8 Common Food Myths Debunked
It is not always clear where food myths originate. Often a new “survey” or celebrity doctor (endorsing his latest product!) will embed something into our memory banks, and then those myths are hard to shift. Unfortunately they can lead us astray in our attempts to be healthy, and even worse, can lead to unhealthy or restrictive eating habits.
Nutritionist and health coach Jan McLeod from Mad For Health debunks eight of the most common food and health myths.
1. Do not eat eggs
A message deeply ingrained in our memory bank is do not eat eggs. Eggs contain cholesterol and cholesterol is often demonised. What we need to remember is that cholesterol is essential in our bodies, for example it is used as the starting material to create our hormones and is a structural component of our cell membranes.
We also often hear the terms good and bad cholesterol, when in fact what we mean is that LDL are a transport carrier that take cholesterol to cells and HDL is a transport carrier that takes cholesterol away from cells for reuse in the body or elimination. The body makes all the cholesterol it needs in the liver. For most of us the liver will increase or decrease its production of cholesterol based on our dietary intake. Eggs also contain lecithin which contains choline which helps cholesterol move through our blood and supports fat metabolism. Eggs also provide goods sources of important nutrients include Vitamin A and D, iron, B vitamins and zinc as well as useful sources of magnesium, potassium, selenium and calcium.
For most people eating 6-8 eggs per week is okay however for those who are sensitive cholesterol, an easy alternative is to only use the egg white. For some eggs are a cause of allergies, so for these people the removal of eggs from their diet is recommended.
2. Carbohydrates make you fat
If possible I recommend people do not remove any major food group from their diet, this includes carbohydrates. Over the years, carbohydrates have been much maligned as the source of weight gain. Research indicates the key contributors to weight gain and obesity include physical inactivity, poorly managed stress, a diet characterised by high intake of refined, processed and simple carbohydrates, excessive intake of saturated and trans fats and low intake of soluble fibre, healthy omega 3 and monounsaturated fats and fruit and vegetables rich in antioxidants, vitamin and minerals important to glucose metabolism.
There are two types of carbohydrates, simple carbs that are easily digested by the body and that are found in some fruit and vegetables and honey and complex carbohydrates as well as processed and refined sugars; and complex carbohydrates comprising complex chains of sugars further classified as starch or fibre both of which play important roles in the body. When we eat carbohydrates the body converts them to glucose, its preferred source of fuel. Glucose is essential for the functioning of our brains, nervous systems, muscles and key organs.
Research confirms whole grains found in carbohydrates are a great source of fibre and the protection of whole grains provides us against developing diabetes, cancer and heart disease likely emanate from the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other plant chemicals they contain. My recommendation is to focus on moderation and balance.
3. We are all gluten intolerant
With all of the articles abound you could reach the conclusion that we are all gluten intolerant and should stop eating all foods that contain gluten. Coeliac Disease (CD) is a serious disease and requires the removal of gluten from a person’s diet. People are born with a genetic predisposition to CD, the most commonly implicated genes in those susceptible are HLA DQ2 and HLA DQ8. It is estimated that up to 30% of the population may carry one or both gene but only approximately 1 in 30 will develop CD.
So if it is not CD, what is the likely cause of other gut issues? I believe it may be poor GUT health. 70% of your immunity resides within your GUT. Modern life is fast, busy with most of us juggling competing priorities. We know that poorly managed prolonged stress leads to increased cortisol levels. We also know that elevated cortisol levels over time reduce immunity, interfere with sleep, can depress our mood and interfere with digestion. In the ‘fight and flight’ or prolonged stress response blood is diverted away from the GUT and digestive process to areas including our legs, eyes and muscles. It means over time we will digest more poorly and not be absorbing all of the nutrients we need.
I recommend as part of any strategy to get healthy you take steps to redress and more effectively manage the stress in your life.
4. Dieting can help you lose weight fast
The availability of fad diets offering fast weight loss results are plenty. Research confirms there are multitudes of ways of losing weight, however it also indicates that as high as 90% of people who lose weight may regain it within 12months. In addition, it confirms yo-yo dieting where your weight is continuously increasing and decreasing likely undermines long term health.
I believe the foundation to maintaining a healthy weight is well established eating and lifestyle habits. My experience also suggests it can take up approximately 12-16 weeks to re-establish and embed new eating and living habits. Changing our personal eating and living habits can be confronting and challenging. For those who are disciplined and love routine it may come easier however for most of us support provided by a nutritionist or health care practitioner is required. I recommend you aim to lose weight slowly because doing it slowly means that you are most likely changing your daily eating and living habits. Gradual change is less confronting and allows you to incorporate realistic change into what is generally a busy life with competing priorities.
5. You lose weight if you eat most of your calories during the day and less at night
It is difficult to know where this myth originally came from. Research indicates that there is no correlation between weight gain and loss based on the time of day you eat. Essentially the number of calories you eat will be averaged out over your week and you will maintain, gain or lose weight.
My experience suggests that to promote even energy levels, optimum cognitive function and to limit food cravings particularly that for sugary goods it is best for most people to eat three main meals a day. Couple this with regular organised and incidental activity (day-to-day movement) and you have a good platform for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
6. Our bodies are not designed to digest and absorb dairy
A key element of the digestive and absorption process is the release of enzymes and digestive fluids that enable digestion and absorption. These substances and enzymes are specific to the food we eat including dairy. Dairy is an important source of calcium as well and dairy products such as yoghurt are a great source of probiotics required for good gut health. It is true some people lack or have less lactase the enzyme required for digesting lactose in dairy. However did you know yoghurt and mature cheese have lower levels of lactose and research indicates that for the majority of people with low levels of the lactase enzyme they can generally consumed at least one cup of milk each day.
If dairy is not an issue, keep it in your diet however if you believe dairy is an issue be ensure you get a health practitioners help to confirm this, particularly as dairy is known to be secondary food intolerance, i.e. the true culprit may be another substance which has left your GIT irritated and reactive. If you make the choice to go non-dairy in your milk ensure you choose non-sweetened milk with at least 100mg of calcium.
7. Foods are classified as super foods and non-super foods
I believe the term super food was created to highlight and distinguish the health benefits of some foods. However I believe it has been taken out of context. People often mistake the term for meaning that the food has super benefits and is essential for inclusion in their diet. They also often think if a little bit is good for them, then a lot will be great for them. Unfortunately this is not always correct.
The term super food brings focus onto specific foods at the expense of others. However we need to remember there is no one food that contains all of the nutrients the body needs. It is important to be aware foods including those often listed as super foods can contain substances to which some people are sensitive and will react to potentially leading to compromised health. Over-eating of many foods including those tagged as super foods can lead to unwanted side effects and imbalance in our bodies.
There are many foods not tagged as super foods that are nutritious and important in a balanced and varied diet. Restriction of foods in diet can lead to imbalance and foods habits driven by guilt. And that reading information delivered in summary may lack or lose context important to the role the food plays in your overall diet.
8. Complete versus incomplete protein
You may have heard animal food contains complete protein and plant food contains incomplete protein. But what does this really mean? Protein comprises amino acids. Amino acids play a wide variety of important roles in the body one of the most important is it being the building blocks of our DNA. Amino acids are classified as essential and non-essential. Essential amino acids cannot be created by the body and hence we need to take them in from what we eat. Animal foods contain the essential amino acids we need and plant foods contain only some of the amino acids. The amino acids found in plant foods vary, however to obtain complete protein we can employ something called food combining.
It means that as long as we eat a variety of the plant food during the day we will source all the essential amino acids we need from our diet. If you do not eat any animal food, I recommend you aim to include throughout the day legumes (beans, rice or lentils), rice, corn and grains to ensure you are including all the essential amino acid in your diet.
Are there any food myths you would like explained by a nutrionist? Let us know in the comments and we’ll find out!
Julia has lived and worked in London, Amsterdam, and New York, and is obsessed with food. She's either cooking or thinking about what to eat next. Follow Julia on Twitter.