Real Food Tips: 8 (More) Common Misconceptions

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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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63 comments to Real Food Tips: 8 (More) Common Misconceptions

  • Shannon

    First off, I love your website and the encouragement that eating “real food” is important. I like to read it during my lunch break.

    Because you always seem interested in facts, I want to point out that item #6, “In order to avoid genetically modified (GMO) food you must buy organic…right!” is only partly correct.

    Only a few types of crops in the US are transgenic. So, if you are concerned about GMOs, then you should avoid conventional corn, soy, canola oil, and cottonseed oil, and the advice to buy organic is correct. But, no transgenic rice, wheat, quinoa, barley, kidney beans, pinto beans, lentils, apples, carrots, grapes, peaches, peas, etc. even exist in US agriculture, so for those (and almost every other food) you don’t have to buy organic to avoid GMOs.

    Unfortunately, it’s really hard to track down any consumer-friendly lists of transgenic crops. These articles in Nature and USA Today are the best I could find (http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/biotech/2011-02-22-biotech-crops_N.htm and http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v29/n4/pdf/nbt.1842.pdf). The only government information I could find includes all that have ever been approved, even those that aren’t currently grown, so that’s not really informative for the concerned citizen.

    So, in short, these are very likely to be transgenic in the US:
    -corn
    -soy
    -cottonseed
    -canola
    -sugar beet
    -alfalfa

    And these sometimes are transgenic:
    -papaya
    -summer squash
    -(and one of those articles does mention potatoes, tomatoes and peppers, but I haven’t heard much about those becoming widespread)

    The technology is expensive to develop and get approved, so it’s usually only worth the investment for crops that will be grown on large acreages, like those that will enter the processed food industry. A “real food” diet will automatically exclude the commodity foods that are most likely to contain GMOs.

    Personally I don’t intentionally avoid eating transgenic foods, but I totally support the right of all people to be informed and make their own food choices. Thank you for encouraging people to make intentional, healthful choices in their diets!

  • Amy

    Although I really enjoy your blog and it has helped me to change my family’s diet the last few months, I find your comments on wheat and gluten to be less informed. I have also read Pollan’s book and took a lot of good things away from it. However, I went beyond that and learned more about wheat. It’s no longer in our diet, although we do have a lot of other healthy whole grains in our diet, and we feel much better. I really encourage you to read Wheat Belly. You may find yourself taking wheat out of your family’s diet when you learn more facts about wheat today vs. our “staple of Western civilization for 6,000 years”. It is simply not the same and most of the changes have happened in the last 50 years. The introduction Wheat has a role on asthma. Your daughter may benefit even more if you swap out the wheat & gluten for other gluten free options. I agree that just because something is gluten free doesn’t mean it’s healthy — you have to look at all the ingredients. But that’s the same for whole wheat foods as well! By the way, celiac disease and gluten sensitivities/intolerances can be developed at any age. And the only thing creating the opportunity for it to develop is the continued consumption of wheat/gluten foods.

  • Ruth Grigson

    I just read this article by Dr. Hyman, a well respected nutritionist. Might be worth a read to help you understand more about how our wheat has changed:
    http://drhyman.com/three-hidden-ways-wheat-makes-you-fat-8425/?utm_source=WhatCounts%20Publicaster%20Edition&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=drhyman%20newsletter%20issue%20#56&utm_content=Get+the+story

    • Diane Jaquay

      Ruth, thanks so much for sharing this article, great information in it!

    • Shannon

      This article has a lot of its science mixed up. Einkorn wheat wasn’t the main kind of wheat during biblical times; hexaploid bread wheat (which the author calls “Frankenwheat”) has been cultivated for 9,000 years and is probably the result of natural hybridization within fields of emmer wheat.

      Dwarf wheat has been cultivated for thousands of years, too. Dwarf traits were bred into modern wheat varieties using traditional cross-pollination techniques. All the stuff about chromosome number is wrong. Hexaploid wheat, which is our regular bread wheat, has 42 chromosomes, not “twenty-eight or twice as many (as Einkorn).” It has 6 sets of 7 chromosomes. Durum wheat, which he doesn’t address, is tetraploid and has 28 (4 times 7).

      Explaining all the places where he went wrong would just take too much time. There are some facts in there, but they are mixed up with lots of mumbo-jumbo and scary words (SuperStarch! SuperGluten! FrankenFoods!). If anyone is interested in the history of wheat, I can provide references to scientific journals.

      Some people have intolerances and should avoid wheat, but wheat is NOT the cause of our obesity epidemic. We just eat too much food overall. Look at the USDA data at http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/foodreview/jan2000/frjan2000b.pdf . We spend less of our income on food than ever before, and eat more meat, more cheese, more added fats, LESS GRAIN, more fruits and vegetables, and lots more sweeteners (due to increase in corn sweeteners) than 100 years ago. It doesn’t take a scientist to look at the graphs and guess that a 50% increase in sugar consumption a 100% increase in fat consumption might cause a population to gain weight.

      The blessing and the curse of modern agriculture is that food is cheap and abundant. We in the US don’t have to worry about widespread starvation any longer, but the flip side of that coin is an overabundance. We are, figuratively, kids in a candy store.

  • Farrah

    All of this “gluten” talk blows my mind. My stepsons sister has an intolerance to gluten. It’s kinda sad because she’s only 11. We were at a birthday party this past weekend and she couldn’t have any cake. My mother in law has a celiac disease and is now trying gluten free products. I’ve read that it can cause a lot of problems within the body. I might try it myself. My son has ADHD and I have a slight mood disorder. It’s supposed to help keep the hyperactivity to a minimum. I need to read more, but from the looks of it we all need to be somewhat gluten free! Processed foods are just as bad too. Our food is killing us! I’m glad I found this website though. I want to start eating healthier and finding a diet for my son, he’s only 6.

    • Diane Jaquay

      It’s really hard with kids, isn’t it? My husband had ADHD as a kid. I remember him telling me that his mom took him off all white flour and white sugar, and his symptoms improved dramatically. He also took ritalin at the time. Now my 10 year old daughter has it, and we try very hard to limit her exposure to wheat and sugar. We definitely notice a difference in her behavior when she’s eating more cleanly (as do her teachers!) I try and make a healthy, yummy “treat” for our family at least once a week (such as gluten free muffins or cookies). I do not buy pre-made or packaged GF treats, I make stuff from scratch, using replacement ingredients such as coconut or almond flour, and raw local honey to sweeten. Still, it’s been an uphill battle to convince her that eating healthy, whole foods is for her own good, when she’s surrounded at every turn (in school, at friends homes, and by TV ads), with JUNK! I hope that the state of things regarding food in this country turns around in a big way, and soon!

    • julie

      I’ve been wondering as reading through all of this if people health improvements going gluten free are actually the result of getting the GMO wheat out of their diets. No science or research just food for thought.

      • Ck

        Wheat is NOT a GMO crop.
        In fact if you eat any processed/packaged gluten-free foods you’ll be getting more GMOs in some cases from corn and/or soy ingredients.

  • Here’s one I just have to chime in on! First of all, I am shocked that Michael Pollan would make that remark (but do believe you.) Reason being- grains are one of the most modified foods there are! They may not be “GMO” as in tinkered with my Monsanto in a lab, but definitely have been hybridized through the years to be glutenous to a point that our bodies are no longer tolerating them. Gluten is the stuff that makes LOVELY big air holes in our bread…. (sigh!) so you can see why someone would want more, more, more!

    The “whole grains” issue is another that makes me cringe. Whole grains are ONLY good for you if you know how to treat them prior to eating. Indigenous societies would not eat whole grains without soaking, sprouting, or fermenting them first. To do so is to kiss the nutrients goodbye and do real damage to your body.

    I learned this by reading Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. A lot of people believe that following these methods, first set forth by Weston A Price, is much like being in a cult. Let me tell you, however, that I was VERY dubious at first, but willing to take the time to try it only because the health of my daughter’s teeth depended on it.

    I now have proof that small changes in our diet like this make a HUGE difference in our health and healing… just look at the story on my blog (also a real food blog ;) and search for “teeth” or “caries” and you can see the story of how our cavities HEALED THEMSELVES without getting fillings and my daughter re-grew enamel on hers. Even the holistic dentists were stunned at how much we were able to do with diet- most of it just with changing how we treated our grains! (We are gluten-free, but I soak all other grains.)

    There are lots of things about how food interacts with our bodies that we don’t understand- like how cholesterol works, etc. Each of us is different too, and sometimes what works for some person (raw, vegan) won’t work for another (paleo/caveman.)

    Just wanted to throw my 2c in!

  • Stacy

    Hey There, So with regards to #1 This whole gluten free thing confuses me. I tolerate gluten fine and am probably reading too much about how its bad for you, and then I read the post above about how its fine. I love bread and really can’t imagine a life without my sandwiches among other bread things. (but mostly sandwiches :p) I spoke with a nutritionist recently who has researched why so many people lately have come forward with gluten intolerance’s. At first I was also thinking it was “the new thing” to hate on gluten because of some ailments. (Please note I am not dismissing any diseases, or gluten intolerance’s at all, so no disrespect intended towards that) because just like your quote above, bread has been a baking forever so whats the deal now? I just didn’t want to think my love for bread could be bad for me. She informed me that my worst fear was true! Yes gluten intolerance is on the rise and really isn’t good for you to be eating all the time. However, she said of course everything in moderation. If you don’t have an intolerance already there isn’t any reason to go completely gluten free, just to moderate. Pushing her for more answers as to why my beloved bread is bad, she said it isn’t bread or grain or anything in its whole form. She said its all the GMO that they put in products with gluten. After its added and the bread(or whatever item you want to insert, bread is just my example) has been processed it has almost little to no true nutrients left. What it is left with is GMO’s that your body doesn’t know what to do with, that your insulin after ingestion goes through the roof, and in some cases results in celiacs or other intolerance’s because your body is essentially trying to fight off an organism that shouldn’t have ever existed in the first place. This doesn’t mean that’s how it started for everybody, she just explained that’s why its on the rise. She highly recommended me making my own bread from GMO free ingredients. What are your thoughts on all this? I really want to get to the bottom of this gluten thing

  • pam

    I’m always so upset when, despite living in the middle of nowhere being surrounded by farms, farmers markets are never where I expect them and in very, very few numbers. I have to settle for a lot of frozen veggies, which for a lazy cook such as myself (tons of soups and one-pot dishes) is kind of a blessing. Frozen veggies are my favorite things, though it seems increasingly difficult to find them without being covered in butter or sauces.

  • Leiya

    THANK YOU! Thank you for passing the word on this new GF diet fad.
    My family has HAD to be GF for the last 9 years. My son has celiacs.
    When I started seeing the fad start for the GF diet it frustrated me how naive people are to the supposed health benefit. It’s not a fad diet, and just because it says GF it is not HEALTHY for you. We still don’t eat the GF junk foods, and look for more whole grain options all the time.
    On the other hand, while the fad will come and go, it has benefit celiac patients. It has upped the demand in our local markets. Giving more of a selection and more competitive prices. As those Celiac shoppers know, GF is not CHEAP.
    If people would jump on the idea of eating in moderation, eating from all the food groups, and getting active the way they do Fad diets. We wouldn’t have such an issue with obesity. There is no quick fix, just long term changes.
    Thank you again for spreading the word!

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  • Valerie

    I know there is a lot of confusion about gluten and I am not going to get into the argument other than to say that before my daughter was diagnosed with a gluten issue via extensive testing, we ate a fairly healthy diet. I tried to incorporate as many “real” foods as possible. When she first went gluten free, I did go overboard in purchasing packaged foods as it can be very overwhelming to switch your diet so drastically. However, as the year has progressed we have begun to shy away from that type of food. One thing, though, that has been hard for us is pasta. We like pasta in our family! I have been wondering for some time if there was a gluten free pasta that is considered real food and would love any input anyone has on this.

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Valerie. My husband is gluten free and we use brown rice pasta. I get it at Trader Joe’s and everyone in our family (even those who are not gluten free) enjoy it. Good luck. Jill

  • Tod Oltz

    I am always on a gluten free diet because of my allergy. Xanthan gum and Guar gum based pastries are all that i can eat. “;”,”

    Many thanks http://www.foodsupplementdigest.com/side-effects-of-saw-palmetto/

  • kendra burton

    When people buy “whole wheat flour” and “whole wheat bread” they are not actually getting that. Actual whole wheat flour has a 24-48 hour shelf life before it goes rancid. that is why your great-grandmother went to the mill a few times a week to get flour. And, that is why I own a mill and all of my family’s bread products (loaf bread, flour tortillas, bagels, crackers) are made with freshly milled flour.

    There is a mountain of evidence that taking away freshly milled grains is a huge problem in our society. eating this way has completely cured these issues in my family: constipation, eczema, warts, acne, and significantly helped asthma. Also, my energy level has skyrocketed!

  • Lucien Davi

    There are many gluten free diet plans on the internet but i always choose those that are very tasty. .

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