Healthy Eating: Common Food Myths

Some say carrots are good for your eyesight. True? Discover the facts behind this and four other food myths.

Carrots on table

There's some truth to "you are what you eat." Food can make a significant difference in your health and how you feel. Let's explore some common food myths - and truths.

Myth: Eating carrots helps your eyesight

Fact:Because carrots are full of beta carotene, there's some truth to this. Your body converts beta carotene to vitamin A. This helps sight, but only people with vitamin A deficiency benefit from eating additional carrots.

For people who have macular degeneration - a form of vision loss from damage to the back of the eye - high-dose vitamins can be sight-saving. Science has found that use of anti-oxidants, such as beta carotene, can delay age-related macular degeneration.

Myth: Eating animal fats increases your chance of heart disease and cancer

Fact: A number of studies point to higher rates of breast and colon cancer in people with higher amounts of animal fat in their diets. Other studies suggest that dissolved carcinogens in the animal fat are the problem. Additional research shows people with a high-fat diet have an increased risk of early heart disease.

Since it's possible for carcinogens to dissolve in animal fats, it may be the toxins rather than the fat that cause heart disease and cancer. Until scientific studies answer those questions, it's better to err on the side of safety and monitor your animal fat intake.

Myth: Vegetarians live longer because they have a healthier diet

Fact:Several recent long-term studies show no differences in longevity, rate of strokes, or cancers between vegetarians and non-vegetarians. However, the rate of heart attack was 24% less for younger men and women who ate a vegetarian diet for more than five years. In addition, many studies have shown a lower rate of colon cancer among people on a high-fiber diet.

The higher fiber intake of vegetarians has benefits. Soluble fiber - in grains of rye barley, oats, and beans - has protective value, believed to prevent the body from absorbing toxins. While vegetarians have heart health advantages, they still have the same risk as everyone else for stroke and cancer.

Myth: To prevent kidney stones, you have to avoid dairy products

The theory is that calcium in the diet will cause kidney stones, but not all kidney stones are calcium-based. For many years, doctors told patients to avoid milk, ice cream, yogurt, and cheese. Fact: A study followed 93,000 people until some of them developed kidney stones. The group of those with stones and those without were compared. The group without kidney stones had higher dietary intake of cheese, ice cream, and milk as well as a 65% lower chance of developing kidney stones.

You have a greater chance of developing kidney stones if you eat a lot of meat and don't drink enough fluids.

Myth: Eating eggs is bad for you

This is based upon the idea that egg yolks are especially high in cholesterol, containing about 200 mg of cholesterol per yolk. Fact: The amount of cholesterol from eating an egg yolk a day won't increase your overall cholesterol or risk of heart disease. In fact, eggs are a great way to take in additional protein, B vitamins, iron, and other minerals. The American Heart Association says it's OK for heart disease patients to eat an egg twice a week.

The egg yolk also contains lecithin and alpha 3 omega fatty acids, which help with heart health by raising the levels of high density ("good") lipids in the system and that may counter the impact of cholesterol.

Although you have to watch what you eat, the importance of good nutrition - coupled with a common sense approach to food - will help protect health.

Last Updated September 2014

About the author

Dr. Tom James

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