It’s a confusing world out there when it comes to what’s healthy and what’s not, with so many sources of information and misinformation, as well as marketing strategies targeted to confuse us.
Here, Laurann O’Reilly, owner of Nutrition by Laurann, helps us to uncover some of these common myths and misconceptions about nutrition.
Myth 1 - Very Low Calorie Diets Work for Weight Loss
While reducing calorie intake can indeed boost weight loss, cutting calories too low can lead to metabolic adaptations and long-term health consequences.
- The Truth: Whilst a very low calorie will likely promote rapid weight loss in the short term. In the long-term, very low calorie diets can result in a reduction in metabolic rate, increased feelings of hunger and alterations in fullness (satiety) hormones. Very low calorie diets can also be dangerous as we need a certain amount of energy to function and it can also result in a deficiency of essential nutrients, having a negative effect on our health.
Myth 2 - Low Carbohydrate Diets Are Good For Weight Loss
Whilst some diets promote a low or no carbohydrate diet as a method of weight loss, it’s important to remember that carbohydrates are important for our health.
- The Truth: Instead of eliminating all carbohydrates, it’s important to understand that there are ‘bad carbohydrates’ and ‘good carbohydrates’. What I classify as ‘bad carbohydrates’ are high sugar foods (such as chocolate, sweets and biscuits), white bread and white pasta, as they cause our blood sugar levels to spike and crash as well as result in sugar cravings. The ‘good carbohydrates’ include wholemeal/grain breads, pasta, brown rice and oats which get slowly absorbed into our bloodstream, stabilise our blood sugar levels and keep us full for longer. These good carbohydrates also contain fibre which is important for a healthy digestive system. Other sources of good fibre are chia seeds and flaxseeds. A diet low in these ‘good carbohydrate’ combinations can result in digestive issues such as bloating and constipation but also tiredness as carbohydrates are our main source of energy.
Myth 3 - All Fats Are Bad For You
Many people seem to think that fat makes you fat, when in fact we need a certain amount of fat in our diet to absorb our fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E & K) as well as fats being a structural component of our cells and important for hormone production.
- The Truth: Just like carbohydrates we have ‘bad fats’ and ‘good fats’. What I describe as the bad fats are the ‘saturated’ and ‘trans fats’ which can increase our ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) levels and increase our risk of heart disease, these include solid fats, meat fats, cheap vegetable oils, baked goods as well as processed foods. Our ‘good fats’ include unsaturated fats which increase our ‘good’ cholesterol (HDL) as well as improving our circulation, skin, joint health, brain function and vitamin absorption. Sources include oily fish (salmon, herring, sardines), walnuts, flaxseed, chia seed and extra virgin olive oil.
Myth 4 - Fresh Fruit & Vegetables Are Better Than Frozen
Consuming enough fruit & vegetables is essential for our health, as they contain valuable vitamins, minerals and are an important source of antioxidants. However the fresh versus frozen debate is ongoing.
- The Truth: Whilst eating fresh fruit and vegetables is the most ideal option, unless used soon after purchase they can often go off quite quickly, so freezing your fruit and vegetables is a great way of preserving the nutrients. In fact recent studies have found that freezing these foods resulted in no significant difference in nutritional value, only a slight change in the taste. Why not try cooking your vegetables soon after purchase and freezing them to preserve as much of the goodness as possible.
Myth 5 - It’s Okay To Eat An Unlimited Amount of ‘Healthy’ Food
Whilst eating a healthy and clean diet is great for our health, it’s important to remember that all food, healthy and unhealthy, contain calories (energy) just like we discussed in myth 1.
- The Truth: It is important to keep an eye on your food portion sizes as well as your frequency of eating – unfortunately it is possible to have too much of a good thing and eating large quantities of food, even if it’s healthy can result in a calorie (energy) surplus resulting in weight gain.
Myth 6 - The Five Second Rule – Eating Food After Falling On The Floor
We’ve often heard people drop a piece of food on the floor, pick it up, shout “five second rule” and eat it – it couldn’t possibly have picked up something nasty in a few seconds, or could it?
- The Truth: Actually, studies have shown that anything you drop on the floor can become contaminated with bacteria such as E. coli and Staphylococcus within milliseconds (just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there), it’s not worth the risk.
Myth 7 - It’s Too Expensive To Eat Healthy
Many of us think that to eat healthy has to cost a lot of money however we couldn’t be more wrong.
- The Truth: The trick is to be smart when shopping by 1) Planning your meals: (main meals and snacks) in advance, 2) Write a shopping list: for the ingredients that you need for these meals (and stick to it), 3) Buy in bulk: They call this ‘economies of scale’ – you can often get better value if you buy in a larger volume, which can last you a longer period of time, 4) Shop around: It can help to go to different shops for the best value and discounts, 5) Pick a day for meal preparation: For example a Sunday, where you prepare all your meals for the week in batch – freeze the ones you’ll eat later in the week and refrigerate the ones you’ll eat earlier in the week.
Bonus: Not only will this save you money but it’s amazing to have your meals all prepared after a busy day of parenting, work, school or all of the above.
Myth 8 - Healthy Eating is Boring & Restrictive
Many people think that healthy eating and a clean diet is boring, however they couldn’t be more wrong.
- The Truth: Firstly we need to stop using the word ‘diet’. What we eat good or bad is our ‘diet’, it’s just the word itself has taken a negative meaning. Let’s instead call it healthy eating, our healthy lifestyle or way of life. Next we need to change our mindset by understanding that there are so many delicious recipe possibilities with healthy delicious foods. Instead, look at it as an opportunity to explore new recipes and flavour combinations.
To begin this exciting journey I recommend the book ‘The Flavour Thesaurus’ – you would be surprised by some of the amazing flavour combinations out there and say goodbye to boring eating.
Myth 9 - Diet Foods & Drinks Are Safe & Healthy
Please be careful when it comes to foods advertised as ‘diet’ or ‘low fat’. Many companies prey on the vulnerable who are doing their very best to lose weight. In fact many individuals are currently trying to do so as a result of the pandemic, with increased stress, comfort eating and reduced physical activity levels.
- The Truth: Many so-called ‘low fat’ products may in fact be high in sugar, whilst many ‘diet’ products such as diet soft drinks contain harmful artificial sweeteners. Sometimes it really is too good to be true. When it comes to drinks you can make the simple change of swapping diet soft drinks to fruit infused water (for example put lemon and mint in a jug of water and leave it in the refrigerator)
Myth 10 - Meal Replacer Supplements Are Good For Healthy Weight Loss
Again similar to the diet and low fat products, please don’t fall into the trap of meal replacer shakes and products as a means of weight loss.
- The Truth: Not alone are they unnatural, they are unsustainable with your body regaining weight on returning to a food based diet. They also lack many of the essential nutrients that our body needs to function as well as containing artificial ingredients, flavourings and preservatives. Many companies try to catch the vulnerable into a subscription for these types of supplements – you should never have to enter into a contract of any kind for nutrition supplements as your needs change at different times. Remember it’s possible to achieve healthy weight loss through natural healthy foods.
Myth 11 - We Should All Be Eating Gluten Free Foods
Gluten is a type of protein found in certain grains such as wheat, durum wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt. Whilst many of us can tolerate gluten with no problems, others may have gluten intolerance and in some cases coeliac disease. However recently individuals have been eliminating out gluten without evidence of either.
- The Truth: The gluten containing foods are an important source of nutrition containing valuable vitamins and minerals, eliminating these products particularly in children without evidence of gluten sensitivity can result in nutrient deficiency. Also it’s important to have been consuming gluten should one wish to get tested for sensitivity of it.
Myth 12 - All Sports Drinks Are Healthy
Lots of athletes or those working out are marketed sports drinks as a healthy means of hydration, however it’s wise to take a look at some of these products
- The Truth: Whilst hydration in sport is extremely important and sports drinks play a role in providing energy and salts – be cautious of the ingredient listings on some of these products, for instance a natural product should not be luminous blue, yellow or orange. Also as they are often extremely high in sugar, unless you are performing a high endurance activity it may only be necessary to replace your salts (after sweating) and not consume the additional energy.
Myth 13 - Exercise Alone Can Lead To Healthy Weight Loss
When it comes to weight loss, physical activity and nutrition come hand in hand. You can’t get the results you seek by working out and eating unhealthy food or eating healthy and doing little or no physical activity.
- The Truth: Remember the 80:20 rule, it’s 80% what you eat and 20% physical activity, so diet plays a huge role in achieving a healthy weight loss.
Myth 14 - There is a ‘One Fit’ Diet For Everyone
Many people end up following the same diet as everyone else, unfortunately there’s no one size fits all diet that suits everyone.
- The Truth: Each of our nutritional requirements vary depending on numerous factors such as our age, weight, height, physical activity levels, medical conditions and medications to name a few. The best diet for you is one that is tailored to your particular needs and requirements.
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