Nutrition myths debunked
Taken from this month’s newsletter, just out – to subscribe and receive the newsletter, click here.
1. A cooked breakfast is bad for you.
Scrambled eggs on toast is a wonderful way to start the day rather than a sugary based cereal. Hold back on the fried bread and sausage though. A protein breakfast will leave you feeling fuller longer and keep your blood sugar levels stable until lunch and stop the urge to snack on sweet foods.
2. Fat makes you fat/all fat is bad.
This is the strongest held myth still talked about today. It’s a long-held nutrition myth that all fats are bad. But the fact is, we all need fat. It helps with the absorption of nutrients, nerve transmission, and helps to maintain cell membrane integrity. However, when consumed in excessive amounts, fats contribute to weight gain, heart disease and certain types of cancers. However not all fats are the same. Some fats can actually help promote good health. The key is to replace bad fats (saturated fats and trans fats) with good fats (monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats). It doesn’t make you fat either! When you eat fat, your body has to break it down into building blocks and then its absorbed. The fat you have in your body is not the same as you eat. In fact, the fat naturally found in whole foods is fat you actually need for your body to function properly. Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) are a type of fat that you need to eat. This is why they are called essential. Your body cannot make them, so you must get them from food. Every cell in your body is partly made up of these EFA’s. To breathe, to have your heart beat, to run, walk, think, to make hormones, to remember anything, you need essential fatty acids. If you don’t have them in the food you eat, your body will not function properly, and the only place you can find them is in food that has naturally occurring fat e.g. oily fish, nuts and seeds etc. So if you try and cut fat out of your body, you will actually be causing harm and not really be doing anything to get rid of the fat already in your body.
So if fat doesn’t make you fat – what does? The answer is sugar and refined carbohydrates. You have a relatively set amount of fat cells in your body. It is just a matter of how big those cells are. Sugar affects the size of your fat cells. This is because glucose is stored in your fat cells, and there is a “gate” that controls the movement of sugar in and out of your fat cells. The key to this gate is insulin. Insulin is the key that opens the gate to the fat cells and allows excess glucose in the blood to go into the fat cells. So if you never eat anything that raises your blood sugar levels beyond normal, your body will not release insulin, and you will not get bigger fat cells. The body releases insulin to lower blood sugar levels that are too high. So sugar and refined carbohydrates are actually the largest contributing factor to why people are overweight. The ironic part of all of this, is that low fat foods usually have added sugar.
3. Brown sugar is better than white sugar.
The brown sugar sold in stores is usually white granulated sugar with added molasses. Even though it does contain minute amounts of minerals., you would need to eat a large portion of brown sugar every day to gain anything from these minimal amounts. Nutritionally I think unrefined brown sugar is better for cooking and eating as it does contain iron, chromium and minerals that are essential for health. Refined white sugar is the only “food” substance that has absolutely no nutrients in it whatsoever.
4. Avoid carbohydrate to lose weight.
The key message that many low-carb diets convey is that carbohydrates promote insulin production, which in turn results in weight gain. Therefore by reducing carbohydrate intake, you can lose weight. Unfortunately, this is just another nutrition myth. Many low-carb diets actually do not provide sufficient carbohydrates to your body for daily maintenance. Therefore your body will begin to burn stored carbohydrates (glycogen) for energy. When your body starts burning glycogen, water is released. Therefore the drastic initial drop of weight at the beginning of a low-carb diet is mostly the water that you lose as a result of burning glycogen. The truth is that low-carb diets are also often calorie-restricted! Followers only eat an average of 1000 – 1400 calories daily, compared to an average intake of 1800 – 2200 calories for most people. To lose one pound a week, you only need to eat 500 fewer calories per day in your normal diet. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if you eat a high- or low-carb diet, you will lose weight if you decrease your caloric intake to less than needed to maintain your weight. However in my weight loss programme I do advise a higher ratio of protein to carbohydrate with every meal, with the emphasis on protein particularly for breakfast. So reduce carbohydrates a little when losing weight – do not cut them out totally.
5. Nuts are fattening.
Nuts can be quite “calorically dense” e.g. 15 cashews have 180 kilocalories! On top of that, it is very tough not to overeat these tasty snacks. If you can restrain yourself from overeating them, nuts can be a source of protein and a good snack food. It’s a nutrition myth that nut should be avoided. They are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats as well as plant sterols, all of which have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol. In 2003, the FDA approved a health claim for seven kinds of nuts stating that “scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces (45 grams) per day of most nuts as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.” Instead of simply adding nuts to your diet, the best approach is to eat them in replacement of foods high in saturated fats. If you are watching your weight you are probably avoiding nuts as they are high in fat – however nuts are high in protein, fibre, vitamins, selenium, other minerals and omega 3 oils. However, do avoid salted nuts and limit yourself to 8-10 nuts a day.
6. Everyone should drink 8 glasses of water per day.
You need to replace water lost through breathing, excrement and sweating each day – but that doesn’t necessarily total 64 ounces of water. It’s hard to measure the exact amount of water you have consumed daily in food and drink, but if your urine is pale yellow, you’re doing a good job. If it’s a darker yellow, drink more water. Daily requirements will vary according to your needs. Marathon runners will need more than sedentary workers and those of you taking medication may need more as well. The standard 1.5 litres is normal, but this will vary with the amounts of fruit and vegetables you eat and how active you are.
7. Skipping meals can help lose weight.
Many people think that by skipping a meal, they will be eating less food and therefore lose weight. As we now know, this is a nutrition myth. People who think skipping meals means weight loss do not understand how our bodies work. If you skip a meal, your body will think that you are in starvation mode and therefore slow down the metabolism to compensate. You then tend to overeat at the next meal. Often, skipping a meal and then eating too much at the next one means that you have a higher total caloric intake than if you just ate more frequently throughout the day. A better approach is to eat smaller frequent healthy meals and snacks to keep your blood sugar balanced.
8. Red meat is bad for your health.
I often hear people saying they avoid eating red meat. When I ask why they don’t, or even what they consider to be red meat, the answers vary dramatically. Many of my patients have studied the Eat Right for Your Blood Type and have discovered that they feel better when they eat red meat. However, it’s not right for everyone. Best avoided for those with gut problems, arthritis and high cholesterol or heart problems. If you do eat red meat choose lean cuts and try and by free range or organic. This does not include processed meat which should be avoided at all costs, but by all means enjoy a good roast lamb for Sunday lunch.
9. Eat less food in hot weather.
As the temperature outside rises your appetite may decrease. Even if you do not feel hungry you need to eat because you need as much energy to perspire and stay cool as you do to stay warm. If you do not find yourself eating so much in the summer months and lose a few pounds that’s fine but don’t forget to eat your quota of essential nutrients and remember to keep well hydrated. It’s key to keep an eye on your sodium and potassium levels in severe heat.
10. Raw vegetables are better than cooked.
There is nothing wrong with raw vegetables but they are not always so nutritious as cooked. Some pulses such as red kidney beans contain a toxin which if not cooked can cause sickness and diarrhoea. Butter beans contain cyanide that could be dangerous if eaten raw. Some vegetables improve – cooking carrots or tomatoes helps to release carotenoids and lycopenes. However do remember when cooking vegetables to steam them and eat them al dente to retain as many of the nutrients as possible.
11. Eating for two is necessary during pregnancy.
Energy requirements vary among individuals. Unfortunately, the idea that pregnancy is an ice cream free-for-all is a nutrition myth. It is generally recommended that pregnant women increase their daily intake by 100 kcal in the first trimester and 300 kcal in the second and third trimesters. An extra snack before bedtime consisting of a fruit, a serving of milk or yogurt, and a few biscuits is often enough. A daily prenatal multivitamin supplement is often recommended during pregnancy, but not a daily bowl of ice cream! Trying to eat little and often whilst pregnant is also a good idea as it keeps blood sugar and energy levels stable.
12. Brown grain products are whole grain products.
Brown dyes and additives can give foods the deceiving appearance of whole grain. Read labels to be sure a food is whole grain. For example brown bread is not necessarily wholemeal bread it is often white bread died with caramel.
13. Eating eggs will raise your cholesterol.
This myth began because egg yolks have the most concentrated amount of cholesterol of any food. However, there’s not enough cholesterol there to pose health risks if eggs are eaten in moderation. Studies suggest that eating one egg per day will not raise cholesterol levels and that eggs are actually a great source of nutrients. Eggs contain Vitamin A,D, B12, niacin and protein and many are rich in omega 3 from the feed.
14. Eating fibre causes problems if you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
There are two kinds of fibre: soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fibre can cause problems in IBS sufferers; soluble fibre, however, is more easily absorbed by the body and helps prevent constipation for those with IBS. Soluble fibre is found in most grains, particularly porridge and psyllium husks are also a good source. For those with severe IBS, avoid bran cereals as they can be abrasive and make IBS worse. That can also be the case for a diet high in fruits and vegetables. Take it easy and see what works best for you.
15. All alcohol is bad for you.
Again, moderation is key. Six ounces of wine and 12 ounces of beer are considered moderate amounts, and should not pose any adverse health effects to the average healthy adult. All alcohol is an anticoagulant and red wine also contains antioxidants, so drinking a small amount daily can be beneficial.
16. Diet food is healthy food.
Don’t get me started on this one! When you choose diet food you are probably not eating as well as you think. Calorie controlled ready meals are high in salt and sugar and the portions are tiny so they won’t fill you up. For example, some low fat biscuits contain more calories than regular varieties – that’s because the manufacturers have added more sugar to make them taste better – always check the label. When I do my home visits I’m always shocked at the amount of diet food in people’s cupboards and fridges. Stop choosing low fat and sugar free foods. Look at the back of the packet not at the front – that’s where you will see the real ingredients.
17. Eating before bed makes you gain weight.
Many diets recommend a carbohydrate curfew after 6pm. This limits the amount of calories you have a day and can also can give you a low blood sugar attack in the night as you would be going over 12 hours without food before breakfast. You will gain weight if you expend the calories you use in the day – when you eat them does not make the slightest bit of difference. However it’s not a good idea to go straight to bed after a heavy meal though.
18. Diet drinks are healthy.
Diet drinks may be low in calories but they are very acidic which can damage the tooth enamel. They also contain artificial sweeteners which can be toxic to the body. There is also evidence that the body responds to the sweeteners in the same way it does sugar, raising insulin levels and leaving you craving for more sweet food. Avoid them at all costs and choose juice, which can be diluted half and half with water.
19. A vegetarian diet is healthier.
A vegetarian diet can be extremely healthy if you are not relying heavily on cheese as your main protein source. Include pulses, tofu and nuts as well. Keep an eye on your iron and B12 levels as well.
20. Eating any more than three meals a day will make me fat.
Eating five smaller meals a day will keep your blood sugar stable throughout the day and balance your insulin levels making it in fact easier to lose weight.
21. Supplements are a waste of money.
Not always. It’s important to get the right advice when choosing supplements. Some people need them and some don’t. It completely depends on your diet, lifestyle and overall health.
22. Vitamin C stops a cold.
Actually there is no research to back this up. Once you have the cold virus, you have it. Vitamin C can however boost your immune system on a general basis and you may catch fewer viruses but it can’t stop the virus itself.