What are the secrets to healthy eating? Diet experts offer all sorts of rules on what we can't eat - but what about what we can eat? Do we need to ditch all of our favorite foods? Who better to ask than a doctor who's also a chef? Keep clicking as Dr. Tim Harlan, author of "Just Tell Me What to Eat!," dispels 14 persistent myths about healthy eating...
Myth: Snacking is bad for you
"Actually, snacking is essential," says Dr. Harlan. People need to eat something when they're hungry - as long as they are the right snacks. He recommends dried fruit and nuts. If you're craving less healthy snack foods, choose the least processed - like tortilla chips or popcorn.
Myth: You'll get fat if you eat out a lot
It all depends on where you eat. "Some restaurants have dishes that are pretty healthy," says Dr. Harlan. He recommends dishes like grilled shrimp at Red Lobster, or steamed vegetable dumplings at P.F. Chang's, or a petite sirloin at Ruby Tuesday.
Myth: Eating red meat will kill you
Dr. Harlan says it's okay to eat beef - just choose lean cuts, and avoid highly processed meats like hot dogs and bologna. And limit your red meat consumption to once a week. Make sure to focus on the percentage of fat in the meat you do eat.
Myth: Dessert is the devil
Some sweets are okay, including low-fat frozen yogurt, pudding, popsicles, and fudge pops. What about chocolate? "The secret to eating chocolate and not gaining weight is to keep small portions of high-quality chocolate in your cupboard - you'll eat fewer calories and it'll be satisfying," he says.
Myth: There are dishes you'll just have to give up
Trying to lose weight? You won't have to give up your favorite dishes, but you may need to get creative. "Even french fries can be made in a healthy way," says Dr. Harlan. Just bake them instead of frying, and try substituting yams or sweet potatoes.
Other surprising possibilities include oven-fried chicken, or even a flank steak or london broil Philly cheese steak made with lower-fat cheddar cheese.
Myth: Counting calories doesn't work
"Keeping a food diary is a powerful tool for losing weight," says Dr. Harlan. But studies show that people aren't good at judging the number of calories they eat - most people underestimate by more than 20 percent." Get a food diary program for your smart phone, or use an online version to track your meals.
Credit: Flickr/Glory Foods
Myth: Pasta isn't a healthy meal
"Even rich, creamy pasta sauces can be healthy," says Dr. Harlan. How? He makes his fettuccine alfredo with lower-fat cream cheese and serves it over whole wheat pasta.
As for his meatballs, he uses ground beef that's 93 percent lean, and if he can't find it, he asks the butcher to grind some from a cut of bottom round that has had the fat trimmed off of it.
Myth: Carbs make you fat
"When I hear someone say carbs are bad, I just want to scream," Dr. Harlan says. "Carbohydrates are good for you! They're the fuel your body uses to get you through the day on a minute-by-minute basis."
He says low-carb diets only work because people are eating poor-quality carbohydrates to begin with. "It's easy to lose weight when you just stop eating potato chips. People succeed on Atkins and South Beach simply because they quit eating carbohydrate-based junk food."
Myth: Fast food must be avoided at all costs
No need to avoid fast food entirely - just be sure to check the nutrition facts that restaurants now provide. Dr. Harlan says the chipotle BBQ snack wraps with grilled chicken at McDonald's are only 260 calories and 9 grams of fat. But despite the name, he says the snack wraps should be eaten as a full meal.
As for supersizing? "Don't do it," says Dr. Harlan. "Ever."
Myth: Frozen dinners bring weight gain
On the contrary, says Dr. Harlan. Convenience foods can be good since they control portion size.
What's on his recommended list? Kashi Chicken Pasta Pomodoro, Weight Watchers Spaghetti with Meat Sauce, Amy's Santa Fe Enchilada Bowl, and Lean Cuisine Sesame Stir Fry with Chicken.
Myth: Stuff labeled "diet" will help you lose weight
For a food product to be labeled "diet," it must either be low-calorie, reduced-calorie, or have a special use in a diet. That means diabetic foods could be labeled "diet" even if they're not low in calories - just sugar.
Ironically, studies show that you're likely to eat more of a "diet" food than the regular version.
Myth: Pizza packs on the pounds
Pizza needn't be off-limits to dieters. Try a whole wheat pizza crust, and pile on veggies instead of sausage or pepperoni. Dr. Harlan also suggests using fresh mozzarella since it's rich and creamy, and lower in calories than other types.
Myth: Diet sodas are fine
Drinking diet soda can lead to obesity, just like the real stuff.
How can that be? Constant sweetness reduces one's natural ability to judge the caloric content of food - so a person ends up eating more food when drinking diet soda. Instead, he recommends water, or tea or coffee, which are rich in antioxidants.
Myth: You need a multivitamin to be healthy
"It's becoming clear from research that all those pills, capsules, and supplement drinks are worthless," says Dr. Harlan. The main exception, he says, is women of child-bearing age - they should take folic acid.
Everybody else? "You need to get your vitamins from real foods."