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Is watermelon loaded with sugar? What you need to know about common food myths

So many foods carry a "health halo," the perception that they're good for you when they're really not.
/ Source: TODAY

It’s often quite a challenge to eat healthy.

So many foods carry a “health halo” and it’s increasingly difficult to cut through the hype. Here's the reality about some of the most common and stubborn myths about about our favorite foods.

Honey is a healthier choice than white sugar

Honey is believed to have antibacterial properties and fight inflammation but the claims are unproven.Damian Dovarganes / AP

Honey is found in nature, so it’s a healthier version of sugar, right? Wrong.

White sugar comes from either sugar cane or sugar beets — both plants, and equally “natural.”

Both honey and sugar have about 16 calories per teaspoon. All of these are added sugars, to name a few, and should be used sparingly:

  • brown sugar
  • agave
  • brown rice syrup
  • molasses
  • evaporated cane syrup
  • Demerara sugar
  • date sugar

While there are many personal testimonials about the antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects of honey, these results are based on laboratory studies, and are unproven in the “real world." Nearly all of the health claims for honey are unproven outside of research settings.

Eating chocolate is good for your health

Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate contains flavanols that have been shown to modestly lower blood pressure, but those results may not translate to the kind people typically eat.Getty Images

All chocolate is not created equal. The known health benefits of chocolate come from a specific kind of antioxidant called flavanoids (or flavanols). But most chocolate doesn’t have enough of the these flavanols to make a dent as a health booster.

Even 70 percent cacao might not be flavanol-rich, because of variability in the processing of the chocolate, from cacao bean to the ready-to-eat product. While laboratory studies show that flavanols can modestly lower blood pressure and “relax” blood vessels, making blood flow more easily — this research typically uses purified preparations.

Translated to what real people are eating, the impact of eating regular dark chocolate on your health is hardly impressive. For example, a modest lowering of blood pressure was observed in people consuming a quarter of a pound of dark chocolate daily for three weeks.

At 160 calories per ounce, that’s 640 calories per day from chocolate alone, about 1/3 of the recommended daily intake.

A specially processed cacao bean, called CocoaVia, containing much higher amounts of flavanols is available as a cocoa powder in single serving packets. Considered a dietary supplement, and not a food, it can be used like standard cocoa powder.

Frozen yogurt is a low-sugar choice

Complete myth. Frozen yogurt is always going to be a lower-fat choice, compared to ice cream, but it’s not a low-sugar option.

Here's why: When the fat content is lowered in foods, more sugar is often added to balance the taste.

The only way to know for sure is to read the label, or go online for the information. The taste test is not reliable when it comes to frozen yogurt and sugar content. And often the toppings, added because we think it's not as sweet, contribute further added sugars.

Low- and no-added sugar options are available for frozen yogurt, using low-calories sweeteners and always clearly labeled.

Watermelon is loaded with sugar

Just because watermelon tastes sweet doesn't mean it's high in sugar.Lauren Salkeld

Not true. While watermelon does contain fruit sugar —fructose — like all other fruits, it’s nearly 92 percent water. Just because it tastes sweet doesn’t make it high in sugar.

The confusion comes from estimates of how watermelon impacts blood sugar. Watermelon has a high glycemic index, a term associated with quick rises in blood sugar after a food is consumed. The higher the number, the faster the rise in blood sugar. Watermelon’s glycemic index is around 75 out of 100.

This is a misleading number. A more important term relates more accurately to how blood sugar responds to a particular food. This term, called glycemic load, is very low for watermelon — meaning that blood sugar is not changing much after eating it. Glycemic load is the more important term relevant to health.

There are multiple health benefits to watermelon. Not only is it low in calories, around 45 calories per cup, a serving size contains:

  • 20 percent of daily vitamin C needs
  • 17 percent vitamin A
  • a bit of fiber

As a red fruit, it’s also loaded with the antioxidant lycopene, with an even higher concentration than tomatoes!

And with all that water content, it’s also a good source of hydration.

Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D is NBC News Health and Nutrition Editor. Follow her on Twitter: @drfernstrom

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