Seven Diet Sins
The most common nutrition mistakes -- and how to avoid them.
By Colette Bouchez
Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
You read all the books; buy all the right vitamins; you know the buzzwords to look for on food labels. By all standards, you're certain your nutrition report card should be filled with straight A's.
But before you start pasting gold stars onto your refrigerator door, take heed: Nutrition experts say most of us think we are eating a lot better than we actually are.
"It's easy to buy into some pretty popular nutrition misconceptions -- myths and half-truths that ultimately find us making far fewer healthier food choices than we realize," says New York University nutritionist Samantha Heller, MS, RD.
To set the record straight, Heller and two colleagues from the American Dietetic Association gave us the dish on seven nutrition mistakes you probably don't know you're making -- along with sure-fire ways to avoid them.
Mistake No. 1: Assuming your choices are better than they actually are.
From fruit juices to canned vegetable soup, breakfast muffins to seven-grain bread, it's easier to think your food choices are healthier than they really are, experts tell WebMD.
"If a label says 'Seven-Grain Bread,' it sounds pretty healthy, right? But unless that label also says 'whole grains' it's not necessarily going to be the healthiest bread choice you could make," Heller says.
Likewise, she says many folks think that eating a can of vegetable soup is as nutritious as downing a plateful of veggies -- not realizing how few vegetables are inside, and how much of the nutrients are lost in processing.
Another common mistake: Substituting fruit juices for whole fruits.
"Are fruit juices healthier than soda? Yes. But they are also concentrated sources of sugar that don't give you anywhere near the same level of nutrients you get from whole fruits," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD. What's more, says Taub-Dix, if you're trying to lose weight, you won't get the same sense of fullness from a glass of juice that you will from a piece of fruit.
"Instead, you'll just take in a whole lot of calories -- and still feel hungry," Taub-Dix says.
The solution: Whenever possible, eat whole, fresh, and unprocessed foods. Even when you eat them in smaller amounts, you're likely to get a well-rounded group of nutrients. When buying packaged foods, put in at least as much time into reading labels and selecting products as you do when choosing a shower gel or shampoo.
"Don't just assume a product is healthy -- even if it's in the health food section of the supermarket," says Heller. "You've got to read the labels."
Mistake No. 2: Being confused about carbs.
A national fascination with low-carb diets has many Americans eliminating carbohydrates from their eating plans in record "grams." But before you reconstruct your personal nutrition pyramid, there's something you should know.
"There are carbs that are very, very good, and some that are less good, but your brain and body must have some carbohydrates every day," says Heller.
Moreover, because complex carbohydrates (those rich in whole grains and fiber) keep you feeling full longer, they also help you to eat less -- and lose more!
But eliminating this important food group isn't our only carb-related mistake. According to dietician Rachel Brandeis, MS, RD, just as troublesome is the belief that all no-carb or low-carb foods are healthy, or that you can eat them in any amount.
"Much like the low-fat diet craze, where everyone thought that if a meal had no fat, it had no calories, similarly people have come to believe that if it has low carbs you can eat as much as you want and not gain weight," says Brandeis. "And that is simply not true." Eat enough of anything, she says, and you'll gain weight.
The solution: Experts say you should never cut any food group out of your diet -- including carbohydrates. Equally important, says Heller, is to learn which carbohydrates give you the biggest bang for your nutritional buck.