I recently received my Mayo Clinic Health Letter and one of the main topics was dietary supplements.
All that I have read lately seems to suggest that these supplements are fairly useless and cannot substitute for a well-balanced, healthy diet. Whole foods are more complex and contain many different micro-nutrients not found in supplements. In addition, they provide dietary fiber, and fruits and vegetables also provide phytochemicals.
Of course, supplements may be appropriate under certain conditions. For instance, vegans and vegetarians as well as people with food allergies may need them.
The touted necessity of supplements is just one example of a food myth. I was inspired to do some further research on this topic and found many interesting fictions.
One of them is that eating eggs will jack up your cholesterol. False. What really matters is how much saturated or trans fats you eat. A large egg has only 1.5 grams of saturated fat and no trans fats, but it does have lots of minerals, vitamins (A, E, B 12), antioxidants, lutein and long-chain omega-3 fats like those found in fish.
I was surprised to read that aluminum foil and aluminum cookware are not linked to Alzheimer's disease. Apparently the myth originated in the 1960s and '70s when scientists discovered that aluminum was elevated in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. Today's scientists believe that the kidneys process out any aluminum absorbed by the body and that no threat is posed.
Here's another belief that needs reexamination: Carbohydrates make you fat. Sorry, Dr. Atkins, but carbs don't make you fat.
According to Jean Harvey, chairwoman of the nutrition and food sciences department at the University of Vermont, the cause "is eating too many calories."
Certain carbo-loaded foods like white bread and doughnuts aren't healthy, but the good carbs, like whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables, are important sources of fuel for the body.
I like this one: Cravings tell us what our body needs. People say that they eat what they crave because their body knows best. However, the most common thing many women crave is chocolate. Cravings for broccoli, eggs and leafy green vegetables are rare. The mind, not the body, is the source of cravings.
Microwave ovens are a source of many common myths, one of which is that you lose nutrients when you zap food. In fact, one of the best ways to cook vegetables to preserve their nutrients is to microwave them because they cook more quickly. By boiling vegetables, you are just pouring vitamins down the drain.
Another microwave fiction is that the process exposes the user to radiation. Once the oven is off, there are no waves in the oven or the food. Users might be more concerned if the door is damaged or doesn't seal properly. In most cases, leaks are too small to cause a health risk.
Despite recommendations from actress Gwyneth Paltrow, doctors don't consider cleansing diets healthy.
It seems that our bodies have a very well-designed system for removing toxins involving the liver, spleen and kidneys.
Rumor has it that spicy foods cause ulcers, but not so, no matter how much you eat. You won't get ulcers from stress either. The bacterium Helicobacter pylori is the culprit.
Nobel laureate Dr. Robin Warren and professor Barry Marshall discovered this in 1984. Marshall put his own stomach on the line by swallowing a brew of culture H.pylori and, voila, he had ulcer-like symptoms.
Last, for now, is the statement that frozen vegetables are less nutritious than fresh. This would be true if the fresh food had just been picked and served, but frozen foods are nearly as nutritious because they are picked at their peak and quickly frozen.
Fresh vegetables can sit in the store for several days or in your refrigerator for a week, losing nutrients every day. Before that they may have been transported across the country or even farther.
I will debunk more myths from time to time.
TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.