Nutrition myths busted

Confused about nutrition? You’re not alone. Her Spirit busts 5 of the big diet myths

Nutrition can be a minefield and there are lots of ‘facts’ circulated on and off line. Guidelines have changed in recent years and new studies are constantly raising more questions than they answer. Her Spirit reveals five of the big myths – and busts them!

Myth one: You need to drastically cut back calories if you want to lose weight

False, what matters is the quality of the calories you eat, and the old adage of eating a healthy and balanced diet remains the most important thing you can do. Add to your diet and nutrition with fresh, healthy food, don’t take away, other than avoiding eating too much processed food and empty calories. Yes, if you want to weigh less, you need to consume less calories than you expend, that’s basic maths. But when people restrict calories too much, they can lose lean body mass which weakens the organs and muscles, and also slows down metabolism. Eating below the 1,200 to 1,400 calories we need to just live and move about (the average woman’s base metabolic rate) can result in what’s known as adaptive thermogenesis, or the body going into ‘starvation mode’. A review of a series of studies from 2010 published in the International Journal of Obesity looked at those who had followed low calorie diets and found that total energy expenditure (calories burned) stayed at 15 percent less than the amount of energy used before weight loss. The researchers concluded that the human body actively opposes the “cure” (i.e. diets) over long periods of time. And subsequent studies have backed this. In 2017, another study concluded that ‘any successful approach to controlling weight needs to take a wider and longer-term approach than studying the intake of calories’. 

Myth two: You should avoid eating saturated fat

The way experts look at saturated fat has changed over the last five years or more. Obesity levels have soared since the 1980s, when most of us were following carb-heavy, lower fat diets. And large-scale studies have revealed that Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) rates were lower in countries where saturated fats were consumed. The experts tell us we should include some sources of saturated fat (e.g. butter, cheese, meat) each day, along with sources of unsaturated fats (e.g. nuts, oily fish, olive oil).

The fats you need to avoid are exactly the ones you’ve been convinced are ‘healthy’ by industry-funded heart foundations. They include polyunsaturated fats – so called ‘vegetable’ oils, which are in reality seed oils extracted only by industrial/chemical processes, and trans fats found in so-called ‘heart healthy’ margarines and baked products.

But having too much saturated fat is still considered bad for you, a fact the British Heart Foundation stands by. It’s all about the right balance for you.

Myth three: Low fat is best for health

The big nutrition story right now is the ‘low fat lie’. Low fat foods have been revealed as laden with sugar, at a time when the World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended we halve our daily sugar intake from 10 to five teaspoons a day.

Nutritionists are telling us to steer clear of anything labelled ‘reduced fat’ as these products often contain as many calories and as much sugar (sometimes more) than their full fat equivalents.

The high-carb and low-fat dietary strategy hasn’t worked. Despite a reduction in population fat intakes over the past 30 years, obesity rates have soared. Low fat essentially means, you’ll have more sugar, and without the fats, you will feel less satisfied.

Myth four: Foods that are high in cholesterol will raise your cholesterol

The old school of thought around cholesterol was that dietary cholesterol will raise blood levels of cholesterol. Studies now show us that only about 30 per cent of people are susceptible to the effects of dietary cholesterol on blood cholesterol levels. Only those with familial hypercholesterolemia need to avoid it. Dietary cholesterol and blood serum cholesterol are different things.

Myth five: To be totally healthy you need to completely cut out caffeine?

Tea and coffee can wake you up and boost the digestive system first thing in the morning. It punctuates our days and with one-stop tea and coffee shops on every high street, these beverages are more popular than ever. If you’re trying to get your 1.6 to 1.8 litres of water a day, tea and coffee counts (although you need to be aware of its diuretic affect and drink a little more water on top).

A shot of coffee can boost sports performance for runners and other endurance athletes and caffeine can replenish muscle glycogen concentrations faster after exercise. But there are some who should avoid caffeine for medical reasons, such as heartburn, IBS, irregular heart beat or high blood pressure. In this case, you will have been advised to stop caffeine intake by your doctor. 

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