Nutrition Fairy Tales

March 12, 2019 in Foodland, Foodland Chronicles, Health, Nutrition by Joyce Bunderson

When I was a girl I loved fairy tales; but as an adult dietitian I find food and nutrition fairy tales frustrating. Many people are getting their nutrition advice from unqualified sources and it often leads to less than optimal nutritional status. Be careful to whom you turn for nutrition advice; see my recently published MDs and Nutrition, that shows having an MD does not assure nutritional literacy, but it encourages guesswork based on flawed information. The following are a collection of eleven popular counter-productive nutrition ideas:


I’ll start with my very favorite. I have to admit an embarrassing event. I was waiting in line to check out, by myself at Sprouts, where I buy my vegetables and fruit, and then it hit. I got ambushed by a little laugh attack. Right by the end cap of the checkout aisle were gigantic organic candy canes. The person in front of me turned a little to see why I laughed out loud. I said something quick about the idea of the word ‘organic’ being plastered on a candy cane. They gave me a cursory smile, they probably thought I had some sort of psychological problem, and then turned around. Let’s face it, organic cheese puffs, the three flavors of organic Pringles –   ready for flavor stacking, and organic potato chips are still junk food, regardless of all their organic ingredients.  Is there not something just slightly humorous about the ingredients of organic candy bars with the first ingredient - organic dried cane syrup? Or is this only comedy for dietitians?

Shopping Only the Perimeter of the Store

Holy Mackerel! This one drives me absolutely crazy. How would you get the whole grain pasta, the brown rice, the canned beans, tuna, nuts, seeds and very importantly the spices that make foods taste so good, if you didn’t allow yourself to go to the aisles?


Deciding to eat gluten-free; then eating calorie and sugar-laden gluten-free cookies, gluten-free candy, gluten-free cake, and gluten-free bread. Check out the ingredients. Often tapioca or rice flour is added to make the breads or pastries taste more like the original version. The products often have more sugar and more fat than the gluten containing version. If you don’t have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you may be decreasing the nutrition in your diet, when you choose to go gluten-free.

Low Fat

Although it’s been known for a long time that good fats (think olive oil; canola oil, avocados; nuts, seeds) are beneficial to our health; some people are still trying to cut back drastically on fat. But don’t forget my 2010 article Revisiting the Snackwell Syndrome. The point of that old article is that many processed foods that are low in fat are high in sugar. As with either of the above choices (gluten-free and fat-free) you may give yourself license to eat more. There are still calories and often increased artificial ingredients – nutritionally empty calories, like sugar.

Mediterranean Diet

You all know I embrace the Mediterranean Diet (or eating style, as I often call it). But there’s even a possible problem with it. Just because it includes the beneficial foods that contribute to health, doesn’t mean that you can eat unlimited amounts of those foods. For example, whole grain pasta, albeit a healthy choice, still has 159 calories for a cup. If you switch to extra virgin olive oil, wonderful, but olive oil has about the same calories as any oil – it is fat. Nuts are great, but keep in mind that they average about 800 calories per cup. The point is that portion control is an important aspect of healthy eating.

Vegetarian diets

Eating vegetables is so often an admonition on this site, but some people decide to become vegetarians and then head to the soda cracker aisle of the market. If you’re eating white rice, mashed potatoes, fruit juice, lots of cheese, but no animal flesh, you may be shocked that you are headed down the way of malnutrition or at least, undernutrition. The crazy fact is that you may be doing that while increasing your calorie intake. A vegetarian diet can be very healthy, but you need a balance of foods – pasta, bread and juice are not going to do the job.

Cleansing diet

Have you heard that you should start juicing? Drinking only juice will leave you short of calories (and you’re thinking that’s good) unfortunately, it can also leave you short of nutrients that your body needs to function optimally. Let me remind you that your body has a wonderful self-cleaning system. If you’re consuming vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, seeds and other fibrous foods and liquids, your self-cleaning system doesn’t need a juice cleanse.


It appears that Americans love the buzzword superfoods. The fact is that the superfood may be a healthy choice, but they are often no healthier than ordinary foods that you’ve eaten your entire life. Do you ever see oranges on the super food list? Me neither. But what a powerhouse of nutrition, not to mention flavor!

No Good Foods and No Bad Foods

This is a common statement by those not deep in real nutritional understanding. Get real! A 3 Musketeers Bar is not equivalent with a serving of spinach. Steering clear of frequent intake of saturated fats, simple carbohydrates – especially sugar and lots of processed foods is just plain smart. It’s a fact, that some foods are unhealthy. Now having said that, you know that I don’t believe in forbidden foods; I do strongly believe in controlling your environment (2016 – Down-Shifting Hedonic Hunger) and keeping them out of your mouth frequently.

Honey and Raw Sugar

Sure, use a little. But do know, sugar is sugar. The code words for sugar are summarized in my 2011 list of sugar in Getting Off Your SoFAS. If you’re counting your grams of sugar a day (24g for women – 6 teaspoons; 36g for men – 9 teaspoons) be sure to include all the syrup, honey and raw sugar – sugar is sugar, but by a thousand names.

Avoiding Fruit Because of Sugar

Yes, fruit has sugar, but it is mixed with fiber and a tremendous number of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. The sugar in fruit is not a processed sugar, like the type of sugar I’m referring to directly above. Like most everything …… all things in moderation. You don’t need 10 apples; but enjoy that juicy, tangy Honeycrisp.

If you’ve read this, maybe you too have discovered that you’ve out grown nutrition fairy tales.