5 nutrition myths that could be impacting your health

With so many nutrition myths out there, it can be hard to sort the fact from fiction. Harriet Holme, aka the Healthy Eating Dr, is a registered nutritionist, doctor, and nutrition lecturer. Her no non-sense approach will help you to eat for health, starting with the nutrition myths you really need to say goodbye to!

1. Eating fruit is bad for you as it contains sugar

Many people believe that the sugar in fruit means they need to avoid certain fruits. While fruit does contain naturally occurring sugars, they also contain fibre (important for gut health), water, and antioxidants (important for general health), making them very different from eating a spoonful of sugar. Eating a range of colourful fruit and vegetables is a key component of a healthy, balanced diet.

2. Eating fat makes you fat

Previously it was thought that eating fat made you fat, and low-fat or fat-free products were the answer to weight loss. However, not only is this not true, but also reduced fat items often contain more sugar to make them more palatable.

Eating too much of anything can be stored as fat, but healthy unsaturated fats are an important part of healthy diet. For example, avocados contain omega 3 and oleic acid, that reduce blood pressure, while full fat kefir yoghurt has billions of friendly bacteria, that help not just your gut, but general health. Nuts used to be considered fattening, but a large study found a handful a day can help to reduce the risk of heart disease and also help with weight loss.

3. There is no need to limit your protein intake

Lots of people are worried about over-eating carbohydrates and trying to avoid fats, so protein seems like a healthier option, filling you up, meaning you are less likely to snack. Protein is essential to keep our bodies healthy, but any excess is converted to fat. Instead aim to have a balanced plate that is a quarter lean protein, a quarter of wholegrain carbohydrates, and half of fruit and vegetables, with a tablespoon of unsaturated fat.

4. All calories are equal

A calorie is the energy required to raise the temperature of 1g water from 14.5 to 15.5˙Celsius. The way this is calculated is in a laboratory, by burning the food, however, the food is not ‘burnt’ in our bodies, and people’s metabolism vary, so it’s a very rough estimate.

In addition, how the food is processed also affects the absorption and therefore how much energy you can use. A good example of this is sweetcorn. If you grind it down into a powder and make a tortilla, you will absorb far more calories, than if you eat whole sweetcorn kernels, as you will see most of them untouched, in the toilet!

Another concern with calories, is that instead of thinking about nutrient quality, it promotes prioritising quantity. For example, there is a huge difference in the number of nutrients you could consume in 500 calories of ice-cream, versus 500 calories of cabbage. The number of calories you need also varies according to so many factors – such as age, gender, lifestyle, activity level – that it’s hard to accurately predict exactly how many you need.

Some people say that if you want to lose weight, you simply need to create a calorie deficit, but that’s not true. What you eat is more important than the number of calories you’re consuming, and your gut health has an important role.

5. Meat is bad for you

In 2013, The European Prospective Investigation into cancer and nutrition reported that for the 448,568 participants, processed meat was associated with an increased risk of death, but no association was seen with unprocessed red meat. It is thought that the chemicals used to preserve processed meat, such as nitrites, are the problem.

Current UK guidelines advise reducing your intake of both red and processed meat to a maximum of 70g per day, however, there are lots of alternative forms of processed meat on the market now. If you’re desperate for bacon or sausages or ham for example, try the nitrite/preservative-free versions instead. Where possible though, eat unprocessed, lean meat that is rich in iron and a complete source of protein.

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