In this article, we’re spotlighting three popular nutrition myths and breaking them down for you.
Myth #1: Eating gluten is bad for you.
Reality: Eating gluten is bad for people who have celiac disease, a genetic autoimmune disorder that causes damage to the small intestine after eating gluten. Celiac affects approximately 1% of the population.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. It’s also in grains that are related to wheat—including bulgur, faro, kamut, spelt, and triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye). It lends a special touch to favorite foods, thickening soups and sauces, making pizza dough stretchy, and cakes springy.
For people with celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is essential. For others, gluten-free eating can mean eliminating essential dietary nutrition found in whole grains. These include B vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and fiber. Whole-grain foods have also been known to help lower the risk of heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer.
With increased awareness of celiac disease, gluten-free diets and foods have proliferated in popularity. Gluten-free eating has been touted as a cure-all for diverse health conditions (apart from celiac), and a miracle diet for weight loss. In reality, gluten-free food is not always a healthy alternative. Without gluten to bind foods together, gluten-free substitute products often have added sugar or fat to make them more palatable.
The bottom line is that if you believe you may have an intolerance to gluten, visit your doctor to be tested for celiac disease. Visit our Health Library for more information about the symptoms related to celiac disease.
Myth #2: Everyone should drink eight glasses of water per day.
Reality: No single formula exists for achieving hydration for every body. The amount of water you should drink daily depends on your health, activity levels, and where you live.
When it comes to your health, illnesses that include fevers, vomiting, or diarrhea, cause your body to lose additional fluids and water consumption should be adjusted. Bladder or urinary tract infections also require an increased intake of water. Some health conditions, such as heart failure and kidney, liver, or adrenal diseases, may require you to limit your fluid intake.
When it comes to exercise, any activity that causes perspiration requires an increase of water to make up for fluid loss. An additional 1.5 to 2.5 cups of water should be enough to compensate for short bouts of exercise, but when exercising for longer than an hour, you’ll need to increase your fluid intake accordingly.
Your location also affects your need for water. High altitudes—greater than 8,200 feet—may increase frequency of urination and more rapid breathing, which depletes hydration. Hot and humid weather increases perspiration, and heated indoor air during the winter can make your skin lose moisture. All of these conditions require an increase in water consumption.
Experts usually use the eight glasses a day maxim to encourage people to drink water throughout the day, but a good way to tell if you’re adequately hydrated is to notice if your urine is colorless or light yellow. If so, you’re likely getting just the right amount of fluids in your diet.
Myth #3: High-fructose corn syrup is worse for you than sugar.
Reality: High-fructose corn syrup is chemically similar to table sugar, and according to most researchers, it is no worse (and no better) than cane sugar.
All sugars, regardless of their origin, have been linked to health problems such as tooth decay, weight gain, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and high triglyceride levels. These conditions boost your risk for heart disease.
Though some consumers have stopped buying products with high-fructose corn syrup, experts point out that the consumption of all sugars is harmful to health. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 100 calories per day of added sugar, which equals about six teaspoons. Men should consume no more than 9 teaspoons. One can of regular soda has over nine teaspoons of sugar.
Unfortunately, added sugar is found in foods we eat every day. Sugar increases calories but provides zero nutritional value. To reduce sugar in your diet, experts suggest the following:
- Eat a filling and satisfying breakfast allows you to fend off sugar cravings during the day.
- Forget nonfat products. When food companies take out fat from foods, they almost always add in more sugar to compensate for taste.
- Sweeten foods yourself. Buy plain yogurt. Drink unsweetened iced tea. You will almost always add less sugar than manufacturers of sweetened products.
- Watch for hidden sugars. Many foods—including tomato sauce—include sugar in their ingredient list.
If you’d like to evaluate your own diet, El Camino Hospital offers a 30-minute, free nutritional consultation with one of our hospital dietitians. We’ll help you design a meal plan that’s healthy, delicious, and nutritious. For more information, call 650-940-7210.
This article first appeared in the March 2016 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.