Dear Dietitian: Nutrition Myths

Leanne McCrate

Dear Readers,

There once was a country song that declared, “It’s easier to sell a lie than to give the truth away.” I sometimes feel that way about nutrition education. There seems to be more misinformation about nutrition now than ever before. Here are some interesting nutrition myths that you may have heard in the past.

1. Celery has negative calories because it takes more calories to digest it than the calories that are in it. While celery is low in calories, there is no food with negative calories. The calories needed to digest a food are not deducted from the calories contained in the food.

2. Certain foods are bad for you. A quote from Ben Franklin, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” There is no food that is inherently bad for you. It’s the amount of a certain food that may become a problem. If you eat potato chips every day, that’s not good for you. We have to get out of ‘black and white’ thinking when it comes to food.

3. Sea salt is better than table salt. In a survey conducted by the American Heart Association, 61% of people believe sea salt is a lower sodium alternative to table salt. Both sea salt and table salt contain the same amount of sodium, about 40 percent by weight. The bottom line is there is no nutritional advantage of choosing sea salt over table salt.

4. Butter is better for you than margarine. At one time, margarine contained trans fats, but these are no longer used in the U.S. Butter is an animal product that contains saturated fat. A diet high in saturated fat increases cholesterol levels, which in turn, increases the risk for heart disease. Choose margarine.

5. Raw sugar is better than white sugar. Raw sugar is the brownish, crystal-looking sugar you may find in packets in a restaurant. It is slightly less processed than white sugar, so it must be better for you, right? Raw sugar contains some natural molasses; whereas, these have been removed from white sugar. One teaspoon of raw sugar has the same number of calories as one teaspoon of white sugar.

6. Cheese causes constipation. This folklore has been passed down for generations. While I only found one study on this topic, cheese was not proven to affect bowel habits of those who ate it compared to those who did not. [1]

7. Certain foods increase your metabolism. Research shows that while certain foods may have very minor effects on your metabolism, it is not enough to affect weight loss.

8. Certain foods help to remove belly fat. There was a study that discovered that soluble fiber reduced visceral fat, that is the fat stored in the abdominal cavity. However, it did not reduce subcutaneous fat, which is the fat underneath the skin. [2] When losing weight, you simply cannot “spot-reduce.”

During my clinical experience, I worked with cancer patients for many years. I hope I helped some of you at the bedside and now extend my service in education. These are just a few myths involving nutrition and cancer:

1. Sugar feeds cancer. This is misleading. The real question is “Does sugar make your cancer worse?” The answer is no.

2. A ketogenic diet does not contain glucose (sugar) and so starves the cancer tumor. The truth is our bodies must have glucose in order to survive. If we don’t consume it in our diet, our bodies will make glucose from fat and/or protein in a process known as gluconeogenesis -- a fancy name for making new glucose.

3. Alkaline water/diet – Supposedly, alkaline foods (including baking soda) and water neutralize a cancer-friendly acidic environment. The truth is the pH of our blood is slightly alkaline. Mechanisms are in place to keep this in place; otherwise, the human body cannot survive. It doesn’t matter what the pH of your food or drinking water is, your body will always maintain a blood pH balance of about 7.2.

4. An-all vegetable diet helps cure cancer. There was a patient in the hospital that revealed she had followed an all-veggie diet for cancer and exclaimed, “I lost 30 pounds, and it was all muscle!” A vegetables-only diet will leave you malnourished and dissatisfied, and on no uncertain terms, will not improve a cancer diagnosis.

Good health to you!

Dear Dietitian


1. Mykkänen, H.M., et al. Effect of Cheese on Intestinal Transit Time and Other Indicators of Bowel Function in Residents of a Retirement Home. Scand J Gastroenterol. 1994 Jan;29(1):29-32.

2. Hairston, Kristen G., et al. Lifestyle Factors and 5-Year Abdominal Fat Accumulation in a Minority Cohort: The IRAS Family Study. Obesity, 2012 Feb; 20(2):421-7.

Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, CNSC, aka Dear Dietitian, is an award-winning dietitian based in Missouri. Her mission is to educate the public on sound, scientifically-based nutrition. Do you have a nutrition question? Email her today at