On April Fools’ Day, it isn’t wise to trust everything you read on the internet. However, when it comes to nutrition, myths surrounding diets, malnutrition, breastfeeding, anemia, and other topics can spring up at any time, where you least expect them. We at SPRING asked some of our nutrition experts to name some of the most common nutrition myths they have seen in their work and research. Here are just a few:
Myth: Healthy and nutritious food is all about vegetables.
Truth: Many people might assume that when it comes to a healthy diet, it’s all in the vegetables (and buy food for their families accordingly). Vegetables, of course, are a valuable part of any diet, but many children also need animal source foods (ASF), because these are nutrient-dense, and can be good sources of iron and protein. In communities with non-diverse diets, finding effective substitutes for these components of a diet might be difficult.
Myth: Micronutrient powders (MNPs) should only be taken by children who are sick or malnourished already.
Truth: MNPs should be given to all healthy children as a preventive measure. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends use of MNPs in countries where child anemia rates are over 20 percent. Sick or malnourished children should always be treated according to clinical guidelines. MNPs are not the same as dietary supplements, which are often unregulated and untested. Any child, especially one not receiving a diet that covers all food groups, can benefit from micronutrients as a way of avoiding future deficiencies and promoting development.
Myth: Anemia is always caused by iron deficiencies.
Truth: Although iron deficiency can lead to anemia, it is a very complex disease that can be caused by a number of different factors. These might include exposure to malaria, infections, inflammation, and even genetics! For these reasons, it can be difficult to develop national plans to fight anemia. One way to start is by getting involved in conversation about anemia to learn more about the causes and effects of this issue.
Myth: Boys need to eat larger portions because of their physical activities.
Truth: In some places, the belief persists that young boys perform more physically demanding activities, and therefore should consistently be fed larger portions within their families. Girls perform equally strenuous tasks throughout their lives, and are equally likely to actively play at a young age. Adolescent girls in particular have dietary needs that are sometimes ignored despite their importance.
Myth: A malnourished woman cannot breastfeed because her milk will not contain the right nutrients.
Truth: Even a malnourished woman can, and should breastfeed her child. Her milk will still contain all of the best nutrients for her child, and breastmilk can help improve brain function and motor skills for babies! During pregnancy, and while breastfeeding, the women and her family should also take steps to improve the mother’s nutrition, ensuring she is strong and healthy. This helps her care for her family (and herself) as best as she can.
Myth: Babies can be exclusively breastfed for their entire first year. They don’t need to start eating other foods until after one year.
Truth: In fact, as babies grow beyond six months, their nutritional needs surpass what breastmilk can provide. Specifically, they need more iron, and other nutrients, and these needs should be met through nutritional sources in addition to breastmilk.
Myth: Breastfeeding should be supplemented early (within six months).
Truth: In some contexts, one of the most pervasive myths is the opposite: that babies in their first six months of life should also be given water and pre-lactal-type feeds such as honey. Rather, exclusive breastfeeding can provide an infant with the nutrients they need, and pre-lactal feeds can be detrimental to the child’s development. The first milk, colostrum, is especially rich in antibodies and vitamins. It is important to know when the right time is to introduce supplemental foods to young children.
Myth: Eating sugar makes kids hyperactive!
Truth: We can agree that sugar isn’t great for kids’ diets, but it probably doesn’t cause them to be more excited than usual. Although sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream quickly, and it can increase adrenaline, studies haven’t proven that sugar makes kids hyperactive. Instead, sugar’s energy-boosting effect may be a placebo.
Though you can’t always trust what you hear about nutrition, many of these myths can be dispelled through consistent and positive education and communications programs across communities. SPRING’s social and behavior change communication work aims to effectively communicate better nutrition practices to people in several countries, every day including April 1st.