Nutritional Myths and Half-Truths

(The Monterey County Herald/TNS) - One of my treasured books is a gigantic volume of words and pictures that defines distinct elements in the English language. Yes, I know I can Google the same information. But I find it satisfying to thumb through the pages of my American Heritage Dictionary for in-depth meanings to words. So, in my book, the thought that books are out of date is a myth.

A myth, according to my dictionary, refers to a popular belief, a fiction or half-truth. And boy, do we have them in the field of nutrition. Here are a few highlighted in Environmental Nutrition (EN), a newsletter authored by registered dietitian nutritionists:

Gluten-free foods are healthier. Unless you have celiac disease or another medical reason to avoid gluten — a protein that occurs naturally in wheat, rye and barley, and gives structure to baked bread — there is no additional nutritional benefit from eating gluten-free foods.

Whole wheat — or wheat in general — is bad for you. Again, if you are sensitive to gluten or have a true allergy to wheat, any type of wheat product is not good for you. For the rest of us, whole wheat and other whole grain products have been found to lower internal inflammation, which can decrease our risk for cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease.

We don’t need to limit salt if we don’t have high blood pressure. It’s true that some people are more “salt-sensitive” than others. But even if salt does not raise your blood pressure, it can damage the lining of blood vessels and increase the stiffness of blood-carrying arteries, commonly known as “hardening” of the arteries. Too much salt can also weaken the heart muscle and do damage to kidneys, according to scientists at the University of Delaware. Our goal? Less than 2,300 milligrams a day is recommended for most healthy people.

Farm-raised fish is not healthy. According to experts with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program, many popular types of seafood, such as salmon, can be safely farm-raised in addition to being caught in the wild. Because of improved methods of aquaculture (fish farming), most tilapia are now farm-raised. Safe farming methods may even help improve the quality of our water, says Seafood Watch.


Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator affiliated with Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.