With so much diet and nutrition information readily available at our fingertips, the world is becoming more and more health-conscious. These days, it's no longer just about counting calories, food fads, or "good vs. bad"—but about a balance that will leave your body not only healthy but also feeling great when it's all said and done.
We tapped the expert advice of nutritionist Susan Tucker for five dangerous food myths to stop believing in now.
Myth: I need to detox.
Detoxing is all the rage these days, but it's not all it's chalked up to be. "As a nutrition counselor, people often ask me if they should go on a detox," Tucker tells Glamour. "I always begin by asking them why they feel they need to. In the best of dietary worlds, we would not have to go through this process. We would be eating a clean, balanced diet, getting enough rest, and managing stress. Detoxing is certainly a great way to reset and reboot. If you have a few quiet days, it's wonderful to plan a little retreat for the body, and there's nothing wrong with juicing and/or eating raw to clean out the system. If you've just returned from a work trip where you wined and dined with clients nonstop, a wedding weekend, or have being doing a lot of holiday eating and drinking, you certainly want to reel yourself in and feel your best again."
But what about detoxing's hidden dangers? "The concern is that if we rely on detoxing we may never get our every day meals and dietary path in order," she advises. "It's becoming a crutch—jump-starting and re-jump-starting your body can get a bit taxing on your system and emotions over time. Remember, your system has a brilliantly designed natural cleansing system—we just have to learn how to work with it. There are ways to add a little detox to your diet every day, such as drinking warm water with lemon first thing in the morning, including raw vegetables each day, eating lots of leafy greens, and including some fresh fruit and fresh juices weekly, and, of course, drinking plenty of water."
Myth: Sugar is sugar.
"Not all sugar is created equal," Tucker says. "Sugar in our diet may come from processed or added sugars, or from whole, natural sources like fruits, vegetables, and condiments. Sugar from any source may mark the same glycemic index or have the same effect on our system, depending on the quantity we eat, and our own particular reaction with sugar in our body. However, sweetening from whole, natural sources provides additional nutrients and elements that alleviate the harmful effects of sugar and most likely will keep your blood sugar levels more balanced. It's a matter of nutrient-dense calories vs. empty calories. Brilliantly, the fiber in fruit ushers out toxins and cholesterol from the system. There's nothing wrong with wanting to taste sweetness in our diet, but it is how we are doing it and what we are reaching for."
Myth: Vegans lack nutrients.
You may be worried that once you leave the animal kingdom behind, you'll be depriving your body of required, everyday nutrients.
"Rest assured, you will be well provided for within a vegan diet, but it takes some effort for success, just like any other dietary path," Tucker says. "When switching to a vegan diet, one of the questions people always ask you is 'Are you getting enough protein?' Most people associate protein only with animal products. Grains, vegetables, nuts, and legumes can provide you with ample protein. The other main concerns are vitamins D and B12. You can check these levels with your medical practitioner and supplement as needed, or include fortified foods in your diet. Variety is key to keeping balance and the supply of macro-nutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates) and micro-nutrients (minerals, vitamins, antioxidants) in check. One of the great benefits of a vegan diet is that you will spread a wider food net and introduce foods you may have never thought of eating before."
Myth: Soy is dangerous.
"The fear of soy stems from a misunderstanding about phytoestrogen and estrogen," Tucker says. "Breast cancer is a common fear. Soybeans contain isoflavones, a plant estrogen (phytoestrogen), but this isn't the estrogen hormone. Structurally they are similar, but functionally they are not. The soybean—a legume—has a lot of nutritional benefits. It's a good source of protein, fiber, and antioxidants, as well as vitamin K, a nutrient needed for bone health. The best choices include edamame (baby soybeans), tempeh, and miso, and tofu. Edamame and tempeh are great ways to consume soy (unless you have a problem with fermented foods). Soybeans are one of the most genetically engineered crops, so it is important to choose non-GMO and organic, which is easily available. Also, beware of soy isolate, which is in a lot of protein powders and bars and processed foods. For the dairy-intolerant, soymilk may be the replacement of choice. A good choice is an organic, non-GMO soymilk with the fewest ingredients, e.g., soybeans, water, and sea salt."
Myth: It's expensive to eat healthy.
It's a common assumption that eating a clean, healthy diet is expensive, but just like anything else, it's all about priorities.
"If you think of food as medicine and an investment in your health, it reframes it," Tucker says. "Many of the major natural, health-wise grocery stores now have their own brands, and these bring down costs quite a bit on anything from canned, frozen, dairy, nut butters, sauces, and dressings. The bulk-food section of a grocery store is also a wonderful way to save while making good choices. Whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, honey, coffee, dried fruit, and a variety of whole-grain flours are commonly available to buy in bulk. Another way to save on healthy choices is to check out your local farmers market, especially for seasonal items. Another key to saving and eating healthier meals is to bring your own lunch and snacks to work. You can save up to $350 a week. The ABCs of eating clean and healthy are closely tied to developing strategies and research. It takes practice, but it really pays off."