5 Myths About Healthy Eating

In your quest to eat smart, don't be fooled by these common misconceptions

Exercise. Portion control. Eating right. It takes a great deal of willpower to maintain a healthy diet. You certainly don't want to blow it by adhering to beliefs that are not 100 percent true. Here are five food myths to keep in mind while keeping healthy.

Myth one: All fruit is created equal

That was the impression I was under until one summer I couldn't get enough red, sweet, juicy watermelon. I was averaging at least a half a melon a day. Hundreds of calories. Needless to say, I gained weight. It's not that watermelon isn't a healthy option, it's that I was having way too much of a good thing. Watermelon's sweet flavor makes it a great substitute for dessert but it's high water content won't keep you feeling full—if trying to lose or maintain weight, eat it in moderation. The same goes for grapes.

The healthiest fruits are lower in sugar and high in fiber, such as grapefruit, which also contains fat-burning enzymes. An apple or two a day is also a great choice, as apples are low in calories and fat and contain fiber that helps you feel full. Another convenient option is a banana as they are also high in fiber and are an easy snack when you're on the go.

Also be aware that many fruits are sprayed with pesticides and coated with fungicides. Whenever possible, choose organic.

Myth two: Chocolate is bad for you

There is nothing further from the truth. As a matter of fact, chocolate is considered by many to be a superfood, and an ounce or two a few times a week is actually a healthy treat. Though it's important to remember that not all chocolate is created equal.

Commercial chocolate bars may give you enjoyment but for the most part, this isn't the chocolate that gives you health benefits. What does is the flavanols and antioxidants of real cacao, found in high concentrations in quality dark chocolate. Varieties that contain 60 percent cacao or higher are best for you. Unfortunately, milk chocolate and white chocolate don't have these health benefits and many commercial candy bars have extra sugar, fat, waxes, and chemicals—so be sure to read the label. Another treat that is tasty and healthy is homemade hot cocoa. Don't be fooled by commercial hot chocolate mixes that are filled with sugar and have a very low cacao content. Try making your own with skim milk, unsweetened cocoa and sugar.

Myth three: Must avoid all fast food

Many of the nation's fast food restaurants have heeded the call and added healthy options to their menus. From nutritious soups to veggie-packed salads, the days of only serving greasy fries and fatty burgers are over.

New to many fast food menus are offerings like baked potatoes, grilled chicken wraps, and even corn on the cob. But there's still a need to be menu savvy—look out for diet-busting traps like calorie- and fat-laden dressings and toppings and always check the salt content. For example, potatoes are a great source of vitamins and minerals and have only about 150 calories. But they are often served with toppings like butter, sour cream, or gravy, which add many more calories and lots more fat. Skip these toppings and stick to just the spud. The same goes for the wrap that could be slathered in cheese or creamy sauce.

When in doubt, ask to see the nutritional information, which many fast-food chains now have available. Websites like nutrtiondata.com also supply this data.

Myth four: Salad will help you lose weight

This could be true, but when was the last time you sat down to a big bowl of leafy greens without the dressing or toppings? Salad bar offerings like bacon, croutons, fried chicken strips, and thick, creamy dressings are loaded with fat and calories. On the flip side, filling up on greens and greens alone can result in hunger pangs later in the day making it more likely that you will overeat.

So remember this rule: A healthy salad consists of a variety of vegetables, mixed greens, and filling, nutrient-dense items such as beans or almonds. Stick with a light vinaigrette dressing or if you want that creamy dressing, use a small portion or dilute it with water.

Myth five: "Low-fat" means there is no need for portion control

When you see the words, "low-fat or fat free", on a label, beware. Contrary to popular belief, these terms do not necessarily mean an item is healthy. In some instances, these foods will have the same number of calories as the regular versions, as sugar is added to replace the flavor lost when removing fat. More sugar means more empty calories, which lead to weight gain.

Additionally, fats come in many different forms, some of which are actually good for you. Although trans fat should be avoided and saturated fat eaten sparingly, monounsaturated fat, the kind found in nuts and olive oil, is heart healthy. Fat is an essential part of a healthy diet.

No matter what, portion size is imperative. Keeping track of the number of calories you consume versus the number you burn is key. Your best bet? Stick to reasonable portions of foods that are low in unhealthy fat and high in nutritional value. For example, it's wiser to eat a handful of almonds than an entire box of fat-free cookies.

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