DALLAS — Have you noticed how complicated food is these days? Trying to select an item in a grocery store or restaurant can prove to be quite a head-scratching experience, especially if you are trying to choose a healthier option.
The constant barrage of conflicting information concerning food and dieting often makes separating food fact from fiction a daunting task. As a result, people often find themselves making the less-healthy choice without realizing it. Here are a few myths people tend to believe:
1. It's OK to consume a larger amount of "fat free" foods.
Unfortunately, fat free does not mean it is also calorie free. In fact, fat-free or reduced-fat foods actually may have a similar calorie count to the "regular" version of the food, and sometimes even more calories.
2. If a food is "organic," it must be healthier.
Not necessarily. The label "organic" means the product was grown using natural pesticides and insecticides, but doesn't mean the item has any greater nutritional or dietary value than conventionally grown products.
Similarly, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there are very few nutritional differences between produce labeled "fresh" or "natural" and produce that is canned or frozen. The moment produce is harvested, it begins losing its vitamin content on the way to the supermarket. If food is frozen or even canned quickly after harvest, though, it can retain more nutritional value than fresh produce.
3. Margarine contains fewer calories than butter.
According to the American Dietetic Association, stick margarine and stick butter actually have the same number of calories, about 36 per teaspoon.
4. When in doubt, go with the salad.
This rule only applies if you're not going to load the salad up with cheese, dressings and other condiments that are usually high in fat content. Too much dressing can turn your previously healthy salad into a higher calorie option than many other items on the menu.
Keep these myths — and the truths behind them — in mind the next time you find yourself staring down a long grocery aisle full of choices. Food can lose its enjoyment if you are constantly holding it up to the light of the latest food fad.
So don't worry about keeping up with all the diet trends and latest health studies. Eating moderately, combined with exercise, is still the best road to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
(EDITOR'S NOTE — Quintana directs the employee wellness program for GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)