TIME Nutrition

6 Food Myths Debunked

Botanical Gardens Host Gardening Market
Potatoes seen at the biannual gardeners' market at the Botanical Gardens in Berlin, Germany. Clemens Bilan—Getty Images

Don't completely ditch fat-free dressings, and feel free to eat some white vegetables.

Nutrition advice comes so fast and furious, sometimes it’s hard to keep track of what’s good and what’s bad for you. And oftentimes when that advice is boiled down to a hard and fast rule, that rule becomes, well, slightly untrue. So we asked some nutrition experts to identify the more common food myths we hear, and the truth behind them.

MYTH: Microwaving foods kills nutrients

Microwaving is actually among the more preferable ways of keeping all the good things in foods like vegetables intact. Boiling can leech out valuable vitamins and minerals, but because microwaving heats up food without using a lot of water, it helps foods to stay nutrient-packed.

MYTH: The more grains, the better

While grains are certainly preferable to refined white flour because they contain more fiber and vitamin B, don’t fall into the multigrain trap. Just because a product has multiple different grains doesn’t mean those grains aren’t processed and stripped of many of the good things you want from them. “In processing grains for convenience, you’re potentially losing the nutrients and changing the degree to which they are absorbed,” says Nicolette Pace, spokesperson for the New York State Dietetic Association.

Check the label and look for the word “whole” before any grains listed. And make sure the whole grains are the first thing among the ingredients, which confirms that they make up the most important part of the food.

Another clue is the fiber content. “If you’re seeing than an 11-cracker serving contains 1g of fiber, there’s probably not a lot of whole grain in there,” says Pace.

MYTH: Fat-free salad dressings are healthier

Fruits and vegetables have fat-soluble nutrients that need fat in order to work–like the lycopene in tomatoes, which has been linked to lower cancer and stroke risk. Opting for a fat-free dressing may deprive you of those benefits. Try olive oil-based options instead, or add avocados and nuts, both of which contain healthy fats, to your salad instead.

MYTH: Avoid white vegetables

Nutrition experts advocate for colorful foods – the brighter, and more diverse the rainbow on your plate, the better. And that’s still true; carrots and strawberries are high in beta carotene, an important antioxidant that fights damaging inflammation in cells, and dark green produce is a rich source of antioxidants, fiber, calcium, and vitamins like C and K.

But that doesn’t mean that their white cousins are nutritional failures. In fact, cauliflower, garlic, onions, mushrooms, and, yes, even potatoes are good sources of fiber, antioxidants, and potassium. And while the white potato has become tuber non grata for dieters, adding a moderate amount of potato to your diet won’t derail weight entirely. In fact, because it’s so full of fiber, a little goes a long way toward making you feel full and eating less overall. “It’s something you can use as a vehicle to build a meal,” says McDaniel. “If you add broccoli and little bit of cheese, it can be a satisfying meal for someone trying to lose weight.”

MYTH: Juice cleanses are cleansing

“People think juice cleanses are a good way to detox the body,” says Jennifer McDaniel, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “But I remind my clients that you have a built-in detox organ, the liver, and it’s very good at what it does.” It probably won’t harm you if you go on a juice cleanse for a day or so, but as a way to lose weight, it’s not such a good idea, since it deprives you of proteins and fats, and may lead to losing muscle.

MYTH: Coffee will only make you thirstier

While the caffeine in coffee is a diuretic, meaning it draws water out of your body, the amount of water in coffee means that overall, it can be a thirst quencher. Water is still your best option to stay hydrated, but don’t avoid coffee if you’re a regular java drinker because you think it dehydrate you.

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