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Nutrition and diet facts and fictions Children's Wisconsin

Food for thought: The truth behind some common nutrition trends

Social media feeds and news outlets are chock-full of the latest suggestions for healthy eating. Avoid red food dyes. Eliminate sugar and carbs. Eat organic. With so much advice coming your way, it can be hard to find the truth and know what to listen to. Do these recommendations really make a difference? 

Myth: Red food dyes can cause ADHD and aggressive, wild behavior in kids

Red food dyes are found in many processed foods, like dairy products (yogurt), sweets (candies, gum), baked goods (frosting), snacks (fruit snacks, breakfast cereals) and beverages (sports drinks, sodas). There’s currently a lot of media attention given to these dyes and the effects they have on kids. 

The truth is, there are very few studies that have been done on red food dye 40, and those studies were conducted on animals. There is no substantial, conclusive research that has been done on humans that support these ideas.

Fact: For most people, red food dye 40 does not have any impact on health or behavior. 

Myth: Eating organic food is healthier than eating non-organic food

Just because you’re eating organic food doesn’t necessarily mean you’re eating healthier. In fact, there’s a lot of misconception around what organic actually means. If a food is organic, it means it has not been genetically changed and was produced while protecting natural resources. Many people believe that organic food is grown without using any pesticides —but that is not true. Organic food is still treated with pesticides but uses mostly natural pesticides.

When it comes down to it, the nutrient composition of an organic food isn’t that much different from the nutrient composition of a non-organic food. The USDA Organic label you’ll see on organic foods in grocery stores is a marketing label for agricultural purposes. It doesn’t necessarily indicate that a food is better for your or more nutritious. Ultimately, whether you eat organic really comes down to personal preference about how your food was grown or prepared. 

Fact: Organic food and non-organic food has the same nutrient composition, making them equally healthy.

Myth: Sugar makes kids act out

Kids can have sugar. It’s part of a balanced diet. But, consuming sugar in excess is often associated with health problems — like obesity and heart disease. So while it is important to make sure you’re eating sugar in moderation, there is no current scientific evidence that suggests sugar causes hyperactivity in kids. 

Sugar substitutes are one way to limit sugar intake, but they come with their own myths and controversies. There is information circulating that says artificial sweeteners, like Splenda, cause cancer. Research from the 1970s suggested this claim to be true in rats, but no research since then has been able to show that those findings are true for people. If you’re looking to cut down on sugar, using a sugar substitute from time to time is completely safe. But again, everything should be consumed in moderation. 

Fact: There is no harm in consuming sugar — as long as it’s done in moderation. 

Myth: Eating gluten-free is a healthy way to eliminate carbs

Many people think gluten is an unhealthy type of carbohydrate, and by not eating gluten, they’re eating healthier. But unless you have celiac disease (or a gluten intolerance), there is no reason you’d need to eat gluten-free. In fact, doing so might even be less healthy for you than eating normally. 

Sometimes, gluten-free products can be higher in calories, carbohydrates or fat than non-gluten-free foods. If you’re generally healthy, there is really no health benefit to eating gluten-free. And, by eating gluten-free, you could be missing out on important nutrients that are found in whole grains. 

Fact: There is no benefit to eating gluten-free unless medically necessary. 

Fact: The best way to make sure you’re eating healthy is by eating in moderation

Anything is okay — but in moderation. And keep in mind, no one has a perfect diet or routine. Try your best to ignore buzzwords and trending topics. Instead, focus on getting three meals per day with snacks in between those meals. And for those meals, try to include at least three of the food groups — grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins and dairy — while limiting foods high in sugar. 

With so much access to information today, it’s easy to go down rabbit holes online and feel confused about what to believe and what to do. It’s common to overcomplicate and overthink our health in general. I always tell my patients, the best thing to do is get back to the basics and keep things simple. If you have any questions about your child’s diet or health, contact their pediatrician. They know you child and their health best and can addresses any concerns you may have.