Real Food Tips: 8 (More) Common Misconceptions

As soon as I published my first list of “common food misconceptions” I thought of a few more, so here they are…

  1. If it’s “gluten-free” then it is good for you…wrong (for most people).
    Unless you have an allergy or intolerance we do not believe people should avoid gluten…or any grains for that matter. And like I’ve said about organic packaged food, just because a product is “gluten-free” doesn’t mean it’s a “whole food.” There are lots of highly processed “organic” and “gluten-free” products out there and when buying grains – whether it has gluten or not – it’s best to select those products made with the whole-grain (check the ingredients to be sure). And to back this up, in a recent New York Times FAQMichael Pollan said, “People who eat lots of whole grains are generally healthier and live longer than those who don’t.” In the same article Pollan also addressed gluten-free diets saying, “They are very important if you have celiac disease or can’t tolerate gluten. But it’s hard to believe that the number of people suffering from these conditions has grown as fast as this product category. Gluten has become the bad nutrient of the moment, the evil twin of Omega 3 fatty acids. Could it really be that bread, a staple of Western civilization for 6,000 years, is suddenly making millions of us sick? I’m dubious.”

    Unedited photo of eggs from "pastured" chickens

  1. Brown eggs are better for you than white ones…wrong!
    Brown eggs simply come from a different breed of chicken than white eggs. We personally don’t worry about the color of the shell and instead pay attention to the color of the yolk on the inside. We believe that the best and most nutritious eggs come from pastured chickens (pastured = animals that graze on grass), and you can see the difference in the color of the yolk because it’s usually bright orange as opposed to pale yellow, which you’ll find inside most supermarket eggs. We buy our pastured eggs from our local farmers’ market and some have brown shells, some have white shells, and some even have light blue or green shells. But how those chickens are raised and fed is a lot more important to us than the color on the outside. If you can’t find eggs through local farmers then at least try to buy the organic “cage-free” variety.
  1. Speaking of eggs, they are healthier for you if you avoid eating the yolks…wrong!
    In the same NYTimes interview, according to Michael Pollan, “Eggs are great and always were. The nutrition researchers have rehabilitated them in recent years — they used to think that cholesterol in eggs raised cholesterol in the blood, but this turns out not to be the case for most people.”
  1. Local food is better than well-traveled organic food…unfortunately there’s no good answer for this one.
    Michael Pollan helps sum this one up nicely, “It depends on what you value most. If keeping pesticides out of your food is your highest value, then buy organic. If you care most about freshness and quality or keeping local farms in business and circulating money in your community, buy local. But very often you can do both. Some local farmers are organic in everything but name, so before you decide to pass them up, ask them not ‘Are you organic’ — to which the answer must be no if they haven’t been certified — but rather, how do you deal with fertility and pests?” Long story short…it’s expensive and timely for small farms to become certified organic so it’s always good to ask questions!
  1. Turkey burgers and turkey bacon are better than their beef and pork counterparts…wrong!
    I think this is a case of comparing apples to oranges. Beef, pork, and turkey are all from completely different animals. In general, no matter what kind of meat you choose, if it’s from humanely raised and properly fed animals (preferably pasture-fed from a local farm and/or organic) and you consume that meat in moderation then from there it’s just personal preference.
  1. In order to avoid genetically modified (GMO) food you must buy organic…right!
    Per Wikipedia, “A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques … To date the most controversial but also the most widely adopted application of GMO technology is patent-protected food crops that are resistant to commercial herbicides or are able to produce pesticidal proteins from within the plant, or stacked trait seeds, which do both.” Right now there is no law in the U.S. that require food manufactures to label foods that have been genetically modified, but the USDA rules for organic do prohibit GMOs so at the moment buying organic is the only way to avoid them.
  1. Organic milk sometimes has a later expiration date because it is “fresher”…wrong!
    According to Michael Pollan, longer expiration dates mean “Much of the organic milk in your market is ‘ultra-pasteurized’ rather than simply ‘pasteurized’ — that is, it has been heated to a higher temperature in order to extend its shelf life. This is a holdover from when organic milk sat longer on grocery shelves. Some nutritionists believe that ultra-pasteurization damages the quality of milk; many cheese makers won’t use it. In some busier markets, you can find organic milk that has not been ultra-pasteurized.”
  1. Fresh produce is better than frozen…depends.
    According to Pollan, “Frozen vegetables and fruits are a terrific and economical option when fresh is unavailable or too expensive. The nutritional quality is just as good — and sometimes even better, because the produce is often picked and frozen at its peak of quality. The only rap is that freezing collapses the cell walls of certain fruits and vegetables, at some cost to their crunch. But this has no bearing on nutrition. Do look for frozen foods with a single ingredient — no fake herb-butter sauce!”
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  • Comments

    1. Nicole |

      Regarding the eggs — I buy Vital Farms eggs from Whole Foods. They’re more expensive, but how the chickens are treated is extremely important to me. These eggs are GMO-free and pasture-raised (they call them “backyard eggs” and there have been a few news articles recently about the company’s humane practices.

      I have had a very hard time finding a local farm near me to get the eggs, this has proven to be a great alternative.

      • |

        Target now carries Vital Farm eggs. I was shocked but works between visits to the farmer’s market if I run out.

    2. Chandler |

      I agree with #1…that just because a product says “Gluten Free” does not make it healthy by any means. There is a lot of misinformation out there about the theory and thought behind gluten-free eating. But, I disagree that we NEED grains. I’m not sure what they supply that we can’t get from eating a diet full of produce, healthy proteins, and healthy fats. I don’t eat completely grain free (although I feel great when I do), and I believe moderation is key, but I know that when I cut out wheat and grain products (even whole wheat), I have more energy and feel overall better. I know people who would not be told they are “gluten intolerant” who have been healed from thyroid issues and other autoimmune diseases as a result of cutting out inflammatory wheat. Do I think it’s necessary for everyone to cut out wheat? No. Do I think we NEED wheat? No to that as well. Here is a great article!
      “Besides being hybridized to have 50% more gluten, wheat and the cereal grains have anti-nutrients (phytates) in them that make digestion difficult…”

      • Sharon |

        I agree! I have trouble tolerating most grains but am not allergic. I eliminated all grains but white rice and all of my GI problems went away. I was also able to stop taking my anxiety meds. After several months of gut healing, I tried wheat again and it didn’t upset my stomach any more. After a few days of eating wheat I developed anxiety and restless legs. I stopped eating it and within a few days the symptoms went away.

      • Ashley |

        As a nutrition educator, I do say you need grains. I specifically teach grade school kids how to make healthy choices in the foods they eat. Grains are our “GO” foods and they give us the energy to go, go, go. Fruits and Veggies are our “GLOW” foods because they contain so many essential vitamins that give our skin a healthy ‘glow’. and Meat (or other protein) and Dairy our our ‘GROW” foods, proteins help our muscles to grow while the calcium in the dairy helps our bones to grow strong and prevent things like osteoporosis which also seems to be a growing problem today.

    3. Jane |

      Hi there! I always love what you post and have learned a lot. I have been researching lately about phytic acid. I’ve learned that a lot of whole wheat, beans, and nuts have phytic acid that our bodies can’t break down and take away nutrients. I was researching because, unfortunately, I’ve had to go to the dentist one too many times. Thanks!

    4. Tabby |

      Just a (nit-picky) clarification on your comment here: (pastured = animals that graze on grass)
      That is not actually true. “Grass fed” refers to animals that graze on grass, like cows, goats, & sheep. Pastured means the animal roamed freely in it’s natural habitat, ie a pasture or wooded area, eating foods from that environment, including grass, bugs, seeds, berries, roots, shoots, worms, grubs, etc. and quite possibly some grain as well.
      Chickens and pigs are refered to as pastured, because they do not survive on a strictly grass diet. They aren’t grazers, they’re omnivores :) Otherwise, great article!! I love the deep orange yolks and firm whites from my “yard-eggs” and love watching my chickens roam around. They are so fun!

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