Don’t be Misled by Poor Nutrition Advice: “Avoid foods with too many ingredients, ingredients you don’t recognize….”

I typically tune out nutrition conversations when I’m out in public so I can stay sane. Yet there is no shortage of really bad advice being spread in person, print and over the internet by self-proclaimed nutrition experts. And I’ve found that people like to group foods into strict categories (“good” or “bad”) in an effort to simplify and better understand the complex science of nutrition. Yet this rarely works and the top 3 common reasons that are cited to avoid a particular food or food group are misguided and not based on science:

1. Avoid the interior isles of the grocery store and only shop the perimeter. While this might expedite your trip to the grocery store, it won’t help your diet. If you avoid the isles and stick to the perimeter you’ll avoid plenty of healthy and convenient foods including canned tuna, dried beans, nuts and seeds, 100% juice, frozen meat / fish / poultry, frozen fruits and vegetables.

If you want to know a little more information about how frozen and canned produce compares with fresh, here’s a segment I did on this topic for CNN:


2. Look at the list of ingredients and avoid foods with more than 5 ingredients. The number of ingredients on a food package has nothing to do with it’s nutrition value or how healthy it is (or isn’t). If I make an omelet with eggs, onions, green bell pepper, red bell pepper, spinach, mushrooms and cheese, is it automatically unhealthy because it contains 6 ingredients? Do you automatically consider a recipe “unhealthy” or “fattening” if it contains a long list of ingredients? Of course not. What if you eat a salmon dish from a restaurant – do you ask how many ingredients were used to prepare it and judge how healthy it is based on the total number of ingredients? I hope not. If you don’t  stick the “unhealthy” label on a recipe or restaurant meal based on the number of ingredients it contains, don’t do this with a food that comes in a package.

3. Never eat a food that contains ingredients you don’t recognize. I recognize most of the ingredients listed on food packages. But sometimes (okay often) I go to restaurants and I feel like I’m reading a foreign language. Feijoada? That’s Brazilian rice and beans. How about Aringa? That’s Atlantic herring. I appreciate the creativity that comes with fancy menus but I’m not sure what I’m ordering. So here’s my point: unless you are a food scientist or chef who is well-versed in wide variety of cuisines, chances are you won’t know every ingredient listed on a food label or restaurant menu. Just because you don’t know what it is, this does not mean that it isn’t healthy.

The next time someone tells you to avoid a food based on any of these 3 misperceptions, consider sharing some of this information with them. Friends don’t let friends spread poor nutrition advice 🙂

1 thought on “Don’t be Misled by Poor Nutrition Advice: “Avoid foods with too many ingredients, ingredients you don’t recognize….””

  1. Pingback: Why “Avoid Processed Foods” is Bad Advice | Performance Nutrition

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