Fact or fancy: Sorting out nutrition's truth from myth

January 22, 1992|By Densie Webb | Densie Webb,New York Times News Service j

As the science of nutrition becomes more sophisticated, the basics somehow get lost. With all the talk about beta carotene, bottled water and the newly advocated mineral boron, everyone has forgotten how to eat. Here are 10 prevailing nutrition myths:

1. All chicken is low in fat. Although chicken is generally thought of as a low-fat meat, only a few parts of the chicken qualify. About 19 percent of the calories of a roasted, skinless chicken breast comes from fat; 47 percent of the calories of a roasted skinless chicken thigh are from fat. Most people choose chicken over red meat, but don't always come out ahead.

(Beef chuck roast, when trimmed, still takes 40 percent of its calories from fat.)

If you leave the skin on the thigh and breast and fry instead of roast, fat counts soar. Fast-food chicken is often the fattiest. In an Extra Tasty Crispy Chicken thigh from KFC, 67 percent of the calories are from fat.

2. Crunchy foods are high in fiber. Not always. Celery is extremely crunchy but provides less than 1 gram of fiber per 1/2

cup, chopped. While green peas aren't crunchy,

they offer more than 4 grams of fiber a 1/2 cup when cooked.

And apples and bananas offer almost equal amounts of fiber -- a small apple has 2.4 grams of fiber; a small banana, 2.2. Highly crunchy cereals are not high in fiber. General Mills Oatmeal Raisin Crisp has only 1 gram of fiber a 1/2 cup.

3. Ground beef labeled "lean" or "extra-lean" is low in fat. The amount of fat allowed in ground beef labeled "lean" or "extra-lean" varies by state and even by store. But most ground beef is anything but lean. "Extra-lean" beef may have almost 60 percent of its calories in fat.

The leanest ground beef is a new product, Healthy Choice Extra Lean Low Fat Ground Beef. It is ground beef, beef stock and oat flour and only 28 percent of its calories come from fat.

4. Animal fats have more calories than vegetable fats. Though beef, butter and whole-fat dairy products contain more saturated fats (which raise blood cholesterol) than peanut oil, corn oil or canola oil, they both provide 9 calories per gram, or about 260 calories per ounce.

5. Eating a lot of sugar causes diabetes. The amount of sugar eaten has nothing to do with diabetes, but sugar can aggravate the disease. Diabetics have trouble keeping the level

sugar in their blood stable, so foods high in sugar are usually not allowed or are kept to a minimum.

6. Carob is healthier than chocolate. In its original form (the pods of the carob tree), carob flour is much lower in fat than chocolate or cocoa. But when it is is made into candy, so much fat and sugar are added, the calorie and fat counts of a chocolate bar vs. a carob bar are almost the same.

A minor advantage of carob is that it lacks caffeine. Chocolate has about 6 milligrams of caffeine an ounce, small compared to a 5-ounce cup of perked coffee, which has six times that.

7. Calcium can prevent osteoporosis. Most American women consume less than the Recommended Dietary Allowance of 800 to 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day. A low calcium intake increases risk of developing osteoporosis.

But plenty of calcium is no guarantee that you won't develop the disease. Several factors, how often you exercise, hormone levels, heredity, whether you smoke or drink and the amount of calcium you consume, determine the risk of osteoporosis.

8. Mayonnaise is high in cholesterol. Though mayonnaise is almost 100 percent fat, usually in the form of soybean oil, it has only about 5 milligrams of cholesterol per tablespoon. Cholesterol-free mayonnaise is available, but 5 milligrams is an insignificant saving, hardly worth looking for a "cholesterol-free" label.

9. Foods labeled "sugar-free" are low in calories. The term "sugar-free" means only that sweeteners other than sugar are used. Products with artificial sweeteners like aspartame or saccharin are lower in calories that those sweetened with sugar. Some "sugar-free" products are sweetened with sorbitol, fructose, honey or corn syrup, all of which contain the same number of calories per gram as sugar.

10. It's important to watch fat and cholesterol in a child's diet as soon as they begin eating solid food. The importance of a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet only applies after the age of 2. The American Heart Association's recommendations for age 2 and up are like those for adults: limit fat to 30 percent of all calories and cholesterol to no more than 300 milligrams a day.

Removing fat from a baby's diet can stunt growth; cutting cholesterol deprives the baby of cholesterol needed to form cells, including those of the nervous system. Don't substitute low-fat or skim milk for whole milk or reduced-fat cheese for regular cheese until the baby is 3.

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