The 10 Most Confusing Food Questions, Answered

ThinkstockThinkstock"Low-fat," "no sugar added," low carbs"-what does this mean for your meals? Before you step into the kitchen, make sure you know about these 10 eating conundrums.

Q: Is the high salt count in low-calorie frozen meals really that problematic?

A: Sorry guys, but you need to put down the frozen burrito. In sad news for boob-tubers everywhere, it's important to know that your beloved TV dinner can have distressingly high sodium levels. Why so dangerous? Because the average American should only intake up to 1500-2300 mg of salt daily (depending on age and health profile), and some nuke-able meals hit that mark in just one sitting. That means increased risk for high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, even kidney failure-all reasons to skip the salt lick and opt for fresh meals or leftovers instead. Trust us, "The Bachelor" can wait the extra 10 or 15 minutes it takes to cook up a healthier meal choice. Here's lookin' at you, DVR!

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Q: Is it better to eat non-organic fruit than no fruit at all?

A: Well, it depends. All fruit is not created equal, so the type you're eating makes a difference. Eating organic is clearly the best way to avoid icky pesticides and chemicals, but some fruits are pretty clean anyway, so a non-organic version is probably OK. Wondering which fruits you should pick (sorry)? To make things easier, The Environmental Working Group puts out a "Dirty Dozen" list each year-a list of the fruits and veggies with the highest pesticide residue that year-so you can take a cheat-sheet to the grocery store. The big offenders as of late: peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, imported grapes, spinach, lettuce and potatoes. So if you're eating any of those, go organic or at least give them a good scrub-down with a vegetable brush first.

Q: I'm just not hungry in the morning. Is it really that bad to skip breakfast?

A: In a word: YES! Your mom wasn't lying-breakfast really is the most important meal of the day (and sadly, Starbucks isn't a food group). Even when you're snuggled up asleep at night, your body is constantly working to keep things ticking, so you need to refuel as soon as you wake up. Think of your system like a car: Food is fuel, so when you run on an empty stomach, it's like trying to drive at 60 MPH with no gas. No bueno! Your body's automatic response is to lower your metabolism to conserve energy, which inevitably causes your waistline to suffer. So no, you shouldn't swing by iHop en route to work every day. But something small and nutritious- say, an organic apple or a bowl of whole grain oatmeal-will works wonders to keep you looking and feeling your best.

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Q: What's the skinny on "low-fat" and "no-added sugar"?

A: Like any health-conscious beauty, you know that it's all about reading the ingredient label. (See! You did listen in those undergrad nutrition classes.) What may surprise you, however, is that many of the claims and numbers-"low-fat," "no fat," "sugar-free"-can woo you towards products that aren't necessarily as healthy as they sound. Case in point: "Low-fat" usually means less than 30 percent of your daily calories from fat, however the same product might be jam-packed with sugar and additives to make up for, you know, the cardboard taste. Same goes for most sugar-free foods: additive city! Sorry kids, but your best plan of attack is sticking to foods that are naturally low in fat or sugar-for example, leafy greens-so you won't get stuck with mystery ingredients you didn't expect.

MORE: Are Low-Fat Foods Making You Fat?

Q: Is diet soda really that bad for me?

A: Yes, yes, a million times yes! Basically, no matter how alluring that click of the tab opening sounds, the can of chemicals that we call diet soda has health risks literally pouring out of it. Some studies have shown that too much diet soda can increase your risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Plus, when you constantly fake-out your brain with artificial sugars, you never truly rid yourself of the dependence that's causing all the trouble in the first place. A good remedy: Gradually switch from cola to flavored waters and juices, or try adding a slice of fruit or cucumber to your water. Hey, there's a reason we aren't made up of 80 percent soda-stick to what Mama Nature gave you!

MORE: Should There Be a Diet Soda Tax?

Q: I follow the "everything in moderation" rule, so am on the right track?

A: Ah, the mantra of the over-indulger ... kidding, kidding! This is technically a trick question. What's "everything?" An ice cream sundae every day? Or just once a month? The problem with the "everything in moderation" myth is that thanks to out-of-control portion sizes and the implied free pass to "treat ourselves" a few times a week, this guideline has spiraled out of control into a feeding frenzy. Now, some studies do show that people who successfully maintain weight loss are those who reward themselves occasionally along the way, so there's no need to pass up a slice of cake on your birthday, or grab some pizza at the Superbowl party. But if you're eating cake for everyone's birthday and eating pizza for every football game, then the mantra becomes more like a delusion.

MORE: The Dark Side to "Everything in Moderation"

Q: Low-carb, high-carb, no-carb...what's a girl to do? How do I decipher all the fad diets?

A: Poor carbs-they keep getting heckled on the food pyramid, then welcomed back, just to be heckled again. Not that's a food fight. The truth is, our fascination with fad diets and extreme low-carb and no-carb diets has left everyone a little confused. "Carb" has become a scary word when it shouldn't be. The type of carbohydrate you're eating is what really matters-complex vs. simple. Complex carbs like 100-percent whole grains, legumes and veggies are a healthy choice, whereas simple carbs like refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup are the real no-nos. But the real issue at hand? Fad diets that take your carb intake to one extreme or the other are usually smoke-and-mirrors in the first place! They tend to be unrealistic as a long-term health plan, and when you do stop them, you just repack on the pounds you dropped so quickly. (Hello, wasted time and expense.) Instead, opt for fruits, vegetables, whole grains and a little protein. As always, the combination of a balanced diet and consistent exercise are the only scientifically-proven, long-term weight loss solutions.

Q: How many glasses of water do I really have to drink a day?

A: Water streaming out of the tap, bottled water at every corner deli ... as Americans, we're luckier than we know to have so much access to clean drinking water. And sometimes we even take for granted the fact that hydration is vital for everything from your digestive system to your immune system and cell health-all the things that keep you happy and glowing. So how much should you really be drinking each day? Well, it depends on how hydrating your foods are. Water-packed fruits and vegetable deliver hydration to your cells and skin better than plain ol' water ever will, so rather than force-feeding yourself gallons of water each day, try upping your intake of cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelon, and oranges.

MORE: Find Out How Many Glasses You Need

Q: Is it an old wives' tale that diet is the cause of acne?

A: The cause of your acne? Probably not. (It's often hormonal.) But it's true that the foods you eat can influence your complexion in some ways. High-glycemic foods (i.e., sugary foods and basically every cupcake and cookie you know and love) are some of the worst offenders. They spike your blood sugar and jump start oil production in your body, which in turn can cause your pores to clog up like an old sink drain. Yuck! And consider the power of zinc, a mineral said to battle breakouts caused by inflammation and bacteria. Oysters are a great source, or if you're vegetarian or vegan, try pumpkin seeds, lentils or kidney beans. Your clear skin will thank you!

MORE: Can Food Cause Acne?

Q: Why do my nails keep breaking? Do I need more calcium or biotin ... or?

A: Brittle-nailed beauties, this one's for you: A great way to combat weak nails (and thinning hair and lackluster skin for that matter), is by increasing your biotin intake. One of the beloved B-complex vitamins, it's an essential chemical for fat and carbohydrate metabolism that-manicure gods smiling here-has been linked to longer, stronger nails. Legumes, avocados, egg yolks, and even soybeans are great natural sources.

- Jessica Anderson

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