Healthy Living

How To Eat Healthy, For Real: 6 Food Nutrition Myths Conventional Wisdom Says Are True

carrots
Our moms are right about a lot of things, but which foods we should eat to grow big and strong aren't always best. Fovea Centralis, CC BY-ND 2.0

We’re told from an early age that if we want to be big and strong we need to drink milk. Our bones crave the calcium, after all. We learn that we need to eat these foods for these reasons, so we can grow up and have these advantages. And Mom is never wrong, so we bit.

Unfortunately, the conventional wisdom we hold about a lot of foods is founded less on science and nutrition, and more on, well… convention. In our laudable quest for fiber, potassium, and vitamin C, we favor mediocre foods over excellent ones. It’s time to reconsider how we consume our nutrients.

6. Bananas For Potassium

What you should eat instead: Squash, Sweet Potatoes

Barring the potassium supplement route, getting your daily fill of the mineral through food is kind of tricky. The World Health Organization suggests people should consume 3,510 milligrams (mg) a day. If you were to go by the rule of thumb that “Bananas have lots of potassium,” you’d need to consume eight bananas a day, at 422mg apiece, just to hit the minimum.

Sweet potatoes, meanwhile, contain 694mg of potassium, and the veritable king of potassium, winter squash, contains 896mg per one-cup serving. The moral of the story? Peel a banana or two, but don’t expect much progress in the K department.

5. Red Wine For Heart Health

What you should eat instead: Cloves, Peppermint

Red wine isn’t necessarily bad for your heart — there are genuine benefits to all those antioxidants — but it may be a bit of wishful thinking to have a bottle of wine with dinner and expect immortality.

Along with antioxidants, which reduce the amount of harmful free radicals released in the body, one of the components that make a glass of red wine healthy is polyphenols. They help prevent cancer and degenerative diseases, and there are roughly 101mg of them per a 100-milliliter serving of red wine. This may sound like a lot, until you consider one apple has 136mg, dark chocolate 1,664mg, and, the top dog, cloves, at 15,188mg — or over 15 grams.

Peppermint falls in a close second with 11,960mg , but both peppermint and cloves easily outshine the third and fourth place performers, star anise (5,460) and cocoa powder (3,448). Would you use 100 grams (g) of cloves or peppermint while you cook? No, but even 2 teaspoons, or 9.6g, would get you 1,456mg of polyphenols.

4. Whole Wheat For Fiber

What you should eat instead: Bran

Fiber is essential to maintain digestive health, and the Mayo Clinic says men should receive roughly 38g of it each day, and women should receive 25. Contrary to the notion whole grain and whole wheat are superior to other fiber sources, their hype is mostly unfounded. One cup of whole wheat comes with 14.4g of fiber — respectable, but it pales in comparison to the 60g of fiber found in a cup of corn bran.

Corn bran fiber is as healthy as it is versatile. A 2012 study found incorporating corn bran into baked goods with an 80/20 ratio of flour to bran “resulted in cakes with acceptable sensory scores based on texture, taste and overall acceptability of the cakes.”

3. Dairy For Calcium

What you should eat instead: Whitebait

This is one of the big ones — a mighty oak in the forest of conventional wisdom. There’s no denying milk has whitebait (a tiny, non-meaty fish similar to sardines) beat in terms of taste and kid-friendliness. But the fish make up for it in their nutrition.

Experts say people 19 to 50 years old need between 700mg and a gram of calcium a day. An 8-ounce glass of one-percent milk comes with 300mg, which, while a decent portion, falls short of the top source. The bony fish delivers 688mg of calcium in only an 80-gram serving, with most of the nutrition packed inside its tiny, edible bones.

2. Carrots For Eye Health

What you should eat instead: Leafy Greens

Eating too many carrots and having your skin turn a yellowish color is real — it’s called carotenemia — but don’t expect your eyes to be at their optimal health to notice. Carrots are known to boost eye health because of their rich source of beta-carotene, but this carotenoid doesn’t stand up to the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, found most often in leafy greens.

Together, lutein and zeaxanthin work to reverse your visual system losing sensitivity with age by protecting the eye’s macula, an oval-shaped spot in the middle of the retina that lets you see with clarity and sharpness. The highest concentrations of lutein and zeaxanthin are in the eye. And the best way to replenish your supply is through greens like spinach and kale.

1. Oranges For Vitamin C

What you should eat instead: Bell Peppers

The Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health say people should consume between 60mg and 90mg of vitamin C each day to keep their immune systems in check. The truth is, most of us get a lot more than the daily amount. Oranges, for example, the poster child for vitamin C, already deliver approximately 71mg. And the excess our bodies can’t use gets removed as waste.

But citrus underperforms by a huge margin when compared to hearty vegetables like bell peppers, which offer side benefits, too. Red bell peppers deliver 172mg of vitamin C and yellow bell peppers as much as 341, nearly four times the daily recommended value. They also provide sufficient sources of vitamin A, which works in tandem with lutein and zeaxanthin to promote eye health.

Also, the dangers of vitamin C deficiency far outweigh the dangers of consuming too much. That is, unless you’ve always wanted to get scurvy. In which case, forget the oranges. Let them eat cake.

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