We all have heard the phrase “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” or had Mom tell us for years to eat and drink certain things to stay healthy and strong. And that is because these common food myths have just become real, simply by word of mouth and friends’ and families’ personal stories supporting their credibility.
Yet, are these types of health tips actually true?
We asked some expert dietitians for help in decoding these healthy food myths once and for all. You might be surprised to find out that yes, some of these “food myths” are actually true, based on solid research. Here are some of the most common food myths you might just be surprised to find out have truth to them.
It isn’t just in your head or a ploy to get you to have more nutritious foods over cake. Following the Mediterranean diet will actually make you feel better.
“Mediterranean style eating patterns have been linked to higher quality of life scores as well as lower depression scores,” says Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN.
The Mediterranean Diet is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and healthy fats like olives. And it’s much easier than you may think to eat foods commonly found in this diet.
“Since depriving yourself of less nutritious foods that you enjoy can be mentally stressful, lose the all or nothing mentality and enjoy those when you crave them while working on building the Mediterranean style foods into your regular eating pattern,” Jones says.
While green tea intake has been associated with improved cardio-metabolic health, it’s important to note that “metabolism” doesn’t just mean calorie burn, but rather it involves all of the chemical and physical processes in the body by which molecules are built up and broken down, says Jones.
“How energetic you feel and how your metabolic hormones react can be related to these functions,” she explains. “But beware of green tea extract and supplements—it’s not the same as sipping on tea from the entire tea leaf, and extracts have been linked to liver problems.”
Looking for more? Learn how to harness the power of tea to lose weight.
That’s right, frozen is just as healthy and it’s often the cheaper option, too.
“Because frozen fruits and veggies are processed so close to harvest, they in some cases can contain more antioxidant nutrients than their fresh counterparts,” says Jones. This is especially true during the times of year when food may be harvested before peak ripeness and have to travel further to reach you.
“If you’re the type who’s likely to have fresh produce spoil in the fridge, stock up on frozen,” she says.
That’s right—it’s totally OK if you can eat that square of dark chocolate as a treat.
“As long as your daily chocolate is usually dark chocolate, regular intake has been associated with both improved mood and cognition,” says Jones. “This may be due to both sensory characteristics of chocolate that are enjoyed as well as due to the phytochemical compounds in chocolate.”
Again, you just want to make sure you’re going for dark instead of milk chocolate in order to get those great antioxidants. And be sure to stick to one or two servings.
Oats have soluble fiber, known for binding to cholesterol in the digestive tract and getting rid of it in the body.
“While soluble from any foods can have this action, studies do support daily oatmeal intake for improved LDL cholesterol levels! Make it a full meal with more heart-healthy ingredients by topping your oats with some berries and nuts,” says Jones. We have plenty of healthy overnight oats recipes to help you reach those weight-loss goals, too!
While it doesn’t have to be in soft drink form (hello, sugar!), ginger itself has been shown to calm nausea and vomiting due to motion sickness, pregnancy, and even chemotherapy.
“If you are going to opt for ginger ale, be sure it’s a brand that uses real ginger, like Reed’s! Check your ingredients list,” Jones suggests.
“While we don’t have any evidence on elderberry and COVID-19 (which affects the lower respiratory tract) prevention, supplementation can substantially reduce upper respiratory cold and flu symptoms,” says Jones. “Elderberry typically comes in syrup form, but the new gummies from Gaia herbs make it easier and tastier to get your immune support and without any refined sugar.”
According to this one study, daily apple consumption wasn’t associated with fewer doctor’s visits, but it was associated with the use of fewer prescription medications. And that’s something!
“Apples contain fiber, vitamin C, and a variety of other beneficial plant nutrients that can support overall health. So, including apples in your diet, along with a variety of other produce, is a good way to support a healthy immune system,” says Charlotte Martin, MS, RDN, CSOWM, CPT.
“Although 100% fruit juices do retain some of the vitamins and minerals from the fruit, both soda and fruit juice are mainly comprised of sugar and water. Fruit juices often contain as much sugar as soda,” says Martin.
Even though the sugar in fruit juice is technically considered “natural” sugar, it’s still metabolized the same as the added sugar in soda. One study found that consumption of both 100% fruit juice and soda were associated with increased risk of all-cause mortality, too.
Orange juice is rich in two immune system-supporting and cold-fighting ingredients: water and vitamin C.
“Vitamin C supplements have been shown to reduce the duration of cold symptoms and fluids help loosen mucus and release congestion,” says Martin. Although it’s unlikely that simply drinking orange juice will help you cure a cold, it certainly can’t hurt to enjoy some as part of a balanced diet while battling your cold and it can help relieve symptoms.
Carrots are rich in beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A. Vitamin A supports cornea function and is a component of a protein in our eyes that’s responsible for allowing us to see in low-light conditions.
“According to one study, higher intake of carotenoids was associated with reduced risk of advanced age-related macular degeneration,” says Martin. So, enjoy carrots as a healthy snack or side dish!
Hot peppers get their heat from a compound called capsaicin, which provides the heat you expect from adding peppers or hot sauce to your recipes or meals.
“Although the mechanism isn’t fully understood, it’s that this active compound stimulates thermogenesis aka heat production in the body,” says Martin. One systematic review even found consumption of capsaicinoids to increase energy expenditure by approximately 50 calories per day.
“Both hydrating which helps to replenish fluids that you can lose through vomiting or diarrhea when sick, and soothing to the stomach from the ginger, often found in chicken noodle soup, chicken soup can help cure the common cold,” says Maggie Michalczyk, MS, RD.
Plus, carrots and celery commonly in chicken soup contain vitamin A, which is needed for healthy immune function too. A win-win!
Yes, Popeye had it right!
“This leafy green can help boost muscle power and it contains iron, needed for proper red blood cell function and essential for oxygen transportation from lungs to working muscles,” says Michalczyk. “For optimal iron absorption from plant-based sources of iron like spinach, be sure to add a source of vitamin C.”
A squeeze of lemon on spinach will do!