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I hear a lot of patients say things about eating healthy and losing weight that are simply not true. This is the last in a series of columns about those myths and the truth behind them.
Truth: Eating strictly vegetarian has been shown to be good for you. There is excellent research to show that when people don't eat meat they eat fewer calories than people who do. The research is, however, often done under controlled circumstances where the vegetarian diet is also a lower fat diet.
This doesn't mean that if you don't eat meat that your diet is automatically healthy. There are a tremendous number of vegetarian recipes that are very high in calories and fat.
The best plan is to look at recipes and the nutrition facts. How many calories are there? How much fat and saturated fat? Are there trans-fats? How much protein? Eating healthy is about choosing foods that are lower in calories and fat. Watching salt is a good idea and trying to eat foods that have been processed as little as possible. This is true for both vegetarians as well as omnivores.
Truth: Eating supplements for meals is not a good substitute for eating healthy. The key to eating healthy is a little bit of planning. By knowing what you like to eat and having it on hand you can put together a quick meal. Taking a little extra time to make a healthy sandwich will usually have fewer calories than many of the "diet shakes" that say they can help you lose weight. You get more other good things out of eating this way than just the essential nutrients.
Stick to real food.
Truth: There is no legal meaning for the word "Natural." The FDA does not regulate this word and just because something is labeled this way doesn't mean anything. Often it can mean that a food is not good for you. Lard is natural, butter is natural, sugar is natural, high fructose corn syrup is technically natural as well as a host of flavorings that are extracted from natural products through highly complicated processing.
A good example of this is the recent advertising campaign by the company that makes the soda 7UP. The claim to have removed all "artificial ingredients" from their drink. This is debatable as some feel that high fructose corn syrup is not "natural." Nonetheless, soda with all that high calorie sweetener is bad for you and labeling 7UP "natural" is misleading in my opinion.
Even some of the organic products that are on the market use flavorings considered "natural." This often adds up to nothing more than a highly processed product.
If a package is labeled natural it should actually be cause for wariness on your part and not a feeling of reassurance that the product is good for you.
Truth: Too much of anything is bad for you and this is where the issue is a problem for white sugar. The western diet now contains pounds and pounds of sweeteners (this includes white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, glucose syrup, dextrose, honey, maple syrup and other edible syrups). As of 1999 Americans were consuming just over 147 pounds of these sweeteners per year!
Replacing honey for white sugar is really no better for you, for instance. In fact, a tablespoon of honey has 64 calories and a tablespoon of granulated sugar only 49 calories. The honey might be better for you than the granulated sugar (there's really no scientific proof that it is) but it still has more calories.
There is no difference as far as your body is concerned between more refined sugars and more natural products (table sugar vs. honey, for example). Calories are calories and the way to eat healthier is to eat fewer calories.