There can be a lot of confusion around nutrition and what you should and shouldn’t be eating. Often, it feels like one day something is good for you, and the next it isn’t.
Here we try to cut through the confusion and debunk some of the more common nutrition myths.
1. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day
No doubt your mother told you not to skip breakfast, and that it is the most important meal of the day. But was she right?
There is little doubt that after going the best part of twelve hours without eating, your body is in need of some nutrients and calories to provide energy for the day ahead. Also, there is evidence that show those who don’t eat breakfast tend to eat more calories throughout the day.
But there is a growing body of evidence that says intermittent fasting has health benefits and can help to increase lifespan by reducing the total amount of calories consumed over the course of our lifetime.
Whilst it is not recommended to start skipping meals without a health care professional’s advice, there is certainly an argument that skipping breakfast may not be the worst thing in the world.
2. Alcohol is bad for you
Clearly drinking in excess is not good for your health. However not all alcohol is bad for you. Research shows that regular moderate consumption of red wine provides beneficial cardiovascular effects.
Red wine contains compounds called polyphenols. These are antioxidants that neutralize free radicals that damage cells and which are caused by things like fried and roasted foods, pollution and even exercise. Red wine also actively supports the cardiovascular system by regulating blood flow and blood pressure, as well as acting as an anti-inflammatory.
3. Don’t eat eggs
While eggs do contain cholesterol, they do not necessarily increase your levels of bad cholesterol. Previously, it was thought that food containing cholesterol increased your bad cholesterol levels, however as more research was carried out, we have come to realise that there is no substantial evidence to support this outdated view. (See also: Is the cholesterol in eggs bad for you?)
In fact, it has been shown that eggs raise your levels of good cholesterol and this actually supports a healthy heart and cardiovascular system. Therefore cutting eggs out of the diet to improve heart health would ignore its role as a cardio-protective food.
4. Carbohydrates make you fat
There are two types of carbohydrates; low glycaemic and high glycaemic. High glycaemic (high GI) carbohydrates are refined carbs such as white bread and pasta, and white rice as well as sweet sugary foods and drinks.
These high GI foods release sugar quickly into your blood stream causing a spike in insulin levels which carries the sugar out of the blood and into your cells. If you are not converting the sugar in your cells into energy, for example through exercise, it is deposited as fat. This is also why long term high consumption of high glycaemic foods can lead to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and obesity.
However, low glycaemic (low GI) carbohydrates do not have the same effect on the body. Low glycaemic carbs are those that contain whole grains and fibre, such as wholemeal bread, wholemeal pasta, brown rice, and fruits and vegetables.
These low GI carbs release sugars slowly into your blood stream, helping to keep your blood sugar levels balanced, and are good for you – providing your body with important nutrients, fibre, and a more sustained source of energy.
So, the key is choosing the right kind of carbs. If you are looking to watch your weight, opting for low GI carbs makes all the difference.
5. Chocolate is bad for you
As with alcohol and carbohydrates, it is the type of chocolate and amount you eat that is important here. White and milk chocolate contain a very high amount of sugar and saturated fat, which, if eaten in excess, is not good for you.
However cocoa contains compounds that have been shown to have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system by reducing blood pressure. Look for dark chocolate of 70% cocoa or more.
6. Low fat or fat-free options are healthy options
Most food companies these days have a low fat or fat-free option, particularly dairy companies. The public have been told for so long now that fat is bad for you and so they believe that choosing one of these alternatives is a healthy option.
However, removing the fat from a food product usually means they’ve removed much of the taste too! Therefore companies usually add high amounts of sugar (which can lead to weight gain and even obesity) or sweeteners (some of which can be detrimental to your health and cause weight gain) or other unhealthy additives, to make the product palatable. See also: 20 natural ways to replace sugar in your diet
7. A vegetarian diet lacks protein
There are many reasons why a vegetarian diet is a healthy option, and the myth that vegetarians don’t get enough protein in their diet is simply incorrect.
Whilst it is true that it is difficult to get all the essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein) from a single vegetarian source, by combining several foods, you can obtain all the essential amino acids from one meal. For example, by combining rice and lentils you get all 8 essential amino acids. Other good vegetarian sources of protein include:
- Seeds and nuts
8. The fats of life – a high fat diet is bad for you
Not all calories are created equal, and this is certainly true for fat. There are several different forms of fat, but the main two are saturated and unsaturated fat.
Saturated fat is so called because the fat molecules contain many carbon atoms (they are saturated with them). The carbon atoms are difficult for the body to break down and are not essential nutrients. They have also been linked to a variety of health problems, such as cardiovascular disease.
The other main source of fat – unsaturated fat – comes from essential fatty acids or omega 3, 6 & 9. As the name suggests, these are essential nutrients and are needed for a wide range of bodily processes. Many studies have also shown that essential fatty acids help reduce pain and inflammation in a variety of disease, particularly arthritis.
Therefore, while a diet high in saturated fat may not be good for you, you shouldn’t cut out all dietary fats and look to increase essential fatty acids in your diet. See also: How much fat should I eat
Hopefully this has helped clear up some of the more common nutrition myths out there.