Food Friday: Nutrition Half-Truths You May Have Heard

By Cassidy Hobbs Hall
Area Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences
Johnston County Cooperative Extension

Nowadays everyone seems to be a nutrition expert despite America’s high obesity rates and heart disease continuing to be the leading cause of death. There is a huge market right now for nutrition products and self-studied nutrition coaches, and an overwhelming number of quick-fix diets- many of which seem to follow a variety of ideas.

What is “good to eat” on one diet may not be on another. All of these things make finding information that is credible and rooted in nutrition science much harder to find.

Because of the information floating around, I get tons of questions from consumers. Here are three of the top ‘half-truths’ people ask me about.

  1. Avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup because it is linked to insulin resistance & inflammation.
    Don’t get me wrong- I do not think that high fructose corn syrup is good for you, but nor do I think it should be singled out and demonized. High Fructose Corn Syrup is a concentrated source of added sugar and it is extremely cheap, which is one of the reasons it is found in so many sugary foods. Sugar not only sweetens food, but it also serves as a preservative. High Fructose Corn Syrup began to be widely used during the rise of processed foods and the rise in obesity trends. Yes, eating lots of processed foods can increase your risk of obesity. Yes, obesity can contribute to the development of diabetes. Yes, too much added sugar can increase your weight and contribute to diabetes. Insulin resistance is diabetes. High Fructose Corn Syrup, however, has the same metabolic reaction in your body as any other form of added sugar. Added sugar is sugar, sugar is sugar, and sugar is sugar. So yes, a diet high in High Fructose Corn Syrup is linked to insulin resistance and inflammation- but so are all of the other added sugars. Therefore, it is unfair to single out one form of added sugar but not discuss these affects linked to any others. (The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar to 24g-36 per day.)
  1. Avoid gluten because it causes inflammation and obesity.
    Gluten is a natural part of some foods and is primarily found in wheat, barley, and rye. It is not a mysterious chemical that is added to foods, nor is it anything new. Despite having existed for thousands of years, more and more consumers are believed to have a gluten intolerance or are diagnosed with Celiac Disease. These people should avoid gluten-containing foods. What about for the rest of us? Is gluten really unhealthy? No. The problem is not that we consume gluten. The problem is that many foods that do contain gluten are refined grains. Examples include white bread, white pasta, white rice, and highly processed foods. A diet high in these foods is linked to inflammation and a wealth of other health problems, including obesity. However, consuming up to 6 servings per day of whole grains has been shown to actually decrease abdominal obesity. Whole grains include 100% whole wheat or whole grain breads, pasta, oatmeal, quinoa, even corn and popcorn. Gluten is pretty sticky, kind of like the glue that holds together the rest of the ingredients to make bread or other foods. Corn, while still a whole grain, does not contain gluten. This is why corn tortillas tend to fall apart and those avoiding gluten can still eat them. Again, the headline saying is a half-truth. It is unfair to single out gluten. It is actually the fact people eat tons of refined wheat foods that result in inflammation and obesity, not the gluten or wheat itself. Gluten may still be part of whole grains and those foods have the opposite effect.
  1. Eat/drink _ to detox your body & lose weight.
    I’ll keep this one short and sweet. If you are used to eating a diet low in fruits and vegetables and you suddenly eat or drink fruits and vegetables, yes you’ll see major improvements in your energy levels and even in your skin- the same goes if you normally do not drink water and now you are suddenly drinking lots of water. There are no magic foods. It doesn’t really matter which fruits or vegetables you add to your ‘detox’ smoothies or water. Fruits, vegetables, and water all promote your body’s natural and original detoxification system (your liver and kidneys) and the produce will also provide you with antioxidants. This headline is a half-truth, but I still encourage you to up your overall consumption of fruits, vegetables, and water. The good news is that it doesn’t matter which you choose, eat and drink a variety! Tip: Eating the fruits and vegetables will keep you fuller for longer and tend to be lower in calories than when drinking them.

Cassidy has been a Family & Consumer Sciences Agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension since 2017. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Health and is working to complete her Master’s of Science in Nutrition. 

Previous Food Friday Articles

How To Stop Wasting Money & Food At Home

Facebook May Cause Your Food To Be Bad

Pickling Season Is Here!

Your Strawberry Questions Answered