. You can get vitamin D from regular sunlight exposure and foods such as fortified dairy products, egg yolks, fatty fish and liver. Studies also suggest that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables—which provide nutrients such as magnesium, potassium, vitamin C and beta-carotene—strengthens your bones. And leafy green vegetables like collard greens, kale and spinach supply vitamin K, another bone booster. But even the best diet won’t help if you abuse alcohol, smoke or do nothing to exercise those bones.

Myth 3: Avoid nuts—they’re fattening.

Nuts eaten in moderation can be a tasty and nutritious addition to your diet. An ounce of peanuts or almonds—about 30 peanuts or 24 almonds—contains roughly 160 calories and 14 grams of fat (mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated). Studies show that nuts, with their mix of fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats, may lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. (Walnuts are a good source of beneficial omega-3 fats, Brazil nuts contain selenium and almonds boast vitamin E.) The trick is to substitute moderate portions of nuts for foods that offer little nutrition. A small handful of nuts can be a great alternative to the usual vending-machine options.

Myth 4: Eat less to lose weight.

Actually, some people need to eat more to lose weight. People who abandon their one-meal-a-day habit to start eating balanced meals of nutritious foods are often shocked to see the pounds fall off. Those added calories and nutrients allow their bodies to start functioning properly. While many Americans do need to cut back on portion sizes and make healthier selections, don’t make the mistake of starving yourself to lose weight. You could lose lean muscle mass and slow down your metabolism, the rate at which your body burns calories.

Myth 5: Skip the red meat to get healthy and trim.

Even dieters can enjoy reasonable portions of beef without worrying about gaining weight. Beef provides protein plus the vitamin B12, iron and zinc your body needs. Of course, a 12-ounce restaurant serving of porterhouse steak might pack 700 calories and 33 grams of fat (13 of it saturated). That can give you some trouble if you enjoy it regularly. Downsizing your favorite cuts or making leaner choices can lighten the calorie and fat wallop. Leaner options include tenderloin, eye of the round, top round or beef marked “select.” Trim excess fat before cooking.

Myth 6: Don’t eat after 8 p.m. if you want to lose weight.

Save some calories from your day’s intake and enjoy a light nighttime snack, if you want it—you won’t pack on pounds. (But avoid large meals or heavy snacks right before bed—digestion can interfere with your sleep, experts tell us.) The fact is, if you’re consuming more calories than your body needs, you’ll gain weight, whether you’re eating those calories before or after 8 o’clock. But by 8 p.m., most people on typical work or school schedules will have eaten just about all the calories their body needs. So if you’re topping off your day with 400 extra calories from cookies, chips or ice cream, you could find your waistband tightening.

Myth 7: Keep your calorie count low to stay fit and healthy.

That depends: If you live on only 1,800 calories a day of doughnuts, chocolate bars and fast food, your body will not look the same as if you’d eaten 1,800 calories of lean protein, vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes. Your eyes, hair, nails and skin will reflect the state of your health. Your energy level will suffer, too, so you may not be able to get the exercise your body needs. Health experts advise us that our food choices have consequences. Each time you eat, you have a chance to strengthen you body, help it run better and fight disease.