Real Food Tips: 10 Common Misconceptions

Don’t be fooled by these misleading food myths:

  1. A healthy diet means eating “low-fat” and “fat-free” food products…wrong!
    Michael Pollan basically abolishes this myth in his book In Defense of Food, and you can check out our mini-pledge post from week 6 for some detail.
  1. Mutli-grain crackers are better than crackers made from white flour…wrong!
    “Mutli-grain” is a misleading buzzword because unless those grains are actually “whole grain” the product is really no better than those made from refined grains (like white flour).

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  1. It’s “natural” so it must be a good choice…wrong!
    If a product is natural it simply means it wasn’t made from any artificial ingredients, which is certainly desirable, but don’t forget that white flour, sugar, and even high-fructose corn syrup are all derived from “natural” ingredients and they are also all highly refined.
  1. Organic packaged food is better than conventional…okay, mostly true.
    The problem is though that since the product is organic people sometimes just assume it’s also “healthy.” But there’s an awful lot of what I call “organic junk food” out there that’s still highly processed (like organic cookies, organic ice cream sandwiches, and organic candy) so no matter what the package says you still have to read – and scrutinize – the ingredient label.
  1. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is much worse for you than sugar…wrong!
    According to Michael Pollan HFCS has not been proven to be worse for you than sugar it’s just a “reliable marker for a food product that has been highly processed.”
  1. The bread that’s being made in the grocery store bakery is “fresh”…wrong (in most cases)!
    I certainly haven’t surveyed every single supermarket in America, but all the stores I’ve been to have a bustling bakery where workers appear to be pulling “fresh” baked bread out of their ovens. While it’s true they’re baking the bread right there in the store oftentimes they didn’t actually make the dough themselves, which means it’s full of preservatives and other unnecessary additives like dough conditioners (just read the ingredients and you’ll see what I mean).
  1. I was told that margarine and Earth Balance are better for my family than butter…wrong!
    As Michael Pollan says in his book Food Rules, “Avoid foods that are pretending to be something they are not” because it’s best to just stick with the “real” thing as opposed to an imitation. Need I say more?
  1. Some people say, “Well, isn’t cheese a ‘processed’ food?”…right (sort of).
    Our family actually avoids all highly processed food because even cooking is technically a form of “processing” or changing your food…and we definitely aren’t practicing a “raw food diet.” Mainly to draw the line somewhere we define highly processed food as products containing  more than 5 ingredients. But – just for the record – no matter how many ingredients are on the list, if a product is made with anything refined (like “wheat” that’s not whole) or if it’s deep-fried in refined oil then we definitely consider it to be highly processed as well. That means bags of 3-ingredient deep-fried potato chips are out (sorry!).
  1. Following the latest food trend (that’s oftentimes led by the food industry) is the way to go…wrong!
    If something feels like an up and coming food “trend” I mostly try to avoid it because I prefer to stick to traditional diets that people have survived on for centuries, which certainly didn’t include “boosting your omega-3’s” with a box of enriched pasta.
  1. This cereal box says it will lower my cholesterol so maybe I should give it a shot…wrong!
    Do not believe – and in fact don’t even read – misleading health claims on the front of food packages. Only trust the ingredients.



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94 thoughts on “Real Food Tips: 10 Common Misconceptions”

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  1. Love that you use Michael Pollan as a source!! His books are amazing! I have learned so much from him!
    To me, diet is pretty simple, if it comes from nature with no added chemicals its good. If “man” had a hand in concocting it leave it alone!!

  2. I know this was published 3 years ago, and you often say sugar is sugar, but it appears there has been more recent information on HFCS proving that it (not plain corn syrup) really is worse for us than traditional sugar and that it causes some health concerns including liver disease. Perhaps that part should be updated.

  3. Yeah, the HFCS thing…. I like my sweets, and although I limit them to a once in a while food, I’ve found that if I choose a sugar treat, I feel normal, but if I eat HFCS I get sweaty and swollen glands. I definitely think sticking to sugar is a lesser of two evils.

  4. Yes! Curious about your take on spice blends though, containing more than 5 spices and if you’re ok with that (convenient for those that don’t want to make their own blends all the time) For example Wildtree’s Organic Taco seasoning ingredient list includes organic chili powder, organic yellow corn flour, organic cumin, sea salt, organic onion, organic oregano, organic garlic, and organic black pepper. Would love your take on it, thanks!

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi there. We would be more likely to eat them if we made them ourselves. :) I admit to occasionally indulging in chips fried in avocado oil.

  5. About high fructose corn, or any other fructose syrups- (agave etc.): as I understand it, these syrups, while chemically identical to cane sugar simply do not taste as sweet as cane sugar. In order to achieve the same sweetness as, say, soda made with sugar, the manufacturers need to use significantly more HCFS than they would with cane sugar. This is possible because HCFS is so much less $$ than cane or beet sugar. So a can of Coke with HCFS contains 10 (+-) teaspoons of sugar while one made with cane sugar contains 8 (+-). While at first glance, this doesn’t seem like much of a difference, but it represents 20% more sugar in foods made with HCFS than cane or beet sugar. And, which is the ultimate message of this blog, it generally all represents about 70-80% more sugar than you might use if you were making, for example, your own fizzy lemonade (soda water, 1-2tsp sugar, juice of a lemon).

  6. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

    Hi Brittany. We aren’t advocating consuming it. We are just saying it is not that different from refined table sugar. We say stay away from both. ~Amy

  7. My doctor said that to lower my cholesterol (or he would prescribe meds), I needed to cut out eggs, beef, and pork. I started walking and ignored the diet advice. The next time I went to his office my cholesterol had gone down 40 pts. I told my chiropractor what the doctor said and he told me to NEVER take meds that lower cholesterol because your brain is mainly made of it and those medications are worse than having “high” cholesterol (the high number is lowered every few years).

  8. The store bread thing really shocked me. Here in TX H-E-B bakes a ton of bread. I used to buy it until I read the ingredients which is a mile long. Fortunately they have an organic Tuscan bread with very few ingredients. I also found Como bread at Walmart.

    1. Robin, my husband and I recently moved to Houston, and I have discovered the HEB. It is my favorite conventional supermarket ever, but I’ve never seen the organic Tuscan bread. Is it in the bread aisle or the bakery? I would love to try it. Thanks! (And it’s good to be back in Texas after 13 years in a small town out of state, btw!)


    All due respect because this is a very useful and educational post however I do think there is significant evidence pointing to why HFCS is significantly worse than sugar. Check out this lecture called Sugar: The bitter truth in which Dr. Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at UCSF, talks about how HFCS is actually poison. This is NOT to say that sugar is ok by any means, but there certainly is a difference in the way we metabolize HFCS and sugar.

  10. I would assume that High fructose corn syrup would be bad since 90% of the corn sold is genetically modified, resulting in possible new chemicals in them that human bodies have never been exposed to before. That, and they’re engineered to produce their own pesticide as well as be showered in round-up (hence “round-up ready”). I’ve never seen organic HFCS put in ordinary products too so I’d just suggest staying away from that in general.

  11. I am a vegan so I do use Earth Balance and they use Non-GMO, sustainable practices (found through much research), to provide a “butter” made of real fruit and nut oils. I understand the predicament, however, I must say that I would rather eat Earth Balance than butter which has pus, antibiotics, and hormones in it (regardless of organic, there is still issues with dairy I have).
    I agree, everything in moderation!

  12. Hi, Is Organic 100z% Durum Semolina and organic 100% Durum Wheat Semolina pasta Bad?

    Also is citric acid in 100% certified organic products bad?

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Jackie. For the pasta, I would probably try and stick with 100% whole wheat pastas. Citric acid is a natural substance found in many fruits, although, the form in which it is added to products is probably different and somewhat processed (I’m not exactly sure what products you are referring to). I don’t think it’s unsafe per se but probably not something you need to have in your food unless it’s naturally occurring.

  13. Nicole on January 16, 2013 at 11:11 pm said:
    Thank you! I am a homemaker, mother of four uber jocks, wife of a super athlete. I am providing something like 32,500 calories per day to this family, in certain proportions, to help them reach their personal goals and dreams. Big dreams- like college dance and college football. Over the years I have made any changes needed in our diets, all around the world- but what a wake up call your website is! This and Food Babe have been my reading of late, and my inspiration. Went to the grocery store tonight. Well- food labels are shocking!! Here is what amazed me the most; I shop at the United States Air Force Military Academy Commissary! One would think that this would be the epitome of healthy shopping, since the supreme fighting force in the world eats from its shelves. Nope- I will have to do the best I can, and I will have to consider additional local grocery stores too. Thank you, Nicole

    Reply ↓

  14. A friend asked me about people with high cholesterol etc how that would affect them with now eating real butter and eggs. I am starting my 10 day pledge and am now wondering too if all the real butter and eggs are bad for me?

    1. Actually, as we as a society began to eat less real butter and eggs, heart disease increased. The lipid theory of heart disease is based on very weak evidence. You should not be scared of real butter and eggs! Saturated fats are good for you; without them, you cannot absorb all nutrients properly.

    2. Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Margie. I would just say everything in moderation. Yes, I would imagine if you had too much of either one they might be bad, but, again, in moderation as part of a balanced diet I think they should be fine. You can ask your doctor as well if you still have concerns. Jill

  15. High fructose corn syrup is worse than regular sugar. It comes down to the ratio of fructose to sucrose in sugar is 50-50 and bonded. In HFCS their is un-bonded fructose and sucrose with higher rations of fructose that are more rapidly released into the system elevating insulin levels… which underlies nearly every chronic disease

  16. Disagree with #5, just because HFCS is something people can have a sensitivity to, if not an allergy. It’s made from the cob, not from the corn. My brother has a sensitivity.

  17. Great site Lisa.
    More people need to open their eyes to ‘real’ healthy eating. ~Wake up people!:)

    Great point Lacie, about HFCS. I disagree with that also.
    Why should we believe Michael Pollen anyway?

  18. I like this too as a reminder…if you are not educated consumer it is so easy to be duped. Natural to me means a nice sweet potato that came out the ground not a bag. Appreciate this!

  19. I love your site, such good reading. I work a fairly busy corporate job and I have a couple of items I’m struggling to find substitutes for:
    – Canned tuna (I have salads at work for lunch that I make myself, this is the protein “keeps me full” element, any suggestions for what I could substitute?
    – Instant soup – I know instant soup isn’t good, but how about miso paste? What’s the verdict on that one?
    I can’t get buy wiht just lunch and need snacks throughout the day, what are good suggestions other than fruit and celery? Anything filling but easy? Instant soup is my saver at the moment.
    Would love your feedback!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Polina. For your salads, you could grill up some chicken or salmon at the beginning of the week and add that to your salad. Or, you could also do beans for a meat free option. I’m not sure what to say on the soup. I would suggest making it yourself. You could always freeze it and bring it frozen in the morning and it would probably be defrosted by lunchtime. As for the snacks, check out this recent post on snacks… Best of luck. Jill

    2. For snacks, I eat an ounce or two of cheese, or raw nuts. Very tasty and appetite satisfying, not to mention it’s protein so it holds you over for a long time

  20. I like your blurb about “natural” when I explain it to newbies I tell them not all “natural” is good for you; radon is natural but is a radioactive alpha emitter and will kill you if inhaled.