Guest Post: Five Nutritional Assumptions That Can Lead You Astray by Andy Bellatti
As I’m sure your parents taught you, assumptions are troublesome because, well, they can make quite the rear end out of all of us. In the world of nutrition, some assumptions can lull you into a false sense of security. Do any of these five erroneous “I got it goin’ on!” statements sound familiar to you?
1) “I’m out in the sun quite a bit, so I don’t need a vitamin D supplement.” Ah, this comes down to location, location, location. If you live north of Atlanta (regardless of which part of the country you’re in), the sun’s UVB rays (the ones responsible for vitamin D production) don’t reach you, no matter how much skin exposure you get. Additionally, keep in mind that the “15 to 20 minutes of exposure” suggestion only applies to individuals with very fair skin. Individuals with darker skin shades may require as much as 60 to 90 minutes of unprotected exposure to the sun at peak hours, which comes with its own share problems. Solution? Supplement. I’m firmly in the camp that believes current vitamin D guidelines are extremely low, which is why I recommend 2,000 International Units a day. Be sure to take your vitamin D supplement with a meal; fat is crucial for absorption.
2) “I don’t eat salty foods, so my diet is low in sodium.” The foods that traditionally come to mind when sodium is discussed are those that contain surface salt (pretzels, potato chips, salted nuts, French fries). Surface salt is much more noticeable to the palate, but it does not necessarily indicate a high-sodium product. Consider, for example, that a serving of salted peanuts or potato chips contains 115 and 190 milligrams of sodium, respectively. For comparison’s sake, consider that a cup of milk or slice of bread offers 180 milligrams. The worst sneaky sodium offenders? Sweet beverages and baked goods! A Panera Bread Company blueberry scone clocks in at 780 milligrams. Au Bon Pain’s carrot walnut muffin? 820 milligrams (equivalent to 8 McDonald’s chicken nuggets). A Dunkin’ Donuts large white hot chocolate? 650 milligrams.
3) “A product is all-natural, 100% organic, and cholesterol-free, so it’s a healthy choice.” Not necessarily. “All-natural” can certainly imply wholesome and unprocessed, but not always. After all, sugar, salt, and refined grains are all-natural. “Organic” certainly provides environmental and health benefits, but there is no nutritional advantage to, say, organic sugar or organic white flour. “Cholesterol-free”, meanwhile, is a health claim that continues to linger from the days when it was believed that cholesterol in foods affected blood cholesterol levels. We now know that while that is the case for some individuals, it is certainly not true across the board. And, besides, a lack of cholesterol does not necessarily designate a better choice (Skittles and Fruit Loops are cholesterol-free).
4) “My blood tests don’t show any deficiencies, so my diet is adequate.” Perhaps, but don’t count on it. While blood tests are able to pick up on inadequate levels of vitamins and minerals, adequate nutrition goes beyond that. The most healthful diets help lower our risk of various conditions and diseases thanks to a variety of flavonoids, antioxidants, and phytonutrients, found in abundance in plant-based foods. Someone with a mediocre diet who supplements nutrients may appear, on paper, just as healthy as someone who eats significantly higher quantities of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds.
5) “Turkey bacon is a better choice than regular bacon.” Not necessarily. Unless otherwise specified, turkey bacon contains nitrites and is high in sodium. Classifying it as “healthier” is like saying Coca Cola is a better choice than orange soda because it contains a few less grams of sugar. I recommend taking it easy with all processed meat products (including soy-based faux cold-cuts), as they are low on nutrients, high in sodium, and contain troublesome preservatives. Additionally, the evidence linking frequent consumption of processed meats with increased risk of stomach, colon, and prostate cancer is too strong to ignore.
Andy, who describes himself as “one part nutritionist, one part vegan chef, and one part food policy activist,” is a Seattle-based whole-foods focused nutritionist and the creator of the Small Bites blog. He completed his Masters degree in clinical nutrition at New York University and is currently completing his Dietetic Internship through SeaMar Community Health Centers. Follow Andy on Twitter: @AndyBellatti.