Misleading food claims explained


What is Health Information and what is Health Misinformation?

Before I really get into explaining the top three food claims I hear as a dietitian, I want to explain a little more about health information and misinformation. To me, health information is purely factual – very black and white, whereas health misinformation is taking one fact, promoting it, and neglecting to include other facts in order to lead the reader in the desired direction. We can all fall victim to health misinformation, even health care providers.

Margarine is one molecule away from plastic

I hear this one a lot, especially from butter lovers (not that there’s anything wrong with that). This claim isn’t just misinformation… it is completely untrue. There are absolutely no facts associated with this food claim.  Molecules are the smallest particle of a substance that exists independently. It is basically two or more atoms that have been bonded together, such as Oxygen (O2) whereas a compound is two or more different types of molecules that have been bonded together such as water (H2O). It is very common to call both oxygen and water molecules.

Plastic and margarine are both made up of polymers, which are repeating structural molecules, but there are a lot of substances (both edible and inedible) that are made up of polymers such as starches or diamonds. To say a starchy vegetable, like a potato, is one molecule away from a diamond just because they both contain repeating structural molecules would be a bit of a stretch. Maybe the writer of this food claim meant that margarine was one atom away from butter? We can look at the World’s most commonly produced plastic – Polyethylene terephthalate’s – chemical formula which is (C10H8O)n  and contains the atoms carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Margarine has the chemical formula C17H3O2 and also contains the atoms carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen although the combination is completely different. If the writer of this food claim meant that margarine and plastic contain the same atoms, I would point out that so does water H2O and Hydrogen peroxide (bleach) H202.

Celery is full of salt, so don’t eat it if you are following a Cardioprotective diet

While celery does have more sodium than most other vegetables, it really isn’t “full of salt” and should not be avoided if following a heart healthy diet. The only people who may need to avoid celery are those on a strict sodium restriction such as 1000 mg daily, but celery is not avoided for standard Heart healthy or other cardio protective diets.

Celery contains about 35.2mg of sodium per stalk, or .96 mg of sodium per g, which is a lot when compared to cauliflower which contains .30 mg per g or cucumbers which contain 0 mg per g. However… if we compare celery to something we know is high in sodium, such as ham, we find that ham contains 12.45mg of sodium per g. So while celery does contain a lot of sodium compared to other vegetables, it still is a much better choice then salty foods. Furthermore, because of its high water content, it contains very few calories per serving making it a nutrient dense, but calorie light snack.


Tilapia is worse for you than bacon

The “tilapia is worse than bacon” claim is perhaps the most artful use of health misinformation I have seen in a long time. If you read the original article you would be immediately convinced that tilapia is one of the worst foods on the planet for you, and to replace your tilapia dinner with bacon. The writer artfully twisted some research that concluded “All other nutritional content aside, the inflammatory potential of hamburger and pork is lower than the average serving of farmed tilapia”. With nutrition you can’t really take all other nutritional content and put it aside; if that were the case then we could say an orange is a better choice than an apple because it contains more vitamin C…. all other nutritional content aside. Nutrition is about variety, balance, and portions. If we compare tilapia to bacon, tilapia has lower fat content, lower sodium content and higher protein content then compared to bacon per serving. Tilapia also contains Omega-3, although not the best source when compared to other fishes. However, can I use it as one of my two servings of fish as recommended by the American Heart Association? Absolutely! Should I only be consuming tilapia and not other types of fish or even other types of proteins, why no, then I would not be providing my body with balanced nutrition. In conclusion, while farmed tilapia isn’t going to be as nutritious for you as sustainable freshly caught tilapia, it still can be a good choice when trying to incorporate more lean proteins into your diet. Bacon (as much as I love and appreciate it), could not be used to accomplish the same goal.

Koree Muska RDN