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Published December 27, 2012, 11:35 PM

Local dietitians break down eight nutrition myths

FARGO - Every day it seems like there’s a new health headline that contradicts the last: Coffee’s good for you. No, it’s bad for you! Eat fewer carbs. No, eat more! Kale’s the new superfood. No, it’s the blueberry!

By: Meredith Holt, INFORUM

FARGO - Every day it seems like there’s a new health headline that contradicts the last: Coffee’s good for you. No, it’s bad for you! Eat fewer carbs. No, eat more! Kale’s the new superfood. No, it’s the blueberry!

Most dietitians would agree on a couple basic principles of proper nutrition, such as “eat a wide variety of foods” and “eat everything in moderation,” but beyond that, it can be downright confusing.

Elizabeth Hilliard of North Dakota State University’s department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences and Lindsay Vettleson of Fargo’s IMA Healthcare break down eight of the most common nutrition myths.

Myth 1: Sea salt is a healthier version of regular salt.

Hilliard and Vettleson say sea salt and regular salt contain the same amount of sodium chloride, which means they have similar amounts of sodium.

Hilliard, an assistant professor, says sea salt is considered healthier because it’s “less processed” and does contain some trace minerals, but table salt is fortified with iodine, which is essential for normal thyroid function.

Dietitian Vettleson says the difference is in the taste and texture, which comes down to personal preference, and both recommend limiting daily sodium intake no matter which type you prefer.

Myth 2: Egg yolks raise your cholesterol.

Yes, egg yolks contain cholesterol, Hilliard says, but they’re also an excellent source of protein, choline (needed for cognitive development), lutein and zeaxanthin (which help prevent macular degeneration).

Besides, Vettleson says the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently stated that an egg has less dietary cholesterol than previously thought (185 milligrams versus 213 milligrams).

Per the American Heart Association, the recommended total dietary cholesterol intake should be less than 300 milligrams per day, and less than 200 milligrams per day for those with high cholesterol.

“Try incorporating more egg whites along with one egg yolk in your breakfast omelet,” Vettleson suggests.

Myth 3: Chocolate is bad for you.

Chocolate gets its bad rap from its typically high amounts of calories, fat and sugar, but it also contains flavonoids, which act as antioxidants.

“Antioxidants protect our cells from being damaged and therefore can have a protective effect against heart disease,” Hilliard says.

Dark chocolate contains more flavonoids than milk or white chocolate, so look for chocolate with 65 percent or more cocoa content, both recommend.

Myth 4: Trans-fat free foods are actually trans-fat free.

The Food and Drug Administration allows foods to be labeled as trans-fat free if they contain less than 0.5 grams trans fat per serving, so a food could contain 0.49 grams trans fat per serving and be labeled as trans-fat free.

“This is extremely deceiving, as most people eat more than one serving at a sitting,” Vettleson says.

Hilliard and Vettleson recommend checking labels and ingredient lists for hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils in order to avoid trace amounts of trans fat.

Myth 5: Bananas are the best source of potassium.

Vettleson says bananas are a good source of potassium, but not the best. One medium banana contains 465 milligrams, but according to the USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference:

• One potato contains 1,081 milligrams

• 1 cup legumes or lentils, 800-1,000 milligrams

• 1 cup of winter squash contains 900 milligrams

• 1 cup spinach, 839 milligrams

• 1 cup yogurt, 530 grams

“Diets high in potassium can help reduce the risk of hypertension and stroke,” she adds.

Myth 6: Oranges are the best source of vitamin C.

Again, oranges are a good source of vitamin C, with 96 milligrams per cup, but it’s not the best. Hilliard and Vettleson both point to the little red strawberry as proof.

“A cup of strawberry halves has about 89 milligrams of vitamin C and only 49 calories. So, for fewer calories, you can get more vitamin C with strawberries,” Hilliard says.

Other suggestions include:

• 1 cup peaches, 250 milligrams

• 1 cup red peppers, 190 milligrams

“Vitamin C is an antioxidant, antihistamine, and helps build immune function,” Vettleson adds.

Myth 7: Granola is good for you.

Oats, granola’s primary ingredient, ARE good for you; it’s how they’re processed and what’s added to them that makes the difference.

“What most people don’t realize about granola is that it can contain large amounts of calories, fat and sugar,” Hilliard says.

A quarter-cup of granola has 150 calories and 7 grams of fat, she says, whereas a quarter-cup of Cheerios has only 28 calories and 0.5 grams fat.

Myth 8: Meat is bad for you.

Meat serves several functions for those who choose to eat it.

“Meat contains essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. These amino acids help build and maintain muscle mass. Meat is also high in iron, which helps transport oxygen in the body. It breaks down slower than carbohydrate foods to help increase satiety (feeling of fullness) after meals,” Vettleson says.

In order to reap the benefits while keeping fat and cholesterol in check, Hilliard offers the following suggestions:

• Choose leaner cuts of meat by getting extra-lean meats that are at least 90 percent lean.

• Choose cuts that are labeled as “Choice” or “Select” instead of “Prime” (prime tends to have more fat).

• When choosing poultry, select white meat, not dark. Also, be careful with ground poultry, as dark meat is often added to add flavor. Make sure to choose ground poultry that is low-fat (at least 90 percent lean).

• When preparing meats, cut off visible fat before cooking and drain fat from the pan after cooking.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Meredith Holt at (701) 241-5590