It can be hard to keep a healthy diet when you’re not sure what’s true and what’s false about food.
What should you avoid? What should you be having more of? What’s secretly unhealthy? There are plenty of myths about nutrition so let’s start with what we think are the 5 most common.
Myth #1: All Fats Are Bad
According to the British Heart Foundation, all fats are “high in energy and have identical calorie value (9kcal per gram), so their effect on your waistline is the same”. Even though you might know that not all fats are bad, it can be easy to forget what’s okay and what’s not.
Trans fat and high levels of saturated fat raise levels of harmful LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. In the UK, trans fat (industrially produced) has largely been removed. Saturated fats are more common and they include: ground beef, bacon, dairy products, coconut oil, palm oil (which is used in many baked goods and treats), butter and lard. On the flip side, unsaturated fats can be good for you. For example, omega-3 and omega-6 are unsaturated fats. Some unsaturated fats (monounsaturated fats) maintain levels of good HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and lower levels of bad LDL cholesterol. Foods like avocado, olive oil, peanut butter, oily fish and nuts contain unsaturated fats that are good for you.
Looking to cut out ‘bad’ fats from your diet? Try replacing your red meats with poultry, use vegetable or olive oil to cook instead of butter and restrict dairy to the daily recommended amount. Additionally, don’t be fooled by ‘low-fat’ labels. Often, junk food producers will remove fat from a product but add in salt and cheap carbohydrates to keep the good taste so in reality, low-fat isn’t particularly healthier.
Myth #2: Burn More Calories Than You Eat
Let’s be clear. It’s not really about how many calories you consume as much as it is about where you get these calories from. An average sized bag of crisps contains around 100 calories which is less than eating a medium sized apple and a medium sized banana (around 200 calories). If you eat your daily recommended calories (roughly 2000 calories) all in sweets and desserts, you’re not going to keep a healthy weight. Try not to focus too much on calorie counting as that can foster an unhealthy relationship with food. Just bear in mind that it’s better to have more calories from a healthy food source than less calories from an unhealthy food source.
Myth #3: Raw Vegetables Are Healthier Than Cooked Vegetables
It really depends on the vegetable. Vegetables like carrots and asparagus are best cooked as the heat makes their cell walls less rigid so that when consumed, it is easier to absorb the nutrients. However, vegetables like broccoli, beats, onions and peppers are best raw, as the high temperatures remove a lot of their vitamins and minerals.
There is really no hard and fast rulebook. It’s best to look up the particular vegetable you’re cooking to understand the best way to consume it.
Myth #4: Organic Is Better
One major reason why people prefer organic food is that they believe organic farmers don’t use pesticides. The fact of the matter is that most organic farmers do use pesticides for farming, just different ones and in smaller amounts. Unfortunately, there have been some cases of organic farmers using copper sulphate pesticide (a ‘natural’ pesticide) which has resulted in cases of liver disease. However, in general, organic foods have significantly less pesticide residuals than non-organic food. That said, the levels of pesticide residuals on non-organic food in the UK is deemed safe to consume as they are in very little amounts. Additionally, there is no sufficient evidence to suggest that organic foods have more nutritional value than non-organic foods. Finally, be weary of labelling. Food marketers often label food as ‘natural’ to attract people. But natural doesn’t always equal healthy. Read the labels and always do your own investigations into the ingredients used in the foods you buy.
Myth #5: Gluten-Free Diets Are Healthier
Gluten is a protein found in many carbohydrates like pasta and bread. Carbs themselves are an essential food group and as such cutting out carbs is not a healthy option. Gluten is found in many cakes, biscuits and baked goods. Gluten-free alternatives to these staples are still junk foods; just because they might be gluten free, doesn’t mean that they are suddenly healthy. When it comes to digestion, removing food with gluten might also entail cutting out food high in fibre which can have a negative effect on your digestion. In fact, a recent studyfound that 90% of us are not eating enough fibre! Finally, many foods that are gluten-free have added fats, sugars and additives to provide them with a good structure and taste. In short, unless you have an intolerance or a condition like celiac disease, don’t cut gluten out.
When you’re thinking about a healthy diet, it’s usually best to simply focus on a balanced diet. Cutting certain foods out, going on low-fat or low-carb diets, following fads like gluten-free diets and trying to cut corners in order to lose weight can actually negatively affect your health. As long as you eat the recommended daily amounts of carbs, vegetables, fruits, and dairy (or really, calcium and vitamin D), you shouldn’t have to overthink it. Cutting foods out, unless we’re talking junk foods, is not a healthy alternative unless you are instructed by a medical professional to do so. Your body needs carbs and fats and proteins to get by. If you feel as though there is something specific that your body needs more and you feel have a deficiency, then make alterations based on that.
A healthy diet does not need to be complicated or expensive! Listen to your body and if something feels wrong, talk to a nutritionist and make healthy adjustments. Otherwise, just focus on eating a balanced diet and consuming different food groups in the right amount.