some misconceptions {nutrition}

There’s a lot of nutrition information out there – the internet, books, even word of mouth – and one of the most challenging things about my job is separating the myths from the facts for my patients. Almost every day, a patient will say, “well, I heard this from [insert friend, family member, Dr. Oz]” and assume it is 100% correct information. While it drives me a little bonkers, it’s good to hear about some common misconceptions out there because it’s the best way to debunk them and steer people in the right direction. Here are a few of late:

1. Sea salt and kosher salt are “healthier” than table salt. In short, NO! Sea salt is different from table salt – it’s less processed, more coarse, has a stronger flavor – but has similar sodium content as compared table salt. Kosher salt is in the same boat – it may be processed differently, but at the end of the day the sodium content comparable. One teaspoon of salt has about 2300 miligrams of sodium, or about how much sodium you should be consuming in one whole day.

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nutella cookies with sea salt sprinkles – a little goes a long way!

Sometimes sea salt and kosher salt come in larger grains than table salt, and in these cases may contain less sodium by volume. For example, if the grains are bigger, than not as many may fit onto a teaspoon as with table salt that has a finer grain. This may reduce sodium content slightly if you’re cooking or sprinkling larger grains onto food, but it’s important to look at the labels for sodium content per teaspoon (or 1/2 teaspoon, tablespoon, etc.) as the difference may only be a few hundred milligrams.

2. Cleanses are necessary to clear toxins from the body. I shared my thoughts on juice cleanses a while back, and still feel just as strongly against them and any other gimmick promoted as being detoxifying or “cleansing” (whatever that really means) for a healthy person. Our bodies are designed to remove toxins via the liver and kidneys, and these highly specialized organs do an excellent job. There is no research showing any of these cleanses or detoxes enhance the work our body already does. You may pee a lot when you do these cleanses, but it’s not because you’re “detoxing”, it’s likely because you are only drinking liquids and/or losing some water weight.

3. Organic foods are more nutritious than conventional foods. Last year, a study from Stanford University got a lot of press for finding that organic produce did not contain more vitamins and/or minerals than conventional versions, and therefore was not more “nutritious.” These findings weren’t very surprising to me, but the way they were publicized opened my eyes to the common belief that the reason to buy organic was nutritional superiority. Organic products (like produce and meats) are different in the way that they are grown, fed and processed, but the products themselves are virtually interchangeable in terms of nutrition profiles.

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mostly non-organic but delicious, local brunch at Foragers City Table

That said, organic products contain less pesticides, hormones and antibiotics and are not genetically modified, which are all good reasons to choose organic over conventional if any of these things are important to you. They may also (arguably) taste better, and are almost always more expensive. You’ll get the most bang for your buck if you decide to go organic by choosing the following foods that typically contain the highest levels of pesticide residues:

The Dirty Dozen:

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Grapes
  • Peppers (bell, jalapeno)
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Potatoes
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries and blueberries
  • Kale and collard greens
  • Summer squash

Most grocery stores contain organic sections these days and sell organic versions of many favorite foods and snacks like cookies, crackers and chips. It’s important to keep in mind that an organic cookie is still a cookie, and probably has a similar amount of calories and fat as its conventional counterpart.

Always curious to hear thoughts on these or any other questionable information out there!

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  • http://cheaperthantherapy.me/ Marie

    When K started eating solids, I was so neurotic about what I fed her. Nothing processed/non-organic must enter my child’s body! Gradually I’ve calmed down and buy organic when I can afford it/when it makes the most sense.
    And still love your post on juice cleanses and have sent it to friends who were considering trying one. But with some people, nothing will convince them otherwise. :/

    • MealsforMiles

      I think I would be the same way with a new baby! Haha, and I’m sure it would wear off at some point.
      Thanks! Agree that some people need to learn the hard way (or they just never do…)

  • Shannon Mulcahy

    I may have been tricked about the salt before. I feel better eating sea salt better but I’m pretty sure there was no actual effect.

    I can’t believe people actually thought/think organic means “healthier.” I just don’t want all those chemicals entering my body. Somewhere I heard that if you can peel it and don’t eat the skin (orange, avocado) it is okay to buy regular but anything that you eat the skin you should buy organic (berries, apples).

    • MealsforMiles

      Yep, you’re right about peels – they form a natural protective barrier so it’s more of a waste to buy organic for foods like that.
      Maybe you used less sea salt than regular salt because of the stronger flavor? :)