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).
  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.